Sunday, July 30, 2006

Qana strike: civilians in the line of fire
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, July 30, 2006
The claim that Israel is somehow indifferent to the deaths of innocents in Lebanon -- and Israel's own claim that Hezbollah uses human shields to mask its operations -- are both superficial explanations of a much more complex political problem. According to both Israeli and American defense experts, the Qana tragedy is the direct result of the failure of the U.S. and Israel to provide a political resolution to the current crisis.

There is little question that, eighteen days after Israel's ferocious military response to the abduction of two of its soldiers and the killing of eight others, the IDF has yet to show that it is capable of decisively defeating Hezbollah in open battle or significantly degrading Hezbollah's military capacity. As a result, IDF senior officers have stridently argued that Hezbollah infrastructure strong points and marshalling stations not yet included in IAF strike packages because of their proximity to civilian concentrations be "put on the table."

Over the last 48 hours, and in the run-up to Condoleezza Rice's return to the region, pressures have mounted inside Ehud Olmert's cabinet to expand the IAF's target list to include these marginal sites, despite their proximity to high concentrations of Lebanese civilians. The calculation of the IDF's senior command, and the argument they used with Olmert, was that while expanding the target list might lead to increased civilian deaths in Lebanon the prospective military gains from successfully degrading these high value but high-cost targets was too good to ignore.

Olmert and his defense minister hesitantly gave permission to expand the target list on Friday afternoon, I have been told. Included on the target list were Hezbollah command and control centers in Tyre and in the string of towns south and east of that city. Striking these sites, it was thought, would have a decisive political -- and not just military -- impact, by degrading Hezbollah's missile capacity. Significantly bringing down the actual numbers of rockets launched against Israel would allow the U.S. and Israel to declare that the current operation was a success, thereby establishing the ground from which the U.S. could argue that the "terrorist threat" from Lebanon had been defeated. Bringing down the number of rocket strikes on Israel would also allow the IDF to claim a victory in its campaign -- an absolute necessity given the current Israeli political environment.

Reports from the ground in Lebanon confirm that the IAF has expanded its target envelope, hitting sites that were considered off limits just 48 hours previously. Unfortunately, as nearly every military expert knows, precision weapons are not that precise -- and a miscue of even ten meters can make a huge difference. This is what happened at Qana. Nor, it seems, do IDF officers take seriously the more graphic defense of IAF targeting, as justified because Hezbollah uses human shields. Israel also co-locates many of its basing operations in cities and amongst the civilian population -- simply because of the ease of logistics operations that such co-locations necessitate. "The human shield argument just doesn't wash and we know it," an IDF commander says. "We don't expect Hezbollah to deploy in the open with a sign that says 'here we are.'"

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