Friday, November 03, 2006

John Keegan predicts renewal of Israel-Hezbollah war, sooner rather than later

When John Keegan speaks, I listen closely. Here. In this Daily Telegraph column, Keegan talks about the Hezbollah underground tunnel and bunker system - impervious, he says, to Israel's air force and only subject to destruction by ground forces. Keegan talks about the hitherto underestimated role of tunnel systems as a counter to more sophisticated forces, including their role in the Vietnam war. His conclusion is sobering:

What is certain is that – probably before the year is out – Israel will have struck at Hizbollah in south Lebanon. And the strike will come even sooner if Hizbollah reopens its missile bombardment of northern Israel from its underground systems.

Moreover, he says:

There will soon be another war in the Middle East, this time a renewal of the conflict between the Israel Defence Force (IDF) and Hizbollah. The conflict is inevitable and unavoidable. It will come about because Israel cannot tolerate the rebuilding of Hizbollah's fortified zone in south Lebanon, from which last year it launched its missile bombardment of northern Israel.

Hizbollah has now reconstructed the fortified zone and is replenishing its stocks of missiles there. Hamas is also creating a fortified zone in the Gaza Strip and building up its stocks of missiles. Israel, therefore, faces missile attack on two fronts. When the Israel general staff decides the threat has become intolerable, it will strike.

What happened in south Lebanon earlier this year has been widely misunderstood, largely because the anti-Israel bias in the international media led to the situation being misreported as an Israeli defeat.

It was no such thing. It was certainly an Israeli setback, but the idea that the IDF had suddenly lost its historic superiority over its Arab enemies and that they had acquired military qualities that had hitherto eluded them was quite false. Hizbollah suffered heavy losses in the fighting, perhaps as many as 1,000 killed out of its strength of up to 5,000 and it is only just now recovering.

What allowed Hizbollah to appear successful was its occupation of the bunker-and-tunnel system that it had constructed since June 2000, when the IDF gave up its presence in south Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1982.

Although the IDF had got into south Lebanon, the casualties it had suffered in entering the fortified zone had alarmed the government and high command, since Israel's tiny population is acutely vulnerable to losses in battle. Israel's plan was to destroy Hizbollah's tunnels and bunkers, but the sending of a United Nations intervention force did not allow the destruction to be completed before the IDF was forced to withdraw.


Tunnel systems have played a crucial part in many modern campaigns, without attracting much attention. That is a serious oversight. The success of the Viet Cong in sustaining its war effort in Vietnam in 1968-72 depended heavily on its use of the so-called War Zone B, a complex of deep tunnels and underground bases north of Saigon, which had been begun during the war against the French in 1946-55.

War Zone B provided the Viet Cong with a permanent base of refuge and resupply that proved effectively invulnerable even against a determined American effort to destroy it. War Zone B has now become a major tourist attraction to Western visitors to Vietnam.

In its time, however, War Zone B was very far from being a holiday facility: it assured the survival of the Viet Cong close to Saigon and their ability to mount operations against the government forces and the Americans. Hizbollah, either by mimicry or on its own account, has now begun to employ a tunnel and underground base strategy against Israel. It was for that reason it was able to confront Israeli armoured forces in south Lebanon earlier this year.

The adoption of a tunnel strategy has allowed Hizbollah to wage asymmetric warfare against Israel's previously all-conquering armoured forces. The tunnel system is also impervious to attack by the Israeli Air Force.

Since Israel's reason for existence is to provide a secure base for the Jewish people, and that of the IDF is to act as their shield and safeguard – functions that have been carried out with high success since 1948 – it is obvious that neither can tolerate a zone of invulnerability occupied by a sworn enemy located directly on Israel's northern border.

It is therefore an easy prediction to foresee that the IDF will – at some time in the near future – reopen its offensive against Hizbollah in south Lebanon and will not cease until it has destroyed the underground system, even if, in the process, it inflicts heavy damage on the towns and villages of the region.