Another limited IDF incursion into Lebanon; Evacuating Lebanon
Israeli troops have entered southern Lebanon for the second time in two days. Like the last raid, this one had the limited objective of destroying Hezbollah strong points on the Lebanese border, as well as "searching for tunnels and mines" in the region.
Israeli leaders continue to signal they do not intend to launch major ground operations to hunt and destroy Hezbollah in southern and deeper into the Bekaa Valley in the east and north. The Washington Times reports on an exchange between MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked Peres what would "cause you to take ground troops into either Lebanon on a sustained basis, or into Syria?"
"Nothing whatever," Peres replied. "We don't intend to enter Lebanon from the ground. The danger today is not an exchange of power on the ground but really the missiles and the rockets, we should try to stop it."
While there is always the possibility the Israeli government and military officials are conducting a sophisticated information operations campaign, the military is not mobilizing for a large scale invasion of Lebanon. Only three battalions (about 300 troops per battalion) have been mobilized over the past few days. With Israel being a small nation, a large scale call up of troops could not be hidden from public view.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, in his analysis of the strategic considerations notes "if Israel were interested in a long-term occupation, it would have had to call up far more reserves than it did." This also applies to a large military operation designed to destroy Hezbollah and pursue them into their rear bases in the Bekaa Valley, where they are supported by elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Syrian military. The Beirut-Damascus Road is 35 miles from the Israeli border, Baalbeck and Hermel, two Hezbollah headquarters are 60 and 90 miles from the Israeli border respectively.
Air strikes cannot defeat Hezbollah's forces alone. There is no readily available Lebanese version of the "Northern Alliance" that can act as a surrogate ground force (Hezbollah destroyed the Israeli-back Southern Lebanese Army after Israel's withdrawal in 2000.) The Lebanese Army is fractured and weak, and their involvement would likely spark a civil war.
Hezbollah is a paramilitary force that excels at blending into the population, and has the state backing of Iran and Syria. Hezbollah can cross over the border into Syria if needed (although this may tarnish their image as the "legitimate resistance" to the Israelis.) In order for the Israel to significantly degrade Hezbollah's capabilities, they must enter Lebanon in force and engage Hezbollah on the ground, and must do so with far more than the three battalions called up. Israel cannot assume the Syrian Lebanese armies will remain on the sidelines, and must provide security for any force advancing into the Bekaa Valley. This requires multiple divisions of the Israeli Defense Forces.
While Israel telegraphs its unwillingness to act decisively, the Iranians continue to flaunt their support of Hezbollah, and even threaten the United States. Mojtaba Bigdeli, the spokeman for Iranian Hezbollah, has claimed his organization has thousands of volunteers willing to conduct suicide strikes and other acts of terrorism. "We have 2,000 volunteers who have registered since last year... They have been trained and they can become fully armed. We are ready to dispatch them to every corner of the world to jeopardize Israel and America's interests. We are only waiting for the Supreme Leader's green light to take action. If America wants to ignite World War Three ... we welcome it," said Bigdeli. Gholam Ali Haddad Adel , the speaker of the Iranian Parliament, vows more missiles will strike Israel. "The towns you have built in northern Palestine [Israel] are within the range of the brave Lebanese children. No part of Israel will be safe," said Adel.
The missile strikes into Israel and Israeli raids in Lebanon are not expected to end anytime soon. Western nations are beginning mass evacuations of their citizens from Lebanon. The United States has tasked nine Navy ships to help remove over 10,000 Americans of the 25,000 estimated in country who wish to leave. Reuters reports "the guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez, the helicopter carrier USS Iwo Jima, amphibious transport docks USS Nashville and USS Trenton; dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island; command and control ship USS Mount Whitney; guided missile destroyer USS Barry; High Speed Vessel Swift; and oil tanker USNS Big Horn" have been directed to the region to assist in the evacuation of Americans from Lebanon to Cyprus. These ships will need to pass through the Israeli naval blockade, and run the risk of facing Iranian manned cruise missile batteries and rocket strikes.