Israel has reached an inauspicious milestone of sorts. It has crossed the century mark in terms of combined civilian and military deaths in this war. Billmon does something interesting (albeit ghoulish) math tonight to compute how many more Israeli soldiers could be killed if Olmert chooses to advance to the Litani:
Let’s do some rough back-of-the-envelope calculations, just to see what the Israelis have gotten themselves into.
The estimates I’ve seen of the number of Hizbullah main force fighters in southern Lebanon range between 2,000 to 5,000 — let’s say 3,500.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Hizbullah’s leadership were be willing to accept 75% casualties in order to bleed the Israelis on the way to the Litani. That’s 2,625. (And Gen. Nasrallah might very well be willing to accept more, since he appears to have other units — in the Bekaa Valley, for example — that could be fed into the battle.)
Let’s assume half of those Hizbullah casualties are KIA. One in three or one in four would be a more normal ratio, but these guys seem pretty set on martyrdom. That’s 1,313, rounded up.
At a kill ratio of 2:1, that would equal 656 (rounded down) Israeli KIA — about a quarter of Israel’s combat deaths in the Yom Kippur War, when it was fighting the armies of two Arab states. At a 4:1 kill ratio, it would be 328 KIA — about half of total Israeli deaths in the first Lebanon War.
Of course, if Israel goes to the Litani it would then find itself waist deep in a prolonged guerrilla war of attrition, which no doubt would result in even more Israeli casualties…
Israel has a total population of just over 6 million — about 2% of the U.S. population. So proportionally, 656 Israeli KIA would equal roughly 33,000 American combat deaths, or about two-thirds of U.S. losses for the entire Vietnam War. And like I said, that would probably just be for starters.
Does the Olmert government have the stomach for that kind of fighting? Is the Israeli public willing to pay so much blood to conquer a piece of ground that almost certainly will have to be given back later? And what if the big push doesn’t stop the rocket attacks but only reduces them temporarily? Would it still be worth such a price?
When you start thinking about somewhere between 300-600 IDF dead in this war it starts reminding you of that ever climbing U.S. casualty rate in that other swamp war in Iraq.
It may be that some of these same cold calculations are going through the mind of Ehud Olmert right about now as he debates whether or not to heed the Svengali like call of Butcher Dan Halutz to take the troops all the way to the Lebanese Big Muddy–the Litani River:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is still debating whether to approve the proposed expansion of the Israel Defense Forces’ ground operation in south Lebanon…Olmert fears that the plan presented by the defense establishment will result in hundreds of casualties, and therefore, wants to subject it to a careful cost-benefit analysis. In Tuesday’s fighting in Lebanon, five soldiers were killed and 23 others wounded, two of them seriously.
I’m certain that utterances like this one will boost his confidence in the outcome of such an expansion of the war:
IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said Tuesday that such an operation is necessary “in order to end this war differently.” People who participated in discussions of the plan with him said they had never heard him speak as forcefully in favor of anything as he did in favor of the proposed ground operation.
While I have said many negative things in this blog about Olmert, he is a lawyer and prides himself on the same type of realpolitik practiced by the likes of Henry Kissinger. If he really has the courage of his convictions, he will run from this plan as fast as his feet can carry him. When Dan Halutz tells you it’s a slam dunk that’s when you know you’re up to your ass in alligators if you take his advice. I can’t say what Olmert will do. Thus far, he has taken all the wrong advice in prosecuting this war. But perhaps now, after he sees how badly it’s going for both his civilians and his troops, he will see reason and bargain seriously for a ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal coordinated with a Lebanese deployment in the south and Hezbollah retreat from the border.