A few weeks ago, Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, boasted that Israel may be facing a seven-front war. He said this with the heedless boasting common among Israeli generals and politicians. The hubris of the hero who believes in Israel’s omnipotence and that the Fates will always shine on it.
It appears now that not only may Israel get its seven front war, but that the US will be joining it in the hostilities. If this happens, it will by no means be the cakewalk Gallant or Joe Biden imagines.
There is already major fighting with Hezbollah on the northern front. There are daily skirmishes, and units from both sides have crossed into enemy territory resulting 175 Lebanese deaths (130 fighters) and nine IDF soldiers and four civilians.
…Meron…is one of two bases…monitoring, and controlling air operations in Syria and Lebanon, with the other being the Mitzpe Ramon base in the south…
The Lebanese forces also fired long-range anti-tank shells which did extensive damage to the base’s surveillance capabilities. This indicates a major failure of Israeli defensive measures, since the IAF believed the Lebanese militia had no weapons with that range. There are defenses against these shells, but the IAF didn’t believe it warranted installing them. These anti-tank shells have a range of six miles, more than enough to reach the base. Clearly, Israel had no idea what was coming and was caught flat-footed. Imagine, you have a multi billion air base and don’t anticipate such an attack? After the intelligence disaster of 10/7, the army multiples its failures.
While an Israeli security source tells me that minor damage resulted because most of the base is underground; images like the one above indicate otherwise. This proves the militia’s ability to reach major Israeli military targets. Unlike in 2006 Lebanon war, when its missiles were virtually unguided and struck indeterminately, it now has advanced Iranian missile targeting technology:
Hezbollah leader…Hassan Nasrallah boasted that the militant group used a Burkhan missile against an Israeli military post along the Israel-Lebanon border. If true, the launch would represent use of a new type of missile in Hezbollah’s very large inventory of rocket and missile projectiles…
The reported firing of a Burkhan by Hezbollah illustrates both its acquisition of precision capability and Iranian-based supply. In remarks during a speech last Saturday, Nasrallah said the rocket could carry warheads between 661 and 1,100 pounds. “You can imagine (what happens) when half a ton of explosives fall on Israeli posts,” he quipped.
…There is little doubt that Hezbollah’s massive stock of rockets and missiles has a higher proportion of precision-guided projectiles than ever…Israel will find it very hard to stop them.
The next war, when rather than if it happens, will be even bloodier and more lethal than the prior conflict. Hamas is one thing. Hezbollah is quite another. It is a battle-hardened fighting force with 25,000 fighters and well over 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel’s cities and military installations. If there is a war there, it will not be the one it anticipates.
Israel too has upgraded its missile defense with Iron Dome systems which it claims have 90% accuracy. David’s Sling is another system designed to fell Hezbollah’s longer range weapons.
Israel’s response to the Hezbollah attacks was to assassinate one of Hamas’ senior leaders in Beirut and a senior Hezbollah commander in southern Lebanon. These tactics are splashy and dramatic. They make for great headlines and impress Israel’s security-obsessed population. But they have relatively little impact on the fighting capabilities of either group. As Israeli military correspondent Yossi Melman wrote:
Yet we have found, in studying Israeli tactics for half a century, that assassinations are not a strategy for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mossad veterans admit that targeted killings are merely a tactic…
The targeted strikes will continue [because] Israel’s intelligence agencies [are] anxious to restore their credibility [after the 10/7 security debacle] and reputation for…effectiveness…
IDF Failure in Gaza
The Gaza war proves that even if you destroy an entire territory, you can still lose the war. That is, Hamas does not have to win the war in any conventional sense. As long as it survives, it has won and Israel has lost. If you invade another country and declare maximalist goals of utterly destroying it (as Netanyahu has), yet you fail–you have lost. After nearly four months of fighting, this war proves that even if Israel occupies Gaza and fights Hamas forever, it cannot succeed.
Richard Falk wrote this about US geo-strategic failure, which holds equally true for Israel:
In the 21st century weapons alone rarely control political outcomes. The U.S. should have learned this decades ago in Vietnam, having controlled the battlefield and dominated the military dimensions of the war, and yet having failed to achieve control over its political outcome.
The mujahadeen proved this in Afghanistan. The FLN proved this in Algeria. The Vietcong proved this in Vietnam. The ANC proved this in South Africa. Insurgents are willing to absorb more punishment, and the commitment to their cause is deeper and means more to them than that of the foreign invader.
The IDF has still failed to dislodge Hamas. Nearly two-thirds of its forces remain (21,000 fighters). It maintains discipline in the face of immensely difficult conditions. It mounts sophisticated ambushes against Israeli forces, continuing to fight, wound and kill Israeli soldiers. Nearly 200 have died in combat. That is addition to the 700 soldiers, police and Shin Bet personnel killed by Hamas on 10/7. This is the greatest loss of life since the Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. That lasted for 20 years, while this war is just over 100 days.
Also, Hamas still holds 100 hostages. Despite constant bombardment, almost all remain alive. As pressure mounts inside Israel both against the government and its refusal to negotiate for the hostages’ release, Israelis have resumed their mass rallies demanding the government’s resignation.
Netanyahu swore to the world that Gaza was a fight to the end. A fight to eliminate Hamas. Many other Israeli leaders have gone farther, advocating forced expulsion of all of Gaza’s inhabitants. The more extreme the declared goals, the worse the failure to implement them. Of course, if they accomplished their goals it would be a horrible outcome. But failing to achieve them is a terrible blow to those implementing its war strategy. None of this is what they promised the Israeli public.
A strategic analyst for the International Crisis Group sizes up the mess into which Netanyahu has gotten himself and Israel:
Biden isn’t talking to Netanyahu, Netanyahu isn’t talking to his defense minister and the military is warning that Hamas is could soon regain control in north Gaza due to lack of political strategy. Israel isn’t just losing this war – it’s losing badly.
— Mairav Zonszein מרב זונשיין (@MairavZ) January 16, 2024
Despite its failure in Gaza, Israel is marching into yet another war with Hezbollah; where it will undoubtedly face the same debacle as its last adventure there in 2006. In that conflict, both sides paid dearly. But Israel had expected victory, and the enemy fought it to a standstill. A war there this time will prove even more daunting.
Israel faces the Axis of Resistance
Unlike in Israeli wars of the past two decades, there are many more regional players involved. Iran has mounted an Axis of Resistance including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Iraqi Shiite militias. All are playing roles in a coordinated regional response to Israel’s war on Gaza. In addition to Hezbollah and Hamas, the Iraqis have fired rockets and drones at US bases in Syria killing at least four soldiers since 10/7. The US has retaliated by attacking militia forces inside Iraq, bringing a stern rebuke from the Iraqi government.
The Houthis who are the sharpest thorn in the side of the world’s maritime powers. For the past decade, they have fought a war against Saudi Arabia and UAE, who sought to install their own puppet government there. The Houthis, themselves hardened fighters, withstood the massive military might of two far more powerful countries and stood their ground.
Nearly 400,000 Yemenis died from war and starvation, many of them children. Yet missiles and bullets do not break such forces. Nor does the massive suffering inflicted on the civilian population dent the will to resist. Whether you are Saudi Arabia, the US or Israel, you simply cannot win such wars.
After the failure of his military campaign, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman agreed to a ceasefire, which has held for a year. That has allowed the Yemenis to turn their attention to helping their Palestinian allies. Since November, they have launched 27 attacks on ships, unleashing salvos of Iranian-supplied anti-ship ballistic missiles and drones in the Bab al Mandab Strait, which leads to the Suez Canal. 20% of the world’s maritime cargo traverses this corridor. But that has been reduced to a trickle after shipping companies and their insurers refused to brave attack.
Though most of the Houthi weapons have been shot down, several have hit their targets. Recently, the Houthis launched a coordinated assault of scores of missiles, which stretched US naval defenses to the limit. These included cruise ballistic missiles. Though the chances of striking a US navy ship or sinking one is slim to none, there is no guarantee these vessels will intercept every one every time. If such a disaster befell US forces, all bets are off and we would be on the path to full-scale regional war.
US: failing to address the root cause
Rather than address the root causes of the Yemeni attacks, Pres. Biden and US military commanders have chosen to see them as an unprovoked attack against global maritime commerce. The Houthis are “malign” actors engaged in terrorism against global trade. Not fighting allies of Hamas and the Palestinian people, engaged in an act of solidarity with the suffering of Gaza. This is how the Houthis, and much of the world supporting Palestinian cause, see themselves.
The latest iteration of this failed military strategy is the retaliatory US and UK air strikes against multiple Houthi targets. After the first strike against them, the Yemeni forces fired more missiles, striking a US flagged ship. This brought a second round of strikes. All of which achieve virtually nothing, except permitting generals and admirals to show pictures of screaming F-35s taking off of aircraft carriers, and the flash of ordnance striking something in Yemen. Aside from the boasting, they have little to show for it. This is the way all western countries talk as they invade sovereign states attempting to impose “order” on an untidy country.
This is the way Ronald Reagan spoke of US intervention in Lebanon before a bomb killed 240 American soldiers. This is the way Pres. George H.W. Bush spoke when we invaded Iraq in 1980, calling Saddam the “mother of all evil.” It’s the way Pres. George W. Bush spoke when he invaded Iraq in retaliation for an assassination plot by Saddam Hussein against his father. It’s the way US presidents have spoken of US intervention in Afghanistan for decades, and the way they’ve spoken of earlier US interventions over even centuries.
We were going to impose our will and our ways on a recalcitrant, backward region. Bringing democracy and western values to the heathens. How did that turn out–every time?
Now another US president, protecting the interests of an ally, is permitting the US to be dragged into a conflict in which it has no business. We no longer have oil interests in the region, since we’ve become the world’s largest producer since 2018.
Further, the Middle East is a region colonial powers have tried to tame for centuries. It has always ended in failure. It will this time as well. Biden is walking into a trap he set for himself.
Biden has just designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization, a meaningless gesture:
The decision will require US financial institutions to freeze Houthi funds and its members will be banned from the US.
Funds? What funds? Do they think the Houthi have accounts with JP Morgan Chase? Or that they engage in financial transactions via international wire transfers? They do not need or use financial institutions nor enjoy summer vacations in the Las Vegas or Miami. Even more hypocritical, is naming them as terrorists when they are responding to actual genocidal terrorism in Gaza. Imagine if–after NATO bombed Serbia in response to the Srbrenica genocide, in what came to be known as “Shock and Awe”– it would be labeled a terrorist entity.
Any act of resistance against genocide is legitimate, including the attacks in the Red Sea. If it plays even the smallest role in deterring such mass slaughter, it is righteous and just.
The Houthis cannot be beaten. They are fighting on their home ground. They are fighting for a cause they understand better and believe in, more than we believe in our own reasons to fight there. While US and UK military might is formidable. It cannot destroy a people that is united in resistance. Despite the assault, the Houthis continue to fire their missiles. They will continue doing so until Biden ends the war on Gaza.
Note, I didn’t say until Israel ends the war. Israel will not end the war. It will fight there forever if allowed to do so. Israel occupied southern Lebanon for 20 years until 2002, when it withdrew in the face of massive troop losses at the hands of Hezbollah. It could be fighting just as long in Gaza if Biden permits it.
How many US soldiers is it worth to continue this war indefinitely? We lost 7,000 in Afghanistan and Iraq. Are we prepared to lose more in Syria and Iraq, where we still maintain a military presence? Are we prepared if Iran enters the fray, as it has so far refrained from doing? This is not idle speculation. While Iran understands that it has much to lose from a direct confrontation, there are limits beyond which its forbearance ends.
Israel seeks to provoke just such a response, because it is in its interests to wage war directly against Iran. But it does not wish to do so alone. An Iranian attack could resolve the US to join such an operation. That is yet another path to regional war.
Biden has been blinded by his fealty to Israel. Netanyahu has led him like a dog by the nose. Despite headlines declaring tension between Netanyahu and Biden, it never changes anything. The President and his spokespeople parrot words and phrases meant to reassure and reinforce. But their very blandness expose how pathetic the Administration approach has been.
MK Danny Danon, former Israeli UN ambassador has bragged on TV about defying every US plea to de-escalate hostilities and permit humanitarian aid. He boasts about how feeble we are. About how easy it is to defy us. Yet Biden continues to send billions in bullets and bombs to kill 24,000 Gazans and counting. He is making the US look like a fool, like Israel’s patsy.
The International Court of Justice has just heard a case of genocide against Israel brought by South Africa. What happens if the Court rules that Israel is engaged in genocide? Is there any hope that this will make Biden sit up and take notice?
Gaza could cost Biden the presidency
As I’ve written here, he takes little notice of the price he is paying politically to his election prospects. The majority of Americans believe Israel is engaged in genocide and oppose Biden’s policy.
He is in a tight race against Trump. He cannot win without his core constituencies. And he is losing them. Groups representing youth voters who campaigned intensively for Biden in 2020, have explicitly warned they will do so because of this policy.
Arab-American support has plummeted from 49% to 17%. These voters are key to Michigan witch is a must-win state for a Democratic presidential candidate. Though Biden has always had strong relationships with the unions, many have publicly demanded a ceasefire, which Biden opposes. Though the left wing of the Party has never been enamored by him, it is yet another piece of the electoral puzzle he needs to hold.
Yet they all are hanging by a slender thread. He doesn’t appear to understand this. Such obliviousness is his Achilles Heel. He may go down fighting on behalf of Israel and find himself pushed out of the White House, replaced by Donald Trump. If that happens, it will not be the fault of the those constituencies who abandoned him. It will be his own fault for ignoring them.