17 July, 2006

Israeli grand strategy

Major offensive operations are underway in the Middle East, and things are about to get a whole lot worse. Israel’s forces are engaged in a full-scale mobilization, a move that that would only be made in preparation of war—it is too costly, too dangerous, to take such an action for anything less. Hezbollah sees those preparations, and is launching rockets like there's no tomorrow. Both HAMAS and Hezbollah are looking to use what forces they have before they are lost to Israeli strikes, and in so doing they encourage the battle to come. Then, each hopes to engage in a prolonged guerrilla struggle. But Israel doesn’t intend to play that game.

Israel’s strategy is, in part, predicated on lessons learned from the American experience in Iraq. One conclusion that has been drawn by Israel is that rapid military victory is possible, but the pain of occupation is optional. By this reasoning, the mistake for the United States in Iraq was to try to secure and rebuild that country. That kind of idealism is a luxury a small state like Israel can’t afford. Thus, the creation of viable states—democratic or otherwise‑‑is not a goal for Israel. Instead, if one assumes that the intentions of most of its neighbors are and will remain destructive, a reasonable assumption given the events of the past sixty years, the only question is how much of a capability one’s enemies will have. In these conditions, the goal is not to rebuild a state, but to remove it from play. Lebanon, despite all the progress towards liberal democracy of the past few years, is about to be returned to the condition when it was a state in name only.

How would this be done? Hit hard, get out, and make a deal with the weakest faction of the divided enemy. Encourage the imposition of a government dependent on outside assistance. If that is not possible, encourage civil war. Seal the borders‑‑by a wall, or otherwise‑‑and let one’s adversaries kill one another.

It is an old strategy. It is a strategy that served European colonialists in several parts of the world. But Israel shouldn’t expect that kind of long-term success. The world has changed. A network of non-state actors can continue to operate long after the formal collapse of the government. Perhaps Israel recognizes this and sees its plans to be the best of a bad set of options, a device to buy time. But time is not on their side: demographically and economically, Israel’s position is slipping. Militarily Israel remains preeminent, but that only continues to encourage an asymmetric—terrorist—style of war. Perhaps, with luck, this operation will give Israel another twenty years. It will create zones that are incapable of mounting a serious military threat for a decade or two. That is a significant achievement. However, it will not bring peace. It is an acknowledgement that peace is not possible. And if the birth rates and improvements in military skills of Israel’s adversaries (state and non-state) continue to grow more rapidly than those of Israel, it does nothing to end the underlying problems.

Syria and Iran remain important unknowns. What can they do? Whatever it is they are capable of doing today, it has to be less dangerous than what they can do after Iran has an operational nuclear weapon. After all, from the Israeli point of view, Iran and Syria are already at war with Israel‑‑through proxies. If these states thought they could win any other kind of war today, they'd be fighting it. Instead, they are using Hezbollah while building their own forces. Time is not with Israel. But again, there is another lesson of Iraq: Israel has the option of preventive war.

10 July, 2006


Still catching up on my foreign news (Izvestya, July 5th, pp1-2), I came across this little gem. A very interesting take on Iraq, counter-terrorism, and Russian special operations:

We approached some special services experts for comments about President Vladimir Putin's order to locate and eliminate those who killed the Russian Embassy staff in Iraq. Our sources describe this task as extremely difficult and costly, but achievable. In their view, it will be much more difficult than what Israel succeeded in doing: eliminating ten of the 11 terrorists who killed Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. We attempted to clarify how our special services might go about carrying out President Putin's order.
According to our sources, a top-secret unit called Zaslon ('covering
detachment') was established within the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) in 1998, to provide armed back-up for SVR operations. The Zaslon squad recruited about 300 people with experience in special operations abroad. Russia's special services have carried out such operations on numerous occasions. The new squad is just as well-equipped as the legendary Alfa and Vympel commandos. Its personnel are on duty around the clock, and they don't inform other Russian special services of their plans. Sergei Shestov, chief executive of an international organization of security service veterans, says that the general public in Russia and abroad might never be told about a special operation's results, even if the operation is successful.

But before any force can be used, those who killed the Russian Embassy staff must first be found.

Special services sources are sure that the killers are no longer in Iraq. We heard this opinion from Russian Ambassador to Iraq Vladimir Chamov, and from Sergei Goncharov, president of the Alfa Veterans Association. Oleg Yakubov is a specialist on international terrorism, the author of "Wolf Pack" and "On the Trail of Bin Laden." He told us: "We can't rule out the possibility that the perpetrators and organizers of the terrorist act might be linked to Chechnya's underground. I know of a number of cases where Wahhabis, after being trained in terrorist camps, have practiced their techniques in locations with unstable regimes. Chechnya used to be such a location, and so was Afghanistan. Now it might be Iraq."

And there's another theory: the roots of this crime should be sought in the United States.

"I am deeply convinced that Muslims had nothing to do with this abduction," says Sergei Goncharov. " What happened has been advantageous for the Americans -this terrorist act could drive a wedge between Russia and the Islamic world, as the United States seeks to do"...

FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev has promised a reward of $10 million for information about the terrorists who killed the Russian Embassy staff. Experts say that money could help, but this amount isn't enough."This information won't come cheap," says Oleg Yakubov. "There's too much money available there. I think it would require a reward of hundreds of millions of dollars."...

..."We have some experience with operations in the Islamic world," says Sergei Goncharov. "What's more, in many cases the Muslims have willingly cooperated with us. But I don't think we should count on much assistance from the Iraqi special services. They might be glad to help, but they aren't in control of the situation in Iraq."

According to Goncharov, buying information is the leading method for working in the Islamic world. The next method involves planting agents. But it won't do to use a blond with obviously Slavic features, as in Qatar during the operation that eliminated Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. The Russian special services have a shortage of suitable personnel for working in Muslim countries.

For this reason, there might be increased cooperation with special services in former Soviet countries that are loyal to Russia. Oleg Yakubov: "In this context, I'd prioritize the special services of Uzbekistan. They were the first special services in the former Soviet Union to encounter Islamic radicals, and managed to win that battle. I've done a lot of work in Uzbekistan, meeting with its leaders and special service personnel. I don't think they would refuse to help Russia, with personnel as well as advice."

But Russia probably shouldn't count on any assistance from the United States."The Americans won't help us," says Sergei Goncharov. "They will never be our partners - only fellow-travellers, at best. And besides, they don't have much more control over the situation in Iraq than the Iraqis themselves."

Russian counter-terrorism

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (July 6, pp. 1-2) reports on the most recent Russian version of the PATRIOT act:
The Duma passed a bill yesterday that amends a score of federal laws related to countering terrorism, extremism, and money laundering. The president will be empowered to make decisions on deploying special forces in operations abroad. Additional powers will be invested in the Federal Security Service (FSB): it will now be permitted to fight terrorists by means that violate the constitutional rights of citizens, without court warrants. Rewards paid for information on terrorist acts and terrorists will be tax-exempt. Media outlets whose correspondents are accredited in counter-terrorism operation zones will find themselves under even tighter control. Confiscation of assets and property will be introduced as a penalty for crimes specified by several dozen articles of the Criminal Code.

The use of the secret services in counter-terrorism operations abroad will be permitted by amending two laws at once - the law on the FSB and the law on countering terrorism. The president's decisions in such cases will not be restricted in any way at all - certainly not by involving any other government institutions in the decision-making. At present, the president requires the Federation Council's consent to send Russian Armed Forces units abroad...

The FSB will get some new counter-terrorism powers. When counter-intelligence operations are under way, state security will be permitted to encroach on citizens' constitutional rights (the right to deny entry to one's home, the privacy of correspondence and telephone conversations) without a court warrant obtained in advance - as long as the court is informed within 24 hours and permission granted within 48 hours (or the unconstitutional activities will have to be halted). The FSB is also expected to inform the Prosecutor General's Office within 24 hours.Secret agents and concerned citizens will be able to count on tax-free rewards for information as of January 1. Journalists in counter-terrorism operation zones will now have to go through the operation commander for everything. The operation commander will decide what to tell journalists and what to withhold. The law expressly forbids media outlets to report anything that might jeopardize the success of an operation or the lives of secret service officers. Violating this provision will be punishable by fines: between 500 and 2,000 rubles for journalists, between 1,000 and 5,000 rubles for chief editors, and 30-100,000 rubles for media companies.The bill was passed in the first reading in mid-April.

Another example of functional convergence? It will be interesting to compare how it is applied over there versus what happens in the US.

09 July, 2006

Quid pro quos

Stratfor makes a couple of interesting observations about the Bin Laden media blitz following the death of Al-Zarkawi. First, the fact that Bin Laden and Mullah Omar used very different formats and presentation styles suggests that the two were not in the same place at the time these messages were made. Second, the text of Bin Laden's message essentially boils down to a message to the Sunni in Iraq to continue the violence against the Shi'a. Bin Laden doesn't usually comment on failures (he has ignored the deaths of several senior associates in Saudi Arabia), but in this case he seems to be afraid that the Iraqi's are going to rally around the government and find a political solution to their differences.

The fact that the Iraqi cabinet was formalized on the same day as Al-Zarkawi's death may be one more reason for Bin Laden to be nervous. Perhaps Al-Zarkawi's head was part of a quid pro quo connected to the distribution of powers?

08 July, 2006


Today (August 1st) I find the following post by me, marked 7/7, in my "to revise" file...

J.Peter Pham and Michael Kraus, in TCS Daily, makes an obvious (but too often overlooked) point: "the insurgency in Iraq (which is certainly being fanned by Iranian meddling), Iran's nuclear ambitions, Palestinian terrorism, and Israeli security -- are interrelated, and that their nexus is in fact Hezbollah." I'd agrue that Hezbollah is better thought of as one nexus--eliminating it wouldn't end the problems or the interconnections--but they provide a good overview of one part of a web.

Evidently Israel saw it that way, too.

07 July, 2006

London bombers and al-Qaeda

The question, one year after the London bombing, is exactly what the relationship was between the local cell and the operational leadership of al-Qaeda. What looked like a local terrorist group now looks more like a well-organized transnational network, with much of its work being done in Pakistan. For details, see BBC, Were bombers linked to al-Qaeda?