July 31, 2006

More about the Herald Sun story

The thing that is really misleading, however, about the Herald Sun story (two posts below) is that bit about how the anti-aircraft gun's crew are "dressed in civilian clothing so that they can quickly disappear."

I'm sorry, but what possible difference can the lack of a uniform have for an anti-aircraft gun's crew 100 km behind the front? Their combatant status is pretty much guaranteed by the presence of the gun. Or does anyone think that an Israeli jet pilot that spotted that gun from 16,000 feet up is going to notice or care what shirt its crew are wearing before launching a weapon to kill it? The target is the gun, itself... the crew can disappear all they want but the gun will still be just as destroyed.

Precision weapons come at you out of the blue, as well. There's no time for anyone to run and hide. The only escape for this gun once the Israelis spotted it and had the ammunition to spare for what is a fairly marginal weapon would be to camouflage the gun, or drive it away. This crew could be wearing comic opera uniforms from the HMS Pinafore and it wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference to either their survival chances or operational effectiveness.

So why are they wearing civilian clothes? Could it be because they're guerrillas and that's what guerrillas do? Do we really believe we must now demonize anyone, anywhere, who takes up arms without a uniform, as being an automatic war criminal solely for that reason alone?

"Hiding behind the population" allegations are tricky, especially when dealing with divided populations like Lebanon. Apparently Hezbollah's leadership can sit in the Lebanese Parliament. However, if they keep an office or even an apartment in Beirut, that's a war crime. I'm really not convinced that's either a valuable or particularly sustainable line of critique.

The U.S. president, like the leader of many countries, is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, making his house and office legitimate military targets, but I don't see any cries to close the White House and move him and his family into Colorado Mountain, even though apparently all they're doing in Washington is endangering the local populace with their presence. If comparing Mr. Bush's continued possession of a D.C. address with the act of a bank robber holding a baby up as a shield seems unseemly -- a bona fide human shield case -- it's hard to see why it should be a hard and fast rule in Lebanon's case, either. But this is one of the mental hoops one must jump through to support the increasingly untenable fiction that this is a war by Israel against Hezbollah, not Lebanon itself.

You can easily make a case against Hezbollah -- that they've repeatedly defied the UN, and occasionally attacked their representatives, that they're Palestinian rejectionists, that their leadership has committed or supported acts of terrorism, that their raid in mid-July that killed eight Israelis and captured two was a groundless, reckless, and entirely immoral act, that they've never been held to account for their suspected involvement in the 1983 terror attacks on American and French peacekeepers -- without the uniform-wearing thing, which seems by comparison to be by far the most venial of their sins.

In any case, the fact the uniform thing is being brought up at all seems more an excuse for recent Israeli misbehaviour than any serious attempt to castigate all guerrillas and insurgents everywhere as war criminals.

Posted by BruceR at 09:43 PM

We get mail

From Hilton W., on Flit's post on the UNTSO bombing:

"I'm confused by your assessment of the outpost bombing as "probably just bad luck and/or a Kandahar-bombing style pilot 'error.' " It doesn't look anything like an error to me. I don't see how, after UN forces asked them repeatedly for hours to stop, the IDF would manage to score its first four direct hits on the outpost at 1830 if they didn't intend to hit the building. That would be amazingly bad luck, since they'd never hit the building before. But the building didn't collapse. An hour later the outpost was 'accidentally' hit with at least one precision-guided missile and destroyed. Since the pilot wasn't launching the mortars that hit the building, it is very hard to see how this could be recklessness on the part of a single pilot. The UN rescue crew was fired upon. That's a lot of accidents.

"We know the intensity of fire around the outpost hadn't been that high in the days previous and there were no reports of Hezbollah in the area on that day. Here's a theory: suppose the IDF read the major's email and his line about the unintentional shots landing within metres and the tactical necessity of firing shots that landed close. Suppose they saw this as a ready-made excuse for levelling the place. Someone drafts an OPORD. On the day of the operation, starting in the morning, they hit the area with a large number of firings close hoping the repeated shocks could cause structural failure. When that didn't work, and when the pressure was increasing from the UN, they went to plan B, direct hits with artillery. When that failed, they called in their last resort, the least-plausible accident they could have, a precision-guided missile. If they'd wanted to, they could have coordinated a window of opportunity for the observers to evacuate, but they didn't. They kept saying they'd stop, but they never did. If the IDF couldn't fall back and were firing in self-defence, that's the only conceivable defence for continuous firing on that outpost, but they never claimed self-defense. They said they were softening up the area for an up-coming advance. I'd really like to hear a knowledgeable alternative explanation. Sorry for the long, unsolicited email. I haven't been able to stop thinking about this and the stuff I've been reading hasn't been well-informed."

Posted by BruceR at 02:37 PM

The Hezbollah AA gun, and rockets

I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what the pictures at this link prove.

Of the three photos in the Herald Sun slide show, two are of the same twin-barrelled 23 mm ZU-23 AA gun, mounted on a truck, and the other one is of nothing much at all. The gun has a max range of about 2.5 km, and so is of no practical threat whatsoever to Israel, or Israeli pilots for that matter. The picture was supposedly taken in a location about 100 km from the Israeli border. There are no actual photos of any Hezbollah rockets that I could see.

The story alleges, despite that lack of supporting photographic evidence, that Hezbollah fired one or more rockets from this Beirut Christian neighborhood, Wadi Chehrour. That's a long way from Israel... only a very few of the most powerful Hezbollah surface-to-surface rockets could have reached anything at all from that location.

Hezbollah's 10,000-plus unguided rocket arsenal is known to consist of the following armaments:

* 107mm BM-12 (range 8 km)
* 122mm BM-21 (Katyushas; range 20 km)
* 220mm BM-27 (range 30-40km)
* 240 mm Fajr-3 (range 40km)
* 333 mm Fajr-5 (AKA Khaibar-1; range 72km)
* 610 mm Zelzal-2 (range 210 km)

In quantities, those 10-13,000 rockets Hezbollah had at the start of this are generally accepted to be almost entirely the first two types, with perhaps several hundred of the longer-range ones. The Zelzal-2s can be counted in perhaps the dozens.

The depth of the strikes that have surprised western media has actually been predicted by Israeli intelligence for several years, and comes as no surprise to anyone who had previously taken a look at Hezbollah's capabilities. However, the longest-range hits so far are assumed to have been the second most powerful type, Fajr-5s, fired from just inside the Lebanese border. Israel has not claimed to have been hit by any Zelzal-2s to date, which both leave a considerably larger crater than the other rockets, and would be undoubtedly aimed at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for maximum effect. Hezbollah has not made any statement that would indicate they've fired one of those yet, either.

ZelZalThe Zelzal-2 is a HUGE freaking rocket, requiring its own TEL vehicle (transporter erector-launcher). They are, by definition, Hezbollah's most powerful artillery asset. They have undoubtedly been one of the highest-value targets for Israeli pilots, in part because they are also the most likely carrier for any chemical warheads Hezbollah might happen to acquire someday. (The upside is that they, unlike the other rockets, probably fly high and long enough for Israeli Patriot SAM batteries to have a chance at intercepting them.) They are generally believed to be in well-camouflaged, well-guarded improvised static positions in the Bekaa Valley.

So, to buy the Herald Sun's story, you have to accept that Hezbollah wheeled its most powerful weapons of all into Wadi Chehrour a couple weeks back, and may have fired them off, at some target other than either of Israel's major cities, without claiming responsibility for those impacts, without Israel telling the world and their own population they were now under attack by the practical equivalent of Scud missiles, and without any photographic evidence of any of this. Or you can believe that the witness, apparently an Australian civilian trying to get the hell out of the country at the time, was a little confused... for instance, mistaking a shoulder-launched SAM fired from the vicinity at some Israeli aircraft for a Katyusha. (Actually, note that the Australian eyewitness never says the Hezbollah fighters, if that's what they were, actually *fired* their rocket(s) before being attacked and destroyed from the air, meaning there's a second possibility... that whatever rockets the witness did see were being driven through the Christian neighborhood to another destination, possibly farther south.)

Which, when you think about it, is the real message of these pictures. Hezbollah, or whomever these people are (they're not flying any flags, and there's lots of 23mm guns lying around Lebanon) is shown driving an anti-aircraft gun into or through a Christian Beirut neighborhood. They may even have been firing it from that location. Which, frankly, helps explain why Christian Lebanese may be rapidly becoming pro-Hezbollah in their sympathies. The message in the act is, "we'll protect you." Personally, if I was under air attack, I'd also be at least a little favourably disposed to someone who drove into the neighborhood with a weapon like this and started firing back... however ineffectual it might be, and so long as they didn't do it from my own back yard. If Hezbollah wanted to win Lebanese Christian sympathies, providing those neighborhoods even symbolic anti-aircraft cover right now would be a really good way for them to start, and these photos possible evidence that they're doing just that.

What this is definitely *not* is, pace Andrew Sullivan, *any* kind of evidence by itself for the claim that Hezbollah has been firing rockets "from civilian areas in order to provoke Israeli counter-strikes whose civilian deaths can then be deployed through the mass media to intensify the psychological warfare on Israel." They may well be doing this, too, of course, but if solid evidence is ever presented of this it will more likely come in photos taken from Tyre or Marji'yun, launch points from where rockets Hezbollah wouldn't mind losing quite so much could actually reach Israel -- certainly not a Beirut suburb. Someone's been had on this one.

PS: Did you know that the official Israeli name for this operation was Operation Change of Direction?

Posted by BruceR at 02:15 PM