Saturday, March 17, 2007

From the Mediterranean to the Subcontinent

This is dangerous (h/t to John Robb):

Riot police smashed into the offices of Geo television in Islamabad after editors refused to stop transmitting pictures of police clashing with stone-throwing protesters. Glass doors were broken and journalists were assaulted by officers who ordered them to remove a rooftop camera with a panoramic view of the street violence.


President Pervez Musharraf later rang the television station to make an unprecedented live apology. "The first thing is that it was a very sad incident. It should have not happened, and I condemn it," he said, vowing to "take action" against the culprits.
The incident was a measure of how badly government efforts to deflate the judicial crisis are failing. For the past eight days Gen Musharraf has been trying to sack the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, claiming he is guilty of unspecified charges of misconduct.
But the judge and his swelling brigade of supporters, who have paralysed the courts, say the charges have been cooked up to ensure Gen Musharraf can be easily re-elected as president later this year.


Gen Musharraf's difficulty is that Justice Chaudhry, despite enormous pressure, refuses to resign. At yesterday's sitting of the supreme judicial council his lawyers argued that the hearing was biased against him. The next hearing is scheduled for March 21.

I get the sense that something very bad could[is] happen[ing] in Pakistan. If that occurs, the relative handful of widely dispersed NATO troops in Afghanistan better have a hasty withdrawal planned. A stable Pakistan is key to the relative safety of NATO next door, because it could go from a more or less passive enabler of the Taleban insurgency (eg the great Waziristan logistics base), to an active one, nuclear at that. Lord knows how things would change with India, but it wouldn't be pleasant.

And then there's this from Martin van Creveld:

From the mid-1950s until the end of the Cold War, what made Syria’s aggression against Israel possible was the fact that Damascus got its military hardware almost for free from the Soviet Union. With the collapse of communism, this arrangement came to an end, leaving late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad with a debt of well over $10 billion. Since he did not have the money to pay, most procurement was brought to a halt.

Equipped only with the weapons they had been provided in the wake of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Syrian armed forces were allowed to decay until much of their equipment was fit only for the junkyards. Now, however, the balance seems again to be tilting toward Damascus.

The first step was taken in January 2005. In an apparent effort to reassert Moscow’s power in the Middle East, Russian President Vladimir Putin forgave Damascus three quarters of its debt; the rest, it seems, has now been paid by Iran. This agreement enabled the Syrians to start rebuilding their armed forces.

Damascus began by completing the large array of surface-to-surface Scud missiles that, with North Korean help, they had been building throughout the 1990s. As a result, they now have several hundred such missiles. Some are armed with chemical warheads, and some are capable of reaching just about any target inside Israel.

Of late, the Syrians have gone on a real shopping spree. They have bought Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles and anti-ship missiles capable of being launched either by sea or by land. The equipment in question is modern and extremely sophisticated. Some of it has yet to even enter service in Russia itself — and much of it is as good as, if not better than, anything found in the West.

Meanwhile, the Syrian High Command has also been studying the lessons of the recent war in Lebanon. From the little that has leaked out, it is possible to put together the following picture: Seen from Damascus, Israel’s strategic deterrent has proved irrelevant, and it can, provided some limits are observed, be safely ignored. During this past summer’s hostilities with Hezbollah, the only part of the Israeli military that performed credibly was the air force.

To be sure, excellent intelligence and superb command and control enabled the air force to knock out every single Hezbollah-owned surface-to-surface missile launcher either before it could come into action or immediately after it had done so. The Israelis, however, had an easy task, since their fighter-bombers were facing practically no opposition; even so, fearing casualties, they hardly dared use their helicopters. Moreover, the air force failed to stop the short-range rockets raining down on northern Israel.

The Israeli air force could wreak much destruction, but it could not force a decision.

At sea and on land, Israel did much worse. Following a successful Hezbollah missile strike that hit, but did not sink, one of Israel’s ships, the navy was forced to stay well away from the Lebanese shore. It blockaded Lebanon’s ports but was unable to do much to influence the battle.

The ground forces, both conscripts and reservists, proved heavy handed, hesitant, slow, ill trained and ill motivated. In part, they were also badly commanded; too many senior officers, instead of leading their men as they used to do, stayed behind their computers well in the rear. Overall there was precious little to show that these were the same forces that as recently as 1982 had taken just one week to reach Beirut.

Considering these demonstrated shortcomings on the Israeli side, the outline of a possible Syrian plan of attack is not hard to guess. In contrast to Syria’s launching of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, there will be no large-scale offensive action either in the air — expect, perhaps, by commando forces — or on the ground.

Instead, some incident will be generated and used as an excuse for opening rocket fire on the Golan Heights and the Galilee. Once that happens, Hezbollah will most likely be induced to join in. The United Nations forces in Lebanon will, as usual, prove to be a broken reed.

Should the Israelis respond by sending in their heavy armor, the Syrians will stay on the defensive, relying on their newly acquired anti-tank missiles to break the assault. Should the Israelis send in their air force, the Syrian anti-aircraft missile batteries will be waiting for them.

To deter the Israelis from escalating the struggle and smashing Syria’s infrastructure, as they did in Lebanon, the Syrians will rely on their missiles. The overall goal will be to draw out the conflict and inflict casualties, civilian as well as military, until Jerusalem finally throws in the towel.

To be sure, the Syrian plan is not without risk. One problem facing the Syrians is that the terrain on and east of the Golan Heights, unlike southern Lebanon, provides scope for the kind of armored maneuver warfare that, long ago, used to be Israel’s forte. Damascus, therefore, will have to start by creating a vast array of artificial obstacles capable of trapping the Israeli tanks; indeed, for some time now they have been doing just that.

Second, relying on chemical warheads to balance the Israeli air force’s ability to strike at Syria may be extremely dangerous, given both Jews’ aversion to gas and the widespread belief that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. Such, however, are the hazards of war, and experience suggests that they may be contained. Given Israel’s reluctance to take casualties and its lack of fighting spirit — as demonstrated all too clearly this past summer in Lebanon — overall the emerging Syrian plan is a good one with a reasonable chance of success.

I have no idea if Syria means to attack Israel as any state in the region must assume war is just around the corner and will therefore continually prepare for it. If a state is given a break that allows it gain a strategic advantage, it will. However, I do think van Creveld is right when he argues Israel exposed a military weakness when it failed to destroy Hezbollah. I recall thinking at the time that every potential enemy of Israel would be taking notes.

Combined with the ongoing and bloody drama in Iraq and maybe soon Iran, a perfect storm is brewing from Mediterranean to the Indian Subcontinent. There shall be no winners if it comes.

Softly, softly...

Added: The West, especially those nations who insist on the perpetuation of Cold War and post-colonial power [im]balances need to wake up to a changing world if they want to avoid a catastrophic war with no returns. It is no surprise, for example, that after 50 years of the same, Israel's relative strength has weakened; or comparatively poor countries now have disproportionately greater strategic power because they hold massive supplies of key resources the West needs; or are quite able to develop strategic weapons previously only available to technologically advanced Western states.
Israel MUST make peace with its neighbours. The US MUST find common ground with Iran and Syria. The US and NATO MUST acknowledge that involvement in Afghanistan may not be worth the long-term risk of destabilising a nuclear Pakistan. Solutions other than war are the only alternatives.

The future of the world cannot be held at stake by the whims of stupid publics, and their maladaptive bitter old patriarchs, elected or otherwise.

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