What Is Hezbollah Up To?
Maybe time really is on their side.
What do Hezbollah's leaders think they're doing? Could they possibly believe they could come out ahead in this war against Israel? Well, yes.
Mahmud Qomati, a member of Hezbollah's political council, told the Agence France-Presse wire service today that the organization could keep up its rocket attacks "for months," adding, "Time is on our side." Big talk, but it might be true.
According to data accumulated by the Web site GlobalSecurity.org, Hezbollah units have 13,000 rockets with a range of 15 miles, 500 rockets of 50-mile range, and perhaps a few dozen of 75-mile range.
In the week since this conflict began, they've been firing on average 100 rockets a day. Do the math: This could go on, as Qomati said, for months.
Israeli Gen. Alon Friedman claims that Israeli forces have destroyed 10,000 Hezbollah rockets since their air raids began. Not only is the boast doubtful on its face, it's unclear how any such estimate could be made. During the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. Air Force intelligence officials claimed that coalition air raids were destroying dozens of Iraqi Scud missiles. After the war, battlefield surveys revealed that not a single Scud had been hit.
Hezbollah's rockets—most obtained, over the years, from Iran—are around 1 foot in diameter and 15 to 20 feet long. Except for those with the longest range (which may be too complicated for Hezbollah fighters to operate without foreign assistance), they can be fired from launchers consisting of a few planks. In other words, they're easy to hide and quick to set up.
The AFP story reports that the Israelis have been bombing trucks, some of them carrying rockets, on the road to southern Lebanon. A photographer saw 11 trucks destroyed in a suburb of Beirut. Some truck drivers are refusing to drive south, fearful of more attacks.
Bombing the roads and bridges will slow the transportation of missiles and other supplies but probably not halt it. "Interdiction campaigns," as such tactics are known, have a spotty record in the annals of military history. The other side can fairly easily repair the damage or find alternative routes. It's also hard to tell a "rocket convoy" from an ordinary truck. In at least one case, the Israelis reportedly bombed vehicles carrying medicine from the United Arab Emirates—a sure way to alienate supporters and harden hearts and times. (The UAE is among the Arab nations that have criticized Hezbollah for starting this round of violence.)
Can Hezbollah's rockets do much damage? No. The most powerful warheads are packed with only 100 to 200 pounds of explosive. They miss their targets by, on average, two-thirds of a mile. This may be why Qomati said Hezbollah had, for the moment, "suspended" its attempts to target the petrochemical plant in Haifa—they can't hit it. Still, accuracy isn't necessary to keep up a campaign of terror—and that may be all Hezbollah needs to do.
But, the question remains, what is it they want to do? If their goal is to destroy the state of Israel, they're going to fall short. But if their goal is simply to stand up to Israel, to wage a war of attrition, and to walk away from it intact, their reputation enhanced, they could accomplish that.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.