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The Thousand Year War, Continued | Main | Bring Your Kids To Your Terrorist War Day
July 16, 2006

Not-So-Cool Facts About Israel

Correction: Dave tells me I really lowballed the Exocet's price tag. $2000 does seem pretty damn low. But his guess of $300,000 seems to high. Our Javelin missiles -- super-advanced -- cost like $1 mil a piece, so I don't know that middle-weight French missile cost that much in 1982. Maybe in today's dollars. In any event, I've deleted my lowball guesstimate.

I've also added an update at the end, a link to the old article "Why Arabs Lose Wars," sent to me by steven_in_hb.


Although Israel is popularly imagined to be an ass-kicking state that is hellacompetent at fighting wars, I think this is now an overhyped idea. I think those who think that Israel merely needs to unleash its formiddable warmachine on its enemies are vastly overstating Israel's power.

For one thing, there's the fact that it's a tiny state. It has a strong economy, but economies tend to be badly disrupted when rockets are hitting important cities and a large fraction of its economically-productive citizenry is moved into the economically-useless (but militarily critical) army.

Israel's previous wars have been mercifully short. Can Israel actually fight a long war?

Israel has better technology than its enemies, but not that much better. The fact that a multimullion dollar British warship could be destroyed (or crippled, at least) by a relatively cheap French Exocet missile during the Falklands war demonstrated a technological shift that favored smaller, weaker armies. An Israeli ship has been crippled by an Iranian missile; I imagine that much of Israel's assumed advantage is in fact no longer much of advantage at all due to the proliferation of Chinese advanced missiles.

The US responded to this sea-change, as it were, by creating a massive missile-screen around its carrier groups with Aegis cruisers and the like; Israel doesn't have anything like that capability.

Patriot missiles have been deployed to the north, but, if they've successfully shot down a Hezbollah rocket, I have yet to hear of it.

There is an idea that Israel can fly into Iran and hit a bunch of critical targets. I doubt it. For one thing, the Israel airforce is not vast -- 500 warplanes or so -- and its doubtful that such a small airforce could do much to punish or cripple Iran's warmaking, or dissuade it from making further war. We're used to seeing the US completely own the skies in a country we attack -- but that's because we destroy almost all of their radar and anti-aircraft missile batteries early, with cruise missiles and precision guided bombs from Stealth fighters. (For shits and giggles, we also usually take out all of the enemies aircraft pretty early, too.) Israel doesn't have anything like that -- which means that a hypoethetical squadron flying into Iran will face a daunting guantlet of fairly-advanced anti-aircraft missiles, as well as Iran's not-insignificant and not-primative fighters.

And even if half the squadron survives, what then? What level of punishment can twenty or thirty F-16's inflict with relatively small bombs? It's always fun to talk about a "decapitating strike," but the US has trouble managing such a thing, and we've got the best planes and bombs and real-time tactical info in the world. The odds of hitting, say, the location that Ahmadinejad is at at any particular moment are low, and even if the location is hit, there's no guarantee that smallish bombs will kill him.

Syria might be an easier state to attack. But even a good kill, like hitting Bashar Assad, doesn't accomplish much. Assad is an Idiot Prince who pretty much does what the old guard of the Syrian military tells him to do. To effect a true decapitating strike, Israel would have to kill not only Assad but the bulk of the old guard who more or less rules the country.

I don't write this with the intent of suggesting "All is doomed." I'm just trying to provide, to the extent I know anything (and I don't know much-- this is basic impressions gleaned from the same news you read), some context for the crisis.

Israel may be focusing on southern Lebanon because they figure that's pretty much the limit of the realistic military capabilities. Or they may worry that more ambitious attacks would result in unnacceptable losses to their air force, resulting in Israel itself being much more open to direct attack from enemy air forces.

Iran has a lot of money right now. Their economy is not a basket-case. They underperform, of course, as almost all Muslim nations do; but they're in economically good shape, especially with the price of oil so high (partly so high due to their constantly threatening war and thus making everyone fear a disruption in supplies).

I really wish people would stop buying SUVs. I'm sure they're good vehicles, and there are practical reasons for driving them. But they consume a lot of gas, increasing demand and putting more money in Iran's (and Saudi Arabia's, and Venezuela's, and Russia's) pockets.

Are they worth it?

I'm not sure what Israel can do that it's not doing now. Perhaps if they sent in commando squads to abduct or assassinate Lebanese Hezbollah politicians. They are fair targets -- they are the political representatives of an army with which Israel is at war. Leadership is always a legitimate target.

This wouldn't send a message to Hezbollah. There's hardly any point to sending Muslims "messages;" they alway ignore them. Give them their due -- they are implacable.

But suddenly purging the Lebanese government of its Hezbollah representatives might free up that government to take action against Hezbollah, or at least make it more difficult for it to operate.

Update: A very old article, "Why Arabs Lose Wars," that I remember reading just after 9/11.

A good one in case you've never read it, and a bit uplifting.

Then again, I think Arabs and Muslims have realized they can't win actual "wars" and so have resorted to terrorism, which, gee willickers, it turns out they're quite good at.

The Moral Hazard of Sophistic Progressivism: Those who tout Israel's well-nigh-invincibility in regional wars should remember, too, that the Israel of 1967 or 1973 is not the Israel of today.

I can't prove it, but something tells me that Israel wasn't so filled with pussies back then as to have protestors demanding a surrender to terrorists.

A Semi-Correction: Melkor writes that I'm wrong to expect Patriots to shoot down Katyushka rockets, as those are just too small for the Patriots to target and hit. He says the Patriots need a bigger target, like SCUDs, which he calls "big trash in the sky."

Makes sense. But then Israel can't expect much reprieve from the hundreds of rockets being lobbed at it.

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posted by Ace at 02:52 PM

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