Military Strategy in Lebanon and Gaza When fighting began in Lebanon three weeks ago, Israel thought an air campaign against Hezbollah's leadership and weapon-storage locations would dismantle the group. However, the prolonged fighting shows that Hezbollah is a far more disciplined and prepared enemy than they anticipated. Guests on the program discuss the military tactics and larger strategic goals of both sides and what they are trying to accomplish.
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Military Strategy in Lebanon and Gaza

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Military Strategy in Lebanon and Gaza

Military Strategy in Lebanon and Gaza

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Early Sunday morning, an Israeli air strike hit a building in the southern Lebanese village of Qana and killed almost 60 people who were crowded in the basement for shelter; most of them were women and children. Afterwards, Israel announced a conditional and temporary bombing halt to allow relief workers and supplies into the area and to let civilians leave.

Several air strikes were reported today against what Israel described as imminent threats to its troops in southern Lebanon. There was also a pause in rocket attacks from Hezbollah, though the group did fire mortars into northern Israel.

The respite appears to be limited. In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan cancelled a meeting to discuss the formation of an international force for Lebanon. And in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that there will be no cease-fire until the threat of rockets was removed and two captured Israeli soldiers returned.

When the fighting began almost three weeks ago, many in Israel hoped that those aims might be achieved by a quick, overwhelming and decisive air campaign. Despite punishing attacks, Hezbollah continued to launch 100 rockets a day across the border - until today - hit an Israeli warship with a cruise missile and mounted unexpectedly tough resistance to Israel's ground forces.

Our main force of this hour is on how both sides are using their forces, and to what end. Later on the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page, we'll talk with Shibley Telhami about what this conflict means for al-Qaida. But first, tactics and strategies in the Middle East.

If you have questions about Hezbollah fights or how Israel does, about the political consequences of military operations, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is

And we begin with Colonel Robert Killebrew, a retired Army colonel now a consultant who writes and speaks on military affairs. He joins us from the studios of WHRO in Norfolk, Virginia.

Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, Colonel.

Colonel ROBERT KILLEBREW (U.S. Army, Retired; Military Affairs Analyst): Good afternoon, nice to be here.

CONAN: Prime Minister Olmert told mayors of northern Israeli towns today that the Israeli forces have delivered heavy, perhaps irreparable blows to Hezbollah. Anything to back him up on that?

Col. KILLEBREW: So far, hard to tell. This is a really hard war to try to gauge from this side of the Atlantic. In my opinion and in the opinion of others, it started quickly, escalated faster than any either side really had planned to. The Israelis - their intelligence is usually pretty good - probably thought it would be over quickly. Their chief of staff, who is an airman, said this is going to be an asymmetric war, meaning they were going to get mostly done by air power. That obviously didn't happen. Hezbollah has put up a much stronger resistance from the ground than they thought. And I might add here, Neal, Hezbollah has probably the second best army in the Middle East next to the Israelis themselves. So the ground campaign that's kind of tentatively starting now is going to be a punishing fight for the Israelis.

CONAN: And the Hezbollah has clearly shown discipline and training in response to those ground attacks.

Col. KILLEBREW: Absolutely. Well, they've had years to practice. They've turned southern Lebanon, in defiance of U.N. resolutions, into an armed camp. And they've attracted not only Hezbollah regulars, but lately now lots of very motivated militia. And they only have to defend against Israel, which has to attack. There's more of a strain on an attacking force in terms of coordination and communications and whatnot than Hezbollah has to show.

CONAN: The old formula used to be that an attacking force needed an advantage of three to one in order to enjoy success, but this is not an old time conflict.

Col. KILLEBREW: No. And I think we've gotten away from three to one starting in about 1960, actually. This is going to be a tough fight for the Israelis. Hezbollah not only has the advantage of ground, Hezbollah has done two very, very threatening things. The first is they are bringing in rockets now, although with some difficulty. But, you know, in the face of Israeli interdictions into their supply lines, they're bringing in rockets of increasing range. If what we're seeing now and beyond now is an escalation in the range of rockets, then all of Lebanon can become a launching pad. And that makes the Israelis' problem much, much harder.

CONAN: And it looks as if - again, the decision not to fire rockets today seemed like a decision rather than that they were forced to do it. So they apparently have the ability to launch 100 rockets a day for -well, for how long?

Col. KILLEBREW: Well, that's the question, isn't it? The original Israeli air strikes in retrospect, as we go back and analyze where they landed, were against the supply lines that Syria and Iran were using to bring the rockets up to firing - to the firing point. Before the war they bragged that they had thousands of rockets already stockpiled. So they either stopped firing today because they're trying to appear to be the international good guys, or they really maybe starting to run low on certain types of rockets. I'm not as concerned about continuing Katyusha barrages - of course, I don't have to be there under them - as I am the possibility that they're going to start bringing in longer and longer range rockets, which makes Israel's security problem much harder.

CONAN: And the point of the rockets, themselves militarily insignificant. They don't hit - they're un-aimed and they hit where they hit. And their point seems to be to bring Israeli ground forces into contact with Hezbollah. Where, as Mr. Nasrallah says, they can bleed them.

Col. KILLEBREW: And to strike the Israeli civil population in Haifa and wherever they can reach. There's been some talk about proportionality. The question of proportionality really is more in method than body count. And Hezbollah has been deliberately targeting civilian populations with these rockets since the beginning of the fight and before. Whatever you say about the Israelis - and I certainly agree that the loss of civilian lives has been horrendous - the Israelis are making an effort to strike military targets. Which brings me to my second point about Hezbollah that really is worth watching. They have, apparently with great planning and precision, cynically and long planted their weapons systems amid civilian populations and even inside or next to the U.N. positions to cause the kind of international backlash that you see now developing against the Israelis.

CONAN: Our number, if you'd like to join our conversation, is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is We're talking about the tactics and strategies on both sides of the war on the Lebanese border.

We'll begin with Bill. Bill calling us from San Francisco.

BILL (Caller): Yeah. Hi. I'm calling in to speak to the fact that the civilians are being used as shields by Hezbollah, and, you know, this has just been going on for years and I'm so surprised. I'm calling from San Francisco, and the people here in San Francisco are supporting these terrorists, Hezbollah. Even the professors at San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco have long spoken in San Francisco calling this Hezbollah a social welfare organization. And I'm just amazed at the number of people in San Francisco that don't understand what's going on with Hezbollah and their associates.

CONAN: Well, it is a social welfare organization, but that's not all it is.

Col. Killebrew, you say this is a deliberate tactic by the weaker party in this conflict, to put its weapons in the midst of civilians in part to protect those weapons from attack, or at least if they're going to be attacked, to make collateral damage civilian casualties an element of every air strike.

Col. KILLEBREW: Collateral damage is the name of the game. When the Israeli general said this was going to be a asymmetric war, I don't think he realized that the true asymmetry was going to be to force Israel to attack targets that would cause civilian deaths and cause this kind of backlash. It's worth noting that when this started, one of the very hopeful signs that everyone was kind of self-congratulatory about was that the moderate Arab states in the Middle East were actually quietly supporting Israel and acknowledged that Israel had a right to do what it was trying to do against Hezbollah, which they fear is an arm of Iran.

But by now, public opinion - with civilian deaths - public opinion has swung decisively the other way, both in the region and around the world. It's a propaganda coup for Hezbollah.

CONAN: Bill, thanks very much for the call.

What about some of the other targets, though, that Israel is hitting: infrastructure, bridges, electrical generating plants, things like that. Why are they hitting those?

Col. KILLEBREW: In the military lexicon, we call those dual use targets. A bridge, for example, is both a thing that civilians use to cross over rivers, but also important choke points on supply lines. If you look at the pattern of Israeli air strikes, they're on bridges across rivers or bridges across gorges that are supply lines running up to Damascus through the Beqaa Valley, and then, of course, across the Litani River in south Lebanon.

The other things they've hit, airports - we think, we hope, Hezbollah offices in south Lebanon are either, we think, Hezbollah targets or dual use targets. I need to say, Neal, right up front, this kind of war is terribly punishing for civilians. All war is terribly punishing for civilians. And all wars that I know of but one, more civilians have died than military people.

We don't have an hour by hour playback on the types of targets the Israelis are hitting. From what I've seen, I'm satisfied they're trying to be as precise as they can be, and their technology matches ours. But they also are laboring under the Hezbollah tactic of putting civilians near Hezbollah targets and they're just not going to be able to avoid civilian casualties.

CONAN: We're going to be talking more about the humanitarian effects of this war tomorrow on the program, but joining us now to talk more about how Hezbollah is fighting this conflict is John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, California. His latest book is The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror. He is with us now by phone from his home in Monterey.

Good to speak with you.

Professor JOHN ARQUILLA (Defense analysis, Naval Post-Graduate School): Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: You've coined a term that seems to apply to this conflict. You call it net warfare. What do you mean?

Prof. ARQUILLA: Well, about 15 years ago, my colleague from Rand, David Ronfeldt and I came up with the notion that networks were becoming more powerful - loose groups of people driven by a similar ideology who were disbursed, distributed, but still able to coordinate their actions. And we suggested that terrorist groups like Hezbollah and a small, then pretty unknown group al-Qaida were actually pretty good at this, and they were going to give nations a run for their money.

And so in a piece called The Advent of Net War 10 years ago, we suggested that the first great war between nations and networks would be coming along soon. And, of course, we've been in that since 2001. Hezbollah, as a network, has been on the sidelines. But I think with the pressure on the Gaza Strip and the pressure on Iran and the civil war in Iraq, they're coming off the sidelines and entering this war as an ally to some of the networks opposed to us.

CONAN: We're going to have to take a short break. When we come back, more from John Arquilla and Robert Killebrew and more of your calls. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. 800-989-talk, e-mail is Our subject is the tactics and strategy and the political effects of those tactics and those strategies and the long term consequences of those effects.

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. A steady stream of civilians trapped in southern Lebanon moved north today on foot, in trucks, and in cars, taking advantage of what may be a brief stop in most Israeli air strikes. We're talking about the tactics and strategies used in the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel.

Our guests are Robert Killebrew, a retired colonel, now a consultant who writes and speaks on military affairs. Also, John Arquilla, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Post-Graduate School. If you'd like to join us, 800-989- 8255, 800-989-talk. E-mail is

John Arquilla, I'd like you to expand a little bit on what you were talking about in terms of net warfare. Compared to the familiar military hierarchy, the pyramid that we're all familiar with, how does net warfare compare?

Prof. ARQUILLA: Well, where a traditional who sees a stream of orders coming from a general right down to the private soldier at the bottom of the hierarchy, our network is much flatter. There are very few commands, perhaps Hassan Nasrallah gave a ceasefire order over the radio, and that's why they're not shooting today. But there are very few orders. Instead, there's a general goal, such as bombard Israel or engage IDF forces in south Lebanon.

But the small units basically decide for themselves what they are going to do, and we've been seeing this now for a decade. The Chechnyans fought this way in their 1994 to '96 war against the Russians. And in small little groups, they were able to drive one of the world's better militaries out of Chechnya. Of course, the Russians came back and got better at this.

We see in Iraq right now the same sort of thing. There's not one field general leading the operations, but rather the small groups with lots of authority to decide what they are going to do. And even we are pretty good at this when we put our minds to it. In Afghanistan, late in 2001, we had just 11 A teams, about 1,100 of our special operations forces in Afghanistan and working closely with air power. They were able to drive the Taliban and al-Qaida from power in just a few weeks.

And even today, we work still in small groups in the country. And with a very tiny garrison compared to Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan is far better. So net warfare is coming along. I'm pleased occasionally to hear Secretary Rumsfeld say, you know, we're in net wars now, and we have to get good at that. And I think a lot of folks are paying great attention to this

Unfortunately, the Israelis seem to be caught in a time loop here where they thing strategic bombardment can still actually work. And what they're doing is taking a hammer to a ball of quicksilver with this bombing all over Lebanon.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on. This is Mike, Mike calling us from Detroit.

MIKE (Caller): Yeah, I'd like to make a point about the Katyusha rockets. From what I've read and been able to find on the net, the Katyusha rocket is totally mobile. They're fired from the back of a truck, or the small ones can actually be handled by a couple of men. They're set up. They're fired. The people that shoot the rockets leave.

So when Israel talks that they are targeting a launch site, it seems ridiculous to me. When they've spotted a launch site and then hours later they bomb the site, whoever shot that rocket off was gone 30 seconds after they shot it.

Col. KILLEBREW: Exactly so. The Hezbollah strategy is kind of shoot and scoot. You're quite right. A large number of what they have can fit on the back of a truck. The Katyusha's a perfect weapon for a network to fight with, and a lot of these weapons are in caches sprinkled all over southern Lebanon. So the fire teams just moved to them, fire, move to the next.

That's why it's very, very hard to engage them. And in fact this is the other big difference between traditional war and network warfare, is that it's no longer mass on mass, force on force. It's a game of hiders/finders. And so this depends on intelligence. And frankly, I'm sad to see the Israelis decided to stay with strategic bombing and to pull back their ground forces. They needed to be using small teams of ground forces to identify these fire teams moving here and there. And they have advantage and night vision and other technologies that would allow them to engage. And it's a puzzling military choice. But as Robert noted earlier, their chief of staff is an air officer who's probably more inclined to believe in the efficacy of strategic bombing.

CONAN: And, Col. Killebrew, to be fair, there are more complicated launchers for the longer range missiles that Israel - at least according to what it claims -has targeted effectively.

Col. KILLEBREW: Sure, that's right. And I will say, and I appreciate John's comment. He knows I'm an infantryman. I kind of listen to those comments with a touch of doubt. To be fair to the Israelis, they actually have deployed special forces teams of the type that John is talking about throughout the region. But as the caller said, trying to hit a Katyusha site is the hardest military problem you can give a conventional force.

We were dodging Katyushas in Vietnam and had the same problem. The guys would fire them, and then 30 seconds later it would be off the launch site and gone. By the time your counter battery fire comes down - which can actually be very rapid - the people who fired the rocket are over the hill. I'll mention that there was an interview with the U.N. commander in Lebanon the other day who complained that Hezbollah is pulling up to his front gate outside the U.N. compound - the main U.N. compound - firing off rockets severally, and then waiting a little while and then beating feet so the Israeli response would come down on the U.N. compound instead of where the Hezbollah was.

But they can be defeated. Not easily and not uniformly. And one way - as John said - one way to do it is have spotters on the ground overlooking probable launch sites, and then when somebody shows up and starts to unlimber a missile, you'd call down fire on them before they can get it off the tube.

It's a hard military problem, but it does have solutions.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mike.

Joining us now to discuss Israel's military tactics and overall strategy is Ambassador James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation, formerly U.S. Ambassador to the European community. He is with us now from the studios at Rand in Pentagon City in Virginia.

Nice to have you on the program today.

Ambassador JAMES DOBBINS (Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center, Rand Corporation; Former Ambassador to the European Community): Thank you. A pleasure.

CONAN: Do you agree that Israel was trying to apply a strategic bombing campaign to a situation that's inappropriate to it?

Amb. DOBBINS: Well, I think that the Israeli government was under pressure from its public - understandably enough - to do something and do something dramatic in response to the attacks that had been suffered. And it didn't really have any very good choices. And it shows what it thought was the least bad choice - an air campaign, which would avoid becoming bogged down as they did a decade ago in southern Lebanon.

The bad choice turned out to be just that, a bad choice. But at least in domestic political terms, probably better than doing nothing.

CONAN: And yet we've seen - as Col. Killebrew was talking about a few minutes ago - public opinion, with the increase in civilian casualties, swing very much behind Hezbollah.

Amb. DOBBINS: That's right. Public opinion everywhere but in the United States and Israel has swung behind Hezbollah, in part because of the civilian casualties. And in part because of an underlying sympathy with the Palestinian cause in the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli dispute over control and sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Chuck. Chuck's calling us from San Francisco.

CHUCK (Caller): Yeah, thanks a lot.

CONAN: Sure.

CHUCK: And although I'm from San Francisco, I wouldn't necessarily quibble with characterizing Hezbollah as - among other things - a terrorist organization. But what my question is, is if Hezbollah is this new kind of entity, a loose network with a diverse sources of support -united I guess primarily by a shared ideology - is it possible to defeat an ideology militarily? It seems that you can't really kill an idea and public opinion - which you guys just said has swung towards Hezbollah -I would say is really what sustains a terrorist movement or ideology.

CONAN: Ambassador Dobbins?

Amb. DOBBINS: Well, I think that military force to the extent it's used has to be used in pursuit of a political objective if it's going to be successful in a circumstance like this. And that's, I think, where both American and Israeli policy might be faulted, that there doesn't seem to be an achievable political objective toward which this military force is being applied.

CONAN: John Arquilla, I wonder if I can get your thoughts on that?

Prof. ARQUILLA: It's a wonderful question about the role of ideology and the power of networks. And unfortunately, the Israeli military response has only fed the narrative, the story that Hezbollah tells about how they are freedom fighters against an oppressive Israeli military machine. And I think part of the way to fight that would have been - as we were talking earlier - for the Israelis to use their focused special tactics observers and to fight in a way that used air power specifically in conjunction with small units on the ground - in other words, building their own military network to fight that network. And then we wouldn't have all this collateral damage all over Lebanon, and world opinion wouldn't have been swayed.

So they could've done well, and the Israelis could've also done good, had they taken a more networked approach to this war, instead of thinking that the spirit of Curtis LeMay - the old Air Force general -still reigns supreme, and they could win with shock and awe. Because the only people shocked are those who are appalled at the dead civilians in Lebanon.

CONAN: Col. Killebrew, let me bring you in on this. And let me ask you also, in the past Israel's military strategy has included the idea of deterring its potential opponents by using tremendous amounts of force in every conflict to demonstrate that they ought to think twice, three times, four times, before doing it again. Is that one of the messages they're trying to send, do you think?

Col. KILLEBREW: That's absolutely one. I'll give you two reactions, Neal. The first is, I would not characterize what the Israeli air force did in the beginning as strategic bombardment. To me, what the Israeli air force was trying to do was to seal off south Lebanon from reinforcement or re-supply from Iran through Syria. And that is a reasonable adjunct to a ground campaign or could stand alone in the mistaken idea that air power alone could solve something like this.

I agree with John that they could've thought it perhaps militarily smarter, but I would add that south Lebanon - as it was when this started - was an armed camp. It was not empty space like Afghanistan tended to be. So small teams put in there alone with little support would've been, I think, very quickly rolled up.

On the subject of ideology, the caller is exactly correct. Military power cannot kill ideas. The only way you kill an idea or overcome an idea is with a better idea. Generally speaking, the radicals throughout the Middle East - and I might add that in the past year, we've seen a turn away from pragmatism, vis-à- vis, the Palestinian/Israeli question and the whole issue being put into the hand of radicals, and Hamas, now Hezbollah, al-Qaida and other groups - the networks, as James called them. We have seen these people who are dedicated to the idea of the destruction of Israel in the name of their religion. Overcoming that idea is going to take us probably a generation or two once we find out what the better idea is. Until then, all military power can do is keep these people at bay.

CONAN: And some have suggested that Lebanon's fragile prosperity after all those years of civil war that was just building up, smashing that is not generally a way to win hearts and minds.

Col. KILLEBREW: The victim in this war is Lebanon, there's no question about it. But I do not think - and I'm not particularly an Israeli supporter - but we should not expect Israel to sit still and allow armed attacks on its territory to be mounted from Lebanon.

CONAN: Col. Killebrew, thanks very much for being with us today. Appreciate your time.


CONAN: Robert Killebrew, retired U.S. Army colonel, now a consultant who writes and speaks on military affairs. He joined us from the studios of WHRO in Norfolk, Virginia.

Again, if you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. E-mail is You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller in. This is Galen(ph). Galen's calling from Norfolk, Virginia.

GALEN (Caller): Hi, Neal, how are you? I just wanted to ask where do you draw the line between strategic bombardment and hitting hard military targets - or in this case, I guess Hezbollah targets - and collective punishment, such as destroying sewage treatment, blowing up power stations, hitting the boardwalk, destroying a lighthouse that was a tourist attraction that had been rebuilt since the last time the Israelis destroyed it?

It seems that there's kind of this gray area, and the IAF is getting away with, oops, we tried, but you know, we've made some mistakes. A lot of these targets don't seem to be collateral damage, however. They've been hit in isolated areas. There's no secondary target near it.

So I'm kind of confused about the coverage in terms of that.

CONAN: Yeah. John Arquilla, certainly what can sometimes look on one side like selective targeting and restraint, on the receiving end can look like indiscriminate bombing.

Prof. ARQUILLA: Well, and it is. The attempt to try to get the Lebanese to work against Hezbollah by knocking out bridges, port facilities, cratering runways hundreds of miles from the scene of battle - these are all classic elements of strategic bombing, which, by the way in about a 90-year history, has almost never worked. It just beggars the imagination that military people keep coming back to the idea of winning by strategic bombing alone.

Even dropping bridges not too far from the battle zone is ultimately strategic in nature, because it aims at supplies for the longer term. What I've suggested is that Israeli air power needed to be used in a far more focused way in support of small teams operating in the south, which as Robert noted earlier, were there. And I don't think they could've been rolled up at all.

In fact, if Hezbollah tried to concentrate against them, then Israeli air power would've decimated them. Which is what happened when we toppled the Taliban five years ago. Every time they tried to mass against our few forces, they were killed by the hundreds by a few aircraft.

So the concept of operations is out there. The Israelis are reluctant to adopt it. Frankly, our own military still debates whether this Afghan model can or should be used again. And if you will, there's kind of war of ideas about the idea of war going on, which will be the subject of my next book.

And I think that debate needs to be resolved favorably, or we're going to see one war after another that kills mostly civilians.

CONAN: Well, the Taliban had something to defend. They were the regime in power. Hezbollah doesn't look like it's trying to necessarily defend any targets. Nothing to mass - it's not massing against anything.

Prof. ARQUILLA: Well, they are indeed massing against - every time the Israelis made a ground push, they massed against it. And I, for the life of me, I don't know why the Israelis have stopped engaging them. This campaign should be focused on Hezbollah fighters.

Of course they try to defend that territory. And in fact, they drove the Israelis out of southern Lebanon six years ago, which in my view is part of the reason for the ferocity of the Israeli response this time - is a little bit of payback for having been driven out.

As Robert said, Hezbollah is one of the top militaries in the Middle East. That's an amazing thing to say about a network, not a nation. And that's the era we're moving into. And so the Israelis are, I think, rightly trying to degrade the power of this network, but they're doing it in the wrong way.

CONAN: Yet also is but isn't an element of the state. And you were talking about these light Katyusha rockets that are easily moved and not expensive, yet they were also firing fairly sophisticated Chinese-made cruise missile at Israeli warships.

Prof. ARQUILLA: Yeah. I think even these small networks are going to have access to increasingly accurate, farther-ranging weapons, and that's yet another reason why small groups are going to be more and more powerful in the future. And that's why Rumsfeld and I have suggested that net war is the wave of the future. Thank goodness the American military at least has something called a net war command now, where we try to think about some of these issues.

But that's the age of warfare coming upon us. All wars are time portals. You see some of the past in Lebanon - strategic bombing - but a lot of the future in terms of the resilience of this network.

CONAN: Galen, thanks very much for the call.

We'll continue this conversation about strategies and the consequences of these tactics in the Middle East after the break, plus our regular feature on the opinion page. Shibley Telhami will talk to us about how this conflict is affecting al-Qaida.

I'm Neal Conan. If you'd like to join us, again, the number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is Back after the break.

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, civilians are paying a heavy price in the battle between Israel and Hezbollah. We'll look at the humanitarian and economic fallout of the war tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

In a few minutes, Shibley Telhami will join us on the opinion page with an argument that al-Qaida feels upstaged by Hezbollah in the Middle East.

But let's continue our conversation about strategy and tactics and their long- term effects. Our guests are John Arquilla, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School. And James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation.

Let's get another caller on the line. This is Chris. Chris calling us from Wayne, Pennsylvania.

CHRIS (Caller): Thanks for taking my call. I hope you can hear me all right.


CHRIS: I just would like to comment. I was not particularly persuaded by the argument that the Hezbollah fighters are using the U.N. placements and so on as hiding places and places to launch their missiles. I find this suspect. If the Israelis were so good with their photography of what they're able to destroy, you would think they would have proof.

I wonder whether any your reporters have said photographs of this kind of action or so on - I really find this to be Israeli disinformation and part of their campaign. Because it covers up, it gives them an excuse for whenever they have these accidental bombings of these places where children and women are hiding, and where people live and in their homes.

And they have this, it seems to me, the Israelis have a strategy very similar to terrorism, where they're able to use their overwhelming force to bomb indiscriminately and to really - it's so similar to the terrorism that they accuse of others of doing, where they themselves are...

CONAN: Well, let's get a response. John Arquilla?

CHRIS: Thank you.

Prof. ARQUILLA: Well, I think certainly there is some interspersing of Hezbollah among civilians. As Mao Zedong said about guerilla war, you must swim in the sea of the people. So naturally, some of that occurs. That should be a clue to the Israelis that strategic bombing isn't the best thing to do.

It's certainly in the Israeli interest to play up those instances. But let's look at the real ground action in this war. When Israeli forces crossed the border into southern Lebanon, there weren't a lot of civilians in the way. Hezbollah came right at them, gave them a hard fight, and the Israelis decided that they didn't want any more of this.

And I think that was their biggest mistake in terms of generalship in this war. They had an opportunity - Hezbollah was willing to come out and fight, and the Israelis fell back and instead are relying once again on bombing. And the sad news is we're going to end up with a war where 90 percent of the casualties are civilians, when in fact they had the chance to really right down Hezbollah power in direct fighting. And I think they should've.

CONAN: Ambassador Dobbins, evidence that Hezbollah headquarters - such as they are - equipment and military equipment are interspersed with civilians?

Amb. DOBBINS: Well, I think that it's logical to assume that Hezbollah would do that, because it would clearly be in their interest. And it's logical to assume that the Israelis are not intentionally targeting civilian populations, because it wouldn't be in their interest.

So absent, you know, convincing documentary evidence to the contrary, I think it's reasonable to assume that Hezbollah is concealing some of its activities in a civilian population, and that the Israelis are legitimately trying to hit military targets and simply causing a good deal with collateral damage.

On the other hand, the Israel targets of a strategic nature - if you will - elsewhere in Lebanon, where there's clearly no Hezbollah presence are more problematic, if you will, because they appear to be designed to put pressure on Lebanon - which, after all, is guilty if only by omission rather than commission for the attacks on Israel.

CONAN: Chris, thanks very much. And let's get one last caller in. This is Barry, Barry calling from Atlanta.

BARRY (Caller): Yes, good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

BARRY: It seems to me that Hezbollah is more than just a terrorist group, and that's what I'm getting from you guys. If most of the world or a good deal of the world now supports Lebanon and Hezbollah, and Hezbollah are Lebanese, essentially - there might be some others in there, but they are essentially Lebanese - I don't get this.

But, you know, while you guys seem to be taking mostly the side of Israel - for one thing, I'd like to know what Hezbollah could do to increase its efficacy. What military strategy should they take to keep Israel - or get Israel out of Lebanon? Because Israel has been in Lebanon (unintelligible) times, as well as the other surrounding Arab nations.

CONAN: Well, let me broaden that question since you're the last caller, Barry. What do both sides need to feel victorious in this? And start with you, John Arquilla.

Prof. ARQUILLA: Well, I think Hezbollah wins if the Israelis stop the bombing and don't have forces in Lebanon at the end of this. And they have been doing, for them, the right operational thing, which is engaging Israeli forces and continuing their scoot-and-shoot bombardment.

They've managed over a couple of weeks to maintain about the same level of fire, although their accuracy went down. I think the best the Israelis can hope for right now, they have to stop this broader strategic bombing and focus their air power more closely on engagements on the ground to the extent to which the fighting continues.

But I believe the collateral damage to date is going to put an enormous political pressure on the United States to bring an end to this. And so the best solution would be a kind of cordon sanitaire created in the south of Lebanon with troops patrolling it and some efforts made in the future to try to prevent a re-supply of Hezbollah forces.

CONAN: Ambassador Dobbins?

Amb. DOBBINS: Well, I think at this stage one would have to say that Hezbollah is fully gaining its objectives, which are on the one hand punish Israel, on the other hand to garner additional sympathy and international support and to thereby isolate Israel and the United States.

And Israel is, at this stage at least, completely failing its objectives, which are to severely weaken Hezbollah if not eliminate it altogether as a military threat. Now, the war's not over. It could be concluded - it'll probably be concluded eventually on the same grounds as it could've been concluded at the beginning, which is a cease-fire and an exchange of prisoners.

Now, the Israelis weren't willing to do that in the beginning, which is what sparked the attacks into Lebanon and then the attacks into Israel, but that's probably the only basis on which this is going to be concluded.

CONAN: Barry, thanks for the call, and thanks to our guests. That last voice you heard was that of Ambassador James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation, former U.S. ambassador to the European community, with us today from the studios at Rand in Pentagon City, Virginia. Thanks very much for being with us.

And, John Arquilla, thank you for joining us today.

Prof. ARQUILLA: Pleasure to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: John Arquilla, professor of Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School. His latest book is The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in -where is this? - American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror. He joined us by phone from his home in Monterey. When we come back, the Opinion Page

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