Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bunker busting or mosque deconstruction?

Last week, Israel bombed a claimed Hezbullah command bunker in southern Beirut, with dozens of warplanes dropping some 23 ton of explosives on the building. Hezbullah, for its part, said the building was nothing more than a mosque under construction, and not a military target of any sort.

As a civilian and a layman, I have no way of assessing these claims. They may both be true: the mosque construction site may serve as cover for the bunker. Or Hezbullah may be lying. Or Israeli intelligence may have been wrong.

Fortunately, the Middle East is blessed with a plethora of objective journalists to help us sort truth from fiction. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) So I watched eagerly a few days later as a CNN reporter was allowed to visit the site of the attack.

To be fair, he noted that Hezbullah had refused access to journalists for the first day or so after the bombing, so the area seemed to be sensitive. And he couldn't know what may have been removed from the scene before he arrived.

But the pictures he broadcast showed, very clearly, a mosque under construction. Somewhat damaged, but substantially intact. And, he noted, there didn't seem to be much more than a basement underneath it. There was damage to the surrounding buildings, as well. But no bunkers in sight.

Case closed?

Not quite.

I've never seen a building which had been bombarded with 23 tons of explosives, so I can't tell you what it would look like. But I'm pretty sure it wouldn't look like a mosque under construction. Whatever it had looked like the day before.

Going after Hamas terrorists in Gaza, Israel can typically destroy a building with a quarter-ton to one-ton bomb. This attack was supposedly 20-100 times more powerful than that. Granted, a mosque may be larger and stronger than a typical residential building, but remember Israel was aiming to destroy a complex of reinforced bunkers underneath the building. After an assault like that, is it conceivable that the half-built mosque on the site was still recognizable as such?

There are only two possible explanations. Either Israel didn't really drop 23 tons of bombs on the building (Could most of them have missed? Unlikely) - or Hezbullah took the journalists to the wrong site.

Guess which I think is more likely.

Monday, July 24, 2006

You know you haven't been blogging lately when...

...your blog's URL doesn't show up among your browser's auto-completion options!

Really. It's been that long since I've even opened my own homepage.

Meanwhile, a few things have happened:
  • I've actually gotten things done at work.
  • Josh in The Styx has returned from a year-long blogging hiatus with a rapid-fire burst of energetic blogging.
  • Leiah from Letters from Israel has returned from a nearly two-year hiatus with new letters, and a new blog site.
  • At least two more people have discovered who I am. Serves me right for dropping too many hints.
  • My learning progressed, then stalled again.
  • The baby started talking and walking, and continues to daily amaze her worn-out parents.
  • Israel went to war against Lebanon. You may have heard about it.

I'm not going to say much about the war, since there's too much to say and everyone else is saying it. Overall, I think Israel's leaders have been doing a good job so far, with God's help. I didn't vote for Ehud Olmert or Amir Peretz, and I oppose their long-term visions for Israel, but I have to give them credit for the way they've handled the current crisis so far. I only hope and pray they succeed in achieving as many as possible of Israel's strategic objectives with the minimum possible casualties.

The best analyses I've seen of Israel's military and diplomatic strategy have been from Stratfor. The site features free daily podcasts, and you can subscribe to their free commentaries. Their main error has been in underappreciating how reluctant Israel is to launch a major ground invasion of Lebanon, due to our painful experiences in the past.

Military tactics aside, I suspect one of the reasons the IDF has focused on air attacks and minor ground incursions has been to demonstrate to the Israeli public that Hezbullah can't be defeated that way, thus gradually accustoming the public to accept the need for a ground campaign. Also, while going in on the ground may yield the best results, it also carries the greatest risk. Too many casualties and we could turn our current modest success into a perceived defeat, ending worse off than we started.

It's all so complicated, the interplay between the military, diplomatic and domestic fronts. I said I wouldn't say much, so I won't unless people really want to hear it. Enough for now.

Here are some of the topics I have tentatively lined up, time permitting. Let me know what interests you, and I'll bump it forward. (Though the first one will presumably be first, for obvious reasons.)
  • Remember Israel's assault last week on a supposed Hezbullah bunker in Beirut? I've got some thoughts about it.
  • Was the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 a mistake?
  • Did you know children's cartoons in Israel employ linguistic advisors? Really!
  • Some questions about food and drink in the Talmud
  • Simchat Bat - How do/should religious families celebrate the birth of a daughter?
  • More about road accident statistics ("A leading cause of death in Israel?")

Or maybe you didn't miss me in the first place, and wish I'd crawl back into my hole. Whatever you say. You're the audience.