August 12, 2006

Hizbullah's intelligent use of violence

Here's a useful article in the London Review of Books. It's Charles Glass on the ability of Hizbullah to evolve with events. In the article he gets a good hit on the idea that Hizbullah is simply an arm of Syria or a leg of Iran. He also points out why Israel wants so desperately to defeat Hizbullah:
Like Israel’s previous enemies, Hizbullah relies on the weapons of the weak: car bombs, ambushes, occasional flurries of small rockets and suicide bombers. The difference is that it uses them intelligently, in conjunction with an uncompromising political programme. Against Israel’s thousand dead on the Lebanese field, Hizbullah gave up 1276 ‘martyrs’. That is the closest any Arab group has ever come to parity in casualties with Israel. The PLO usually lost hundreds of dead commandos to Israel’s tens, and Hamas has seen most of its leaders assassinated and thousands of its cadres captured with little to show for it. Hizbullah’s achievement, perhaps ironically for a religious party headed by men in turbans, is that it belongs to the modern age. It videotaped its ambushes of Israeli convoys for broadcast the same evening. It captured Israeli soldiers and made Israel give up hundreds of prisoners to get them back. It used stage-set cardboard boulders that blew up when Israeli patrols passed. It flew drones over Israel to take reconnaissance photographs – just as the Israelis did in Lebanon. It had a website that was short on traditional Arab bombast and long on facts. If Israelis had faced an enemy like Hizbullah in 1948, the outcome of its War of Independence might have been different. Israel, whose military respect Hizbullah, is well aware of this.

That is why, having failed to eliminate Hizbullah while it occupied Lebanon, Israel is trying to destroy it now. Hizbullah’s unpardonable sin in Israel’s view is its military success. Israel may portray Hizbullah as the cat’s-paw of Syria and Iran, but its support base is Lebanese. Moreover, it does one thing that Syria and Iran do not: it fights for the Palestinians. On 12 July Hizbullah attacked an Israeli army unit, capturing two soldiers. It said it would negotiate indirectly to exchange them for Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in Israel, as it has done in the past. It made clear that its attack was in support of the Palestinians under siege in Gaza after the capture of another Israeli soldier a week earlier. The whole Arab world had remained silent when Israel reoccupied the Gaza settlements and bombed the territory. Hizbullah’s response humiliated the Arab regimes, most of which condemned its actions, as much as it humiliated Israel. No one need have been surprised. Hizbullah has a long history of supporting the Palestinians. Many of its original fighters were trained by the PLO in the 1970s when the Shias had no militias of their own. Hizbullah risked the anger of Syria in 1986 when it sided against another Shia group which was attacking Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. Hizbullah has never abandoned the Palestinian cause. Its capture last month of the two Israeli soldiers sent a message to Israel that it could not attack Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank without expecting a reaction.
To be continued I'm sure.

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