I am copy-pasting this very important Haaretz analysis since it is protected by a firewall. Here is the full piece:
The “room for denial” doctrine — under which Syria, Hezbollah and Israel all deny that Israeli attacks have occurred so as to avoid the need to respond — was dealt a blow on Wednesday. Hezbollah’s announcement that one of its bases in Lebanon was hit by Israeli jets and that the organization will respond when and where it sees fit, attests to a tactical shift, and perhaps even a new strategy.
This doesn’t mean that from now on, either Hezbollah or Syria is going to make a public announcement every time Israel attacks. But the “open account” between Israel and Hezbollah has now become public, and that grants the Lebanese organization double legitimacy.
First, if it decides to attack Israel, it will no longer be accused of starting a war; it can defend the attack as merely “settling accounts.” Second, it can parlay the Israeli strike into official government support for it to retain its arms, which have come under increasing criticism within Lebanon due to the organization’s participation in the Syrian civil war. On Tuesday, for instance, Nabil Kaouk, deputy chairman of Hezbollah’s executive committee, demanded that the newly formed Lebanese government offer support to the “resistance” and declare this a fundamental principle of its policy.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s statement that the attack was not on Hezbollah alone, but on all of Lebanon, poses a dilemma for the new government. The organization is trying to force the government into responding to an attack that at least some ministers see as a punishment aimed solely at Hezbollah, not the country. And for Israel, Hezbollah’s new tactic means the “room for denial” policy no longer provides an umbrella under which it can attack without claiming responsibility, and to a large extent, without fearing a response.
From a military standpoint, Hezbollah has not lost its ability to respond. It can still launch just as many rockets and missiles at Israel as it could before. But domestic political considerations, as well as strategic considerations related to the war in Syria, are dictating its moves these days. Hezbollah’s desire to keep Israel from expanding its military operations in a way that would aid the Syrian rebels — who are now waging fierce battles in Syria’s Qalamoun Hills, near the border with Lebanon — could be outweighing its fear of an Israeli attack on its bases in Lebanon.
In this context, the statement put out by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is interesting. The group, which is considered close to the rebels, said that Israel struck a Hezbollah missile base near Baalbek from which missiles had been fired at the Qalamoun Hills. That statement was denied by Hezbollah, but it portrays Israel as having become an active player in Syria’s civil war, on the rebels’ side.
This isn’t the first time rebel spokesmen have reported on “Israeli military aid” for their cause. A few months ago, for instance, they reported that Israel had helped a rebel force entering Syria from Jordan by disrupting the Syrian army’s communications system, thereby making it impossible for the local field headquarters to communicate with the Syrian high command. On another occasion, rebel representatives voiced hope that Israel would continue to attack Syria, saying its previous attacks had helped the rebel forces.
What does Israel really want?
Publicly, Israel insists it isn’t involved in the rebels’ military operations. The only aid it acknowledges openly is the humanitarian aid it gives the rebels — medical treatment for the wounded and limited amounts of food. But according to Jordanian sources, Israel is briefed on the coordination between the United States and Jordan, where soldiers and officers of the Free Syrian Army are being trained.
At the same time, some Syrian opposition representatives continue to accuse Israel of wanting Syrian President Bashar Assad to remain in power. Assad’s regime, for its part, accuses Israel of aiding the rebels, seeking thereby to undermine the opposition’s legitimacy.
The uncertainty over Israel’s strategy on Syria has so far served to keep the radical Islamist groups, including those affiliated with Al-Qaida, from opening another front against Israel. Their fear is that any attack on Israel, even an unintentional one, could grant Israel license to expand its military operations in Syria beyond attacking missile convoys and Hezbollah bases.
So far, this fragile balance has been strictly maintained, and aside from occasional errant shelling in the Golan Heights, Israel is considered off-limits for attacks. But the key word in that sentence is “fragile.” The balance could be broken at any moment.
I was just reading some of the reactions on Twitter to Hizbullah’s latest statement in which it confirmed that Israel had struck a Hizbullah base in the Bekaa on Monday, while denying the strike had caused any casualties or targeted any weapons’ caches. The problem with dismissing Hizbullah’s threat to respond at “a time and place of its own choosing” as empty rhetoric is part and parcel of the wider problem of all-purpose punditry and the industry of self-styled Hizbullah “experts” . This phenomenon has become all the more acute in the wake of the war on Syria, whereby Western pundits and Arab social media activists, emboldened by the mainstreaming of “citizen journalism”, have become overnight “experts” on Syria, Hizbullah and the Resistance Axis.
As someone who has been studying and writing about Hizbullah for the past 18 years, I have always been particularly wary of the western journalist or pundit who claims to have spoken to Hizbullah officials, let alone Resistance commanders. Not only are such claims usually flagrant lies, but the notion that Hizbullah trusts these people and is so eager to please the white man that its officials will gladly bypass the Hizbullah Media Office (which, incidentally has not granted a single interview to western journalists in years) and divulge the movement’s strategic plans in Syria and Lebanon, is both incredibly condescending and insulting to the intelligence.
I am equally skeptical of western “expert” claims of any special insights on Hizbullah, not least because THEY NEVER GET IT RIGHT. The depth of expert knowledge is not hard to measure, for as in the natural sciences, knowledge in the social sciences is gauged by its predictive value. And the fact is that the overwhelming majority of Western, Israeli , and colonized Arab “experts” just haven’t been able to reliably predict Hizbullah’s future actions. There are many reasons for this intelligence gap but the principal one is that they are outside observers who view Hizbullah from a western-centric lens. Their understanding of concepts like power and interest emanate from a Euro-American dominated political science tradition that is peculiar to western historical experiences.
As one of the more colonial disciplines, Western anthropology introduced the role of the “participant-observer” who both observes and participates in the life of the group she is studying . Despite the scientific and ethical shortcomings of this colonial “going native” approach, it did signal a recognition of the western observer’s limitations in understanding non-western cultures from a geographic and social distance. Unfortunately, today’s epistemic community of academics, policy wonks and journalists are far less cognizant of these limitations than some of their old-school colonialist predecessors.
Any meaningful insights into the mind of Hizbullah will continue to elude all those who do not share its worldview. By that I don’t simply mean the Hizbullah supporter in the abstract sense, but those who view political reality through the same lens, share the same purpose, and are deeply committed to the same cause. Only “committed-observers” can understand Hizbullah and predict its future actions because they do not have to second-guess its intent and motives, or make assumptions about its priorities; they know them because they live them.
They do not view Hizbullah as an organization that is external to them, nor do they support it on a partisan “Team Hizbullah” basis. Hizbullah is synonymous with Resistance which belongs to all its adherents. Supporters of Hariri don’t know the Future Movement in the same way that Hizbullah’s committed-observers know Hizbullah, and that is because the former are not bound by any shared cause, beyond a reactivity to Hizbullah cemented by sectarianism. In this sense, Hizbullah is a culture not a party with card-carrying members. And as a political culture it has its own unique mindset and rationality.
It is precisely this rationality that I invoke whenever I am interviewed by media on Hizbullah. Of course, as an analyst my knowledge of the movement is based on empirical evidence I have observed, but my assessment of Hizbullah’s actions and intentions, my prognostications of its future actions come from this resistance rationality that I share with it. When I am asked “how will Hizbullah respond” I essentially ask myself “how should we [who are committed to the Resistance project] respond?” And I am usually able to provide an accurate response or prediction, not because I possess any superior intellectual abilities, but because I, like many others in Lebanon and beyond, share the Resistance’s priorities and concerns, and my analysis is guided by the same political values and rationality as them. In fact, I am very confident that a committed 18 year old Hizbullah supporter would yield more valuable insights on the movement and offer more reliable predictions of its behavior than a western academic or journalist who claims expert knowledge.
And I am equally confident that if any committed observer is asked “will Hizbullah really respond to Israel’s attacks on Monday?” he or she will tell you that as the first such attack since the end of the July War in 2006, Hizbullah has no choice but to respond, irrespective of how deeply mired it is in the Syrian conflict and in safeguarding Lebanon from terrorist infiltration. It has to respond because confronting Israel will always constitute the larger part of its raison d’etre, even if its mission has expanded over the years. And it will respond because to not respond would upset its doctrine of deterrence and “balance-of-terror” with Israel which it painfully earned after two decades of blood and sacrifice. Hizbullah will respond because there is no precedent of Hizbullah not retaliating for an Israeli attack (I am not including assassinations here) and it is highly unlikely that it would want to set a new precedent for its enemies. We just have to wait and see when and how it will do so, because no matter how committed we are as observers we are not privy to Hizbullah’s military strategy.
A report forecasting Israel’s strategic future looks positively at Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East though it fears instability along Israeli borders. Israeli Major General Amos Yadlin concludes
By Israeli officials’ own accounts, the Syrian uprising/war and even the rise of al-Qaeda on Israel’s doorstep have generally boosted Israel’s position in the region: “an increase in terrorist activity on Israel’s borders by terrorist groups … has thus far not materialized into a strategic threat….the opportunities presented by the upheavals in the Arab world outweigh the risks they incur. Foremost among these opportunities is the worsening relations between the Sunni axis led by Saudi Arabia and the Shia axis led by Iran. The weakening of the Shia axis, primarily as a result of the civil war in Syria, has broadened Israel’s room to maneuver in the Middle East and created an opportunity to expand its cooperation with the Sunni axis countries.”
Read al-Akhbar’s summary of Israeli Major General Amos Yadlin’s conclusion for the “Strategic Survey for Israel 2013-2014” here