My dear friend, the brilliant and witty Emily Dische-Becker
The insistence on denying victory to the heroic Palestinian resistance and people is reminiscient of Arab state media and western mainstream media coverage of the 2006 July War. In both wars, the casualty toll and mass destruction supposedly denied victory to resistance forces. But this is a very flawed and superficial understanding of what constitutes military victory, particularly in asymmetric warfare. It does not matter if israel made “no significant concessions” beyond a pledge to ease the blockade (i.e. no talk of releasing Palestinian prisoners) or that Hamas was unable to ensure all of its conditions were met. All of this is moot when we recall that this war was not launched by Hamas but was waged by Israel with the declared aim of halting the resistance’s rockets and demilitarizing Gaza. The fact that the Palestinians were able to deny Israel the ability to secure either of these military goals means that the resistance won and Israel lost. Over and above this, the resistance scored moral victories that were less pronounced in 2012, namely exposing Israeli barbarity to the western world, and the overwhelming popular support Hamas and other resistance groups rallied behind them. The biggest victor in all this is the logic of resistance— the strategic rationality of armed struggle has triumphed over the [il]logic of “peace” and submission.
Some preliminary observations—similarities and contrasts between Israel and the Resistance :
(1) Israel shares some important similarities with the Resistance movement in Lebanon and Palestine in that (a) the Zionist political-military apparatus enjoys organic popular support, between 86-91% to be exact (identical figures to Shia support for Hizbullah and, given numerous reports, I would assume similiarly high figures in Palestine for Hamas). Just as a culture of resistance characterizes Lebanese and Palestinians, a culture of aggression and occupation typifies the overwhelming majority of Israelis whose views both reflect and reinforce the actions of their military and political leaders. This is not a cultural over-generalization but an observation based on the shocking moral depravity Israeli teenagers, youths and other social media users are displaying on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram vis-a-vis Palestinian civilians. The examples are too numerous to list here but are now well documented in alternative media.
(b) Just as it’s a misnomer to call Hizbullah or Hamas/IJ etc. political movements with military wings, when in fact they are military/ resistance movements with political wings, it’s erroneous to call Israel a state with an army, when it is more akin to a military base with political and civilian wings, as Nasrallah has described it on numerous occasions. The sole purpose of the Israeli state is to serve Israel’s expansionist aims; similarly, the political parties formed by Hizbullah and Hamas are in the service of the resistance priority, as exemplified by the alliances and unity governments they are often compelled to make.
(2) In contrast to the policy of Israel’s genocidal war machine which is used as a means to pressure Hamas into submission and to undermine popular support for the resistance, the military strategy of the Izzedin al -Qassam Brigades is to pressure Israel by exclusively targeting IDF forces and neutralizing civilians, as asserted by its commander, Mohammad Deif who is quoted as saying that the movement chooses “to confront and kill Israel’s military and elite soldiers rather than attack civilians in neighboring villages.” This is evidenced by the casualty toll (2 civilians killed vs. between 60 and 80 Israeli soldiers) and is further corroborated by several reports on Iron Dome’s failure to intercept weapons. As reported by Reuters, “only about 5 percent of Iron Dome engagements result in the targeted rocket being destroyed or even sufficiently damaged to disable its explosive warhead. In the other 95 percent of cases, the interceptor either misses entirely or just lightly damages the enemy munition, allowing the rocket’s intact warhead to continue arcing toward the ground.” This means that large numbers of Israeli civilians are escaping death not because of the much vaunted defense shield, but because Hamas’ rockets are not intended to inflict mass civilian casualties, but merely function as a form of psychological warfare by forcing civilians into shelters, paralyzing the economy, laying siege to the airport etc. In a similar vein, and as acknowledged by an Israeli intelligence source to the Times of Israel, the attack tunnels target soldiers and not civilian communities: of the nine cross-border tunnels detected, none actually stretches into the grounds of a civilian community: “They could have gone 500 meters more, into the kibbutz,” he said. “Why didn’t they do that?” asks the source.
Israeli media quotes Moussa Abou Marzouk, Meshaal’s deputy, as telling Ria Novosti “We hope the Lebanese front will open and together we will fight against this formation [Israel]…There’s no arguing that Lebanese resistance could mean a lot”.
Given the warming of relations between Hamas and Hizbullah, and the latter’s ongoing military assistance and coordination with Hamas (recently acknowledged by Osama Hamdan) and other Palestinian factions, it is unlikely that Moussa Abou Marzouk’s comment was meant to be divisive or intended to shame Hizbullah which has never actually intervened militarily in Palestine. A more likely explanation for his quote is that it is psychological warfare against Israel whch would surely be threatened by the prospect of its northern front, and possibly Golan front, being activated. This seems all the more likely when one closely reads Nasrallah’s declaration on on Quds Day: “We tell our brothers in Gaza we are with you and beside you and WE WILL DO ANYTHING THAT WE PERCEIVE IS A DUTY on all fronts. We tell the Zionists, you are in the circle of the frail spider web, do not move further to approach the circle of suicide.” Nasrallah’s words were clearly a pledge to the Palestinians to militarily intervene if and when the need arose, and a threat to Israel, that if they “moved further”, i.e. escalated beyond a predetermined threshold, then this would draw Hizbullah into the battle, hence Israel’s imminent “suicide”. Back in 2009 I wrote that Hizbullah would militarily intervene if Hamas’ military capacity were considerably weakened, the resistance emasculated and the Palestinian people left without protection. It doesn’t seem as though we are anywhere near that stage yet, but, if Hamas fails to secure a lifting of the siege and the Sisi regime and its Saudi backers make it impossible for the resistance to replenish its rocket supply, then I think Hizbullah would be forced to step in. Hamas cannot be left without an ongoing flow of weapons; if they dry up then we are faced with the specter of a wider regional war, where Hizbullah will have to fight on 3 fronts simultaneously, especially considering ISIS and Jabhit al Nusra will indirectly collaborate with the Zionists by striking the Resistance and its supporters. But liberating Palestine, rather than Lebanon, is not just Hizbullah’s priority, it is its raison d’etre….
Full story here
Children aside, the concept of “Israeli civilians” is an oxymoron. This meme created by Israelis is circulating on Twitter, depicting Gaza as a woman waiting to be raped by the Zionist army. The meme reads: ” “Bibi, finish inside this time! Signed, citizens in favor of a ground assault”.
Well before the dissemination of memes like this, not to mention selfies of Israeli teenage girls calling for the death of Palestinians, and images of Israelis relaxing atop hilltops as they eat popcorn and cheer on their invading army massacre Palestinians, Hizbullah was well aware of the Zionist aggressor identity of Israeli “civilians”. In chapter 7 of my book on Hizbullah (2002) I write: “In principle, the party maintains that it ‘prefers to deem Israeli civilians neutral’….[Sheikh Naim] Qasim admits that this is virtually impossible to maintain in reality…Hizbullah rationalizes that it is not killing innocent Israeli civilians, but hostile militant Zionists…[it] perceives Israeli society as an essentially Zionist and ideological monolith, characterized by an inveterate animosity towards the Arab Muslims….Nasrallah’s reference to dead and wounded Israelis as “Zionist” [casualties] implies that Hizbullah does perceive Israeli civilians as detached from the Zionist project, and therefore ‘innocent’, but as co-conspirators in this malevolent scheme…”
We are not beasts like them, so we do not call for their deaths, only that they leave historic Palestine as all occupying armies are eventually forced to do.
All those who are childishly trashing Hizbullah for not intervening in Gaza on the one hand, and those who are too embittered and petty-minded to forgive Hamas on the other, should read this interview with Osama Hamdan and recall that the Palestinian cause is bigger than us all:
"Hamdan also said that there was a “permanent cooperation and coordination on the field” with Hezbollah….
“The ties with Hezbollah and Iran are much better than many people think, and the ties with Hezbollah especially are way better than optimists expect them to be,” Hamdan told As-Safir newspaper. “The relationship with Hezbollah is based on [the fight against] Israel and the endeavor to liberate Palestine. Everybody is keen on preserving it no matter how the circumstances change and the points of view differ,” he added.
Full Arabic interview with Hamdan in As-Safir here: http://www.assafir.com/Article/360865/Archive
Given Arab outrage at Israel’s latest round of aggression against the Palestinian people, some Arab leftists and Palestine solidarity activists have been attacking Hizbullah for fighting jihadis in Syria while abstaining from intervening militarily in Palestine. Aside from ignoring the existential nature of the far less manageable conflict with the takfiris (who are accountable to no one), such accusations ignore the fact that Hizbullah has never directly intervened in Palestine.
In 2009, I wrote this piece explaining why Hizbullah couldn’t militarily intervene in the 2008/2009 war on Gaza. I think the excerpts below are even more relevant now, considering Hizbullah is currently fighting on 2 other fronts, over and above its deterrent strategy vis-a-vis Israel:
"While Israel fervently attempts to terrorize the Palestinians into submission in Gaza, many observers have started to wonder why Hizballah has refrained from stepping in militarily to assist its brothers-in-arms, Hamas. Such musings fail to take account of the constraints on Hizballah’s room for action, as well as the circumstances under which Hizballah would ignore such constraints. The question that should be posed is not so much if Hizballah will act, but when.
As things currently stand, Hizballah is not in a position to directly help Hamas militarily by opening a new front with Israel. In the first place, Hizballah and its supporters have only recently recovered from the devastating impact of Israel’s war against them in July 2006. A Hizballah offensive against northern Israel would surely be met with “disproportionate” force on Israel’s part, which Israel has been threatening as much for several months now. Mass destruction and devastation aside, Hizballah would once again be faced with intense domestic pressures to disarm, and possibly, more externally manufactured, locally-executed conspiracies hatched against it that could drag it into the kind of civil warfare that the movement found itself in during May 2008.
Armed action by Hizballah would not only hurt the movement but would also harm Hamas whose status as a nationalist resistance movement, capable of defending its own people, would be greatly undermined and its raison d’etre called into question. Furthermore, since Hamas has thus far managed to withstand the Israeli onslaught on its own without suffering any significant damage to its organizational hierarchy or military infrastructure, Hizballah does not regard an intervention on its part as an exigent need…..
Hamas’ fighting style also seems to bear the hallmarks of the military tactics Hizballah used during the July War such as its use of underground bunkers and tunnel networks, as well as adopting similar rocket tactics, all of which suggest Hizballah’s extensive training of Hamas’ military forces. Nasrallah came close to admitting as much when he claimed on 31 December that “the resistance in Gaza benefitted more from these lessons [from the July War] than the Israelis.” More than simply receiving military training, Hamas’s military strategy appears to conform to the “new school of fighting” founded by Hizballah’s assassinated military leader, Imad Mughniyeh (himself rumored to have personally trained and equipped several Palestinian groups over the years), which combines conventional and non-conventional, guerilla warfare that functions not only to liberate occupied territory, but to defend it from aggression.”
Full article here
Resistance versus Jihad is the new faultline in the region. It has now become patently obvious that the US is manipulating and instrumentalizing takfiri jihadism to defeat the Resistance. The hope is that ISIS can achieve what decades of Zionist aggression failed to deliver, by means of a policy of implosion, fragmentation and [strategically employed] terror, dealt by a heavily sectarianized Islamism which is devoid of any anti-imperialist content.
Forget Clinton’s infamous “we created al-Qaeda” quote, and Seymour Hersh’s 2007 exposé of the US-Saudi role in funding al-qaeda affiliated militants in Lebanon, several developments this week reveal that ISIS has effectively become the US’ (and of course Saudi’s) new weapon of choice in confronting the Iran- Hizbullah-Syria-Iraq Axis:
Obama acknowledges that the notion of a “ready-made moderate Syrian force that was able to defeat Assad” was a “fantasy”, and only days later, requests $500 million from Congress to fund this fantasy; the following day, the leader of one of the leading “moderate” Islamist groups Obama was alluding to, the Syrian Revolutionary Front, tells The Independent that the fight against al-Qaeda was “not our problem” and admits that his fighters conduct joint operations with al-Qaeda’s representative in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra; a Kurdish intelligence source reveals to The Telegraph that his people had informed the US and British governments of an imminent ISIS takeover of Mosul but that the warning “fell on deaf ears;” PM Maliki blames the US’ delayed delivery of 36 F16s Iraq had purchased for ISIS’ advance into northern and western Iraq; Netanyahu warns Obama against military intervention in Iraq, arguing “when your enemies are fighting one another , don’t strengthen either one of them. Weaken both;” ISIS declares war on Lebanon.
The facts speak for themselves
Nothing irks me more than when naive Arab [pseudo] leftists voice their disillusionment with Hizbullah for “abandoning the resistance to Israel” by fighting with “fellow Muslims”; for its allegedly “sectarian” turn because of its military role in Syria and given its protection of the Sayyida Zeinab shrine in Damascus and its intent to protect holy shrines in Iraq; and for its appropriation of Bush’s “war on terror” discourse.
First of all, there is zero indication that Hizbullah has indeed abandoned its struggle with Israel. I would like to ask them if Israel committed any act of aggression against Lebanon which the Resistance didn’t respond to since the war in Syria began. Or if they read IDF General Amos Gilad’s admission that Israel has “not been successful in preventing a buildup (of rockets) in Lebanon,” which now threatens all of Israeli territory. But on a much more fundamentally basic level I want to ask what is inherently ignoble or unprincipled about fighting for one’s existence. Does this Intifada-chic crowd believe that a real resistance movement should turn the other cheek when any group or entity besides Israel attacks it and threatens its people and territory? Or more rudimentary still, do they believe there would even be a Resistance to fight Israel if it allowed petro-dollar funded Takfiris to have their way with it?
Second, despite the infantile Marxist fantasies of these Muqawama Hipsters, Hizbullah is not, nor has ever, proclaimed to be a secular or Socialist movement. It is an Islamic Shia movement which owes its roots both to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the Shia Islamic concept of the Wilayat el-Faqih. As such, for Hizbullah, the desecration of Shia shrines is a huge deal, just as the desecration of Islamic symbols is for hundreds of millions of Muslims. This doesn’t make Hizbullah a sectarian organization because religiosity and sectarianism are mutually exclusive concepts, even if they can and often do overlap as in the case of the Takfiris.
And finally, Hizbullah refers to Israel as terrorist, not just the Takfiris, so it can hardly be likened to a neo-con US president . Moreover, when Hizbullah uses the term terrorism it isn’t consciously or unconsciously adopting US discourse because a discourse is an entire, ideologically delimited, system of thought and language, not a word which has different uses for different actors. When Hizbullah refers to Takfiris as terrorists, it is using the term within the framework of a Resistance Axis discourse, not quoting from an American imperialist script.”
Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah introduced a new strategic and political motivation behind Hizbullah’s involvement in the war on Syria, which goes beyond its defense of Syria’s territorial integrity and the Syrian state’s support for resistance movements, and even beyond the existential threat takfiri-jihadis pose to Syria and Lebanon; Hizbullah’s defense of the Syrian Arab Republic today aims at preventing a repetition of the imperialists’ creation of Israel, only this time in Syria and the region as a whole: “the spectre of Palestine’s usurpation is being repeated today”. By arming and supporting takfiri groups (Nasrallah even drew parallels between their deployment and mobilization throughout the region and the mass migration of Jews to historic Palestine) the imperialists seek to fragment Syria and destroy the Resistance Axis, and in so doing, protect Israel. Basically, Hizbullah will never allow Syria to become a second Israel or a neo-colonialist outpost in the region designed to protect the first Israel.
I have to say say I am extremely disappointed with RT for publishing this clearly bogus story which is based on a DEBKAfile report no less. DEBKA is an Israeli military intelligence website/propaganda machine which is considered right wing even byIsraeli standards, and was criticized by Yedioth Ahronoth for using politicized [usually anonymous] sources. To give you an example of just how ludicrous this report is: “But expectations of the Hizballah track are high and strongly guide the actions of President Obama, John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and CIA Director John Brennan. And so, in early March, the first secret rendezvous took place in Cyprus between CIA officers and Hizballah intelligence and security operatives.”
Does RT seriously believe Hizbullah’s security people met with the CIA? Or even the American government for that matter? I mean why would it need to if Iran is already talking to the Americans? If you read the full DEBKA article it is obvious that the agenda behind the piece was to lump Hizbullah together with Fatah and Hamas: “Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ initiation of a unity pact with the Hamas extremists last week did not come out of the blue. It was prompted by the direct contacts the Obama administration has secretly established with the Lebanese Hizballah. Abbas reasoned that if Washington can start a dialogue with a terrorist organization, so too can his own PLO and Fatah.”
Equally disappointing was RT’s use of the metaphor “top dog” to describe a leader as revered and respected as Nasrallah. Forget Arab cultural sensitivites associated with the term “dog”, could RT think of nothing more suitable and commensurate with Nasrallah’s stature in the region than to refer to him as “one of Hezbollah’s top dogs”?
Hala Jaber, Qalamoun Published: 20 April 2014
A YEAR ago, following a string of victories, Syria’s rebels fought their way so close to the capital, Damascus, that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime appeared doomed.
Many commentators predicted his fall within days; others gave him only weeks to survive. Yet 12 months later the tide has turned dramatically in favour of the Syrian president, who has outmanoeuvred his opponents both at home and abroad.
In the past few days, a string of villages and towns in the strategically important Qalamoun region have fallen to government forces — among them the Christian town of Maaloula, northeast of Damascus, where Aramaic, the language of Christ, is still spoken.
Homs, once known as “the capital of the revolution”, is on the verge of falling to a Syrian army offensive. Trapped in the last rebel redoubt in the old city, only about 1,000 rebel fighters remain.
Last week, accompanied by the Syrian army, I walked through Maaloula’s battle-scarred streets after it was returned to government control having been seized by the rebels last November.
The previous day, Assad predicted that the main battles could be over by the end of the year. “This is a turning point in the crisis,” he predicted.
Assad’s closest ally, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, went further, saying the Syrian leader no longer faced the prospect of being overthrown.
What has changed in the course of the year? Based on extensive interviews with senior sources close to Hezbollah’s military command in Syria and briefings from high-ranking army officers, I am convinced the answer lies in the decision by Nasrallah and Assad to throw Hezbollah into the fray, thus changing the course of the war.
Until 2012, Hezbollah’s involvement had been minimal. The Iranian-backed group, a mix of fighting force and Lebanese political party, had only a single unit in Syria to guard a Shi’ite shrine in Damascus. At the time hardline rebels, many of them from abroad and affiliated to al-Qaeda, were gaining territory and influence and had sidelined the more secular fighters of the Free Syrian Army.
For Shi’ite Hezbollah, the largely Sunni rebel fighters posed a danger by threatening to undermine Assad. Syria, the group’s closest ally, stored on its behalf the vast quantities of munitions supplied to it by Tehran.
There was further danger to Hezbollah as jihadist rebels began to discuss the prospect of extending their holy war to Lebanon. This would have put them in a powerful position to strangle the group by severing its supply lines from Syria. As a source close to Hezbollah described it to me recently: “Syria is Hezbollah’s lungs.” He added: “It doesn’t matter how many weapons Hezbollah keeps in Lebanon. In any war with Israel, their stocks would be depleted. Resupply is vital.”
By early last year, 70% of Syria’s territory had slipped from Assad’s control.
Day after day, Damascus was being rocked by car bombs, and the regime had been shaken when the rebels succeeded in launching an assassination attempt on key members of his inner circle.
Assad had been leaning heavily on the advice of his generals, who were trained in conventional warfare, and were ill-suited to a guerrilla struggle. It was time for a wholesale change of tactics, he decided, and that could come only from Hezbollah.
Nasrallah went to Tehran to seek religious guidance from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who gave his blessing to sending fighters. Khamenei said it was a religious obligation to fight the jihadist rebels.
Nasrallah’s military advisers insisted that Syria’s army, reinforced by his men, had to go on the offensive. With the backing of Russia and Iran, a strategy was formulated to drive the rebels out of Damascus and win back control of the strategic corridor that links the Syrian capital to the Mediterranean coast.
Nasrallah went to Tehran to seek religious guidance from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who gave his blessing to sending fighters. Khamenei said it was a religious obligation to fight the jihadist rebels.
Initially Hezbollah said its intervention would be confined to retaking the Syrian border city of Qusair and defending the Lebanese villages bordering Syria.
But Hezbollah’s fighters had underestimated their enemy. They soon found themselves in danger of being bottled up by rebel forces and realised they needed to capture far more territory than they had envisaged. This was now a full-scale war for them.
First, Qusair had to be taken in order to block the flow of rebels and weapons from Lebanon into rebel-held Homs.
Hezbollah sent several thousand fighters to the front while the Syrian army provided artillery and air support. In a sign of how closely they were now working together, Hezbollah was granted access to Syria’s military command operations centre for the first time.
Qusair proved a vital learning curve for Hezbollah, fighting far from its own terrain. The organisation was taken by surprise by the rebels’ prowess. In the first few days of battle, it took heavy casualties and was forced to regroup and change tactics.
After three weeks of heavy fighting, in which much of the town was destroyed by shell and rocket fire, Qusair was finally taken back into the hands of the regime last June.
The scale and ferocity of the battle persuaded Hezbollah’s commanders they needed to widen their strategic objectives. Homs, a rebel stronghold, had to be captured in order to choke off the rebels’ supply lines into Lebanon.
Today Homs no longer poses a threat to either Hezbollah or the regime, although it has a rump of rebel fighters, blamed for a car bomb outside a mosque on Friday that killed at least 14 people.
Control of the city was vital for Assad, as it links Damascus to the coastal towns of Latakia and Tartus, both parts of his Alawite heartland. The Alawite sect, to which Assad and his family belong, represents about 12% of the Syrian population.
In the next stage of their plan, the Syrian army and Hezbollah moved their attention to Qalamoun, the region where it made significant gains last week. Its harsh, mountainous terrain close to the Lebanese border had for months provided a base for rebel fighters to launch suicide attacks in Lebanese villages in revenge for Hezbollah’s support for Assad. Dozens have been killed by the bombs in recent weeks, most of them civilians.
“Ensuring the recapture of Qalamoun was becoming critical for Hezbollah,” the source close to the group explained.
Hezbollah fighters spearheaded the attack after the Syrian army had softened up the rebels by pounding their positions with artillery, rocket launchers and mortars.
Once Hezbollah won control of a village or town, it was handed over to Syrian troops or the pro-government militiamen known as the National Defence Force.
Despite the triumphs at Maaloula and Qalamoun, an all-out victory for Assad is still far from assured. Rebel brigades have made significant inroads in the north in recent weeks. Last month they captured Kassab, the sole remaining government-controlled border post with Turkey, cementing their hold on Syria’s northern border.
Though Kassab has little strategic importance, the well co-ordinated attack appears to have taken Assad’s military by surprise. Within 10 days, the rebels occupied a large area running down to the Mediterranean.
Despite the setbacks, Hezbollah has emerged as a bigger and more influential player in the region as a result of its intervention.
“There will be no limit for Hezbollah’s role and no boundaries,” said the Hezbollah source. “They’ll stay as long as he [Assad] needs them. When he considers Hezbollah’s presence is no longer needed, they’ll pull out immediately from all fronts,” he added.
Full story here
As I watch Putin’s standing ovation today in the Russian parliament, and read news about Hizbullah’s latest attack on Israeli occupation troops in the Golan, I can’t help but think how terrifying it is to have an enemy as quintessentially stupid as the US and its allies. Just 3 weeks ago, an NYT headline penned by the head of Carnegie’s Moscow Center, boldly declared “Why Russia Won’t Interfere.” Such myopia is reminiscent of the “Assad’s days are numbered” mantra, and predictions about how “Hizbullah won’t respond [to Israel]” .
Time and time again, we find that US intelligence services, think tanks and policy makers misread their enemy’s intentions and willingness to respond militarily to US/NATO/Zionist destabilization and aggression campaigns. The problem lies in their very rationality which is based on the deeply flawed premise that only imperialist powers will dare act militarily in puruit of their “security interests” (a euphemism for imperialist designs) while other nations can be sanctioned, destabilized and even bombed into submission, without standing up for their rights, security and very existence . And when anti-imperialist forces do strike back in self-defense, the US & co appear genuinely shocked by their digression from this “rational actor” model and are consequently branded as irrational (Assad is “delusional”, Putin is “in another world”, etc.) pariahs who can only be restrained by means of further sanctions, destabilization and bombing campaigns. What can be more terrifying than an enemy who possesses such a rationality?
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.