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06 August 2006


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I think you are correct in the premise, and conclusion, cited in your last paragraph. Before I comment further on them, if you have the time and inclination, could you please respond to these questions? Do you lump Hizballah in with Hamas as implacable foes of Israel. Able, at best, to accept no more than long term, open ended truce with Israel? Or do you differentiate between the ideological goals of Hamas and Hizballah? Finally, if you are correct in your assumptions, and Hizballah becomes thee power in Lebanon; can they move, somewhat, towards a more independent foreign policy, one that puts Lebanon’s interests, as those interests are defined by Hizballah paramount, and away, somewhat, from Iran’s interests? Or are they a permanent ‘colony’ if you will, of Iran?

Sorry for asking so many questions but they seem the crux of matter to me.

W. Patrick Lang


Both are revivalist Islamic movements. They do not have the option to cede territory permanently to Israel. To do so would be to deny the sovereignty of the Umma and would in their own eyes place them outside Islam. Do they think that is where the Jordanian and Egyptian governments are? Yes.

Having said that, one group is distinctively Palestinian and the other Lebanese. If they come to real power politically the groups will invevitably develop policies nuanced by "national", i.e., (watani) interests. pl


I would be careful in attaching triumphalist rhetoric to the recent Hizbullah performance as the Newsweek tone. Note that only a single surface-to-sea missile reached a target. Not sure if more were fired. The point is yes, they have the ability to take advantage of more sophisticated weaponry like a well trained military but they do not yet have the kind of weapons to really cause the IDF major battlefield defeats. Admittedly they have made it very costly for the IDF to gain ground and continue to demonstrate their ability to launch hundreds of rockets despite the IAF tonnage dropped on Lebanese infrastructure. Of course that could change and Iran may supply them with the more lethal Russian and Chinese arms. Not sure how that works.

On jonst and PLs point about Hamas and Hizbullah being revivalist Islamic forces that would never concede land, there maybe changes to that strict attitude as they gain more political legitimacy and power. Having the responsibility of running a government and delivering services and a better life for their people means compromises. I am sure they would not want to get to the point where they are tarred with the same brush as their political opponents after all the work they have done in building a grassroots political organization and gaining legitimate political support from their people.

So my sense is that if there are any parties that can compromise and bring along their people in that compromise it would be Hizbullah and Hamas. They have the street cred. It would be smart on the Israelis to consider them real political representatives and work to develop a political settlement.


I can't imagine the Las Vegas of the Middle East with women wearing burkas. Is Hassan Nisrallah enough of a moderate Shiite to not insist that not take place? He really is a different kind of Shiite leader even if he does have Iranian support that is vital to stop Israel encroaching on Lebanese territory.


Pat’s reference to Giap is well chosen. It’s in many ways like a people’s war. Subtract reactionary Islam and much of what Nasrallah does could be interpreted as straight out of Mao’s text book: the emphasis on indoctrination and spreading the revolutionary message, the provision of social services and the evolution towards conventional warfare.

Hezbollah hold many cards:
A) They are fighting in defense of clan territory.
B) Against an enemy that they know intimately. And it’s not just a practical knowledge it’s backed by theory; much of their IRGC training is based on Israeli manuals.
C) They are able to fight as disciplined light infantry or melt into the population and employ terrorist method.
D) They have the backing of Syria and more importantly an Iran empowered by the fall of Saddam and swaggering with oil wealth.
E) They’ve been digging in and training for this for the past five years.

Think of a wired Viet Cong.

This is not the Palestinian rabble the IDF is accustomed to bulldozing into an early grave. Hezbollah probably don’t field more than 3,000 men but they’ll be damned hard to decisively defeat on the short timescales the IDF now have thanks to their idiotically indiscriminate bombing campaign.
Sami Moubayed perhaps under-rates their professionalism here:
“History is repeating itself in strange ways. The war of 1948 was won by Israel precisely because it had all the traits currently possessed by Hezbollah. The Israelis were not a professional army. They were guerrilla warriors well trained in hand-to-hand combat, who were fighting a war for their very existence, just like Hezbollah has been doing. The Stern Gang, Irgun, and Hagana had the leadership of young, charismatic and spirited commanders like Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. ”
Sami is right about Aoun being pivotal; Nasrallah has prepared more than tunnel systems and rocketry.
We’ve not faced anything as modern and capable as this in Iraq or Afghanistan… not yet.

John Howley

I agree, as you suggest, that more attention needs to be paid to the shift in opinion among Lebanese Maronites and Sunnis (and let's not forget the Druze).
These folks fought one of the nastiest civil wars on record. If I'm not mistaken it lasted fifteen years -- all this within the living memory of most Lebanese.
Now we have reports of a poll saying that 80 percent of Maronites support Hizbullah. I also heard a report that leaders of the three communities had signed a unity statement in support of Hizbullah.
Perhaps Anthony Shadid (WaPo) will do more digging here for us as it seems critical.
It also means the clear failute of Israel's strategy (made in Washington?) which was to turn non-Shiites against Hizbullah (i.e., re-ignite the civil war).
Perhaps a few more bombs will get them to see the light...

W. Patrick Lang


Two things

1-The silkworm strike on the gunboat was accomplished in the context of the IDFN ship having its automatic air defense systems turned off. this was to de-conflict with IAF air operations in the area. One could argue that the HA reasoned that they would waste these missiles in additional strikes since the systems would be back "on."

2-As you know war is not just a matter of balances of hardware. Israel is losing the war at the strategic level because it is being made to look impotent. the actual damage inflicted by HA rockets is trivial in all but human terms. pl


The Giap transition for a "place at the table" hasalready happened. As Billmon writes looking at the UN resolution mentioning Hizbullah versus Hamas:

/quote/If you are a designated terrorist organization with advanced weapons, you can participate in the "democratic" process and even be recognized as a legitimate combatant by the UN Security Council. But if you are a designated terrorist organization without advanced weapons, and you try to participate in the "democratic" process, you'll get thrown in the slammer. No UN Security Council resolutions for you./unquote/


I agree with PL's second point. Hizballah is frustrating Israeli will. And some times that is a way to define victory. Once again however,, my eyes are drawn back from the ME, to DC. Was this one more, in a seemingly endless line now, of grotesque intelligence failures? (these failures can also be described as being too ignorant and too arrogant to listen to what intelligence was telling them) Or is this (encouraging Israel in the beginning to keep going down the path it went down) part of grand plan to somehow confront Syria and/or Iran. I mean PL and I, and others, have had this same debate. How is this ‘plan’, and the ‘plan’ in Iraq not purposeful? Who the hell could be so blind, stupid, and arrogant?


Journalist Robert Fisk also insists that the Israeli gunboats have learned to keep their distance from the shore, presenting more distant targets.


Have you seen Gideon Levy's "The Real Estate War"?


"For years, Israel has waged war against the Palestinians with the main motive of insistence on keeping the occupied territories. If not for the settlement enterprise, Israel would have long since retreated from the occupied territories and the struggle's engine would have been significant(ly) neutralized."

The desire to keep "chosen" settlements in the occupied territories and (equally but less often stressed) the whole of Jerusalem "forever" may actually be the greatest existential threat to Israel.

It may also mean a largely reservist IDF is as obsolete as ludicrous "separation" walls.

And a small army of retired Scandinavian politicians is going to be needed to clean up all this.

Dimitar Vesselinov

Do we remember the lessons from the Second Boer War?

Second Boer War

Babak Makkinejad


Your last question reminds me of what many Frenchmen thought of Petin: that he was playing a deep game; which, of course, he wasn't.

Similarly the answer to your question is: affirmative. There is no deep plan here just lurching from one tactical decision to another.



OK. Thanks for enlightening me on the "de-confliction" issue - not that I really know what it means technically but I can make an educated guess. So, what is the point of having the silkworms if they will be "wasted" if ships turn on their air defense systems?

Your point about impotence in preventing rocket attacks and the resulting problem at a strategic level is well taken.

As Hizbullah and Hamas grow in political strength don't you think they become more "political" and less "guerrillas" and will be more amenable to political compromises? My analogy here is the IRA and Sinn Fein.

And if you have a competent fighting force such as the Hizbullah's current performance and they gain a qualitative improvement in hardware would that not completely change the military equations in the region? Where I am going with this is that in the next decade or so countries like India, Pakistan, N. Korea and even Iran will have better missiles with guidance. And if AQ Khan could create a nuclear proliferation network out of Pakistan, why not missiles. I have even read the Pakistanis and N. Koreans exchanged nuclear for missile technology.

W. Patrick Lang


Sometimes you can only do what you can do.

I see no evidence in Palestine or anywhere else that posession of political power makes one less "extreme. pl


Thought the Keystone was red, Pat.

Anyhoo, as Mc said above:

Then let nature take its course.

The Savage Garden gets very interesting when the primitives have good anti-tank stuff.


I thought that Hezbollah claimed that they attacked that ship with a drone. It was the Israelis who claimed it was a C-801 (think Exocet) not a Silkworm. William Lind goes with the drone on the basis that the ship of that size hit by a C-801 would have sunk.
Hezbollah have also flown reconnaissance drones over Israel itself much to the IAF's consternation. If these were Hezbollah-developed drones then this shows another worrying leap forward in their capability.

The Lounsbury

Re the cultural question (revealing in the stereotype):

I can't imagine the Las Vegas of the Middle East with women wearing burkas.

Burkas are not worn in Leb Land.

If you mean women wearing head veils, hidjabs; it's already a done thing outside of the chic Westernised circles.

Is Hassan Nisrallah enough of a moderate Shiite to not insist that not take place?

Moderate here evidently having the meaning, 'dressing like me.'

Nasrallah has shown quite some pragmatism in his Lebanese political dealings (e.g. getting cosy with arch-Xian General Michel Aoun), and given a third or so of the population isn't Shia or Sunni, imposition of mandatory hidjabs is not very likely.



Unlike the IRA, Hizbollah has not been thoroughly penetrated by opposition inteligence. Which makes PL's point even more salient.


" I would welcome comments in regard to that polling."

My comment is: not good. We're not talking about a football game here where emotions can run high and then subside. These emotions are based on folks seeing their kids and their neighbors get killed by Israel. That's the type of deep anger that stays with a man, for a long time. And manifests itself with further acts of violence/revenge...perhaps years down the road.

Even those unaffected by the war campaign, according to these polls, seem to "root" for the H team. Everybody loves an underdog. And it seems to me that in the eyes of many Lebanese, H has become "The Little Engine That Could". What if Israel in some fashion "breaks the back" of the militia? UN soldiers are sent in, some sort of peace ensues...and new elections are held. And if we have a repeat of Hamas electoral success? What if Hizbollah wins the national elections in a landslide? What then? As I said at the beginning, not good.


larry birnbaum

No question the Israelis have been surprised by the tenacity and capacity of the Hezbollah militia. What is in question is what they're going to do about it. One could take the view that the current situation reveals that the policy of the last few years, unilateral withdrawal followed by "benign neglect" on the northern front, was a huge mistake. It let this capability grow right under their noses.

And it was only going to get stronger. In other words: better to find out now than 2 or 3 years from now.

W. Patrick Lang


A different arch. pl


" I would welcome comments in regard to that polling."

Me too. My thought does not qualify as professional historical reflection and I seek input from those better grounded. Nevertheless, I generally recall - put crudely, one third of our colonists were Tories (loyalists to England and George III), one third were for the revolution, and one third were fence sitters. During and after the war hundred thousand (million?) or more left for Canada, England or the crown's Caribbean holdings. Likely the percent of supporters increased and detractors decreased over the years of the build-up and war itself.

In Algeria, many locals supported the French colonists. The local Arabs had five feuding, warring factions from which to give alligence to fight the French. The five groups actively killed each other and assassinated the others leaders - while opposing the French. A recount of the relative support commanded by the French and five insurgent groups may be a historically useful yardstick.

Colonel Lang's reference to Giap can also lend to an analysis of the level of local support earned or coerced by that political movement and military force. (Also bearing in mind the "successful" South Vietnamese election in September, 1967.)

Point being - the level of support garned by Hizbullah here appears to be huge in relative historical terms. It's growing stronger with each airstrike, even in the Christian areas. While we did not have professional poll results in earlier struggles so as to give us a better guidepost for use today; one suspects that Olmert's policy lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Arab world and most of the world, as it began, and that will likely not change in the near term. A gut-check by crude historical guideposts - way not good.

john in LA

The US and Israel have made it a practice to bomb undefended Arab cities from the air ever since Israel was founded.

Why is anyone surprised that this treatment has been met with resistance?

Think about this: IDF is conscripted. The US military is fielding out of shape reservists who have absolutely no reason to be in Iraq.

The Hizbollah is fighting for its life, on its land. And now they have solid, high tech weaponry.

And the US and IDF are whining and complaining? Because they were used to using tanks to supress rock throwing children.

The US and IDF are about to learn what it likes to lose a war, very badly. The neocons racialisting hate mongering almost makes them look weaker.

In a year the US will be fighting back to back insurgencies from the Shia and the Sunni. And US troops will likely be deployed in Israel to kill Palestinians.

It's not going to work...



In regards to the polls, I would say from all reports that rather than push Lebanon to the brink of civil war, the Israeli tactics have pushed many groups together and made Lebanon (which always has been less a nation and more an agreement of a broad range of sects to sort of get on) a more united nation. The fact that so many refugees, most of whom are Shia, are staying with Sunni and Maronite families is allowing the kind of trans-secterian discourse never possible on the political arena as the leaders jousted and postured. By the sounds of things, the real losers will be the likes of Jumblatt who started very Pro-Western and has doggedly remained so while the rest of the politicians behind the very anti-Syrian "Cedar revolution" have been slowly realising that they have lost all the momentum and that momentum has swung firmly back in an easterly direction.

Although reports from the SF Chronicle and the New Statesman make it clear the soldiers abduction was the excuse and not the reason for this war and that the UK and US administrations knew well in advance of the plan, I have my suspicions that the Lebanese PM and his allies may have also been aware of the plan. THe biggest danger in regards to civil strife in Lebanon would be if this was to become a popular beleif in the country.

However, with all that, I doubt this popularity will translate to a much bigger Hizbollah vote at the polls. At best, they will become a core member of a broad alliance that wins the next election. That in itself would probably serve to neuter their military activity far more than any Israeli military activity.

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