August 10, 2006


Learning from Its Mistakes (Charles Glass, 8/17/06, London Review of Books)

Naim Qassem called the liberation of south Lebanon ‘the grandest and most important victory over Israel since it commenced its occupation [of Palestine] fifty years before – a liberation that was achieved at the hands of the weakest of nations, of a resistance operating through the most modest of means, not at the hands of armies with powerful military arsenals.’ But what impressed most Lebanese as much as Hizbullah’s victory over Israel was its refusal to murder collaborators – a triumph over the tribalism that has plagued and divided Lebanese society since its founding. Christians I knew in the Lebanese army admitted that their own side would have committed atrocities. Hizbullah may have been playing politics in Lebanon, but it refused to play Lebanese politics. What it sought in south Lebanon was not revenge, but votes. In the interval between its founding in 1982 and the victory of 2000, Hizbullah had become – as well as an armed force – a sophisticated and successful political party. It jettisoned its early rhetoric about making Lebanon an Islamic republic, and spoke of Christians, Muslims and Druze living in harmony. When it put up candidates for parliament, some of those on its electoral list were Christians. It won 14 seats.

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.

On this occasion Israel, which regards its treatment of Palestinians under occupation as an internal affair in which neither the UN nor the Arab countries have any right to interfere, calibrated its response in such a way that it could not win. Instead of doing a quiet deal with Hizbullah to free its soldiers, it launched an all-out assault on Lebanon. Reports indicate that Israel has already dropped a greater tonnage of bombs on the country than it did during Sharon’s invasion in 1982. The stated purpose was to force a significant portion of the Lebanese to demand that the government disarm Hizbullah once and for all. That failed to happen. Israel’s massive destruction of Lebanon has had the effect of improving Hizbullah’s standing in the country. Its popularity had been low since last year, when it alone refused to demand the evacuation of the Syrian army after the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Hizbullah sensed that Washington was orchestrating the anti-Syrian campaign for its own – rather than Lebanon’s – benefit.

Syria had, after all, helped found Hizbullah after Israel’s invasion – and encouraged it to face down and defeat the occupation, as well as to drive the Americans from Lebanon. Syria in turn allowed Iran, whose religious leaders gave direction to Hizbullah and whose Revolutionary Guards provided valuable tactical instruction, to send weapons through its territory to Lebanon. Hizbullah’s leaders nevertheless have sufficiently strong support to assert their independence of both sponsors whenever their interests or philosophies clash. (I have first-hand, if minor, experience of this. When Hizbullah kidnapped me in full view of a Syrian army checkpoint in 1987, Syria insisted that I be released to show that Syrian control of Lebanon could not be flouted. Hizbullah, unfortunately, ignored the request.) Despite occasional Syrian pressure, Hizbullah has refused to go into combat against any other Lebanese militia. It remained aloof from the civil war and concentrated on defeating Israel and its SLA surrogates.

Hizbullah’s unspectacular showing in the first post-Syrian parliamentary elections was largely due to changes in electoral law but may also be traced in part to its perceived pro-Syrian stance. Now, Israel has rescued Hizbullah and made its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, not only the most popular man in Lebanon – but in the whole Arab world.

When you've got yourself deep enough you just have to stop digging

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 10, 2006 12:44 PM

I'm sorry, but this is the straw that broke the camel's back. I'm not going to spend any more time browsing through Hezbollah propaganda. It's been great fun hanging around at this great site, but this is good-bye.

Posted by: b at August 10, 2006 1:18 PM

Hassan Nasrallah won't stay the most popular man in the Arab if the Israelis go into Syria to get him.

Posted by: Brandon at August 10, 2006 1:39 PM

The Saudis and the Egyptians don't seem to think so highly of Nasrallah. This guy must have Beirut Syndrome.

Posted by: ratbert at August 10, 2006 1:40 PM

Well, I'm not leaving, but this is obvious propoganda by a man who admires Hizbollah's tactics and isn't the least bothered by kidnapping, terror and the murder of innocents.

"But what impressed most Lebanese as much as Hizbullah’s victory over Israel was its refusal to murder collaborators"

They are murdering them in bunches now. 18 in Tyre in one murderous event. What a shame to see the sweet and lovable Hezbolians forced to murder traitorous Lebanese by the evil Jews.

Posted by: Patrick H at August 10, 2006 1:53 PM

I suppose the next claim will be that Hezbollah is an ally in the fight against Darwinism.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at August 10, 2006 1:56 PM

That was the first claim.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 10, 2006 2:09 PM

Next? That's first. Were Islam not an effective basis on which to found a decent society then it wouldn't matter what Israel did to the Shi'ites.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 2:18 PM


Of course the Sunni hate him.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 2:19 PM


No one cares about Assad, except Realists.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 2:22 PM

No one will accuse you of being "realistic".

Posted by: h-man at August 10, 2006 2:48 PM

Of course the Sunni hate him - they're jealous.

The key statement in this guy's screed is the implication that Hezbollah would have crushed Israel in the beginning (back in 1948). Whew! Some people just can't hide their feelings.

Of course, if Israel invades Syria, the Hezbos will be reduced to shrieking 24/7.

Posted by: ratbert at August 10, 2006 2:57 PM

Can you site one example of how any society was made descent by Islam as it's driving force?

Posted by: BJW at August 10, 2006 3:32 PM


Here's four: Malaysia, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey.

Posted by: Brandon at August 10, 2006 3:36 PM

I only know about Malaysia, having lived there for several years, but what made Malaysia decent WAS British common law and a huge minority of Chinese and Indian businessmen who kept the economy going. Islam was hardly a factor 20 years ago; Malaysians were decidedly relaxed about their religion, in the way South Asians used to be, and were instead chauvinistic about their ethnicity. (This outlook led to the 1966 riots in which ethnic Malays murdered hundreds of Chinese, because the Chinese were far more economically successful. Echoes of the Jews here. The government then responded by implementing a sort of affirmative action for the majority, favoring Malays for jobs, education etc. This actually kept everyone calm for long enough to let Malaysia take part in the spectacular growth of the ASEAN countries, starting in the late 80's. But Malaysia fell to the dictatorship of Mahathir, who initially didn't care at all about Islam but then began pumping up the religion thing in order to silence critics and dissidents. It's still an okay society, but not nearly as decent as it was two decades ago -- its decency has gone down, as the islamic fervor has gone up.

Posted by: Lisa at August 10, 2006 4:06 PM

The path from racism to universalism is an ascent, not a descent.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 4:25 PM

Lisa- Don't confuse oj with facts gleaned from actual, personal experience. Subtlety is not his strong point.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct. at August 10, 2006 4:26 PM

No, they're scared. The dictatorships of the Sunni worlsd can't withstand the democratizing force unleashed by America and the Shi'a.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 4:31 PM

Personal feelings aren't facts:

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 4:38 PM

Realist is a slur.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 4:38 PM

The next question, of course, is whether Hezbollah has a relaxed attitude toward illegal aliens.

On the other hand, maybe they're in favor of railroads and plumbing...

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at August 10, 2006 5:15 PM

They'll welcome Shi'a immigrants as we welcome Mexican Christians.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 5:18 PM

oj. How can realist be a slur? Doesn't it mean someone who sees things as they really are, not as they'd like them to be?

Posted by: erp at August 10, 2006 5:33 PM

No. In foreign policy, Realists are those who prefer stability at any cost. America is the primary source of instability in the modern world:

It is Realistic to prefer that the Sunni oppress the Shi'a because it keeps them quiet, but it's unAmerican.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 5:40 PM

When they start welcoming hindus,bhudists,jews and christians we'll talk.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct. at August 10, 2006 5:58 PM

When they do it will be too late for their society.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 6:04 PM

It's already too late for their 'society'. The 'Golden Age if Islam' is long gone. It lives only in your imagination.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct. at August 10, 2006 6:10 PM

The best is yet to come--they're around where we were in Britain in the 12-1600s, just as their "Golden Age" was merely a reproduction of Grecco-Roman culture of centuries earlier. Their big advantage is they know to avoid the secularism/rationalism/multi-culturalism that killed the West. They could rival us in a few hundred years.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 6:43 PM

I'm beginning to get concerned about you.

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct. at August 10, 2006 6:54 PM

Tom: just let him keep digging.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 10, 2006 7:05 PM

You've got plenty of fellow Islamophobes you can go play with in the neocon echo chamber.

But the future belongs to us, not y'all.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 7:06 PM

Diagnosis, not argument, is the only proper response to that last. As I'm not qualified, here we shall stop.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 10, 2006 7:59 PM

If only.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 8:10 PM

Joe, you're a kind fellow.oj-what

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct at August 10, 2006 8:27 PM

I was cut off-oj-what are you babbling about? What do you mean by 'neo-con'?

Posted by: Tom C.,Stamford,Ct at August 10, 2006 8:31 PM

When we see the Shi'a Cromwell, or even the Shi'a Henry II, then perhaps your statement will even begin to make sense. Note that there are no 'barons' trying to improve the state of governance in that one country where the Shi'a do have full power. And there are certainly none in Lebanon.

As an aside, the Shi'a in Iraq have a choice to make - if they follow the Iranian line, they will probably wind up vassals again, except their tyrant(s) will be in Tehran, not Baghdad.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 10, 2006 11:25 PM

Except that Iran and Iraq are more democratic than Britain was. For barons to take power would be a retrograde movement. The Shi'a are coming a bit later to the same political ideas but hardly surprising given that they've been oppressed.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2006 11:38 PM

Yes, the Shi'a have been oppressed. That has to change. And I think you are mostly correct about their potential for success (as compared to the Sunni). But the retrogrades (Nasrallah, Khameini, Ahmadinejad, Al-Sadr, etc.) have to be swept away. Otherwise, no one will be able to tell them apart, and no one will care. It's a matter of self-respect.

Hezbollah has lots of bluster, but very little self-respect.

Sistani has been very quiet since Feb. 22 - perhaps he needs to stick his head out a little more. But he is very old, and who will succeed him? We already know Mookie wants to.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 11, 2006 1:39 AM

The retrogrades are the ones who win you the political advances, often at a cost of much blood, and then you get down to normal governing. What's notable is how little death is associated with the Shi'a Liberation (in Iran in the late 70s, Iraq 1991-now, and Lebanon), as compared to our own Revolution or England's.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2006 7:39 AM

Morocco and Tunisia had 'decency' stuffed down their throats by the US navy and French Imperialism. Prior to that they were players in the Islamic economic system of piracy and slave trading.Innovators they were not.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at August 11, 2006 8:10 AM

ooo, piracy? How sub-human.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2006 8:28 AM

Piracy and zero-sum thinking are hardly characteristics of either 'decency' or innovation. As formal policy it reflects the primitivism of an ideology frozen in time. Being outgunned is easy for bandits to understnd. Is an official policy of piracy ok , excusable, or is the free movement of people and goods something to be ecouraged as beneficial to all?

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at August 11, 2006 8:57 AM

The Anglosphere was built on piracy and slaves. You're being ludicrous.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2006 10:26 AM
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