January 22, 2009 | Posted by Abu Muqawama - 7:14am | 180 Comments
I was having lunch yesterday with a noted defense intellectual and retired military officer who was, among other things, giving me some hilarious career advice for when I finish my PhD. ("If I worked in the Pentagon," he told me, "I would be naked with a rifle on the roof within a week." I probably would be as well. Ah, well...) The conversation turned to Gaza, though, and he asked me what I thought.
I first said that Hizballah -- a group I know a hell of a lot more about than Hamas -- excels along three lines of operation: combat operations, information operations, and the provision of social services to the population. Hamas, it appears, is not nearly as sophisticated in any of those three lines of operation despite being almost exactly as old, as an organization, as Hizballah was in 2006.
That said, the parallel I keep drawing is not between Hizballah in 2006 and Hamas in 2009 but rather between Gaza in 2009 and southern Lebanon in both 1993 and 1996. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of Operation Accountability (1993)
and Operation Grapes of Wrath (1996)
, let me just say this: In 1993, Israel conducted an air- and artillery-based campaign which displaced over 100,000 Lebanese and destroyed around 6,000 homes in southern Lebanon. That's about how many homes have been destroyed in Gaza. Immediately following the operation, though, UN observers in southern Lebanon began to see something they had never observed before: Jihad al-Bina, Hizballah's construction arm. For the first time, Jihad al-Bina had a major presence in the area and in fact rebuilt many of the home that had been destroyed in the fighting.
One of the Israeli goals in 1993 was to create a rift between Hizballah and the population in the naive hopes the population would "crack down" on the guerrillas in their midst. The way in which Hizballah was able to distribute aid and reconstruction services following the operation, though, ensured Israel would not be able to do that. Hamas, like Hizballah, has an interest in similarly helping the population. But unlike Hizballah, they have serious competition. Both Fatah and international aid organizations will also be attempting to help the people of Gaza. Understand that in the same way in which Hizballah does not like aid programs taking place in southern Lebanon without at least their tacit -- and public -- approval, Hamas does not want competitors in this arena either. This explains some of the fighting which has taken place between Hamas and Fatah in the past few days
In the aftermath of the war, Fatah and Hamas are already fighting over who will distribute humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. Hamas is preventing Fatah activists from playing a role in the rebuilding of Gaza, and recently hijacked 12 trucks full of aid donated by the Jordanian government, meant for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
So this is the fight to watch next. Pay close attention to who rebuilds Gaza -- and how Hamas will seek to get credit for every bit of aid that is delivered to the people. That fight will help determine the long-term strategic effects of this latest spasm of violence.