Elias Muhanna, whose blog I followed yesterday while simultaneously listening to the speech by Sec. Gates -- honestly, can't Hassan Nasrallah and Bob Gates coordinate when they're going to be speaking so I can listen to both? -- has a good inst-analysis of Nasrallah's speech up on Foreign Policy. I think he more or less nails it here:
The short-term result of this new development will be the simple fact that the Lebanese will now have two different sources of authority on the question of who killed Rafiq al-Hariri. Just as the old binaries of the 2005-09 period were fading away (March 14 vs. March 8, loyalists vs. opposition, etc.), a new one has arisen to take their place. The questions the Lebanese will now ask eachother will be: "Do you believe the U.N. or Hizbullah?" "Which story is more convincing?" "Which evidence is more compelling?"
Yup. This allows Hizballah's supporters to follow an alternative to the narrative on offer from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is expected to name members of Hizballah as having been involved with the assassination of Rafik Hariri. If it is possible to be more cynical about Lebanese politics and politicians than Elias, I somehow manage: I pretty much reserve a high degree of suspicion for the words coming out of anyone's mouth. And I also believe -- and my Lebanese friends will pardon me here -- that hardcore supporters of any sect or party in Lebanon more or less swallow whole whatever their leaders tell them, and Hizballah's followers are no different. (The same can be said, probably, for many of the American viewers of Glenn Beck and Keith Olberman.) Readers with a passing familiarity with the fighting in southern Lebanon will remember that pretty much no Lebanese person living north of Khiam had ever heard of the Shebaa Farms before 2000.* But boy, didn't Hizballah convince everyone in Lebanon -- though not the United Nations -- that southern Lebanon was still "occupied" territory so long as the farms were on the wrong side of the fence? And did this not provide a good excuse for Hizballah to remain under arms after the Israeli withdrawal? Sure did.
So now we have this new version of the truth whereby some supposedly intercepted Israeli drone feeds suggest Israel was involved with the assassination of Rafik Hariri. And a good percentage of the people of the southern suburbs of Beirut, southern Lebanon and the Biqa'a Valley will now believe the Mossad killed Rafik Hariri and the STL is a UN plot to disarm Hizballah. Sigh.
Hey, Abu Hadi, if this crazy scheme doesn't work out in the court of public opinion, I happen to know for a fact that a former U.S. Army Ranger with explosives training was in western Beirut on the day of the Hariri assassination. Isn't this an interesting coincidence? Maybe the Americans killed Rafik Hariri!
*The truth is, there was a bit in the Lebanese press in 1996 about the Shebaa Farms, and the farms are Lebanese territory. But no one -- not the Israelis, the Lebanese, or the United Nations -- had ever really heard of them prior to 2000. It took some effort, in fact, to get the Syrians to renounce their claims to the territory, which were not taken in 1982 but rather seized in 1967 along with the rest of the Golan. I know this is complicated, but the point is this: Hizballah is a past master at creating alternate narratives to insulate it from crises.
1. A CNN editor trying to express her admiration for Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah on Twitter is just silly. (The name and title alone are 42 characters!) One should not try and explain what seems to have been a nuanced opinion in a text message. Firing her for it, though, also seems silly. Also silly, though, is continuing to describe Fadlallah as Hizballah's spiritual mentor. That may have been kind of true in the 1980s but has probably not been the case since then. My guess is that the young and relatively undistinguished religious scholars who formed Hizballah's leadership in the early 1980s -- Musawi, Tufaili, Nasrallah, etc. -- needed someone of high religious stature like Fadlallah to beef up their Islamic bona fides.* Fadlallah, in turn, benefited from his relationship with Hizballah within civil war-era Lebanon. By the 1990s, though, both groups more or less outgrew one another. Fadlallah no longer needed Hizballah's support, and Hizballah no longer needed his blessing. Both Fadlallah and Hizballah had enough stature to stand on their own. Even Martin Kramer, who once wrote a long monograph on the man titled "Oracle of Hizballah", is highly sensitive to the way in which Fadlallah's stature and relationship with Hizballah has changed over time. Personally, I think Hizballah and Fadlallah are best understood as separate if overlapping phenomena within Shia Lebanon. Fadlallah's ministry and activities, for example, long precede those of Hizballah.
2. This Andrew Bacevich blog post is off. Bacevich wants us to consider foreign policy decisions black-and-white moral affairs. Bush, he argues, reliably chose the wrong option out of two available but was at least guided by a flawed moral compass. Obama, Bacevich argues, is amoral. This is absurd. In matters of war, leaders at all levels make hard moral choices involving sin and virtue. One could describe this as the hard moral economics of war, and it applies from platoon leaders to presidents. Invading Iraq, for example, delivered difficult-to-calculate moral benefits (overthrowing a brutal dictator, responsible for the death or torture of hundreds of thousands) and similarly-difficult-to-calculate moral costs (horrific violence affecting the lives of millions and costing the lives of many thousands more). By invading and occupying Iraq in such an incompetent manner, we Americans changed the margins, indesputably raising the moral costs further. I disagreed with the initial decision to invade Iraq on both strategic and moral grounds but understood the moral calculus involved. (I have never understood the strategic calculus.) In the same way, just because you disagree with the Obama Administration on Afghanistan does not mean that the administration lacks a moral compass. They probably just did a strategic and moral cost-benefit analysis and arrived at a different conclusion than Bacevich did. I understand that Andrew Bacevich is upset about our policy in Afghanistan. But concluding as he does -- without any evidence to suggest that moral considerations, such as an obligation to the Afghan people, were not weighed in the president's decision-making process -- that the president lacks a moral compass is ugly, unnecessarily ad hominem, and beneath a man of Bacevich's intelligence and humanity. If Bacevich was serious, he would consider not just the strategic risks to a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan -- which is what he is apparently advocating -- but also the moral costs to be paid by the Afghan people we leave behind. In that light, the moral economics of war are no more black and white than the strategic economics of war. We're left with hard choices and trade-offs, and the public discourse is very poorly served by those who pretend they are easy.
*I should add here that I am hardly the only person who has come to this conclusion. I do not have any citations handy, but I do not want to be accused of plagiarizing someone else's research either. So let me just say, again, that my take on this is not unique.
I don't really have all that much analysis to add to the allegations that Syria has transfered Scud missiles to Hizballah. So let me just contribute two points:
So everyone hold your breath. Because this is how wars start.
This weekend, I went to the local coffeeshop to read two documents which I had previously skimmed but to which I wanted to devote more attention and felt deserved a closer reading. The first is the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2025 report, a paper that has gotten a lot of attention in policy circles for its blunt conclusions regarding the future environment. The second is Hizballah's new political manifesto [English, Arabic], a long-awaited update to the 1985 "Open Letter".
Reading the two documents in tandem was striking. First, there were some similarities. Both documents, for example, were quite bearish on the United States of America. The NIC report predicts a multipolar world in 2025 in which the United States is still the strongest but not the dominant power. "Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States’ relative strength—even in the military realm—will decline and US leverage will become more constrained".
The introduction to Hizballah's new manifesto, meanwhile, states that "it's possible to say that we are amid historical transformations that predict the retreat of the US role as an omnipotent power, the break of the unipolar system and the historical immediate demise of the Zionist entity".
[يمكن القول: إننا في سياق تحولات تاريخية تُنذر بتراجع الولايات المتحدة الأميركية كقوة مهيمنة، وتحلُّل نظام القطب الواحد المهيمن، وبداية تشكّل مسار الأفول التاريخي المتسارع للكيان الصهيوني]
But whereas the NIC report -- together with most serious scholars of international relations -- is preparing for a post-American world, Hizballah's manifesto reveals a myopic obsession with the United States and an inability to view the politics of the Middle East through any lens other than American hegemony. At times, the manifesto reads like someone threw Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine into a blender with Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival and hit "purée". What results is an incoherent, derivative mess. Take this peach of a section:
"The most dangerous aspect in the western hegemony -- the American one precisely -- is that they consider themselves owners of the world and therefore, this expanding strategy along with the economic-capitalist project has become a "western expanding strategy" that turned to be an international scheme of limitless greed.
Savage capitalism forces -- embodied mainly in international monopoly networks of companies that cross the nations and continents, networks of various international establishments especially the financial ones backed by superior military force have led to more contradictions and conflicts -- of which not less important -- are the conflicts of identities, cultures, civilizations, in addition to the conflicts of poverty and wealth."
إنّ أخطر ما في منطق الهيمنة الغربي عموماً، والأميركي تحديداً، هو اعتباره منذ الأساس أنه يمتلك العالم وأنّ له حق الهيمنة من منطلق التفوق في أكثر من مجال، ولذا باتت الإستراتيجية التوسعية الغربية - وبخاصة الأميركية - ومع اقترانها بالمشروع الإقتصادي الرأسمالي إستراتيجيةً عالميةَ الطابع، لا حدود لأطماعها وجشعها.
إنّ تحكّم قوى الرأسمالية المتوحشة، المتمثلة على نحوٍ رئيسٍ بشبكات الإحتكارات الدُّولية من شركات عابرة للقوميات بل وللقارات، والمؤسسات الدُّولية المتنوعة، وخصوصاً المالية منها والمدعومة بقوة فائقة عسكرياً، أدى الى المزيد من التناقضات والصراعات الجذرية، ليس أقلها اليوم: صراعات الهويات والثقافات وأنماط الحضارات، إلى جانب صراعات الغنى والفقر.
You'll note I am including the Arabic text here. I do not want you to think this dog's dinner is some trick of translation. [And I myself am excerpting from the translation provided by Hizballah.]
Now there are two possible explanations for why Hizballah dedicates an entire third of their manifesto to whining about American hegemony after the rest of the world -- including U.S. policy-makers -- got the memo that U.S. power is on the wane. The first explanation is that Hizballah is simply saying, like a good proxy, what they think the Iranians want them to say. Iran wants to frame all tensions in the region in terms of U.S. hegemony, which allows it to avoid talking about internal tensions and answering questions like why all Iran's Arab neighbors can't buy U.S. weapons systems fast enough in the face of Iranian ascendancy. (Even though that's kind of tough to do on a day when -- oh, irony -- U.S. oil companies get frozen out of Iraq's largest oil rights auction in years.) And lord knows, it serves the interests of no one in either Iran or Hizballah to start saying something real about the security environment in the Middle East, because that would mean talking about things like Saudi-Iranian tensions, Saudi-Syrian tensions, Sunni-Shia tensions and a host of other politically sensitive topics that might offend your sponsors or further upset sectarian tensions in Lebanon and elsewhere. Focusing on the American imperial project is, intellectually and politically, a lot easier. This means, of course, that an organization that's plenty brave on the battlefield is pretty cowardly when it comes to rhetorically confronting, head on, what's really going on in their country and in their region.
There's something else here, though. Reading the manifesto alongside the 2025 report, I came to the conclusion that Hizballah is, while steadily maturing as a military actor, still hopelessly immature as a political actor. There is absolutely zero introspection in this manifesto, and whereas the NIC report was war-gamed in countless planning exercises and workshops -- including one held in China, for goodness sake! -- and arrived at conclusions most U.S. policy-makers would find inconvenient at best, Hizballah's manifesto reflects an organization that basically sat down among themselves to write a bunch of stuff that confirms all previously held assumptions and takes no brave or ground-breaking stand on any major issue confronting the Middle East.
If you look at Hizballah's flag, you'll note it says "The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon" at the bottom. Once upon a time, though, it read "The Islamic Revolution in Lebanon". I think they changed this because it made everyone so nervous. Well, everyone can sleep easy, because there is nothing revolutionary about this militia-cum-political party anymore. Hizballah is just as much a part of the calcified political landscape of the Middle East as Hosni Mubarak. This cliché-spewing manifesto -- "American terrorism is the origin of all terrorism in the world", says the organization that popularized suicide bombings -- only serves to confirm that. Maybe this manifesto was intended to appeal to Western leftists -- until, presumably, those leftists remember Hizballah is a religious fundamentalist organization. But the effect is to make Hizballah seem stuck in 2003, unable to confront the hard internal challenges facing the Middle East as a region and still reliant on a U.S. bogeyman to justify all its actions and rhetoric.
Building off of yesterday's post on Hizballah and Israel, I need to tell you that the UN in southern Lebanon is complaining the Israelis have placed "spy gear" in southern Lebanon that is now causing suspicious explosions. The only thing cooler than spy gear, I say, is exploding spy gear.
What, though, is "spy gear"? Can you imagine the UNIFIL investigation?
What did you find, Pierre?
Looks like a case of spy gear, Jim.
I have several friends in the Israeli journalism community whose reporting I trust and admire, but when it comes to Hizballah, I am often wary of what is written from south of the Blue Line unless it focuses almost exclusively on Israeli operations. Sometimes the author is a little too sure of the conclusions he or she draws about Hizballah, something Beirut-based journalists like Nick Blanford and Mitch Prothero who report on Hizballah from north of the Blue Line and enjoy good contacts within the organization rarely do. (In case you are wondering, I cannot think of a single journalist in the Arabic language whose reporting on Hizballah's military activities I consider to be "must-read" and worth breaking out the old Hans Wehr. I suspect there are strong incentives for Lebanese journalists to not report on such activities.)
That said, I read and got something out of Ronen Bergman's op-ed on Israel's "Secret War" on Hizballah. Since 2006, Lebanon south of the Litani River has been turned over to the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL II, meaning it has been difficult for Hizballah to rebuild the kind of border defenses they used in the summer of 2006. (12,000 international soldiers, whatever their loyalties, kinda get in the way.) Most of their construction appears to have shifted just north of the Litani, while the villages of southern Lebanon appear to have been hardened and resupplied with caches of arms, food, water, etc. Smart people on both sides of the Blue Line tend to agree with this analysis, and it matches up with what I myself saw in southern Lebanon on multiple trips there between November 2006 and November 2008.
Since 2006, then, southern Lebanon has indeed been a kind of semi-demilitarized zone. At the very least, the hardened border defenses Hizballah built between 2000 and 2006 are no longer in place. Which, funnily enough, makes it a lot easier for Israeli commando teams to infiltrate southern Lebanon. And it seems to me that some kind of Israeli special operations raids are as good an explanation as any for those mysterious explosions that have been taking place in southern Lebanon lately. I cannot say for sure, of course, since the Israelis have no reason to acknowledge them and Hizballah has every reason to deny they are taking place, but such an explanation seems both plausible and probable.
I could spend several posts quibbling with things Bergman wrote in his op-ed, but I think he got the first half of his conclusion right:
In short, despite the fact that Hezbollah today is substantially stronger in purely military terms than it was three years ago, its political stature and its autonomy have been significantly reduced. It is clear that Nasrallah is cautious and he will weigh his options very carefully before embarking on any course of action that might lead to all-out war with Israel.
The second half, meanwhile, was more problematic.
There are some experts in Israel who believe that even Hezbollah's retaliatory role in the Iranian game plan is currently in question. Whether or not this is the case, all of this is being considered in Jerusalem as part of Israel's calculations about whether to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.
Danger, Will Robinson. One of things that bothered me about Bergman's op-ed and about some conversations I had with Israeli military officers last month is how, well, "cocky" they are these days.
"By all means, let the Hezbollah try," one officer told me two weeks ago when I asked if he was concerned about the possibility of warfare. "The welcome party that we are preparing for them is one that they will remember for a very long time." That sentiment is shared by many of his colleagues.
I recently read an excellent article by Richard Kohn that was recommended to me by a retired three-star I know and admire. Kohn writes that a decline in U.S. military professionalism -- especially the ability of U.S. officers to think strategically -- has been masked by the fact that "our military regularly demonstrates its operational effectiveness in battle." Like the United States, Israel can also be accused of letting operational brilliance be a substitute for sound strategy.
First off, both Hizballah and Israeli officers have been talking a lot of smack about how they would each bloody the other if 2006 were to be refought. And if -- Heaven forbid -- such a war were to be fought, I indeed think the Israeli military machine would punish Hizballah and the people and infrastructure of Lebanon to a horrific degree. If there is to be another war, the gloves would be off. But after the shooting stops and the Israelis inevitably go back across the Blue Line, what will have been accomplished in terms of Israeli policy aside from the further isolation of Israel within the international community? And from Hizballah's perspective, why on earth would you want to precipitate such a horrible conflict?
Second, one or two successful special operations raids into southern Lebanon should not should not should not inform your calculus as to whether or not you should attempt to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. Apples and freaking oranges. The former is a tactical exercise that carries with it moderate strategic risk. The latter is a strategic decision that carries with it enormous geopolitical consequences for you, your neighbors and your allies. I mean, how does the cabinet discussion go on that one? "Well, you know, we managed to send a seven-man team into southern Lebanon last night. Pretty awesome, yes. Who, then, is up for sending the entire IAF to Qom tonight? Anyone?"
Israelis are now realizing something I have long argued: that Israeli deterrence did not take the hit many said it did immediately after the 2006 war. It's doing quite well, actually. But the paradox of deterrence is that, in Schelling's words, "the power to hurt is most successful when held in reserve." Deterrence is, as John "The Warlord" Collins is fond of saying, a strategy for peace -- not for war. Like Bergman, I too feel Israeli deterrence vis a vis Hizballah is doing pretty well right now. But it all goes the way of the Dodo if one side or the other, like the Kinghts Hospitalier at Arsuf, gets restless enough to start something off without thinking through the endstate.
It's important to note - as the Friday Lunch Club folks have pointed out today briefly in response to your post ("Palestine!")- that for Hizbullah, the ongoing conflict with Israel is not just about liberating (or having liberated) Lebanese occupied territory - its also very much about wearing down and (if and when possible) finally eliminating the Jewish state of Israel, on the grounds of religion, morality/justice and long term lebanese security interests (the latter embodied in Hizbullah's continuing exposition of long terms threats vis-a-vis water, future displacement of more Palestinians -after the "peace process" falls through-, third party actors -Bin-Laden et al.- provoking Israel etc.).
In this sense then, I would argue that their strategy has been fairly coherent since the 2000 Israeli pullout and actually fairly successful given the tremendous changes and threats which have arisen for such a relatively small, besieged non-state actor (notably 9/11, Iraq war, 2005 Syrian pullout of Lebanon, 2006 July War, May 2008..). So, your point is right on, but in the sense that "a strategy of exhaustion makes obvious sense" in this wider field beyond Lebanon's actual borders precisely because this strategy is one that Nasrallah firmly believes can hasten the other factors pushing what he sees as Israel's imminent collapse as a Jewish state (outlined in his February 22, 2008 speech below). If anything, with their increasing arsenal/field strength and media efforts/capacity, Hizbullah has, together with Iran, Hamas in Gaza and to a lesser degree Syria, effectuated a (broken) cordon around Israel for constantly threatening, pressuring and exhausting Israel...and sometimes actually fighting fairly effectively - or at least at a high cost to Israel, financially, int. prestige wise (Gaza especially) and sometimes in actual lives and disruption (Lebanon)!
That said, you may just be right to say - "I think Hizballah leaders have misread the nature of the Israeli state" - because Hizbullah may not be strong enough together with its allies and regional/international developments to succeed - but Nasrallah points out quite effectively that the Israelis themselves at many levels are unsure about this....or even agree with key aspects of Nasrallah's arguments! As for your comment that "Continued militancy on the part of Hizballah toward Israel will, I believe, cause serious ruptures within Lebanese society before they ever break the will of the Israeli people or fracture the state" - this may also be true (I would tend to agree with you on this point, but there are a lot of variables and interrelated aspects).... but this is NOT to say that Hizbullah is unclear about either its aims or its strategy.
If you want to include for your readers a very important speech after Mughniyeah was assassinated, a speech by Nasrallah on February 22, 2008 where he laid out some of the reasons why he thinks this strategy is working - well, I think it would be helpful since, as many have pointed out, analyses that don't look at what the actors themselves say are often either wrong or hobbled from the start.
[In the interest of length, I'm putting the excerpt from the Nasrallah speech is in the comments section.]
My schedule is packed with meetings today, so posting will be light, but this beat out Iranian rocket tests for the lead story in yesterday's Jerusalem Post:
During his research for the article, titled "How the Arabs are preparing for the next war," Sandman asked 24 senior IDF officers to grade the army and Hizbullah in 10 categories, on a scale of 1 to 10. While the IDF enjoys superior technology, the scorecard revealed that the army performed poorly in gathering intelligence on Hizbullah, did not command its troops effectively during the monthlong war and lacked motivation to win. In intelligence, Hizbullah received a 7 and the IDF a 6; in military doctrine and strategy Hizbullah received a 9 and the IDF a 5; In technology, the IDF received a 9 and Hizbullah a 5; in training and organization, Hizbullah received a 8 and the IDF 7, and in tactical command Hizbullah received a 8 and the IDF a 6. The 24 officers also ruled that Hizbullah had greater motivation to win than the IDF. Hizbullah received a score of 8 in the motivation category, while the IDF scored only 4.
During his research for the article, titled "How the Arabs are preparing for the next war," Sandman asked 24 senior IDF officers to grade the army and Hizbullah in 10 categories, on a scale of 1 to 10.
While the IDF enjoys superior technology, the scorecard revealed that the army performed poorly in gathering intelligence on Hizbullah, did not command its troops effectively during the monthlong war and lacked motivation to win.
In intelligence, Hizbullah received a 7 and the IDF a 6; in military doctrine and strategy Hizbullah received a 9 and the IDF a 5; In technology, the IDF received a 9 and Hizbullah a 5; in training and organization, Hizbullah received a 8 and the IDF 7, and in tactical command Hizbullah received a 8 and the IDF a 6.
The 24 officers also ruled that Hizbullah had greater motivation to win than the IDF. Hizbullah received a score of 8 in the motivation category, while the IDF scored only 4.
As you might imagine, I have spent a lot of time in the bars and cafes of Beirut talking with journalists, analysts and other friends about Hizballah and its strategy. It's a new experience doing the same thing here south of the Blue Line. The other day, though, just before Yom Kippur, I sat down with a Jerusalem-based analyst, and though we had some (polite) disagreements about the motivations of Hizballah and its relationship with Iran, we both agreed on one thing: that Hizballah's strategy toward Israel since the latter's 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon has been incoherent.
For an indigenous insurgent group seeking to expel a foreign power from a territory -- think the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Viet Minh in Indochina -- a strategy of exhaustion makes obvious sense. This strategy is more or less the strategy that Hizballah pursued in the 1990s against an occupying Israeli army in southern Lebanon: keep causing Israeli casualties, remind the people of Israel that such casualties will never stop so long as they occupy southern Lebanon, and wait for Israeli popular opinion to turn against the war.
But to this observer, it appears as if Hizballah has maintained this strategy in recent years. And what was appropriate in the 1990s is no longer appropriate today. Hizballah leaders continue to talk of Israeli society as if it is weak and will break at any moment if the right pressure is applied. But breaking Israeli popular will for continuing the occupation of a foreign country is one thing; breaking Israeli will to continue being Israel is another. I think Hizballah leaders have misread the nature of the Israeli state. Continued militancy on the part of Hizballah toward Israel will, I believe, cause serious ruptures within Lebanese society before they ever break the will of the Israeli people or fracture the state. Again, without making a value judgement on either side, it is increasingly difficult to argue that Hizballah's strategy since 2000 makes any sense at all.
Hahahaha, Lt. Col. W. Thomas Smith, Jr... This guy never fails to amuse me. He's still cranky some journalists in Beirut outed him as a fabulist, ending his gig with the National Review:
According to the FOX segment, Friday, “Hizballah reportedly has operatives in the United States. Two years ago, a Hizballah agent was arrested after infiltrating the FBI and CIA.”
True. Though few Americans are actually aware of this, thanks to a heavily financed counter-media, propaganda, and disinformation campaign aimed at soft-soaping the Lebanon-based, Iranian-Syrian-supported terrorist organization as simply a Lebanese political party with guns; and – as a part of that campaign – discrediting or destroying anyone who might aggressively take Hizballah to task.
You can read more about the on-again, off-again relationship Colonel Junior has with the truth here, here, here, and here. But let's take what Colonel Junior says about Hizballah seriously in order to get into a broader question. How big a threat does this organization represent to the United States and its interests?
First off, let's dismiss the idea that some conspiracy is somehow keeping news of Hizballah's capabilities out of the news. When Colonel Junior defended his rather incredible and hilarious claim that 5,000 (!) Hizballah gunmen had staged a show of force in (Christian) East Beirut in 2007, he and his defenders maintained he was only reporting something that was "taboo" and that other journalists were paid not to report. Yet when Hizballah actually did take over neighborhoods in Beirut the next year (in real life, as opposed to in someone's imagination), it was front-page news around the world. (1, 2, 3, etc.) Second, there are, in fact, plenty of journalists in Beirut who do receive regular stipends from parties both within and outside of Lebanon. These parties, however -- and let's see if I can put this delicately -- aren't exactly allies of Hizballah. They, in fact, have agendae in Lebanon quite opposed to Hizballah. Speaking more openly, much of the media in the Arabic-speaking world is backed by Saudi funders. This may come as news to Colonel Junior, but those funders do not exactly share common cause with Iran and Hizballah and have no interest in keeping anti-Hizballah news out of the public discourse.
Moving on, the notion that Hizballah somehow represents an equal or greater threat to the United States and its interests than al-Qaeda is wrong. On the one hand, I agree with Michael Chertoff, Richard Armitage and even Colonel Junior when they argue Hizballah's capabilities exceed those of al-Qaeda. This is almost certainly true. But they have thus far not demonstrated the same intent as al-Qaeda to conduct large-scale expeditionary operations outside the Arabic-speaking world. (The 1992 and 1994 bombings stand out as aberrations. I hope Hizballah is not planning on seeking revenge for Imad Mughniyeh in a similar way, because that would be pretty stupid.)
Having spent a good deal of time in Lebanon and now writing from Jerusalem, I believe Hizballah represents the greatest threat to, primarily, the peoples of Lebanon and then, secondarily, the peoples of Israel. The "culture of resistance" that Hizballah has developed over the past 30 years, I fear, condemns both the Lebanese and the Israelis to a war without end. Studying statements made by Hizballah officials down through the years, it is hard to conclude that Hizballah's raison d'être is anything other than armed conflict with the State of Israel. That should worry Israelis and Lebanese -- including many of Hizballah's supporters in southern Lebanon, who suffered more than anyone in 1993, 1996 and 2006 -- that even if Hizballah's leadership should decide that armed conflict is no longer in the rational interests of the organization or the Shia of Lebanon, it will be awfully difficult to change the organizational culture. All of those young men who signed up with Hizballah in the wake of the 2006 war, for example, did not do so merely to direct traffic in the Dahiyeh. For the Israelis, meanwhile, Hizballah will likely never constitute an existential threat. But they will be a rather annoying and deadly violent non-state actor on its northern border for whom no real military solution exists. You can march north and beat Hizballah around for a few weeks, sure, and you can even level the Dahiyeh. But in doing so, does that merely feed into the narrative Hizballah tries to sell its constituents and other Lebanese? In this light, we're right to pity both the residents of Kiryat Shimona and the residents of Bint Jbeil.
From the perspective of the United States, meanwhile, I think Hizballah does constitute a threat to our interests, though not in the alarmist way it is reported on Fox News. (I know two wonderful people who report from abroad for Fox News, but my colleague Bob Kaplan justly evicerates the channel's ability to explain the world to Americans: "Then there is Fox, with its jingoistic, meatloaf provincialism straight out of an earlier, black-and-white era. Could Fox cover the world as Al Jazeera does, but from a different, American-nationalist perspective? No, because what makes Fox so provincial is its utter lack of interest in the outside world in the first place, except where that world directly and obviously affects American power. What use does Fox have for Niger River rebels or dispossessed Indian farmers?")
The threat posed to U.S. interests, as I see them, is two-fold:
1. Hizballah has been strategically adrift since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. One of the many mistakes they have made is to take a more regional approach to activities. This includes everything from the train-and-equip missions they ran for Shia militias in Iraq to the similar mission they run for Palestinian groups. Hizballah, in other words, is employing the indirect approach against U.S. interests in the region. They are not conducting attacks themselves, but they have most certainly been helping those who would. I think this is a terrible mistake for Hizballah and is not in the interests of Lebanon or its Shia community, but Hassan Nasrallah doesn't really ask me for advice. If he did, I would have similarly counseled against kidnapping Israeli soldiers and using one's arms against other Lebanese parties as well.
2. Hizballah continues to be the model organization for those violent non-state actors which seek to challenge the United States and its allies. They have provided a blueprint not just for Hamas or militias in Iraq but for "resistance" groups everywhere. So even though U.S. defense analysts probably overstudy the 2006 war, they are right to suspect that in the future, opponents of the United States will try to emulate Hizballah's successes.
You'll note that at no point in this rambling post did I discuss Hizballah activities in West Africa or South America. I hear Hizballah is active in these regions, but a) I do not know enough about them and b) I have not seen much evidence that Hizballah is doing more than what the U.S. government would classify as terror financing as opposed to terror operations. I know, in other words, that Hizballah sends money back from the United States, South America, West Africa and elsewhere. But I have not seen any compelling evidence that they are plotting actual attacks in any of those regions. Maybe I'm wrong, but again, I have not seen any compelling evidence.