May 08, 2008


Abu Muqawama is finally back in East London after two weeks of travel. Because his violent Pashtun flatmate, Londonstani, is currently sneaking across the border of an unnamed country with camera crew in tow and has been gone for the past week as well, the mousetraps Abu Muqawama set in his kitchen had not been cleaned since we left and -- this is really gross -- Abu Muqawama had to remove a mouse in an advanced stage of decomposition from the trap upon returning home. He then woke up in the early morning hours with something on his head, swatted it, and woke up this morning to discover the carcass of a spider of tarantulan proportions lying at the foot of the bed. Needless to say, he has now spent much of the morning cleaning the apartment.

But yesterday, on his way back from the Land of the Big PX, he read the following passage from Hala Jaber's book on Hizbollah and reminded himself to share it with the readership. This is a description of Israeli operations in Lebanon circa 1983:

Each time the Lebanese committed a successful attack against the Israelis, the occupying forces intensified their harsh campaign of repression against the residents. The reprisals rallied further support for the resistance and drove larger numbers of people to join its ranks. During the following year, the Israeli forces isolated South Lebanon from the rest of the country by limiting passage from Beirut to only one point of entry. It was punishment and a desperate attempt to stop the infiltration of resistance fighters from Beirut and the Bekaa.

This measure had a grave impact on the economy of South Lebanon. The inhabitants' livelihood depended on the sale of their fruit and vegetable produce to the capital and northern areas of Lebanon. Most could only watch resentfully as their harvest rotted. Raids were carried out on villages suspected of harboring resistance fighters. Anyone who was suspected of knowing or being related to someone within the resistance was arrested. It became common to see truckloads of prisoners, as hundreds of people were rounded up in their homes and detained without charge in Ansar prison.

A serving U.S. Army officer, Dan Helmer, wrote a prize-winning master's thesis at Oxford on Israel's failure to develop an effective counter-insurgency strategy in Lebanon that was turned into an excellent monograph by the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center. You can find it here (scroll down).

Jaber's description, though, strikes Abu Muqawama as a kind of anti-COIN. The mass arrests bring to mind Iraq '03 and remind us all that not only are some tactics ineffective, they can also make the situation worse. This is why some feel Gen. Odierno was in 2006-2007 (and will again be in the fall of 2008) cleaning up a mess that he himself helped create by blessing off on the 4th ID's often heavy-handed tactics in the fall of 2003.

As an interesting side note, Jaber's account then goes on to describe how Hizbollah itself then alienated the population of southern Lebanon by instituting unpopular prohibitions on alcohol and card-playing and other vices. This account seems to rely heavily on the testimony of long-time UNIFIL adviser Timur Goksel, although Jaber's book has a maddening lack of footnotes and citations. Abu Muqawama has himself heard this from Timur Bey, though, and has no reason to doubt the account's veracity. Old men play cards in Sour once again, though, and Hizbollah's popular support in the South is, ahem, pretty robust. So we can reason Hizbollah was willing to bend its norms a bit in order to earn the support of the population, and that in and of itself is quite interesting. Pragmatism trumping ideology?

Hala Jaber, Hizbollah: Born With A Vengeance