September 29, 2009

On Hizballah's Strategy

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.