Hizbullah’s power play

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It only took Hizbullah a week to bring the government of Lebanon to its knees. The Saniora government's decision Wednesday to cancel its decisions to ban Hizbullah's independent communications system and sack Hizbullah's agent from his position as chief of security at Beirut Airport constituted its effective acceptance of Hizbullah's preeminent role in Lebanon.

What is interesting about Hizbullah's successful overthrow of the elected government in Lebanon is that after his forces defeated their foes, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah ordered his men to retreat to their customary shadows. Why didn't Hizbullah just overthrow the government? Understanding why Hizbullah refused to take over Lebanon is key not only for understanding Hizbullah but also for understanding Hamas, Fatah and the insurgency in Iraq.

A compelling answer to this question is found in David Galula's classic work, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. Galula, who died in 1967, was a lieutenant colonel in the French Marines. He served as a company commander in Algeria during the FLN's insurgency there. Counterinsurgency Warfare, which he wrote in 1964, is based largely on the French experience in Algeria and Indochina and on Chinese Communist revolutionary theory. Galula provides a clear and concise description of insurgent or revolutionary movements, their strategies and tactics. Conversely he provides clear guidance for counterinsurgents for defeating them.

As Galula explained, one of the main advantages that insurgents have over the governments they seek to overthrow is their lack of responsibility for governance. Far from seeking to govern the local population, the goal of insurgents is simply to demonstrate through sabotage, terror and guerrilla operations that the government is incapable of keeping order. And it is far easier and cheaper to sow disorder and chaos than to maintain order and secure public safety.

In Hizbullah's case, Nasrallah and his Iranian bosses have no interest in taking on responsibility for Lebanon. They don't want to collect taxes. They don't want to pick up the garbage or build schools and universities.

Hizbullah and its Iranian overlords wish to have full use of Lebanon as a staging area for attacks against Israel and the US. They wish to maintain and expand Hizbullah's arsenals. For this they need unfettered access, and if necessary, control over Lebanon's borders, its seaports and airport.

They need to raise and train Hizbullah's army and cultivate Hizbullah's loyal cadres among Lebanon's Shi'ites to fight Israel. And so they need to cultivate loyalty and dependency among Lebanon's Shi'ites to use their villages as launching pads for attacks on Israel, as cover to hide from Israeli counterattacks and as recruitment centers to fills their lines with fighters.

Over the past week, Hizbullah secured this freedom through its successful attack on the Saniora government. Today no one will utter a peep of complaint as Hizbullah imports ever more sophisticated weapons systems from Syria and Iran. No one will say a word when Hizbullah openly asserts control over the border with Israel, or places its commanders in charge of Lebanese army units along the border.

Galula argues that the primary goal of insurgents in the early stages of their long campaigns is to secure the support of the local populations. In light of this, it could be claimed that by attacking the Saniora government and its supporters, Hizbullah was acting against its interests. But we are no longer in the early stages of Hizbullah's insurgency. At this advanced stage of its game, Hizbullah considers the sentiments of Lebanese Druse, Christians and Sunnis irrelevant. None has the power to challenge its primacy.

HIZBULLAH'S REFUSAL to take responsibility for the country that it effectively controls confounds the logic that has guided Israeli governments since 1993. From the onset of the "peace process" with the PLO in 1993, through the IDF's withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000, to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 to the Olmert-Livni-Barak government's current transfer of control over the Palestinian cities in Samaria to Fatah militias and curtailment of IDF counterterror operations in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, successive Israeli governments have argued that Israel can compel its non-state foes – the Palestinians and Hizbullah – to end their asymmetric warfare and take responsibility for public order by retreating.

The repeated assertion is that once Hizbullah and the Palestinians were placed in charge of territory, and didn't have Israel to kick around anymore, they would transform themselves from insurgents into respectable civilian authorities that would be compelled to abandon war in favor of building economies and keeping public order.

The basic problem with this Israeli strategic assertion is that it ignores the basic interests of the other side. Hizbullah and the Palestinians have no interest in instilling order in the territories they wrest from Israeli control. They wish to use those territories to continue their war against Israel and use the local populations to advance their war efforts. To the latter end, their aim is not to develop local economies but to foster dependency among the local population. The only ones permitted to become prosperous in areas they control are their senior officials. The masses are made dependent on the insurgents for their basic welfare services. And through the provision of welfare, the insurgents indoctrinate the locals to their cause. That is, successive Israeli governments have failed to recognize the simple fact that the absence of Israeli control on the ground can no more compel Hizbullah, Hamas or Fatah to act responsibly and peacefully than the hapless Saniora government can compel Hizbullah to accept its authority.

Galula explained that the starting point of all insurgencies is finding and advancing a political cause or ideology. "The best cause for the insurgents' purpose is one that by definition can attract the largest number of followers and repel the minimum of opponents," he wrote.

In both Lebanese and Palestinian societies, and indeed throughout the Arab world, that cause is the destruction of Israel.

Recognizing the inherent hostility of its enemies' cause, until 1993 Israel used classic counterinsurgency tactics to defeat them. It sought to instill order in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and in its security zone in South Lebanon and to a large degree, it succeeded. The Palestinian uprising of 1987 was fairly tame and by 1991, it was defeated and discredited. South Lebanon, under Israel's security umbrella and controlled by the South Lebanese Army, was the most prosperous area in civil war-wracked Lebanon.

But then the Israeli peace movement took over. At base, its goal is to legitimize the cause of Israel's enemies, delegitimize Israel's own cause and so force the government and Israeli society to capitulate to our enemies in the interest of "peace." By 1993, the peace movement had asserted its ideological preeminence over Israel's governing classes and so inserted Israel directly into the trap of insurgent ideology.

Galula explained, "The [insurgent] cause must be such that the counterinsurgent cannot espouse it too or can do so only at the risk of losing his power." Israel cannot successfully embrace its enemies' cause because their cause is Israel's destruction. Yet that is essentially what Israel has done for the past 15 years.

IN THE Palestinian case, the thinking has been that Israel can compel the Palestinians to accept its right to exist by giving the Palestinians a state. Yet here too, Israel has failed to acknowledge the nature of its enemies or the rationale of their cause. Both the Palestinians and Hizbullah are supported by states whose support for them stems from what is perceived as their role as the v
anguards of the global jihad. Israel is perceived by Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others as the Little Satan who must be destroyed in order to bring down the Great Satan – America.

Writing in the 1960s, Galula's insurgents were largely sponsored by the USSR and Communist China. They fought in the name of global Communism in its war against capitalism and imperialism. This global nature of local insurgencies barred all possibility of reaching an accommodation between insurgent and counterinsurgent. As Galula explained, "A local revolutionary war is part of the global war against capitalism and imperialism. Hence a military victory against the local enemy is in fact a victory against the global enemy and contributes to his ultimate defeat." This statement is equally true if Communism is replaced with Islam and capitalism and imperialism are replaced with democracy and Zionism. Given the crucial role of the war against Israel in jihadist ideology, there is no way the insurgents can reach an accommodation with it. All Israeli retreats must be perceived as capitulations.

On the surface, Hamas's takeover of Gaza from Fatah militia tends to argue against Galula's thesis. If Hamas wants to sow chaos then why did it run for office and so presumably tether itself to territorial and economic responsibilities? The fact is that neither Fatah nor Hamas have used their control over territory and local populations to facilitate order. To the contrary, under both Fatah and Hamas, the Palestinian Authority has refused to accept responsibility for anything. It has required Israel and the West to finance, feed and care for its population while it builds terror armies and indoctrinates Palestinian society to the cause of Israel's destruction. If in Lebanon the central problem is that the Saniora government is no match for Hizbullah, in the PA the central problem is that everyone is Hizbullah. And in the unlikely event that Fatah's leaders were to accept Israel's right to exist, Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has far less power to take action against Hamas than Saniora has against Hizbullah.

President George W. Bush has repeatedly asserted that the antidote to insurgencies is freedom. And there is much truth to this claim. One needs only to look to the stunning developments in Iraq over the past year – where Shi'ites and Sunnis are standing up to insurgents and the Iraqi government is conducting a successful counterinsurgency in Basra and Baghdad to see that liberty can trump jihad. Yet the difference between Iraq and Lebanon and the PA is that the US military in Iraq is combating insurgents and thereby enabling Iraqis to choose liberty. Until 1993, Israel fought Palestinian insurgent groups and enabled rank-and-file Palestinians to make that same choice. And until 2000, Israel enabled residents of South Lebanon to choose freedom as well. Israel only failed in the end because it convinced itself its enemies had justice on their side.

What we learn from Hizbullah's retreat to the shadows, from Hamas's use of Gaza as a launching pad to bomb Israeli maternity clinics and schools, and Fatah's jihadist kleptocracy, then, is that there is no way to force insurgents to change their nature through retreat or by empowering and legitimizing them. The only way to enable freedom to trump jihad is for forces of freedom to take control of insurgent enclaves, defeat them and so empower local populations to choose to be free.

In Iraq, the US military is bravely advancing this nearly Sisyphean task. In South Lebanon, Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the only force capable of successfully defeating the jihadist insurgents is Israel. Until it does, Hizbullah, Hamas and Fatah will continue to sow chaos in their societies, terrorize Israelis, and confound the Israeli peace movement by refusing to take responsibility for their people.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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  • W. Thomas Smith Jr. 05/16/2008 at 23:26

    This is an excellent primer on what Hezbollah’s recent win over the Lebanese government — and by its inaction, Gen. Sleiman’s army — has accomplished for this Taliban-like terrorist organization (which is trained and funded by Iran to the tune of one-billion dollars, annually, and operationally supported by Syria).
    What happened this (and last) week in Lebanon is a major setback, not only for Lebanon, but for Israel, the United States and the West in the broader war on terrorism.
    This fight is not over to be sure. But the free world should not have allowed this to happen. And we must not allow these setbacks and this ongoing strengthening of what is perhaps the world’s largest terrorist army to continue.

  • Marc Handelsman, USA 05/17/2008 at 3:54

    Before Israel can spread freedom by defeating jihadists, there must be a change in leadership. As long as Prime Minister Olmert and his cabinet remain, there will be no sustainable challenge against Hizbullah and Hamas. It is because Israel is so poorly led, that Hizbullah has redeployed south of the Litani River. And that Hamas continues to bombard Sderot and Ashkelon. Once the Likud Party retakes the premiership, Israel can defeat jihadists in Lebanon and Gaza, and bring liberty.

  • Rory 05/17/2008 at 11:32

    I’ve been hoping that the American and Israeli public will wake up to the fact that like Hitler in Mein Kampf, the jihadists mean what they say and write. I’ve thought if Netanyahu were to be brought back as Prime Minister and a lightbulb went on in the Israeli public’s mind this disastrous course of retreat could be reversed. With Germany, Italy and Japan it was unconditional surrender and then the Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Japan during a long occupation. “War is hell.”, as one of our Civil War generals said, as he carved a 300 mile long by 60 mile wide path of destruction from Atlanta to the major seaport of Savannah on the coast of Georgia. This scorched earth campaign destroyed the ability of the South to wage war logistically and the psychological impact was devastating. In a war, you have to create a hell for your enemy to break their will. This isn’t a pleasant process but until the enemy’s will is broken their isn’t anything to negotiate about. We have a long road ahead of us. Islam is a religion founded in blood and one that legitimizes violence to propagate it’s teachings. I think the jihadists are a result of the general theology of Islam against which we have a greater ideological struggle.

  • daniel360 05/18/2008 at 4:44

    It will take a 9/11 to happen in Israel, a real ‘naqba’ for Israel’s peacenik betrayers to be exposed and for Israel to wake up to the reality described so correctly by Caroline.


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