July 28, 2006:
Hizbollah is a slave to its own rhetoric. Hizbollah is the Lebanese arm of the Iranian Shia revolution. The Islamic radicals who run a religious dictatorship in Iran, carried out a coup in the 1980s, taking control of the government during a desperate war with Iraq (which had invaded Iran in 1980). The religious zealots in Iran believe the world would be a better place if everyone were Moslem, of the Shia variety (which predominates in Iran and Lebanon, but not with 90 percent of Moslems, who prefer the Sunni, or other minor sects.) Iran also believes that Israel must be destroyed, and Iranian leaders have not been shy about repeating this again and again in public. Hizbollah leaders repeat this demand. This basic Hizbollah goal, the destruction of Israel, makes negotiations with Israel difficult. Israel has apparently decided to forget about negotiations, and instead, take Hizbollah apart piece by piece.
Israeli troops have been fighting Hizbollah gunmen for over a quarter of a century. You have many Israeli infantrymen fighting in Lebanon now, who got practical advice from their fathers, who had battled Hizbollah back in the 1980s. Israel knows how to defeat Hizbollah, as they have been doing it for decades. But until the recent Hizbollah raids across the border, Israel has avoided going after Hizbollah on a large scale. This was an attempt to keep things quiet on the Lebanese border, and give the Lebanese a chance to settle the problem with Hizbollah peacefully. That seemed more likely, after a popular (and largely peaceful) Lebanese uprising last year that forced Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon.
Since the 1980s, Syria had a force of over 30,000 soldiers in Lebanon. Originally sent in a peacekeepers during the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war, the Syrian force soon became guardians of Hizbollahs growing empire in southern Lebanon, and protector of Syrian economic interests (many of them criminal, like drug smuggling) in Lebanon. Without those 30,000 Syrian troops, Hizbollah, and the Lebanese Shia (about 35 percent of the population) were more vulnerable than they had been in over two decades. Intense negotiations commenced. No one wanted a resumption of the civil war, but all Lebanese were concerned about this state-within-a-state that Hizbollah had created in southern Lebanon. The UN was concerned as well. As part of the deal, when Israel pulled out, Hizbollah was to disarm and a force of 2,500 UN peace observers (UNIFIL) would watch over a new era of peace in the south. For the last seven years, Hizbollah has refused to abide by that deal, and most Lebanese were tired of the delays. Increasing the attacks against Israel seemed like a good idea, as it made Hizbollah seem more useful, if Israel did not strike back. The rest of the Lebanese political parties were not making threats, yet, about Hizbollahs refusal to disband and let southern Lebanon become part of Lebanon once more. Hizbollah wanted to make their autonomy in southern Lebanon permanent, but was unsure of how to do it. Hizbollah stumbled into war with Israel while seeking a solution to its problems with the rest of Lebanon.
Getting accurate news about the fighting in southern Lebanon is complicated by the fact that Hizbollah, the Lebanese and most of the media are more concerned about producing propaganda and excitement, than in reporting facts. Hizbollah knows, from long experience, that they cannot defeat Israel. But Hizbollah knows that it can spin the media. The Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 was a peace offering that was, in typical Hizbollah fashion, simultaneously spurned and exploited. The same techniques are being used during the current war.
But now Israel is determined to cripple Hizbollah, a move that will lead to the organization either dying, or fading into insignificance. Hizbollah had made lots of enemies in the last 25 years, many of them in the Lebanese Shia community. If Hizbollah losses most of its economic and military assets, that will make it weak enough for other Lebanese groups to overwhelm it militarily and politically. This appears to be the Israeli plan, and the way things work in the Middle East, it appears to be working. Support for Hizbollah from the Arab world has been muted, compared to similar situations in the past. Even Iran is not happy with Hizbollahs actions, and has pointedly not sent any new weapons. Naturally, the Sunni Arab world is down on Hizbollah (and its explicit goal of replacing Sunni Islam with the Shia variety). While Lebanese politicians have been vocal in their support for Hizbollah, there has been no rush to provide any material support.
Israel has destroyed most of Hizbollah's economic assets, and is now going after the military ones. There are thousands of bunkers, fortified buildings and tunnel complexes in southern Lebanon that Hizbollah can use to fight from. Israeli troops may have to battle through all of them to cripple Hizbollahs military strength. Israel has done this successfully against the Palestinians for years. This will not be reported very accurately in the media because that would be boring. Israeli tactics are methodical and, well, not very dramatic. The mass media needs excitement, and when they can't find it, they invent it. Think back to the many battles Israel has had with the Palestinians, or the reporting on the American three week march on Baghdad in 2003, and remember what the pundits were saying, compared to what was actually happening. The mass media depends on most people not retaining any memories like that, and being willing to accept breathless, and inaccurate, reports of the current wars.
What makes war unpredictable is the fact that, while genius may have its limits, stupidity doesn't. Hizbollah is basically stupid. They are part of a movement dedicated to taking over the world. Israel just wants to survive. Hizbollah is part of an Arab military tradition that takes pride in a long string of defeats because that means eventually the enemy will get tired of beating on us and go away. This is how they turned the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon (actually a peace offering) into a great military victory for Hizbollah. Another example of stupidity without limits.
When the dust has settled on this war in Lebanon, the remnants of Hizbollah will be busy rearranging the facts in order to produce another victory. But Hizbollah will no longer be the force it once was, and Lebanese soldiers and police will once more be patrolling southern Lebanon, rolling past the wreckage of Hizbollah bunkers and military facilities. The hundreds of buildings and bridges destroyed by Israeli bombs will be a reminder to the Lebanese of what happens when you allow part of your country to he hijacked by a bunch of religious maniacs. The majority of Lebanese were never happy about Hizbollah, but lacked the courage to do anything about it. Israel's not going away, but Hizbollah is. It's members can easily go back to being Lebanese, or get killed by an Israeli smart bomb, or sniper. Israelis have no such options, and have no choice but to fight and win. That makes a big difference on the battlefield. You can look it up.