Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Surprising Effectiveness of Hezbollah

Sunday's Los Angeles Times reported that a large number of Israeli soldiers have expressed frustration at the progress of Israel's military incursion in Lebanon:

With Israel's offensive dragging into its fourth week, many of these soldiers say they are encountering in Hezbollah an enemy more formidable than any they have fought in recent years. And to hear some of them describe it, the ground war is not going quite as they expected. It is a slow, tough slog that has failed to stop Hezbollah rocket fire from scorching northern Israel. They expressed frustration that Hezbollah fighters mingled with the civilian population, making them harder to find and root out....Overall, they said, they found Hezbollah to be a much more effective fighting force than the Palestinian militants they were more accustomed to confronting. With the Palestinians, the fight is usually more of a policing operation in familiar territory, involving occupation and arrests with the occasional airstrike, the soldiers said, not the wholesale armored offensive required against Hezbollah.
The distress articulated among frontline fighters is one of the reasons for the growing unease over the war in Israeli public opinion. According to last Saturday's Washington Post, national support has declined since the early days of the conflict, when Hezbollah's unprovoked aggression initiated a dramatic rallying effect among the populace:

After an extraordinary national surge of unanimity during the first days of the conflict, public support is starting to fray, with some of the nation's most influential voices criticizing political leaders and Israel Defense Forces generals for military strategies they say have failed to protect Israeli citizens. They blame Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz for trying to lull citizens into a false sense of security, fault generals for relying too heavily on air power to destroy Hezbollah rocket launchers, and worry that Israeli troops may not have been prepared to defeat a force far tougher than Palestinian fighters. "The public should demand of the political echelon: Stop or reduce the Katyusha rocket fire," the popular daily newspaper Ma'ariv wrote Friday. "Do what you should have done two weeks ago. . . . Bang on the table in front of the white-faced IDF officers, and demand more proposals; think and think again. . . . The time for patience has passed. You have an army, use it, or go for a cease-fire." The behind-the-scenes disagreements between the generals and the politicians, and among competing branches of the military, are becoming part of the public debate.
The collapse of national will is to be expected amid the international outcry over the carnage and dramatic loss of life, both military and civilian. But the Israeli military's lack of progress is probably the main reason for a drop-off in support, as the public tends to back military deployments when it looks like objectives are being met (the basic military strategy for the engagement was flawed from the start, so that didn't help matters).

As momentum builds internationally for the impostition of a cease-fire, it becomes increasingly important for Israel to strike a devasting blow to Hezbollah's capabilities, otherwise the Shiite terrorist organization may be substantially strengthened by the conflict,
as John Lee Anderson argued in the August 8th edition of The New Yorker:
The past two weeks have represented a return to first principles for Hezbollah, which was founded in the early eighties, after Israel invaded Lebanon. The group became known internationally when it was accused of bombing the United States Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing two hundred and forty-one American servicemen; that was followed by attacks on Israeli targets around the world. In Lebanon, Hezbollah draws support, in the Shiite community and beyond, for its role in driving the Israeli occupation forces out of the country in 2000. Since then, Hezbollah has presented itself as a political party, gaining two posts in the Lebanese cabinet and fourteen seats in the parliament. But, rather than disarming, it bolstered its military capacity, with Iranian and Syrian help. Now that it is under siege, the contradictions of its position—as part of the Lebanese state, but also as a clandestine body that subverts it—are plainer than ever.... Even if Israel manages to dislodge Hezbollah’s fighters, [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah will likely remain the most powerful politician in the country, in part because the chaos of the last weeks has exposed the weakness of the government. Most of the Lebanese analysts I spoke with said they believed that Hezbollah had, on its own terms, been significantly strengthened by the conflict.
See my earlier post on the consequences of a Hezbollah victory for more information.

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