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ICG Risk Blog - [ Hezbollah commences Levantine Marshall Plan, eviscerates Lebanese government and cements its propaganda media victory over Israel ]

Hezbollah commences Levantine Marshall Plan, eviscerates Lebanese government and cements its propaganda media victory over Israel

My respect for Hezbollah grows daily, much as it did for an earlier foe, the Viet Cong who, it should be remembered, never won a victory against US troops but won the war and absorbed South Vietnam. Hezbollah's mastery of the moment never ceases to amaze me, that, along with its cold-blooded realism, e.g., the 2006 Qana strike was a Hezbollah set-up after which their proxies paraded dead children through the streets for hours afterwards even as Hezbollah was distributing medicines that could not otherwise transit bridges and roads bombed by Israel. Without skipping a beat, Hezbollah transitioned from combat to truce by commencing a Marshall Plan for Lebanon without so much as notifying Beirut. It cannot be lost on the Arab street, Sunni and Shia alike, that Hezbollah can respond in ways that make nominally sovereign Arab states look feckless:

Nasrallah's order Monday to begin rebuilding -- without government coordination or approval -- poses one of the biggest tests for Lebanon's already weak government, which in the aftermath of the war has pledged to exercise its uncontested control all the way to the Israeli border…

Hundreds of activists fanned out across the country; in Khiam, at times, they outnumbered the residents. Acting on the orders of Hasan Nasrallah, the group's secretary general, they began clearing rubble, pulling bodies from collapsed homes, cataloguing damage house by house, securing truckloads of food and water, and preparing to provide tens of millions of dollars in compensation…

Nasrallah outlined Hezbollah's reconstruction. Activists would begin work immediately to repair damaged homes and clear the rubble from the hardest-hit villages like Bint Jbeil, Aitaroun and Khiam. For families whose houses were destroyed, a number he estimated at 15,000, Hezbollah would provide money to rent another house for a year as well as buy furniture. An informed source said the group planned to spend $150 million, already provided by Iran, in coming days.

"You will not have to ask for anyone's help, you will not have to stand in lines or go anywhere," Nasrallah said. "Of course, we can't wait for the order of the state and the tools that it uses, as it could consume some time." He said Hezbollah and the government would work in "two parallel lines."

While I am no friend of Hezbollah, I can clearly see its carefully built reputation as a "social organization [noted] by its lack of corruption, ability to mobilize its people and success in fulfilling its promises." Save for the magnitude of this rebuilding, the effort should come as no surprise as Hezbollah immediately assisted Lebanese after the 1996 Israeli campaign and the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. It is preposterous for anyone to assume that the US can cling to the singular vision of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization - which it is, and I think the equal or superior to al Qaeda - and make any points on the ground north of the Golan. See Bernard Haykel's A Hezbollah "Victory"? for an excellent appraisal of 'victory' in Arab terms:

Sayyid Nasrallah has defined victory in his typically low-key style, which contrasts sharply with the old-style and bombastic claims of Arab leaders such as Jamal Abdul-Nasser and Saddam Hussein. Sayyid Nasrallah is very clear and precise that Israel cannot be defeated militarily. Hezbollah, he says, "cannot shoot down Israel’s F-16 fighter jets," but what it can do is bleed Israel’s military forces, harm its economy and extract political concessions, any of which constitutes a victory. Victory, in other words, is a new psychological state for Arabs and Muslims, as well as for the "defeated" Israelis, and bears no relationship to the actual physical or material costs of war. This victory cannot be quantified or calculated and no amount of destruction and killing in Lebanon, or elsewhere in the Middle East, can outweigh its positive value and outcome. It is this psychological aspect to the present war that has so many Arabs and Muslims rallying to Hezbollah's side—they finally see Arabs who are putting up a real fight against a formidable adversary who had acquired supernatural power in their collective imagination.

While there are those among the military and the administration that understand fourth generation warfare (4GW), that awareness does not appear to reach into the White House. John Robb maps his Global Guerrillas concept closely upon William Gibson's idea of the paradigm shift from conventional to fourth generation warfare:

The bad news is that the policy-makers of the United States and Israel apparently (still) don't get the new paradigm [of fourth generation war that cannot be won via classic military action], and the bad news is that Hezbollah (et al, and by their very nature) do. Though that's only bad (or double-plus-ungood) if you accept, as I do, that the new paradigm allows for a more effective understanding of reality. So if you still like to pause to appreciate the action of phlogiston when you strike a match, you may well be okay with current events. So many, God help us, evidently are.

Hezbollah and Iran are already fighting a 4GW campaign while the White House remains tethered to a WWII or Korean War paradigm. We must recognize that Hezbollah has migrated from "the state within a state" to the state that controls another state. Nasrallah has continuously delivered, militarily, socially and politically to Arabs starved for the unfulfilled promises of Egypt's Nasser, Iraq's Saddam Hussein and the PLO's Arafat. Unlike the 1973 Egyptian and Syrian armies in 1973, Hezbollah, even Hamas, will not easily collapse and won't be defeated in a "Six Day" war. The Daily Star's Rami Khouri positioned Nasrallah nicely:

[After hostilities ended Monday] he seemed to take on the veneer of a national leader rather than that as head of a single group in Lebanon's rich mosaic of parties. In tone and content, his remarks seemed like those that a president or prime minister should be making while addressing the nation after a terrible month of destruction and human suffering. His prominence is one of the important political repercussions of this war.

Israel, in
contrast, and the US, by identification with Israel, have been sundered. Here is a doctor working at a Beirut hospital:

“We will kill every American for this!” Dr. Mansour shouted, his voice cracking with rage. “Every Shiite Muslim will kill Americans! We will grind them under our shoes!”

Even Israel perceived that it has lost while Hezbollah's "two pillars of support" - its resistance to Israel and its social services to both Shia and Sunni alike - have only grown in stature. It has to be a bit of domestic political theater for Bush43 to claim the ceasefire as "an affirmation of American foreign policy," that Hezbollah was "the loser" because the UN resolution "calls for [Hezbollah] ending its control of southern Lebanon" which, of course, it will not do (also here). Humor spoke more clearly than politicians when:

Lebanon’s most popular satire show, ‘‘Bas Mat Watan,’’ broadcast a sketch showing an ‘‘interview’’ with Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader and secretary general. ‘‘Nasrallah’’ was asked whether his party would surrender its weapons. He answered that it would, but first several conditions had to be met: there was that woman in Australia, whose land was being encroached upon by Jewish neighbors; then there was the baker in the United States, whose bakery the Jews wanted to take over. The joke was obvious: there were an infinite number of reasons why Hezbollah would never agree to lay down its weapons and become one political party among others.

The month long propaganda war that helped propel Nasrallah was quite remarkable; it does not appear that Israel was ready to combat it (as much for underestimating duration of hostilities as the skills of Hezbollah) and it should be a textbook case for future parties of an asymmetric exchange:

  1. Israel learned too late (but should have learned from watching Muslim video agitprop activities against US forces in Iraq) that it was fighting a first class media war in addition to one of asymmetrical combat.
  2. Israel had been too slow to analyze and respond, even if it is was with aerial camera clips, and so lost the 'news hole' as event layered upon event.
  3. Israel has now lost the propaganda war - certainly in the eyes of virtually all the Arab street, Sunni and Shia alike - as a dead baby in hand trumps a "video game"-like camera clips from an Israeli aircraft cockpit or missile nosecone.
While I'll address many of the participants in what was an interchangeable media and propaganda war in Part 2, I want to touch on the difficulty in trying to parse reality in the early days of an event using the strike on the UNIFIL observation post near Khiam as an example. With a memory of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, and the fact that the comments by the Israeli foreign minister that were rather similar to those issued over the attack on the Liberty, my first thoughts to colleagues when the UNIFIL base was struck by Israeli fire after one AP report noted 21 strikes in the vicinity of the base on the day of the final strike were:
  • Someone, possibly Hezbollah, has surreptitiously dug near, adjacent or under the post under the assumption that the UN post would not be struck and so its operation would be secure and undisturbed
  • Post had line of sight on Israeli operations - it was after all a specifically placed observation post
  • UN forces could have been legitimately reporting their observations through channels but their transmissions were being monitored or intercepted by persons unknown
  • One of the nationalities involved could have been transmitting through separate channels with data being fed to Hezbollah
  • Someone or something (perhaps automated) not directly associated with the post was observing and transmitting from the post's environs, i.e., the UN observers may themselves have been collateral damage
  • An Israeli operation planned but not yet executed required that it not be observed.
We see data now that Hezbollah was firing from the vicinity of the UN outpost, but some of the other options are still possible. We now know that luring the Israelis to strike near Qana and the imagery that resulted was a propaganda tour de force for Hezbollah.

Part 2: Where imagery has the power of bullets

Armed With Iran's Millions, Fighters Turn To Rebuilding
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post
August 16, 2006

Hezbollah Leads Work to Rebuild, Gaining Stature
New York Times
August 16, 2006

A foretaste of larger furies to come
By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star
August 16, 2006

U.N. Peace Efforts Threatened

Countries Urgently Needed to Aid in Lebanon, World Body Says
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post
August 16, 2006

Returning Home to Ruins: Shock Is Mixed With Outrage

New York Times
August 15, 2006

Hezbollah Balks At Withdrawal From the South
Lebanese Officials Work on Compromise
By Edward Cody and Doug Struck
Washington Post
August 16, 2006

'The Street Is Not With Us'
An Arab envoy on the chasm between Israel and Hizbullah—and between Arab leaders and their people
By Lally Weymouth
Aug. 21-28, 2006 issue

Bloggers Drive Inquiry on How Altered Images Saw Print
New York Times
August 9, 2006

Arab World Finds Icon in Leader of Hezbollah
New York Times
August 7, 2006

A Hezbollah "Victory"?
Bernard Haykel
Asharq Alawsat

Hezbollah's Other War

New York Times
August 4, 2006

William Gibson
July 29, 2006
posted 1:35 PM

Christians Fleeing Lebanon Denounce Hezbollah

New York Times
July 28, 2006

Israel Takes a Stupid Pill
By Larry C. Johnson
Booman Tribune/
Posted July 17, 2006

Gordon Housworth

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