Hezbollah and the New Rules of Engagement
Israeli calculations don’t always meet their goals. In 1982, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon and killed more than 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians — mostly civilians, as usual — in the hope of ridding Lebanon of the Israeli occupation’s enemies. The results of that invasion are well-known, but let’s just say that Israel never had more formidable opponents and resisters than the ones that its own brutality and savagery produced in Lebanon. Furthermore, Israel often casually invades and bombs for electoral benefit. Shimon Peres could never run a campaign without engaging in a massacre or bombing campaign. Crimes and massacres are part of Israel’s electoral politics.
It’s unclear what Israel’s motives are in this campaign. Typically, Western media and Arab oil media volunteer that those who were killed were planning an attack on Israel. No one asks how the Israeli military is able to read Arab minds and predict what every Arab is up to at any point of their existence. It can thus tell when an Arab considers engaging in a “terrorist” attack, and kills him before he acts. This gives Israel the right to kill any Arab anywhere.
It’s possible that Israel was testing the readiness and vigilance of its enemy, Hezbollah. It is also possible that Israel has assumed that Hezbollah is too distracted to respond to Israeli attacks. On both counts, Israel was wrong. Israel does not understand Hezbollah, and has a long history of misunderstanding its enemies. Israel (like the Saudi clients in Lebanon) assumes wrongly that Hizbullah is no more than a client of the Iranian regime and that it has no domestic home-grown basis. In fact, Hizbullah’s roots in Lebanon are now more entrenched than ever, and it has succeeded in equipping the population (even beyond its constituency) with a culture of resistance to Israel and its aggression.
Nasrallah’s latest speech brings something new to the picture. It signals the beginning of a new phase in Hezbollah’s confrontation with the Israeli enemy. It seems that Hezbollah feels rather confident about its operational branch after the capture of Israeli agent Muhammad Shawraba. This was reported in the Zionist media as a failure for Hezbollah, but should be perceived as an operational success. Israeli leaders know deep down that they have failed miserably in infiltrating the ranks of the party at the members level, let alone the leadership. In the case of the PLO, the ability of Israel to obtain secrets and to foil operations before they happen was legendary, and not so much due to skills of the notoriously incompetent Mossad, but due to the carelessness and corruption of the PLO under Yasser Arafat. Furthermore, Arafat used to keep those who were suspected of spying for Israel or the US, because he believed (foolishly) that he could send messages to his enemies through them.
Hezbollah, further, has another level of confidence: the actual combat experience of its fighters and commanders in Syria, especially in extended military fighting, has been immeasurable. Hezbollah now operates on the assumption that it can employ new tricks and methods against Israel, for which it didn’t have the capacity before. The references to the ability of Hezbollah in future confrontations to hold territory in the Galilee is the product of the new self-confidence within the party.
The advantages of Hezbollah vis-à-vis Israel are tremendous. Never before in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict has there been a party that can threaten Israel (with retaliation — not with offense, as US media likes to describe it) and be credible in its threats. There has never been a non-state actor (resistance group) in the history of the conflict that could aim and achieve a direct hit on Israeli soldiers whenever it wants. This is a new calculus in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is certain that Hezbollah can also easily capture Israeli occupation soldiers whenever it wishes.
Nasrallah’s speech was significant in more ways than one. In one segment, he talked about the party’s habit of announcing its dead (“martyrs” for the party) when they die in combat. He said (and there is evidence to support his claim) that the party never hides its dead or the number of its dead. All those who die in battle are announced and they receive public funerals. This is in response to fantastic claims made by March 14 and Saudi media to the effect that the party has lost thousands upon thousands of members in the Syrian conflict. No one explains why the party announces some “martyrs” but covers up others.
What Nasrallah was responding to, however, is the practice by Israel to kill at will, anywhere and any time. Israel, which perfected the art of terrorism long before Bin Laden, has managed to justify all its massacres and killing sprees in the name of “fighting terrorism.” No act of violence by enemies of Israel, especially acts against its own terrorist soldiers, has been ever labeled as non-terrorist by the state of Israel. But Nasrallah’s declaration, that his party won’t adhere to the “rules of engagement” anymore, sends a signal to Israel that it won’t be allowed to practice its unilateral form of terrorism. This annuls the understanding of April 1996, which limited the “rules of engagement” to military targets inside South Lebanon; because Israel has continued its violation of Lebanese sovereignty and its harassment of Lebanese civilians in South Lebanon without any international repercussion.
Just as Israel does not adhere to any laws, regulating its morality or standards of violence, Hezbollah is telling Israel, for the first time, that it can also match its record of international violence, going beyond the narrow confines of April 1996. Furthermore, it is also signaling that it is not — contrary to Israeli wishful thinking — shackled by its military intervention in Syria. Israel now knows that its next assassination or bombing campaign will be met with a swift Hezbollah response. Israel, and the Zionist project in general, has not been accustomed to deterrence. The future of the Arab-Israeli conflict promises that Israel will receive the same poison that it has administered to Arabs for decades.
Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil
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