Hezbollah and the War on Terror

Charles Krauthammer argues that, aside from issues of Israeli security, the current conflagration in the Middle East will be a decisive phase of the Global War on Terror.

America finds itself at war with radical Islam, a two-churched monster: Sunni al-Qaeda is now being challenged by Shiite Iran for primacy in its epic confrontation with the infidel West. With al-Qaeda in decline, Iran is on the march. It is intervening through proxies throughout the Arab world — Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq — to subvert modernizing, Western-oriented Arab governments and bring these territories under Iranian hegemony. Its nuclear ambitions would secure these advances and give it an overwhelming preponderance of power over the Arabs and an absolute deterrent against serious counteractions by the United States, Israel or any other rival.

Aside from the fact that Hamas is a Sunni organization funded almost entirely by Saudis and wealthy individuals in other “moderate” Arab states with only incidental support from Iran, this is undeniable.

The moderate pro-Western Arabs understand this very clearly. Which is why Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan immediately came out against Hezbollah and privately urged the United States to let Israel take down that organization. They know that Hezbollah is fighting Iran’s proxy war not only against Israel but also against them and, more generally, against the United States and the West.

Hence Israel’s rare opportunity to demonstrate what it can do for its great American patron. The defeat of Hezbollah would be a huge loss for Iran, both psychologically and strategically. Iran would lose its foothold in Lebanon. It would lose its major means to destabilize and inject itself into the heart of the Middle East. It would be shown to have vastly overreached in trying to establish itself as the regional superpower.

All true. The question is: Is Hezbollah defeatable by military means? Most would say No.

Krauthammer is right, though, that it can’t be done by air power and to say that the reluctant decision of Israeli PM Olmert to authorize ground forces is welcome. Unfortunately, he believes that a massive use of conventional force ala Desert Storm or the toppling of Saddam will work. Most likely, it will not owing to Hezbollah’s shrewd but cowardly tactic of interspersing themselves within the civilian population. Israel may simply be creating the next generation of terrorists and benefactors.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Krauthammer is starting to hedge his bets. Two weeks ago there was no talk of failure, but now he’s one of the rats abandoning the sinking ship and pointing the finger at Olmert, not that the criticism is undeserved.

  2. Michael says:

    I’d also like to add that in Iraq, it is SCIRI (aka, badr brigade) that is closely linked to Iran, not Sadr, who doesn’t seem to like being told what to do by Iran.

  3. UziMan says:

    Two military considerations at work here. firstly, the initial attempt to surgically take-our the Hizbullah infrastruction thru air power while limiting IDF armd inf. and Lebenese civilian casulties. Secondly, the Israeli political leadership’s ( Olmert/Peretz) lack of military pedigree. Fortunately, with urging-on by Condi relative to diminishing window-of-opportunity, IDF boots-on-the-ground is ramping-up.

    As is oft the case, regardless of reality, Arabs are inclined to declare ” victory ” under the worst of circumstances ( Egypt ’73, Arafat ’82, Saddam Desert Storm). So, the required outcome is not an IDF scorched-earth policy, but, the next-phase of the international community endorsing/enforcing UN 1559, defanging Hizbullah, and putting a ” robust” peace enforcement force in place.

    The real bottom-line is the dual-path policy of Israel withdrawing to self-declared boundries and kicking Arab butt ( BIG TIME1)should any of them cross this line with terror attacks. ” Occupation” will be defused as any just-cause for the Arab so-called false-issues.

  4. LJD says:

    Israel may simply be creating the next generation of terrorists and benefactors.

    Come on. You had me right up to the last sentence. This is garbage, as if not attacking would prevent the ‘next generation of terrorists’? We have a long history of the effects of ‘diplomacy’.

    The Hezbollah cowards may well blend into the civilian population, but at the cost of having lost much of their means to wage war. With luck, Israel will have removed or at least definitively exposed their supply lines for international scrutiny.

    My belief is that Israel will be successful in making a significant impact. They must be, as they will be responsible for their own security in the near future. No country in their right mind would step in between Israel and the terrorists. For that, we still have an unpaid debt of 241 American lives. So unfortunately, we will see the fighting continue for a while.

    I think the next horizon is what Nasrallah has in his pocket to retaliate for Beirut, and what the consequences will be.

  5. James Joyner says:

    LJD: I think the evidence is mounting that the use of overwhelming military force, including the destruction of much of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, is creating more sympathy for Hezbollah. Even those who publically blamed them for provoking the war are now siding with them.

    The death of 241 American Marines in Beirut 23 years ago, while tragic, is not terrorism in the usual sense. First, it was a military target. Second, we were intervening in an ongoing civil war, essentially taking sides.

    We’ll certainly see what the longer term impact is. In the short term, Israel has gotten hundreds of rockets fired into their territory.

  6. DC Loser says:

    Yeah, things are going swimmingly and according to plan. The rockets keep coming and now Olmert’s reduced to this Haaretz headline: “Olmert: I hope Germany sends peacekeepers to South Lebanon.” Well, at least he hasn’t caved in and asked for the French, yet. Also, 100,000 al-Sadr sponsored supporters turned out to cheer for Hezbollah today in Baghdad. Yup. Things are looking up.

  7. LJD says:

    Perhaps the idea that we are ‘making more terrorists’ would be a good topic to post and encourage debate on. From where I sit, it seems there is more and more anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. sentiment regardless of what we do. The gobs of aid dollars don’t seem to help the problem or the philosophy.

    I simply contend that the statement ‘creating the next generation of terrorists’ is a flawed perspective on foreign policy. Did we fear future generations of Japanese or Germans because of our actions? On the contrary, we skipped out of Korea, Viet Nam, and more recently Somalia, Iraq after Desert Storm, and Lebanon. Have we dealt at all with Iran? How are these countries doing now? It would appear that history refutes this argument. Actually military action tends to breed allies, and cutting and running breeds our worst enemies.

    So, Loser, what would you have us do? Start learning arabic?

  8. DC Loser says:

    No, I’ve got my Chinese down already.

  9. ATS says:

    Uzi-man, very aptly named, says “the real bottom-line is the dual-path policy of Israel withdrawing to self-declared boundries and kicking Arab butt.”

    But what if my “self-declared boundary” is a work in progress, soon to include your backyard? The Litani River? Where do we find these boundaries delineated? Perhaps in the “promised” limits of the 1982 Israeli invasion–that witnessed the IDF proceeding all the way up to Beirut. Thereby inducing Reagan to send in those 241 murdered Marines— the proximate cause that Krauthammer carefully declined to provide (along with the two massacres at the PLO camps, likewise ommited).
    The fact that Israel matters more to Krauthammer than the US or any other earthly cause should not cause him, or the zealots on this site, to assume that that the rest of us are incapable of connecting the dots when they start to matter. And people, it is starting to matter.
    Von Clausewitz said nations have no friends, just interests. Israel is proving him right.

  10. DC Loser says:

    ATS – It’s well know Israel has no friends, just interests. That’s why the DoD states that Israel poses the HIGHEST Counterintelligence threat to US personnel and technology. They take our money, but they’re still trying to steal from us. With friends like these (and AIPAC), truly, who needs enemies?

  11. Anderson says:

    The cruel & cowardly Hezbollah makes me wonder:

    Has there ever been a successful guerilla campaign in which the guerillas did *not* conceal themselves amongst the civilian population?

    It’s an honest question; I am not up on the history of such things.

  12. James Joyner says:

    Anderson: Not a great historian on such matters, either, but it’s pretty much definitional to at least modern guerrilla warfare, which is modeled on Mao’s campaign. It’s cowardly but damned effective.

  13. ATS says:

    “With friends like these (and AIPAC), truly, who needs enemies?”

    Wolf Blitzer was an exec at AIPAC. I mean what ELSE do we need to know?