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Israel

By Andras Beszterczey, UK Defence Forum Researcher

Hizballah is often heralded by allies and enemies alike as the textbook example of how an Islamist organisation can be assimilated, albeit painfully, into a democratic system. However, it is not clear whether the Party of God's 'Lebanonisation', coined by the veteran Lebanon commentator Augustus Richard Norton, was conducted willingly. The question is of the utmost importance as the nation awaits the findings of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), investigating the 14 February 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which is likely to implicate members of Hizballah and reveal its true commitment to the democratic system.

The decision to participate in the 1992 elections, Lebanon's first since the civil war began in 1975, was a painful one for Hizballah. Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli, the Secretary-General from 1989, warned that if the Party of God agreed to discard its ultimate objectives of creating an Islamic Republic for the sake of domestic political growth, it would only be a matter of time till the resistance against Israel was likewise abandoned. He was so adamant in his stance that Tufayli subsequently left, or was perhaps expelled outsiders will never know, and ultimately he proved to be correct.

The fundamental misconception surrounding Hizballah is also the resistance's greatest hour the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000. Hizballah did not beat Israel in the manner that international opinion believes. The Israeli Prime Minister in 2000, Ehud Barak, had, since the height of his military career in the early 1980s pushed for a full withdrawal from Lebanon and simply implemented a policy that he had desired to see for nearly two decades once gaining the premiership in July 1999. The lack of Israeli response to continued guerrilla activities along the Israeli-Lebanese border Hizballah made an estimated eleven attempts to abduct Israeli soldiers between May 2000 and July 2006 was first and foremost due to Israel's preoccupation with the Second Intifada. Nasrallah gravely miscalculated in July 2006 that Israel was still paralysed. The July War that Hizballah provoked with its abduction of two Israeli soldiers was so destructive that the Party could never again bring a conflict of such devastation upon Lebanon, knowing well what Israel's response would be lest Hizballah attack, and still survive as a political party.

Since the July War the resistance has been inactive with the only operation potentially attributed to their fighters being the engagement on the border on 3 August 2010 between the Lebanese Army and the IDF. Accusations arose that the Lebanese soldiers were linked to Hizbullah who ordered them to initiate a small engagement along the border to reactivate the fear of the Israeli enemy, yet the fire-fight is but a shadow of Hizbullah's former guerrilla activities. As a result the 'first-leg' of the Party's legitimacy, the resistance, disappeared because the need for Hizballah to maintain its domestic image bore greater weight than the need to fight Israel.

A second misconception surrounding the evolution of Hizballah is its relationship with Syria. Before the Cedar Revolution, the demonstrations calling for Syria's withdrawal after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Syria controlled all matters of importance relating to Lebanon's foreign and defence policy. Its presence in Lebanon dates back to 1976 when it intervened, with the international community's blessing, in the civil war to stem the tide of the local radical Palestinian presence. The negative aspect of Syria's domination was that the secular pan-Arabist regime of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and his son and heir, Bashar, dictated both the scope and magnitude of Hizballah's social welfare schemes to avert the Party from gaining a preponderance of power. Released of Syrian control, Hizballah was henceforth able to dictate its own policies. This became apparent with the May-June 2005 elections as Amal and other rival forces, previously dependent on Syrian patronage, subordinated themselves to Hizbullah's leadership creating a Shia hegemon. With the subsequent growth of Hizballah's actions, exemplified by its use of its weapons for domestic political objectives in May 2008, the Syrian factor waned.

Nevertheless, Syria maintains significant influence over Hizballah that has only recently begun to be appreciated. The most visible aspect is the use of Syria as a transit for Hizballah's arsenal, specifically the missiles it used during the July War to bring life in northern Israel to a halt. Secondly, Syria still maintains significant intelligence and security apparatus within Lebanon. On 31 August fighting broke out in Beirut between Hizballah and al-Ahbash, a Sunni faction. The argument was supposedly over a parking space; however, rumours are rife that the clash was instigated by Bashar al-Assad to remind the Party of Syria's preeminent position in Lebanon.

Hizballah has been reigned in once out of domestic political considerations and Syria may well be the answer to controlling the Party again. Others have likewise come to this conclusion. Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri's son, stated last month that Syria was not responsible for the assassination of his father, a volte-face of perplexing proportion considering that the anti-Syrian issue was the only uniting rallying cry of the various Maronite and Sunni groups involved in the Cedar Revolution. Yet Syria's influence in Lebanon has historically aimed at maintaining the status quo and Hariri seems to have come to the conclusion that an alliance with his father's killers is the lesser of two evils compared to the growing strength of Hizballah and its potentially antagonistic reaction to the STL.

Further UK Defence Forum research on Hezbollah can be accessed here .

 

Stolen from an Op-ed piece in the New York Times. If anyone objects, we'll take it down - can't reachMr Kristoff yet but wanted to bring you his thoughts soonest

Waiting for Gandhi by NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Published: July 9, 2010

Despite being stoned and tear-gassed on this trip, I find a reed of hope here. It's that some Palestinians are dabbling in a strategy of nonviolent resistance that just might be a game-changer.

The organizers hail the methods of Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., recognizing that nonviolent resistance could be a more powerful tool to achieve a Palestinian state than rockets and missiles. Bilin is one of several West Bank villages experimenting with these methods, so I followed protesters here as they marched to the Israeli security fence.

Most of the marchers were Palestinians, but some were also Israeli Jews and foreigners who support the Palestinian cause. They chanted slogans and waved placards as photographers snapped photos. At first the mood was festive and peaceful, and you could glimpse the potential of this approach.

But then a group of Palestinian youths began to throw rocks at Israeli troops. That's the biggest challenge: many Palestinians define "nonviolence" to include stone-throwing.

Read more...  

By George Friedman

Last week's events off the coast of Israel continue to resonate. Turkish-Israeli relations have not quite collapsed since then but are at their lowest level since Israel's founding. U.S.-Israeli tensions have emerged, and European hostility toward Israel continues to intensify. The question has now become whether substantial consequences will follow from the incident. Put differently, the question is whether and how it will be exploited beyond the arena of public opinion.

The most significant threat to Israel would, of course, be military. International criticism is not without significance, but nations do not change direction absent direct threats to their interests. But powers outside the region are unlikely to exert military power against Israel, and even significant economic or political sanctions are unlikely to happen. Apart from the desire of outside powers to limit their involvement, this is rooted in the fact that significant actions are unlikely from inside the region either.

Read more...  

By George Friedman

On Sunday, Israeli naval forces intercepted the ships of a Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) delivering humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israel had demanded that the vessels not go directly to Gaza but instead dock in Israeli ports, where the supplies would be offloaded and delivered to Gaza. The Turkish NGO refused, insisting on going directly to Gaza. Gunfire ensued when Israeli naval personnel boarded one of the vessels, and a significant number of the passengers and crew on the ship were killed or wounded.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply an attempt to provoke the Israelis. That was certainly the case. The mission was designed to demonstrate that the Israelis were unreasonable and brutal. The hope was that Israel would be provoked to extreme action, further alienating Israel from the global community and possibly driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. The operation's planners also hoped this would trigger a political crisis in Israel.

Read more...  

By Matthew Smith

The Israeli raid on the Gaza Aid Flotilla has once more brought Israel into the world headlines for all the wrong reasons. Events rapidly spiralled out of control when protestors aboard the Turkish owned MV Mavi Marmara attacked and disarmed a number of Israeli commandos who had been sent to commandeer the vessel. Whether through panic or being fired upon themselves, Israeli forces opened fire on protesters, resulting in nine dead. Footage of the boarding can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2duPV9MQIc&feature=related The intelligence failure that underestimated the severity of protestors' reaction will have major consequences. Had such a welcome been envisaged for the Israeli commandos, alternative means of subduing the protestors could have been used, avoiding this whole affair.

Read more...  

By Matthew Smith

Israel has a history of military intervention in Arab nuclear programs. In 1981 Israel launched an air strike that destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. In 2007, the Israeli Air Force similarly attacked a partially constructed nuclear reactor in Syria after intelligence sharing with the United States. With Iran announcing the implementation of new third-generation centrifuges and improvements to its air defence systems, has an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear targets become more probable? The answer to this question is yes, but not dramatically so. An early strike is still unlikely given the current political climate, the still needed for Iran to develop a capability and the limited likelihood of significantly hindering Iran's nuclear programme. The continued vulnerability of Iran's air defence network also removes the military necessity for action now.

Read more...  

By Matthew Smith

As the Israeli air forces strikes a cheese factory, rockets hit Israel and tensions rise fast towards possible intensified conflict, the nature of the last Israeli incursion into Palestinian territory bears re-examination

There can be no doubt that the conduct of the Israeli military during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 was heavy handed. With the seemingly unrestrained use of explosive ordinance and white phosphorous in the Gaza strip, combined with a media blackout and no stated timeframe for its operation, Israel was quickly demonised in the international media. The resulting coverage gave the impression of a malicious Israeli offensive designed to cause as much damage as possible.

Read more...  

By George Friedman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on March 23. The meeting follows the explosion in U.S.-Israeli relations after Israel announced it was licensing construction of homes in East Jerusalem while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel. The United States wants Israel to stop all construction of new Jewish settlements. The Israelis argue that East Jerusalem is not part of the occupied territories, and hence, the U.S. demand doesn't apply there. The Americans are not parsing their demand so finely and regard the announcement timed as it was as a direct affront and challenge. Israel's response is that it is a sovereign state and so must be permitted to do as it wishes. The implicit American response is that the United States is also a sovereign state and will respond as it wishes.

Read more...  

By Fred Burton and Ben West

The assassination of senior Hamas militant leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on Jan. 19 is still generating a tremendous amount of discussion and speculation some six weeks after the fact. Dubai's police force has been steadily releasing new information almost on a daily basis, which has been driving the news cycle and keeping the story in the media spotlight. The most astounding release so far has been nearly 30 minutes of surveillance camera footage that depicts portions of a period spanning the arrival of the assassination team in Dubai, surveillance of al-Mabhouh, and the killing and the exfiltration of the team some 22 hours later.

By last count, Dubai police claim to have identified some 30 people suspected of involvement in the assassination; approximately 17 have been convincingly tied to the operation through video footage either as surveillants, managers or assassins, with the rest having only tenuous connections based on information released by the Dubai police. In any case, the operation certainly was elaborate and required the resources and planning of a highly organized agency, one most likely working for a nation-state.

Read more...  

By George Friedman

The United States announced Sept. 17 that it would abandon a plan for placing ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. Instead of the planned system, which was intended to defend primarily against a potential crude intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threat from Iran against the United States, the administration chose a restructured system that will begin by providing some protection to Europe using U.S. Navy ships based on either the North or Mediterranean seas. The Obama administration has argued that this system will be online sooner than the previously planned system and that follow-on systems will protect the United States. It was also revealed that the latest National Intelligence Estimate finds that Iran is further away from having a true intercontinental missile capability than previously thought, meaning protecting Europe is a more pressing concern than protecting the United States.

Read more...  
 

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