Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lebanon Blowback: Heroes and Villains in the Next World Order

Israel has learned a lesson from its American sponsor: how to win the battle and lost the war. Despite the Israel Defense Force's tactical successes (albeit difficult and awkward successes) over Hezbollah militant forces, it looks more every day like the strategic winners of the conflict will be Hezbollah and Iran.

From John Kifner of The New York Times:
As stunned Lebanese returned Tuesday over broken roads to shattered apartments in the south, it increasingly seemed that the beneficiary of the destruction was most likely to be Hezbollah.

A major reason--in addition to its hard-won reputation as the only Arab force that fought Israel to a standstill--is that it is already dominating the efforts to rebuild with a torrent of money from oil-rich Iran.

Hezbollah has told the Lebanese Parliament that Iran will provide an "unlimited budget" for the rebuilding southern Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has offered a year's rent to any Lebanese who lost their homes during the war.

Game, set, match in the war for hearts and minds.

Perceptions and Realities

All parties directly or indirectly involved in this war conducted robust propaganda, psychological, and deception operations. There's nothing unusual in that, or even immoral. Shaping perceptions has been an integral part of warfare since Sun Tzu was a second lieutenant, and for a long time before that.

The fallout of all this information warfare, though, is that it will be a long time before we know who really initiated the war, what was going on behind the scenes between Washington and Tel Aviv, between the French and the U.S., between Iran and Hezbollah. Many vital underlying critical aspects of the conflict may well remain unsolved mysteries forever.

The Bush administration and its echo chamberlains claimed from the outset that Iran and Syria urged Hezbollah to spark hostilities by snatching two IDF soldiers. Aljazeera claimed that the war was agreed upon by Benjamin Netanyahu and Dick Cheney at a June American Enterprise Institute conference in Colorado. Both stories have at least a shred of plausibility, but we'll likely never know if one, the other, or both are true, so it’s a wash.

It's widely accepted that Iran trained and armed the Hezbollah fighters, though whether they attempted or were able to re-supply Hezbollah during hostilities is as yet unknown. It's dead certain that the U.S. provided Israel with bombs and intelligence support in the middle of a shooting war, so the question of who supported who is a wash as well.

While we can't know what was said behind closed doors during the diplomatic negotiations, the basic timeline of Condi's can't-can dance is relatively transparent. The initial U.S. refusal to push for an immediate cease-fire gave Israel an opportunity to achieve its stated goal of removing armed Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, and even after Condi and her team reversed course and pushed for a cease-fire, the timing worked out such that Israel had time to at least pretend to have achieved its military aims.

The IDF managed to push the battle to the Litani River, but it doesn't look like they completely "disarmed" Hezbollah. While I don't agree that Hezbollah fought the Israelis "to a standstill," they put up a heck of a fight, one good enough to have earned a lot of respect in the Muslim world. The entire world, on the other hand, wonders if the IDF hasn’t revealed itself to be an overrated gang of paper tigers.

Whatever was or wasn't going on with the staged and altered photographs of destruction at Qana and elsewhere in Lebanon that ran in the big global media, its obvious to just about everybody that a lot of Lebanese civilians died, a whole lot more became homeless, and that Israel, with help from the U.S., busted up Lebanon pretty badly.

Who's stepping up to the plate and offering to put southern Lebanon back together again? Iran, the country that Israel and the United States continue to demonize and blame for all the damage. And Iran isn't asking for help from the U.N. or of non-government organizations or anybody else--especially not the U.S. or Israel.
I don't think that even the likes of Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman can look at a TV camera with a straight face and try to spin his way out of that. (Though he may surprise me. He has before.)

Despite what you often hear, perception is not reality. The two are closely related though. People tend to see and hear the parts of reality that reinforce their pre-conceived perceptions, and perceptions influence actions, which affects reality.

The problem with shaping perceptions in warfare is that they can only be manipulated a short distance from pre-conceptions and ground truth.

If you're a Lebanese family coming back to a bombed out home and your Hezbollah precinct captain says, "The Israelis and the Americans did this" you're going to believe it because it's true. Who did or didn't start the war and may or may not bear ultimate moral responsibility for your plight doesn't matter to you.

When Hezbollah and Iran tell you they'll provide you a years rent while they fix your house, there will be little perceived doubt in your mind as to who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. What's more, the sympathies of all of the Muslim world and much of the rest of the world will lie with the homeless Lebanese family, and there's very little the administration and Pentagon spin machines can do to change those perceptions.

This heroes-and-villains calculus will play big in the Lebanese Army/UN peacekeeping force occupation of south Lebanon, especially if words come to blows between the occupiers and Hezbollah. But it will play even larger in America's attempts to get the rest of the world on board with taking measures against Iran.

Though it's an "oil rich" nation, Iran is hardly an economic powerhouse--not yet, anyway. If the western world imposes strict sanctions on Iran, it will severely hamper the country's ability to help Hezbollah rebuild Lebanon, and who will come off as the bad guy in that equation? Iran will continue to insist it only wants to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes--a claim that despite the best efforts of the Bush administration have yet to be proven otherwise--and it will start advertising its intention to share the miracle of inexpensive nuclear energy with the rest of the Islamic world.

If the Cheney-centric U.S. policy team decides it's been maneuvered into a strategic/political corner (and I'll argue that it already has been), there's a real and present danger that it will lash out and launch an extensive air operation on Iran with no more evidence of an existing Iranian nuclear weapons program than it has now.

In that eventuality, Europe would disown us, Russia and China would align themselves permanently with Iran and the rest of the Islamic world, and "America" would become the new synonym for "monster" in every language of humanity.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

See the rest of Jeff's Next World Order series at ePluribus.


  1. Anonymous8:04 PM

    Interesting that you claim Israel was granted enough time to achieve its military objectives, and did so; it failed to find the soldiers, failed to stop Hezbollah raining rockets on Israel, failed to kill Nasrallah or any really senior HB staff, and failed to maintain any kind of buffer zone.

    So, which military objectives did they accomplish? Bombing post-Hariri Lebanon back to 1910, I suppose. Hardly anything to be prouf of, collective punishment.

  2. Point taken. It may be more accurate that they were allowed to appear to have accomplished their military objectives my driving as far north as they did.

  3. any ideas on what happens next?

    Has all this bloodshed actually changed anything, other than maybe thin out the population of southern Lebanon again?
    I am really failing to see what has changed. What has been achived. Condi initially stated that an immediate ceasefire would have impeded the peace process (we all know thats logical, ofcourse!) - but by the killing of all these civilians, by the Israeli air strikes, by the Israeli ground invasion of Lebanon.. wat exactly has been achieved???
    I can see what Hezbollah have achieved. But the so-called only "democracy" of the Middle East, what have they achieved? And what has America achieved by supporting them?
    I'd really like to know. Cos ofcourse, what America achieves is directly relevent to us in the UK. Wat benefits Bush, benefits Blair - we all love that.

  4. All it got us was one step closer to war with Iran, IMO.

  5. Anonymous9:12 AM

    Oh, it's far richer than that.

    Not that long ago, being a Shia in Lebanon carried about the same social cachet as being an African-American in Bull Connor's Alabama. Today Hizbollah is Lebanon's most respected armed force.

    Also not that long ago, people hadn't forgotten that under Ayatollah Khomeini, children were used as human minesweepers. Today most Lebanese are far more concerned by the damage done to even none belligerents in their country. Rather than to divide the country, the opposite occured.

    And previous to this engagement, militias allied to Iranians hadn't demonstrated just how easy it was for them to close the Straits of Hormuz. I personally am not sure that rapture fanatics prefer the pursuit of the rapture over oil at $300 a barrel. (In Japan, Europe, and other parts of the civiliyzed world this is a no-brainer.)

  6. I can tell that the Straits of Hormuz problem has given the Navy fits for decades. Not a difficult thing for the Iranians to shut down.

  7. Anonymous9:26 AM

    You're completely right. All the same, it's one thing to have anti-ship missiles, and quite another to use them. Especially when you catch the other side by surprise. This precedent is tantamount to crossing a significant psychological threshold, and perhaps meant to be.

  8. Oh, yeah. That would be crossing a threshold all right.

    I don't want to get too much into tactics and operations, but I know how I'd work things if I were the Iranians.

    Let's just say there's one way in and one way out, and you don't need ascms to block the straits.

  9. Anonymous10:07 AM


  10. There'd be a nice irony to emptying millions of gallons of crude into the Hormuz straights and then napalming it too, I suppose.

    A nice irony, but a terrible act.

  11. Oh, and there were no 'staged or doctored' Qana photos. 28 civilians were killed by the IDF, including 16 children.

    The AP photog who lost his job made the grievous error of darkening some smoke over Beirut, and increasing flares dropped by an F-16 from one to three.

  12. Gridlock:

    I've seen somewhat credible evidence that some of the Qana photos may have been staged for dramatic effect, but even if true, that doesn't erase the fact that Qana actually happened, and was plenty dramatic with or without staged photos.

  13. Gridlock -

    I may be wrong, but I remember it being a Reuters photog.