Behind Hezbollah's Self-Destruction
Posted by Shadi Hamid
Ok, I’m gonna have to backtrack a little bit. I’m still having trouble understanding what Hezbollah’s strategic calculations were as they launched their initial attack on Israel last week. I’ve heard a number of explanations so far, none of which I find particularly compelling. Well, yes, Iran and Syria may have played a hand in pushing Hezbollah toward the current confrontation but this does not explain why Hezbollah, with its considerable autonomy, would choose to go along with it.
Hezbollah knew that any attack on Israel would elicit a forceful response, particularly in light of Israel’s sustained efforts to recover abducted soldier Gilad Shalit the previous week. Any intelligent person could have predicted that Israel would do everything in its power to destroy Hezbullah infrastructure if provoked along the border. Sure, there are short-term strategic gains which may yet accrue to Hezbollah, but in the long run, the group’s organizational capacity has been severely hit and, now, its continued existence as the second strongest political force in Lebanon (along with coalition partners Amal) is a big question-mark. If Hezbollah's goal was, in fact, to force Israel into a prisoner exhange, then killing eight soldiers makes absolutely no sense. Nasrallah might very well be a raging megalomaniac but I'm not sure that, by itself, explains Hezbollah's strategic self-immolation.
Some Egyptians I have spoken to here, in between tiresome praises of Nasrallah, claim to understand it quite well – that Hezbollah did this for karamah, to reclaim Arab world’s dignity (the destruction of one’s country would seem a rather exorbitant price to pay for regaining one's “dignity”). Or, as someone else suggested – it's every militant Islamist group's dream to drag the world into some kind or regional conflagration, where Arabs will be forced to get up or sit down (although the vast majority of Arabs have been sitting down rather consistently for the last five decades). Read Michael Doran’s “Somebody Else’s Civil War” for a sense of how this set-up might work. (Interestingly, Doran is now the point-person for the Middle East on the National Security Council).
Ultimately, it’s hard to know for sure what goes on in the minds of Hezbollah leaders, since very few American scholars are Hezbollah specialists. There are probably only a handful of them and even the few who do know something are likely at a loss to understand the internal dynamics and the decision-making process within Hezbollah. Same goes for Hamas. It would have been nice to have a few Hamas experts on hand who could have shed some light on things after the group unexpectedly rose to power in January. Instead, the State Department (as always?) was caught by surprise, leading Condi to get a bit miffed at her underlings. I can’t think of many Hamas specialists in academia either. So, anyway, there’s been a pretty serious internal struggle going on between Khaled Meshaal and PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh the last few months, but it has been tough to go beyond superficial analyses, since very few American scholars or policymakers have a good grasp of how Hamas's internal organization actually works.