Mr. Furious: Rage... taking over...
Casanova Frankenstein: Yes, yes, we've heard that before.
Mr. Furious: No. Rage... REALLY taking over...
- from Mystery Men
Among the more useless ideas that we’ve had to endure over the past five years has been the notion of the monolithic Arab “street”, poised to explode at any moment over any slight that might come their way. That said “street” has been more prone to erupt over cartoonist musings than during infidel invasions has done little to diminish such thinking. This is not to say that they are impotent or irrelevant – far from it. But insurgent movements and the “street” are not the same thing, and the past has shown that not all Arabs are ready to accept that their destiny as jihadi cannon fodder.
And yet the “street” remains ever at the forefront. At the onset of the Israel’s decision to enter Lebanon, many questioned whether such a move was prudent. The difficulty of fighting guerrillas was well known, and many feared that the political costs of the collateral damage associated with pursuing Hizbollah would be too high. World, and perhaps more importantly Lebanese, opinion – the vaunted “street” – might dramatically turn against Israel.
So it should not have been a surprise to anyone that Israel looked a little unsure of itself during the initial phase of the invasion. One certainly gets the sense that it was not a surprise to Hizbollah. Consider the following statement by Hassan Nasrallah made shortly after the hostilities began:
It (Israel) has a nuclear weapon and the strongest air force in the region, but in truth, it is weaker than a spider web.
Hizbollah had calculated that Israel was not in a position to seriously threaten its position within Lebanon and welcomed the fight. They were prepared to do what was necessary in a heads we win, tails you lose quagmire in which Israel would be handcuffed by humanitarian concerns. All they had to do was hold out long enough for a draw, and they would be able to claim victory over Israel.
And they got their victory. Despite claims by the Israelis that their strategic goals were achieved through the cease-fire, the reality is that Nasrallah & Co withstood the Israelis and are now legends throughout the Arab world. Its popularity has never been higher, receiving praise from both Shia and Sunni Muslims.
Yet despite all of this, their success may be short lived. Lost in the celebration is the fact that Hizbollah was dealt several blows from which it may never recover.
From a tactical standpoint, they have lost the element of surprise. Whether you believe the Israeli Defense Force was held back by political uncertainty or was hampered by a lack of military intelligence, the size and scope of Hizbollah’s operation in southern Lebanon has now been exposed. The IDF will be able to review everything from Hizbollah support structures to the proper integration of ground and air power. The Home Front Command, which did quite well in shielding civilians from thousands of surface-to-surface rockets, will become even more adept at countering such future bombardments. All in all, the Israelis have gained far more information regarding its enemy than Hizbollah did, and can be counted on to put that knowledge into practice much sooner.
But the real loss is more strategic in nature. For starters, the world is coming to see them for the fundamentalist threat that they really are. Paradoxically, their cause has been hurt by their very strength. They are no longer viewed as the darling resistance movement relative to a powerful IDF. World leaders have begun to realize that Hizbollah success against Israel could be easily exported around the globe. Never has the world been so quick to condemn the actions of Hizbollah (granted that it equivocated some later), and they showed unprecedented understanding of Israel’s invasion into Lebanon.
Most significantly, however, may be the part that this resistance has played (along with the ineptness of the Olmert government) in the rebuilding of an Israeli consensus. The Israeli “street” – earlier referred to as weaker than a spider web – has regained its conviction and has supported actions that heretofore would have torn the country apart. The invasion into Lebanon itself was a rather bold maneuver, considering that Israel had withdrawn for that territory only a few years earlier. Perhaps more tellingly, Israel has overcome much of its reluctance to target civilian locations that shield terrorists. They will no longer allow their concern for human life to be abused by such tactics. And the trend here is more, not less, likely to continue in that direction. The cease-fire agreement, whatever you may think of it, will have the effect of making the Lebanese government responsible for actions committed from within its territory. This will make Israel less likely to hold back in any future confrontations.
So congratulations, Hassan. Your brilliant exploitation of western fear, guilt and doubt has earned you a historic victory, and you have gained unprecedented favor among the Arab “street”. But I hope you’re prepared for what comes next. Your greatest asset has always been a disillusioned West, and I fear that you may have just thrown it away. The tactics you chose to rally your side of the "street" may have been just enough to awaken the Israeli side to the true nature of the existential threat that it faces.
Good luck with that.