Why Can’t Israel Defeat Hezbollah?

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Yoel Marcus observes in Haaretz today that Israel hasn’t exactly destroyed Hezbollah as planned. Missiles are still raining down on Haifa and Nahariya with no end in sight, and Hassan Nasrallah is still out there taunting the IDF:

Bush and the public assumed that the [Israeli] army knew what it was doing, and that Israel, with its superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology, would be able to put an end to Hezbollah as a menace to Israel. Little by little, however, a worrying picture has begun to emerge: Instead of an army that is small but smart, we are catching glimpses of an army that is big, rich and dumb.

This picture is indeed worrying, but it shouldn’t have emerged “little by little.” Anyone who managed to avoid being in a persistent vegetative state over the past four years—which, I guess, excludes the president and what, 37 percent of the United States?—should’ve noticed that the most powerful army on earth hasn’t been able to squelch a ragtag band of determined insurgents in Iraq, either. Military theorists call conflicts against non-state actors “fourth generation warfare”, and it’s tricky business.

Basically, neither the United States nor Israel, nor any liberal democracy in the world, really knows how to fight these sorts of wars, which are quite clearly not the conventional “blow up a bunch of enemy tanks and you win” wars of the past. Short of killing every last Shiite in Lebanon—and that step would presumably be too gruesome even for Israeli Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who has ordered ten Lebanese buildings bombed for every rocket launched on an Israeli city—Israel’s military likely won’t defeat Hezbollah. Perhaps these wars are just unwinnable by nature, perhaps better strategists will one day figure out how to defeat non-state militias with broad popular support. Either way, Iraq should’ve alerted everyone well in advance to the limits of mere “superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology.”

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