Israel, Lebanon, Hezbollah, and 4GW
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Israel is simply demonstrating the inability of the modern nation-state to come up with a rational response when directly attacked by non-state actors. Hezbollah is not a state; it’s a private organization. But today private organizations can have arsenals that allow them to directly challenge states on the field of battle.
How directly? Well, Hezbollah is fielding rockets that give them a practical medium-range strike capability — a capability which lets them strike civilians in ways that would otherwise require an air force. They have demonstrated that they can strike naval vessels, too, seriously damaging an Israeli corvette.
These are actions that would be acts of war if they were committed by another state. But how do you declare war on an enemy that has all the destructive potential of a state, but is not itself a state? There’s no capital city you can capture, no industrial infrastructure you can degrade. All there is are people, scattered through the general population.
Israel’s response indicates that they don’t know the answer to this question, and that instead of trying to figure it out, they’ve decided to just pretend that Lebanon equals Hezbollah because doing so allows them to do what they know how to do — make war against states. They pound Lebanon because they don’t know how to reach Hezbollah otherwise.
Of course, this is counterproductive as it only increases support for Hezbollah among the Lebanese, who will naturally cheer anyone who strikes back at the neighbor who bombs them. But it’s all the Israelis know how to do — their military thinking has not evolved far enough to handle the situation they find themselves in.
In fairness to Israel, they’re not alone in this. We in the U.S. had the same problem when we were struck by al Qaeda. Unfortunately for al Qaeda, they had made the mistake of tying themselves to the government of a state — Afghanistan — so we could attack al Qaeda by attacking Afghanistan. But after we did so, when al Qaeda didn’t disappear, we demonstrated the same illogic that Israel is demonstrating by insisting on attacking Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or al Qaeda, but it was a Bad State and we know how to kill Bad States, so we did what we knew rather than ask hard questions about whether there could be a better way.
(In some ways, this is a variant of the “More Faster” syndrome I’ve decried in the past.)
Some people have been asking these questions. These people are the proponents of “fourth-generation warfare” (4GW for short), and they’ve been working on these issues for many years now. But at the highest levels, the levels where decisions of war and peace get made, they’re mostly ignored; with the results we see before us.
(To see how the current crisis in Lebanon looks through a 4GW lens, I highly recommend you read William Lind’s essay “The Summer of 1914“.)
UPDATE: John Robb disagrees with me; he thinks Israel is waging a 4GW campaign of its own designed to lead to the collapse of the Lebanese state. I’m not convinced; attempting to collapse a state via aerial bombing of civilian populations is nothing new, we tried it for three straight years against Germany in WW2 without success.