Israel, Lebanon, Hezbollah, and 4GW

New bombing reach into Israel from Lebanon

Image by Kathryn Cramer on Flickr.
Click photo for full size image.

Sandy and Ginger both think that Israel is overreacting in its response to attacks by Hezbollah, and I’m inclined to agree. But I don’t think the reason why is particularly mysterious.

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.



July 19, 2006
3:02 pm

s/Israel/United States/
s/Hezbollah/Al Qaida/
Does that work or no? Just curious, I don’t have an opinion either way.

Jason Lefkowitz

July 19, 2006
3:07 pm

Bingo, Oscar.
It’s not a perfect comparison but it’s a good one, IMO.

Sandy Smith

July 20, 2006
1:21 am

Aren’t Hezbollah’s capabilities pretty much only there because they are supported by a state actor or actors? The US identified the correct state actor initially and took them out. Israel has yet to bomb Syria or Iran. It’s only subsequently that the Bush administration decided to settle old scores with Iraq.
I suggest Israel bomb the fuck out of Andorra now, too, for failing to stop Hamas. It makes about as much sense as their current strategy.

Jason Lefkowitz

July 20, 2006
7:33 am

It is true that Hezbollah is less of a truly “modern” terror organization than al Qaeda, one manifestation of which is that it relies far more heavily on state support.

Joe Dailey

July 20, 2006
8:52 am

There is a horrible Catch 22 that Israel has to deal with.
Hezbollah is strong and the Lebanease central government is weak. Weak enough to turn a blind eye when Iran sends large silkworm anti-ship missles and large rockets to be stockpiled by Hezbollah. Hezbollah is an active, popular party that has a large number of seats in parliment. It is the government, and the military, of Southern Lebanon.
So you need to damage Hezbollah so the government can take its country back. And Israel strikes Hezbollah to damage it, but the strikes make the Lebanese governement weaker, so Hezbollah will still be the meanest dog on the block when this is done.
Now, the best solution would be old school. A massive (at least 50,000) International peacekeeping force on the border with orders to disarm Hezbollah and restore government control. But no one has the political will or resources for such a force, so we will have a weak cease-fire at the end of the week, until Iran and Syria feel they need to hit Isreal again for political reasons.

Jason Lefkowitz

July 20, 2006
9:31 am

“So you need to damage Hezbollah so the government can take its country back. And Israel strikes Hezbollah to damage it…”
When was the last time guerrilla attacks were defeated by an air campaign?
Never, AFAIK.
You can’t strike Hezbollah from the air — at least not without inflicting severe casualties on civilians. And the problem is compounded by the fact that Hezbollah (as you correctly note) is the major provider of social services in the south of Lebanon, so an air campaign ends up hurting even those civilians it doesn’t kill.
Note that as of this morning Israel appears to have recognized this and shifted to ground operations inside Lebanon:


August 3, 2006
10:29 pm

Firstly Hizballah has over 20 seats in the Lebanese government from democratic elections. Over 1/3 of the country supports them.
Much of the government has shown support for hizballah and the army has helped them attack Israel including the missiles shot at the Israeli ship which killed 4 soldiers and also with intelligence.
They are a terrorist organization who have no right to attack Israel even according to the UN israel fully pulled out of lebanon over 6 years ago. Hizballah has attacked Israel numerous times since then including kidnapping soldiers and shooting missiles at cities. This was the last straw and something had to be done.
I find it very disturbing that the anti-semitism from 50 years ago is still strong especially in the western world and media. Any western country would have carpet bombed the whole of lebanon, and any third world coutry would have just gone in massacring everyone in sight. Israel’s army is one of the most if not the most humane army in the world and until now has prefered sending in ground troups risking their lives instead of just bombing incase innocent civilians are killed. The more that the incident in Qana is looked into the more it seems like propaganda from Hizballah.


August 9, 2006
11:20 am

are you retarded or something?!
you wrote this article as if your analysis of this war is a more rational and intellegent than the israeli government’s
they have more experience and intellegence than you and me, our theories of this war are nothing but guesses. and I don’t care to guess, all i enjoy for today is the death of lebanese people and hopefully iranians and syrians next
“they’ve decided to just pretend that Lebanon equals Hezbollah”
let’s say they did … and that it is not a fact … who gives as long as they can keep those rockets and missiles flowing down it’s fun to watch
second if lebanon is not hezbollah, then why the fuck didn’t they get rid of this group before isreal attacked them … maybe because iran kept sending the government money (in other words bribing them) to continue supporting hezbollah, they did it for the money they got from a shiita (literly shiti) state, and now they pay the price of what they have supported for years
how can a goverment allow non-militants hold weapons and missiles shipped from iran … imagine a group in US say Allah’sBitches decides that they are going to walk around with RPGs and rocket launcheres and bombs … and imagine the government tends not to care about getting rid of them and watches them as they keep on attacking canadians in the US canada border … obviously you will give canada the right to attack US for allowing such people to operate in their country … and civilians like you will also be the ones to pay the price of this Allah’sBitches group … why because you as a civilian could have seeked their destruction via your government years ago … you didn’t, now you have the canadian missiles and rockets rain from the air upon your house and family…
anyways apart from the logic … who gives a fuck about shiia muslims they are all crazy nuts like their religious leaders


August 15, 2006
1:27 pm

The first and most important thing to remember is that Hezbollah is not merely a group of terrorists. They are an entity that has created social, political, and military institutions within Lebanon that directly parallel such institutions in any modern state. The Lebanese clearly do not support domination by Syria, as evidenced by the 2004 “Cedar Revolution”. Yet Hezbollah, which is a state in its own right, is completely backed by and dependent on Syria, and to a lesser degree Iran.
Lebanon was dragged into this war because they did not have either the might or the political will to disarm Hezbollah themselves, as they had a duty to do. The Lebanese may play the part of poor victims, but in fact, it is as bluud so cleverly pointed out, that were the same thing to happen in the US, and a group began attacking Canada, the Canadians would be perfectly justified in defending themselves just the way that Israel is doing now.
And by the way, Israel was doing a very effective job both at targetting Hezbollah militants and minimizing civillian casualties. And like a doctor surgically removing a deadly tumor, so the IDF is removing Hezbollah from Lebanon, and doing their best not to damage any of the healthy tissue around it. But with the fighting stopped, it’s up to the Lebanese themselves to finish the job.
Please read this article by a Lebanese man in Beirut who tells his side of the story: