Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Another side of "asymmetric" warfare (David Aaronovitch)

David Aaronovitch on the "asymmetric" propaganda war that is now an integral part of the kind of conflict being waged between Israel and Hezbollah. Aaronovitch is characteristically acute and illuminating here, but uncharacteristically despairing.
“Asymmetrical warfare” is a term usually employed to describe the deployment of insurgent and terrorist techniques against a massively better-armed adversary. It almost suggests that such an approach is defensible. But there is a second sense in which the phrase might be used. We weedy democrats and life-loving liberals cannot bear what the ideologues of Hamas and Hezbollah find all too bearable. We argue about whether we even want to see the pictures of the dead. They seem to want to look at nothing else.
We understand the problem. Israeli violence may damage the democratic and reform movements in Lebanon and Syria. But Hezbollah’s violence, apparently, serves only to strengthen the forces of religious ecstasy. To us, hitting a UN force is a humanitarian outrage. To Hezbollah it’s a tactic. To Hezbollah every civilian is a warrior. [....]
And what do we say, knowing this? That Bad Blair should lean on Worse Bush who should put the squeeze on Murdering Olmert and it’d all be over. That’s the new orthodoxy.
God alone knows, the Israelis have, in their history, committed crimes and terrible errors. Sabra and Chatilla, the refusal to recognise for many years that Palestinians actually existed, the brutalities of the occupation, the settling on the West Bank and in Gaza and so on. The Palestinian organisations have their own track record of deceit and murder. Consequently, each slow step towards a peace has been agonising, and now the new asymmetry makes progress almost impossible. As of today, I have no answer.
I'm not so sure that this aspect of the problem is entirely new, but it is increasingly dangerous and important.

--Jeff Weintraub
====================
The Times (London)
August 1, 2006

We can't bear pictures of the dead. Hezbollah want to see nothing else
David Aaronovitch

Each step to peace has been agony. This ‘asymmetry’ makes it almost impossible.

AT 6.30am on Sunday, from a two-tree hillock on Hampstead Heath, I stood looking out over London — me, a few feral parakeets and a little black dog. The city was mauve and placid; no sirens, no explosions, no dead children. I had just heard the overnight news from Qana, and I wasn’t imagining that I loved my three children any more than the Lebanese man who that night had lost his three.

They’d been given warning to leave their homes, but it seems that the Shalhoubs and the Hashems — the two large families who were wiped out in the bombing — just didn’t have the money or the ability to make the journey. Even before the events at Qana, David Miliband is said to have asked at a meeting of the Cabinet: “Where will this all end?” On Monday a moderate member of the Lebanese Cabinet told the BBC that the violence was putting Lebanon back years. Ann Clwyd MP — a woman I greatly admire — lent her voice to the call for a quick ceasefire.

How, after all, can this be borne? We should stop it now. There should be no more killing. We should stop it even before Israel has secured its border, even while Hezbollah’s military force is still intact. How can you argue with the impulse to save innocent life?

“Asymmetrical warfare” is a term usually employed to describe the deployment of insurgent and terrorist techniques against a massively better-armed adversary. It almost suggests that such an approach is defensible. But there is a second sense in which the phrase might be used. We weedy democrats and life-loving liberals cannot bear what the ideologues of Hamas and Hezbollah find all too bearable. We argue about whether we even want to see the pictures of the dead. They seem to want to look at nothing else.

We understand the problem. Israeli violence may damage the democratic and reform movements in Lebanon and Syria. But Hezbollah’s violence, apparently, serves only to strengthen the forces of religious ecstasy. To us, hitting a UN force is a humanitarian outrage. To Hezbollah it’s a tactic. To Hezbollah every civilian is a warrior.

Take the Israeli killing of four UN soldiers last week, condemned by Kofi Annan as “deliberate”. On July 18 one of the doomed officers e-mailed home to say that Israeli ordnance was landing nearby and that, “this has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity”. A retired Canadian general interpreted this for Canadian television. “What he was telling us was Hezbollah soldiers were all over his position and the IDF were targeting them. And that’s a favourite trick by people who don’t have representation in the UN. They use the UN as shields, knowing that they can’t be punished for it.”

Reporters from Qana said that, the day after the Israeli attack, “there was little evidence of fighters”. But the Israelis have released footage claiming to show rockets being fired at Israel from within the village. Other aerial sequences clearly depict rocket launchers being fired from behind apartment blocks and launcher trucks being driven to hiding places in garages and under houses. It was this kind of action that prompted Jan Egelund, of the UN, to call upon Hezbollah to stop this “cowardly blending . . . among women and children”. He added: “I don’t think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men.”

Today, on the website of Hezbollah’s own propaganda agency, al-Manar, you can find the boast that on one day at the end of last week: “Islamic resistance fighters launched barrages of rockets at northern Israeli settlements . . . According to Israeli media, some 20 settlers were injured in today’s attacks.” “Settlements” is Hezbollah for towns and villages, and “settlers” is Hezbollah for civilians. So when a 240lb Hezbollah rocket slammed into the Israeli countryside last week, it should have prompted the thought that when the Israelis miss their targets they hit civilians and when Hezbollah misses, they don’t.

Getting in among the UN positions and the civilians, firing at “settlers” while seeing the other side condemned for its inhumanity, is part of the new asymmetry. Unfortunately, Hezbollah is pretty good at hitting the soldiers too. If you recall those TV pictures in the 1980s of chaps in keffiyehs blindly firing off their RPGs and Kalashnikovs round a corner and then running like buggery, that has all gone.

Some clue as to how things have changed was offered on Sunday night’s Panorama. Though it was incidental to its story, what the programme showed is how organisations such as Hamas propagandise the children and adults in their care, exulting martyrdom and teaching them to embrace death. We saw schools that celebrate suicide bombers and school computers full of jihadoporn. Had you been watching the evening drama on al-Manar recently you could have seen a Syrian drama series on the Jewish plot to take over the world. One scene was set in a brothel where a Jewish prostitute thinks she is dying from some disease. “I implore you,” she tells the Madam, “send me only Christian clients. I don’t want any Jew to be infected by me.” It’s The Forsyte Saga as scripted by Heinrich Himmler.

If that’s the cultural you can imagine the political. But just in case you can’t, let me help you. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah (thinks, how exactly did he become leader of Hezbollah?) is a prolific speaker, but is credited with meaning what he says. Nasrallah believes that the Jews “invented the legend of the Nazi atrocities”. That Israel “is a cancerous body in the region” that “must be uprooted”. More magnanimously: “

Let us spare bloodshed. Let the Yemenite Jews return to Yemen, the Moroccan Jews to Morocco, the Ethiopian Jews to Ethiopia, the European Jews to Europe, and the American Jews to America.” Though even that is generous because: “Anyone who reads the Koran . . . sees what acts of madness and slaughter the Jews carried out throughout history . . . Anyone who reads these texts cannot think of co-existence with them, of peace with them, or about accepting their presence, not only in Palestine of 1948 but even in a small village in Palestine, because they are a cancer.”

This is the chap with the long-range missiles (getting longer range) sitting on Israel’s northern border. And while Hezbollah might bring out the Lebanese flags for the press in Beirut, in their southern fastnesses the only banners are theirs. And what do we say, knowing this? That Bad Blair should lean on Worse Bush who should put the squeeze on Murdering Olmert and it’d all be over. That’s the new orthodoxy.

God alone knows, the Israelis have, in their history, committed crimes and terrible errors. Sabra and Chatilla, the refusal to recognise for many years that Palestinians actually existed, the brutalities of the occupation, the settling on the West Bank and in Gaza and so on. The Palestinian organisations have their own track record of deceit and murder. Consequently, each slow step towards a peace has been agonising, and now the new asymmetry makes progress almost impossible. As of today, I have no answer.

Read David Aaronovitch’s blog here

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