1) How to fight asymmetric warfare
Once again Charles Enderlein and Philipe Karsenty are back in court. Enderlein was the reporter who created the story of Mohammed al-Dura. Karsenty is the media critic who had the temerity to question the much honored “journalist.” Back in 2008 Karsenty successfully fended off a libel suit brought by Enderlein. For reasons, I don’t understand the case is back in court with a verdict due May 22.
Richard Landes has explained the case in terms of asymmetric warfare:
All asymmetrical wars take place primarily in the cognitive arena, with the major theater of war the enemy’s public sphere. The goal is to convince your far more powerful enemy not to fight. In defensive cases, from the Maccabees to the Vietnamese, this has meant getting imperial powers to “go home.” But Islamists who want to spread Dar al Islam conduct an offensive campaign: how to get your targets to surrender on their own home ground? In this seemingly absurd venture, they have had remarkable success.
The mainstream news media – their journalists, editors, producers – constitute a central front of this cognitive war: the “weak” but aggressive side cannot have success without the witting or unwitting cooperation of the enemy’s journalists. The success of global Jihad in eliciting our media’s cooperation with their goals
This is correct though it isn’t new.
Back in 2007, Marvin Kalb wrote THE ISRAELI-HEZBOLLAH WAR OF 2006:The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict in which he observed:
If we are to collect lessons from this war, one of them would have to be that a closed society can control the image and the message that it wishes to convey to the rest of the world far more effectively than can an open society, especially one engaged in an existential struggle for survival. An open society becomes the victim of its own openness. During the war, no Hezbollah secrets were disclosed, but in Israel secrets were leaked, rumors spread like wildfire, leaders felt obliged to issue hortatory appeals often based on in complete knowledge, a nd journalists were driven by the fire of competition to publish and broadcast unsubstantiated information. A closed society conveys the impression of order and discipline; an open society, buffeted by the crosswinds of reality and rumor, criticism and revelation, conveys the impression of disorder, chaos and uncertainty, but this impression can be misleading.
It was hardly an accident that Hezbollah, in this circumstance, projected a very special narrative for the world beyond its kin—a narrative that depicted a selfless movement touched by God and blessed by a religious fervor and determination to resist the enemy, the infidel, and ultimately achieve a “divine victory,” no matter the cost in life and treasure. The narrative contained no mention of Hezbollah’s dependence upon Iran and Syria for a steady flow of arms and financial resources.
For Hezbollah, the 2006 summertime war was more than a battle against a mortal enemy; it was a crucial battle in a broader, ongoing war, linking religious fundamentalism to Arab nationalism. Will victory be defined as an open door to modernity or to a new caliphate? That is a key question. The whole Arab world is often framed as a “politically traumatized region,” wrote Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland, caught in the “morbid interim between the dying of an exhausted political and social order and the birth of a still-unknown way of life.” Hezbollah saw itself as a resolute leader in shaping the Arab future.
In addition to changing perceptions about the actors, cognitive warfare also had an effect on the battlefield.
How to balance military needs, international humanitarian law, and the reality of facing an enemy whose tactics are not restrained by accepted conventions are challenges to which Israel and other Western nations need to devote serious thought. The asymmetry of battle that Israel faces requires a rethinking of strategy to deal with threats from forces whose ideologies allow them not just to frustrate many Western military advantages but to use the openness of Western societies—especially their print and image media, and the organizations through which the Western penchant for self-criticism is expressed—to their own advantage. Ideology, including the perception of right versus wrong, becomes part of the discussion. Ultimately, non-Islamists, such as Israel, need to win the ideological war as well as the military one.
In the short-term, Israel can take the lead by repeatedly and forcefully asserting the moral high ground by pointing out that civilian causalities are never intentional but, given the cynical tactics of the enemies it must fight, are regrettably inevitable. Israeli spokespersons must further assert that the culpability for civilian casualties lies with the terrorists who have deliberately chosen to wage war against Israel from within civilian populations precisely because of the propaganda benefits of such tactics. While this is not likely to appease those who seek to paint Israel as a serial violator of human rights, the evidence will show that, given Israel’s military arsenal, any premeditated policy of targeting civilians would most certainly have resulted in massively higher death tolls than have actually taken place. From a human rights perspective, the tables need to be turned by arguing that states such as Israel are victims of a capricious and cynical policy of civilian exploitation and that militant Islamists are intentional violators of international conventions that seek to protect civilian lives.
In the long term, though, defeating an ideologically-based movement may not be possible without defeating the ideology itself. For Islamists, any move toward moderation will be a political tactic or a forced concession rather than an actual political or ideological reform or accommodation. What should Western societies do when fighting Islamist groups? In order to defeat the political ideology behind Islamism, Muslim civilians must develop a viable and practical alternative to the Islamist organizations that claim to represent the broader Muslim community. While the ideology is immutable, if the civilian population withdraws its support, Islamist movements will be rendered impotent.
Their conclusion is correct but it appears to be easier said than done. Whether at a time of war or not asymmetric warfare is going on, especially against Israel. Whether or not they’re aware, much of the media assist in this war against Israel. Vigilance against manufactured and false narratives remains an important check on this warfare.
If you doubt the effect of the cognitive warfare being waged against Israel, ask yourself how many of Barry Rubin’s snapshots have you read about in your local paper or seen on the nightly news?
2) The spillover into Lebanon
Since the outbreak of hostilities in Syria between the Assad regime and opposition forces, the war has spilled over into Lebanon. Sunnis in the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood support the rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while the Alawites of Jabal Mohsen stand loyally by him. It is fitting that the street which forms one of the major frontlines between both is called Syria Street.
This division dates back to the early 1980s when the Syrian Army attacked Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh during the Lebanese Civil War. Since then, the fighting between residents has been directly related to Syrian affairs. Both neighborhoods being among Tripoli’s poorest and most densely populated areas, the high number of unemployed men also means a glut of ready and willing fighters each time the clashes erupt.
Tony Badran’s analysis of Iran and Hezbollah shows that the conflict in Tripoli, is a microcosm of the primary conflict in the Middle East.
In the 1990s, there was an attempt to cover up the overt sectarianism of the previous decade. Hezbollah posed as the ultimate banner carrier of Palestine and of ‘resistance’ against Israel. It crafted and perfected an image of itself as a pan-Islamic and pan-Arab resistance movement and as big brother to other – Sunni – ‘resistance’ movements. While this was important image management, one that conferred more legitimacy on the group and its Iranian patron, it also opened the door operationally to spread Iranian influence to other militant groups in the region. Hezbollah’s training of Iraqi Shiite groups, to say nothing of Hamas, is one example.
By 2005, this image had already begun to fade and by 2008 it was, for all intents and purposes, finished. However, while the heyday of ‘resistance’ stardom is now gone, the operational infrastructure built over the last two decades is not.
The difference is that the sectarian underpinnings are once again clear. As analyst Jonathan Spyer put it, “a Sunni-Shiite arc of conflict, centered on the rival interests of Tehran and Riyadh is now bisecting the Middle East.” It’s now recognized that Hezbollah is actively on the ground on all these fronts, advancing Iran’s strategic interests. Aside from its combat role in Syria, Hezbollah/Quds Force cells have been active in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and probably Bahrain, in addition to cases such as the busted cell in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the Saudi cell appears to resemble another cell disrupted in Kuwait in 2010, where a Lebanese man was the key liaison between the locals and the Iranians. But the case of Yemen perhaps best illustrates the original conception Iran had for Hezbollah’s role.
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