The only reason Israel has been able to survive in the Middle East, and even to flourish there, is because its enemies’ armies are incompetent. When asked how and why Israelis win every battle, the celebrated general Moshe Dayan said it’s because they fight Arabs. “We’re a feuding people, not a warring people,” Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi said to me once in Beirut. “We haven’t been good at war for hundreds of years.” If Arabs could fight as effectively as, say, the Russians, Israel would have ceased to exist long ago. Most likely it would have died before its first birthday. Syrian and Egyptian armies tried three times to destroy the Jewish state, and the Jordanian army tried twice. Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization have spent decades harassing Israel with terrorist, guerrilla, and low-level rocket attacks, but they’ve never come close to threatening the country’s existence.
Hezbollah—Lebanon’s Syrian- and Iranian-sponsored Party of God—is different. Hezbollah is the most formidable non-state army in the world and by far the deadliest and most effective fighting force ever fielded against Israel. And it’s just as sworn to Israel’s destruction as the would-be conquerors of the past.
(…)It began as a shadowy, ragtag terrorist-guerrilla group during the crucible of Lebanon’s civil war. After Israel’s withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah transformed itself into a wholly original hybrid of guerrilla army and conventional army. The Party of God’s partisans didn’t even have their own name in the early years. They made themselves famous with hostage-taking and airplane hijackings, but their most potent innovation—which transformed the face of the region—was the suicide bomber.
(…)Today, Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal is larger than that of most national armies. Not only does it stock thousands of relatively weak Katyusha rockets in bunkers, houses, and hillside launch sites; it also has ballistic missiles that can blow skyscrapers off the map in Tel Aviv. Its conventional strength means that it can now wreak far more havoc than a mere terrorist organization, but its well-honed guerrilla tactics make it just as hard to defeat.
(…)Blanford refrains from condemning Hezbollah outright—partly, no doubt, because he wants to retain his nearly unparalleled access to its spokesmen, but also because it isn’t necessary. Readers seeking denunciations of terrorism and “resistance” will have to look elsewhere. The Party of God’s own actions and words suffice well enough to condemn it. If calls to destroy a sovereign U.N. member state don’t bother you, there isn’t much Blanford or anyone else can say that will change your mind.
While Blanford’s focus is Hezbollah, the portrait he paints of the Israeli occupation isn’t flattering, either. Israelis of nearly all political persuasions view Lebanon as their Vietnam, so to speak, since one disaster and botched operation after another led to an all-but inevitable defeat and withdrawal. Blanford, though, does a better job here than most of his Beirut-based colleagues. He’s seemingly aware, without actually saying so, that Israel is the subject of hysterical lies every day in the Arab world, and he almost always takes great care before accusing Israel of any wrongdoing.
Michael J. Totten is a contributing editor at City Journal. His first book, The Road to Fatima Gate, recently won the Washington Institute’s Silver Book Prize.
The above article was published in city-journal.org on March 9th, 2012.