Why Hezbollah attacked when it did

posted at 12:25 pm on July 22, 2006 by Bryan

I may be late getting to this analysis, though I haven’t seen it anywhere else.

The big question–I’ve heard it from friends and family, on TV, sluicing throught the tubes of the internets–is why did Hezbollah choose to attack Israel now? By which, people are actually asking, why did Iran choose to attack Israel now? Because the whole world knows that Iran pulls the strings that make Hezbollah move.

On the surface the timing of the attack seems illogical–Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons yet, but if things continue on their present course, will have them within 3 to 5 years and could then command the heights among its non-nuclear neighbors. Israel has done everything the so-called international community wanted it to do, pulling out of Lebanon in 2000 and out of the Palestinian territories last year, and thus had earned some sympathy from the world. It should have had that sympathy all along, but never mind that. Patience, though, would be in Iran’s favor. Israel can’t hold the world’s sympathy for very long–there is too much reflexive hatred for it worldwide. In a few short years Iran could put itself into a position to destroy Israel before she could respond. If Iran thinks it has that time, a patient strategy would make sense.

But this story (h/t Captain’s Quarters) hints at an answer. In it, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah claims that his group is now the defacto government of Lebanon. Which means, at least in his thinking, Hezbollah has replaced a democratically-elected government that was hostile to Syria and Iran. And given the relative strengths of Hezbollah and the Lebanese army, he’s probably more right than wrong at this point.

Think back to the Cedar Revolution last year. Sparked by the Syrian assassination of Rafik Hariri, it was a defeat for Syria and by extension Iran, and a victory for the US program of democratizing the Middle East. It had turned many Lebanese including prominent political figures like Walid Jumblatt against the Syrians and toward the US and even its Iraq policies. Seen from Tehran and Damascus, the Cedar Revolution was a major defeat, and one that could not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

The democratization program is a dagger at the throat of the mullahs. It is the greatest single threat to their power. As we’ve seen in the Palestinian Authority, democratization doesn’t necessarily mean Arab Thomas Jeffersons will take power. It probably does mean, though, the end of the mullahs’ rule once it reaches Iran. Therefore to the mullahs, it’s an unacceptable threat no matter who ends up replacing them.

The Iranians have been doing everything short of outright invasion to destabilize our efforts in Iraq, the centerpiece of the democratization effort. Iraq’s security forces and army get a little stronger everyday, which means Iraq inches closer to self-sufficiency (in spite of the daily terrorist attacks and whispers of civil war), which means every day brings real democracy (a real challenge to their power) a little bit closer to the mullahs’ frontier. From their point of view, anyway.

Israel is always a convenient target to attack for a Muslim power that wants to fracture coalitions or destabilize the region. We saw that in the first Gulf War, when Saddam tried to pull Israel into the war by lobbing SCUDs at Tel Aviv. Pulling Israel in would have fractured the Coalition, peeling off the strong Arab contingent. The effort failed, but from Saddam’s point of view it was a shot he had to take. There was no way he could possibly defeat the huge force then arrayed against him, so he had to divide it against itself.

Fast forward to today, and attacking Israel now may be the shot the mullahs have to take, before Iraq is self-sufficient and before democracy takes root in Lebanon and spreads further. Using Lebanon as a forward base makes sense from a logistics point of view and from a political one. The Lebanese government, an infant democracy, is not yet strong enough to resist Hezbollah (assuming it even wants to) and isn’t fully rid of Syrian influence. Destabilizing it makes sense from both an Iranian and Syrian point of view–as a relatively cosmopolitan if weak democracy, its existence is a threat. Handing it to Hezbollah by inflaming rage against Israel and highlighting the impotence of Lebanon’s democratic government hands Iran a little piece of empire right on Israel’s doorstep, and weakens nascent faith in democracy. And if it succeeds, Israel is weakened and America takes a proxy defeat. Seen this way, Hezbollah’s rocket strikes opened up an Iranian/Syrian counterattack against the US and its broad plans to re-shape the Middle East.

If I’m right about this, Israel can’t settle for weaking Hezbollah. Israel has to degrade Hezbollah to the point that it’s no longer an effective tool for the Iranians, and so that it no longer holds Lebanon as Iran’s vassal state. That’s a tall order: Hezbollah is dug in and most likely getting resupplied by Tehran and Damascus even now. Air strikes and incursions into southern Lebanon may not be enough to blunt this ideological bulge battle.

Update: According to MENewsline, Iran trained Hezbollah for six months prior to the July 12 attack that sparked the war. Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, says the Hez rocket offensive is part of Iran’s war with the West. Pat Buchanan would say that that’s Israel’s way of trying to get us deeper into the war on its side, but then again Pitchfork Pat probably won’t acknowledge that Hezbollah has attacked and killed Americans over and over again. Which it has.

(h/t Chris)

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Deeper than that… your assertion that Iran is 3-5 years away from a nuc wep??? It only took 3 years for the Manhatan project to create the first 3 nucs from scratch, without knowing how to do it…

60 years later, with more knowledge, and MUCH better technology, you don’t think they can do it faster??? Especialy when they have been working towards this day for years already???

Iran is playing for time… stirring the pot to take attention away from their primary goal… to become a Member of the Nuclear Club.

Romeo13 on July 22, 2006 at 1:09 PM

Three to five years is the world’s current guess. With North Korean help they can get there faster, and probably will unless they’re stopped. But whatever that timetable is, they don’t appear to have the bomb right now, and that’s why it’s worth wondering why they started this phase of the war right now.

Bryan on July 22, 2006 at 1:13 PM

Ahhh… but they are not fighting… they are letting their Proxy start an action which can only have two major results…

1. Israel invades and disarms Hez… as this is happening in an area that is NOT legaly controled by an ally, they are essentialy fighting a forward deployed action…much as we are in Iraq…

2. UN intervenes and places more troops on the border between Israel and Leb… creating a foreign invasion of Arab land… and creating a target rich environment. This has been somewhat defeated already due to France, Italy, and Russia volunteering troops… Iran probably thought America would volunteer… spreading us even thinner.

I also think that they miscalculated the response from Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia… who are blaming Hez for the trouble…

Either way… I think it is still all about Nuclear Weapons.

They now say they will give us their answer on Aug 22… over a month from now… and that answer will be??? Lets talk… in a month or two… meanwhile they will continue to enrich uranium in both the locations we know about, and those we don’t.

Romeo13 on July 22, 2006 at 1:28 PM


Might want to peruse this as well… Gas centrifuges are only ONE way to get the fissile material you need for a weapon.

Especialy read up on the one that the IRAQIS had built…

Interesting read… key here is that Iran has created the Gas needed for all of these seperation techniques.

Romeo13 on July 22, 2006 at 1:52 PM

I think Bryan is right. But I don’t think it matters. If you put a column on the left with “explanations and rational causes” and “best course of action” on the right hand coulum. The solutions are all the same. Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Palistine, all need to be totally and relatively permanently (for several generations like Japan) disarmed.

CountryDoc on July 22, 2006 at 1:53 PM

I was just going to say basically the same thing as CountryDoc, with the added point that we should ALWAYS look to destroy all of these groups whenever and wherever possible. There is no good to Western Civilization to allow any of them to keep working towards their goals of destruction.

bbz123 on July 22, 2006 at 1:59 PM

It is like a cancer. You don’t sit an watch something that might be destroying your body for long. If it looks destructive, you get it out, then ask questions later. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to be in a situation where removing the cancer will also kill the patient.

What long term benefit for the world in the long range plan of the muslim faith? As Bryan points out, they are excellent and patient strategists — but for what purpose? My fears for them are not just prejudicial speculations. Their “holy” book says I must die, my family and countyry must be destroyed. Their leaders continue to express thier intention to destroy not only Israel my my country as well. Their actions confirm their intent to carry out this plan.

We are way past preemptive strike time. It is time to neutralize the cancer — decisively. Every handwringing day that we deliberate only increases the destruction of the rest of the world will by to iradicate the cancer from the rest of the world’s societies.

CountryDoc on July 22, 2006 at 2:42 PM

I agree with Bryan but something else is driving this as well. I keep reading references by the NIC (nutjob in charge) in Iran about the coming of the 12th Imam. There are repeated references to that event being soon ..as in August. The NIC wants very very much to spark extreme violence so as to hasten the return which is supposed to happen during that violence. Dont forget, the NIC built a brand new highway from the well to Tehran specifically for the imam to travel when he reappears.
I believe the NIC is very determined to bring about the return and will stop at nothing to help it happen.

labwrs on July 22, 2006 at 5:22 PM

Certainly some good points, but I disagree on one: Nuclear weapons.

Is is really safe to assume that Iran hasn’t PURCHASED one or more nuclear weapons from the ex-Soviet Union stockpiles (although maintainence of those is problematic), From North Korea or maybe even Pakistan?

And according to the reports I’ve read about the equipment, raw materials and other infrastructure that are more or less verified; my calculations are that Iran is only one month, possibly two from being able to produce their own crude multi-kiloton “Atomic” weapons. Sophisticated megaton true nuclear devices may be a few years away at the present pace…

But thinking that it will take Iran 5 years to be able to deploy nuclear weapons is, IMHO, ‘whistling past the graveyard”.

LegendHasIt on July 22, 2006 at 7:23 PM

I agree about the weakness of the parts of the Lebanese government that are separate from hizbullah.

The problem is there are aspects of the Lebanese gov’t that are democratically elected and legitimate. But the terror group Hizbullah is ALSO a part of that government (elected) and it is the puppet of Syria and Iran. Worse, Hizbullah has NOT acted as a part of a democratic government but has just done what ever it feels like doing (in areas they control) WITHOUT asking, or cooperating with the REST of the Lebanese government.

Worse still, the Christian parts of the elected government have what they call a “paper of understanding” with Hizbullah whereby they don’t attack each other and have a truce. A pact made with the devil.

So, even though a large part of Lebanon is Christian, that Christian part is ALLOWING Hizbullah to deal with the Syrians so that they can get armed and kill Jews.

So, Lebanon is GUILTY all the way through, Muslim, Christian and otherwise. And Hizbullah is a puppet of Syria/Iran, so they are ALSO guilty!

Warner Todd Huston on July 22, 2006 at 11:48 PM

Thats the problem with a Democracy… just cause they have the vote, does not mean that they will make any different choices than what the leaders would have anyway….

the idea that Democracies do not start wars is historicaly inaccurate… whether France in the first days of the Revolution… America… Britain… or Nazi Germany (Hitler was elected ya know), or even Italy in WWII… democracies are do not inherently have more wisdom than any other form of government IMO.

Iran’s government is elected…. go figure….

Romeo13 on July 22, 2006 at 11:53 PM

Iran’s government is elected…. go figure….

From among the Mullah approved candidates. It’s not a democracy by any stretch.

Pablo on July 23, 2006 at 6:02 AM

It only took 3 years for the Manhatan project to create the first 3 nucs from scratch, without knowing how to do it…

Romeo13 on July 22, 2006 at 1:09 PM

True it only took the U.S. 3 years to build their first nukes, BUT, the people involved already had a working knowledge of the problem. The Manhattan Project did not start really from scratch.

Let’s analyze this for a minute:

Much theoretical design work and testing of many sub pieces of the project where completed well before the decision by U.S. to actually try and make a bomb. In fact, German expatriate scientists where the one’s who actually built our first bomb, and they had been working on the problem for 20+ years prior to WWII.

While Romeo13 points out, correctly, that it doesn’t take that long to build such a device. And acknowledging that much of the technology and science of such a project is public scientific knowledge now. We must remember that a the significant pieces still missing in Iran involve targeting, delivery, ignition of such a weapon system.

Iran’s dilemma is that they can’t test their ability to ignite such a device without tipping-off the rest of the world to their capabilities. We won’t know, probably, until they actually set off a bomb.

Now, why is Romeo13’s comments so critical to the discussion?

Because, we do know that Iran has the missile technology to target and deliver with some level of accuracy.

So, theoretically, Iran could already have a working (although untested) nuclear weapon of unknown range.

Very scary to contemplate.

Lawrence on July 23, 2006 at 8:27 AM

No doubt that that talking cockroach in Iran is nuts. But there’re crazy nuts like Hitler, and there’re smart nuts like Stalin. If Iran just stands there and lets Israel squash their all their little friends in Lebanon and Gaza, I’d judge we’red dealing with the latter variety, which are cleverer, more patient and more dangerous. If, on the other hand, they try to do an Adolf on Israel, which is what they keep promising, well, I for one will breath a fervent “thank you, Lord”, while that nation blows the whole damn lot of them high, high into the sky to meet their virgins.

dhimwit on July 23, 2006 at 11:22 AM

Another thing to consider is that the Moslems seem to base their strategies on their hatred for Israel and it’s not easy to think logically when you are consumed with hatred. They also seem to have learned nothing about their many defeats to Israel over the past 60 years. Another possible consideration is the arrogance of their leaders which causes them to misread the intentions of other nations particularly the USA which Saddam obviously did when he made the strategic blunder of invading Kuwait.

docdave on July 23, 2006 at 2:15 PM

Some very good points are being discussed here. labwrs suggestion that Ahmadenejad (NIC) is trying to hasten the return of the 12th Iman should be examined more.
Remember that the Muslims are delusional about a god named Allah who doesn’t exist. If Ahmadenejad were some old grumpy guy on a NY parkbench, his delusions wouldn’t matter. But as the puppet President for insane Mullahs, his delusions conflict with our reality. If he believes the 12th Imam will show up if he creates enough chaos, he would nuke Israel. I think he would nuke his own people to usher in the 12th Imam. In order to create the most chaos, he might plan to nuke/confound/destroy the most powerful country in the world . Stop him now, stop Iran now, before it’s too late.

Doug on July 23, 2006 at 2:44 PM

Maybe Hassan Nasrallah wishes to fill the void created by the death of Al-Zarqavi and the death or incapacitation of Bin Laden.

Such power-grabbing can’t make Ahmadinejad too happy, one wonders…

Nasrallah needs the same ‘medicine’ as Zarqavi and Ahmed Yassin. Both were incredible ‘treatments’.

Entelechy on July 23, 2006 at 4:37 PM

Fundamentally, Hezbollah attacked at the time of their choice, because neither Israel nor the United States attacked at the time of their own choice.

Kralizec on July 23, 2006 at 11:04 PM

On the topic of Hamas and Hezbollah as pawns of Iran, Mark Steyn points out that the Arab League have realized they’ve lost control of Lebanon, the west bank of the Jordan, and the Gaza strip to Iran; that is, they’ve lost control of Arab lands to the Persians. Thus, they see that Israel is fighting their war for them.

Kralizec on July 23, 2006 at 11:35 PM

Another great analysis here!

Perfect prep for the MSM’s evening broadcasts.

NTWR on July 24, 2006 at 1:16 PM

Great post Bryan.

Cary on July 24, 2006 at 2:03 PM