August 2, 2006 | Scripps Howard News Service

Hezbollah’s Psych-Ops

Hezbollah and its foreign sponsors deserve credit: They understand the perverse psychology of the Middle East. They knew they could launch a war against Israel and then have Israel get the blame for the devastation that inevitably would follow.

They knew also that if Israel failed to respond forcefully to their ground and missile attacks, they could say Israel was cowardly. And if Israel did respond forcefully, they could say Israel was a bully, its response “disproportionate” – even while insisting that Israel was doing them no serious damage. 

They knew they could target Israeli civilians and hide combatants and weapons behind Lebanese civilians — in homes, hospitals, schools and mosques. Even so, whenever Lebanese women and children were killed, they could accuse Israel of “war crimes.”

Give Hezbollah, Syria and Iran credit for this, too: They understand the equally perverse psychology of Europe, the U.N. and the “international community.” Two years ago, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 demanded that Hezbollah disarm. Hezbollah refused to comply. In response, the international community shrugged its collective shoulders. 

Meanwhile, Hezbollah has been taking delivery of increasingly advanced weaponry from Syria and Iran – while U.N “peacekeepers” in southern Lebanon avert their gaze. 

These peacekeepers remain silent even as Hezbollah fires those missiles at Haifa, the one city in the Middle East where Jews, Christians and Muslims most successfully coexist. And when Hezbollah uses the otherwise useless UN peacekeepers as human shields and some are killed, the UN and Europe are outraged – not at Hezbollah for this blatant violation of international law but, again, at Israel. 

Hezbollah's leaders figured correctly that it would not be long before Europeans would be calling for a cease-fire – one that would reward Hezbollah by allowing it to remain armed, effectively repealing UN Resolution 1559, and to acquire new and better weapons for future use. 

Many Europeans and some Americans also are calling for Syria and Iran to be offered “incentives” in exchange for helping to end the conflict they started. What if Syria and Iran accept such tributes, promise to rein in Hezbollah and then don't? That's the nice thing about appeasement: The appeasers always have something more they are eager to give and the appeased always have something more they are eager to receive.

Give credit where it is due: Hezbollah propagandists understand how to manipulate the Western media. They show reporters bombed buildings and dead bodies. They say: “These were innocent civilians. No fighters or weapons here.” The news crews report what they are told and shown without verification – out of ignorance or fear or both. Hezbollah exaggerates its battlefield successes and understates its losses and, with too few exceptions, the media take it in and spew it back out. 

If progress is to be made in the Middle East, it must begin with an understanding of the psychology of Hezbollah and its supporters. Hezbollah's immediate goal is not to drive Israelis into sea – that's for later — but only to establish itself as the dominant force in Lebanon, politically as well as militarily. If that happens, the dream of Lebanese democracy would again be deferred. Anyone who wants to live in Lebanon –“live” in the existential sense – would have to cut a deal with Hezbollah.

Syria's goal is obvious: It wants to again be the colossus of the Levant. With a war-hardened Hezbollah at its side, Syria would “restore stability” to Lebanon, perhaps by returning as the occupying power, carrying out assassinations of Lebanese patriots with impunity as it has in the past. 

Finally, Iran's ambitions: nothing less than to be recognized as the leader of the global jihad against the West. Al-Qaeda would have to accept the status of junior partner in the Holy War against the Great Satan and the Little Satan and all the other sundry Satans.

If Iran can successfully project power against Israel using its Lebanese proxy what would stop it from utilizing other branches of Hezbollah in other corners of the world to achieve similar results? What could stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and using those weapons to impose its will wherever and whenever it chooses? A UN resolution? One like 1559 perhaps?

Clearly, for these goals to be achieved would not be in the Lebanese, Israeli, American or European interest — nor would the vast majority of the world's Arabs and Muslims benefit from such an outcome.

But give Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and other Islamist Fascists credit: They understand the perverse psychology of their enemies, the infidels. They know how to confuse us, how to divide us and, in time, they are confident they will do much more to us than that.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.


Hezbollah International Organizations Iran Lebanon Syria