Last night, I awoke haunted by images of children’s bodies being pulled from the rubble in Lebanon. I couldn’t sleep for hours, thinking about the brutality of war and responsibility for the carnage. My heart ached with grief.
In any war, mistakes happen, horrible mistakes. This may have been one. But who is the real culprit?
International law defines using civilians as human shields as a war crime. Hezbollah is violating Article 58 of Protocol 1, which requires parties to a conflict to “Avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.”
Israel is within its rights to pursue Hezbollah in populated areas: Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.”
Hezbollah (and Palestinian terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad), routinely commit war crimes by locating their command outposts, weapons and ammo storage, and rocket launchers in residential areas. Terrorists are war criminals, not those who fight them.
The current war launched by Hezbollah and Hamas — and their Iranian sponsors — is not just about Israel. Israel is a convenient target in the neighborhood: a “Small Satan,” a proxy and a symbol of the “Great Satan” — the U.S.
Jihadis openly and repeatedly proclaim to their faithful their double goal: a conversion of the whole Muslim world to their version of Islam, followed by enforced Islamization of the rest of world.
In modern jihadi warfare, the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Israel, are presented as aggressors whenever they are exercise self-defense — not against a religion, but a radical, totalitarian ideology that wants to enslave the world. In that narrative, terrorists are victims. As George Orwell wrote in” 1984,” “War is peace.”
The terrorists have coldly played the victim card for years — sending kids to throw stones at troops, shooting at soldiers while hiding behind the backs of women and children, wildly inflating casualty counts, hoping to provoke air strikes and artillery barrages to inflame the Arab “street” and whip up their version of “jihad.” They also use U.N. peacekeepers as human shields — they did it in 1996 in the same Lebanese village of Qana, and they’re doing it this war as well.
After rockets and bombs fall, the terrorists invite gullible reporters for a guided tour. They send out town criers ahead of the press tours who voice rehearsed lines for the people to repeat — always against America and Israel — and point fingers.
There is more than the cynical use of grief and blood here. Terrorists are redefining warfare in the 21st century. A picture and a sound-bite are as potent as a bullet or a missile. Bloody imagery and scenes of mourning are exploited to gain the sympathy of the world, manipulate the political environment and gain new recruits. Israel and the West may be more militarily potent, but the terrorists outsmart them, getting media and public opinion on their side. And somehow, the U.S. and Israeli military and government keep missing the point and failing to respond effectively.
Today, many in the European left and some among their North American counterparts support the causes of Hezbollah and Hamas. This though both radical Islamist organizations spew racist Jew-hatred and advocate a Shariah state (based on Islamic religious law), which denies the rights of women, non-Muslims and homosexuals, to mention a few.
In the jihadi scenario, imams are not just in charge of preaching murderous hatred. While Western strategists talk about “network-centric warfare,” radical Islamists practice it. They operate interconnected networks of jihadi clergy, who act as political leaders, military commanders, ideological commissars, recruiters, fund-raisers and community leaders.
The West is handicapped by an apparent inability to understand the many-faceted nature of the radical clerics, like Sheik Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah or Sheik Ahmad Yassin of Hamas. These are terror leaders and generals, pure and simple, busy radicalizing the home population and pushing Muslim youth toward violent hatred. Clerical disguise was one reason why Israel was summarily condemned for targeting Sheik Yassin, the late “spiritual leader” of Hamas.
Hamas and Hezbollah have deployed educational systems which resemble the Hitler Youth. Kids as young as 4 are brainwashed for murder and for blind obedience to the movement.
This is no longer your grandfather’s war — with clearly marked large formations of uniformed soldiers, with large tank divisions and fleets. There are no front lines, and propaganda is one of the most potent weapons.
The West needs to wake up. We have to design a new comprehensive antiterror doctrine. It should give tactical and strategic answers to jihadi terrorism by understanding the central role of politicized pseudo-religious networks at its core.
The West needs answers in the realms of foreign and defense policy, counterinsurgency and intelligence — something the U.S. and its allies have had a hard time developing so far. The new doctrine should also focus on fighting the battle for the hearts and minds of those who are misled, manipulated and used by terrorists today — here at home in the West — and in the Middle East.
Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.