Can force fell Hizbullah?
Sheer might may curb Hizbullah's ability to strike, but it won't eradicate the militant group, analysts say.
As Israel continues to strike inside Lebanon in a bid to rout Hizbullah, the radical Islamist group is using two weapons to wage war: rockets and, more effective, TV images of civilian destruction inflicted by Israeli bombs.Skip to next paragraph
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The latter "weapon," broadcast over the Hizbullah-run TV station Al Manar to pump up Arab sympathies, may in the end be more powerful than Israel's military punch – a counterpunch to Israel's assertion it can crush Hizbullah through use of force.
Though Israel has eroded the militant group's ability to inflict harm, Hizbullah may in fact be pleased with the results of the violent crisis it touched off over a week ago. Its position in the area – as a service-provider in a longtime stateless zone and as a vent for Arab anger and disappointment over dashed economic and political hopes – remains secure, many experts say.
Under this scenario, analysts add, Hizbullah is here to stay – at least for the indefinite future.
Military force, no matter how overwhelming, simply can't be counted on to crush the militants, they say. It might even be what they want.
"Since many terrorist groups are caught up in notions of cosmic war – grand struggles of religious dimensions – they in fact welcome overt warfare since it vindicates their views of the war, a war whose timelines are very long," says Mark Juergensmeyer, a specialist in "new terrorism" at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who visited Lebanon just before bombs began to fall. "A siege is exactly what they want – it keeps them motivated."
Military force has successfully eradicated radical groups in the past, but under very different circumstances. The Maoist Shining Path organization that dominated and terrorized parts of Peru in the 1980s was finally obliterated by relentless search-and-destroy missions and long-term imprisonment of leaders.
But perhaps the key factor was not the military campaign but the evolution of South America. Shining Path was doomed by the waning of radical thinking in a decreasingly ideological region.
That is not the case in the Middle East, where radical Islam, religious nationalism, and "jihadism" are on the rise – witness the electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, Hizbullah's rise through elections to a minority role in the Lebanese government, and the tenacious popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
"Hizbullah is particularly deep-rooted, and the Hamas government [in the Palestinian territories] is a fixture for some time to come, so they have to be seen as factors that are here to stay, at least for the medium to long term," says Mahan Abedin, an expert in radical Islamic groups at the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence in London.
What Israel can accomplish through its military campaign, others say, is a weakening of Hizbullah's ability to strike Israeli territory with missiles and rockets. But even that effort, they add, comes with collateral risks.