As staff at some of the world's most prestigious press organizations effectively take Hezbollah's side in its war with Israel, they inadvertently expose a profound transformation in the logic of warfare.
Some examples of their actions:
Reuters: Adnan Hajj, a freelance photographer with more than a decade of experience at Reuters, doctored his pictures to make Israeli attacks on Lebanon look more destructive and Lebanese more vulnerable. His embellishments created thicker and darker plumes of smoke from bombing raids and posed the same woman bewailing the loss of her bombed-out residence in three different locations. Reuters fired Mr. Hajj and withdrew 920 of his pictures from its archive. Further research by bloggers uncovered four types of fraudulent pictures by Reuters, all exaggerating Israeli aggressiveness. The bloggers even documented how a Reuters picture was staged.
The BBC: Editors actively trolled for personal accounts to demonize Israel, posting this request on its news pages: "Do you live in Gaza? Have you been affected by violence in the region? Send us your experiences using the form below. If you are happy to speak to us further please include contact details."
CNN: An anchor on its international program, Rosemary Church, implied that Israeli forces could shoot down Hezbollah's rockets but chose not to do so when she asked an Israeli spokesman, "would Israel not be trying to shoot them out of the sky? They have the capability to do that."
The Washington Post: Similarly, a military affairs reporter, Thomas Ricks, announced on national television that unnamed American military analysts believe that the Israeli government "purposely has left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they're being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon." Having one's own people injured, he explained, offers "the moral high ground."
All these press and broadcast activities stem from a perception that taking casualties and looking victimized helps one's standing in the war. Mr. Hajj's distortions, for example, were calculated to injure Israel's image, thereby manufacturing internal dissent, diminishing the country's international standing, and generating pressure on the government to stop its attacks on Lebanon.
But this phenomenon of each side parading its pain and loss inverts the historic order, whereby each side wants to intimidate the enemy by appearing ferocious, relentless, and victorious. In World War II, for instance, the U.S. Office of War Information prohibited the publication of films or photographs showing dead American soldiers for the first two years of fighting, and then only slightly relented. Meanwhile, its Bureau of Motion Pictures produced movies like "Our Enemy – The Japanese," showing dead bodies of Japanese and scenes of Japanese deprivation.
Proclaiming one's prowess and denigrating the enemy's has been the norm through millennia of Egyptian wall paintings, Greek vases, Arabic poetry, Chinese drawings, English ballads, and Russian theater. Why have combatants (and their allies in the press) now reversed this age-old and universal pattern, downplaying their own prowess and promoting the enemy's?
Because of the unprecedented power enjoyed by America and its allies. As the historian Paul Kennedy explained in 2002, "in military terms there is only one player on the field that counts." Looking back in time, he finds, "Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power; nothing." And Israel, both as a regional power in its own right and as a close ally of Washington, enjoys a parallel preponderance vis-ŕ-vis Hezbollah.
Such power implies that, when West fights non-West, the outcome on the battlefield is a given. That settled in advance, the fighting is seen more like a police raid than traditional warfare. As in a police raid, modern wars are judged by their legality, the duration of hostilities, the proportionality of force, the severity of casualties, and the extent of economic and environmental damage.
These are all debatable issues, and debated they are, to the point that the Clausewitzian center of gravity has moved from the battlefield to the opeds and talking heads. How war is perceived has as much importance as how it actually is fought.
This new reality implies that Western governments, whether America in Iraq or Israel in Lebanon, needs to see public relations as part of their strategy. Hezbollah has adapted to this new fact of life, but those governments have not.
Aug. 15, 2006 update: In an undated posting, Alex Safian of CAMERA posts this sort-of retraction by Thomas Ricks in a note to the Washington Post ombudsman, referring to his comment quoted above:
Ugh. I wish I hadn't. I'll attach a transcript at the end. What I said was accurate: that in an off-the-record conversation with military analysts, a couple had suggested that the Israeli strategy involved leaving Hezbellah 'rocket pockets' in place so as to shape public perceptions and give their forces more freedom of maneuver in Lebanon. Such a strategy might be considered logical and even moral, in that while suffering some short-term casualties, it would provide more protection for more Israelis in the long run.
But I've since heard from some smart, well-informed people that while such a strategy might be logical, that the Israeli public just wouldn't stand for it. And they were pretty dismayed that I has passed on the thought.
My comments were based on a long conversation I had with a senior Israeli official a couple of years ago …
Safian finds an inconsistency and thus a "serious problem" in this note:
on CNN's Reliable Sources Mr. Ricks described his source as "some U.S. military analysts," while in the note he describes his source as "a senior Israeli official." Which raises the question of whether Mr. Ricks had any source at all – besides himself, that is.
Lebanon Ceasefire A Net Victory For Israel And The U.S.
August 15, 2006 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - Despite brave speeches by Hezbollah's leadership, the presence of fireworks in Beirut - as if exploding 155mm howitzer projectiles, smart bombs and missiles wasn't enough over the last 30 or so days - and the tired hand puppet act of much of the nation's press, Nasrallah lost this battle, and he did so decisively.
Claims to the contrary, considering the depth of damage inflicted on the group, many more victories like this and the Hezbohs can be written off the world stage forever.
It is important to realize that this lull in the fighting...ceasefire...or whatever you might want to call it is only an interlude between the previous and the next state of belligerence. Regardless, this action accomplished many things...all of them positives for Israel except one - the obvious negative being that Israel was not successful in repatriating its two captured soldiers. The silver lining on that aspect is that now Jewish lefties will not be able to commingle their voices with Nasrallah in demanding the release of the infamous Hezbollah terrorist - and child killer - Samir Kuntar as part of a prisoner exchange.
Aside from that consideration, Hezbollah's ability to carry out further attacks has been degraded and that is really the bottom line.
To a great extent, the geo-politics of the issue overrides the legitimate but insular security concerns of Israel because Hezbollah, being totally subservient to Iran, poses a threat to more than its local neighbors and now it is less a danger.
The Iran/Hezbollah nexus has, and continues to be a source of concern to administration strategists looking forward to the time when Iran must finally be dealt with militarily. Consideration was obviously given to the mini-rampage of political assassinations - undertaken at the specific direction of Iran's mullah's - that befell France at the hands of Hezbollah in 1985 and 1986 as a possible future MO, and anything to degrade the group's reach outside of Lebanon has to be looked upon as a good thing.
Of course Iran's planners also see this only as a time to reload and rebuild, to them this is not a ceasefire but a hudna - the long employed Muslim military tactic of declaring peace while at the same time planning further aggression - but their capacity has been weakened.
Iran's purpose behind Hezbollah's attack was at least three fold...
One, anything which causes pain to Israel is a good thing, the supreme commandment in Iran's book of Jew hating. Two, to redirect world attention away from the nuclear chicken game Ahmadinejad is playing and three, to advance Shiite interests in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia among the Usuli Shiites, who hail from the eastern part of the kingdom - al-Hasa, the oil-producing center of the country.
The media - and surpsingly many rightie pundits - have spun the perception, that Nasrallah and Hezbollah have won this conflict - albeit with smoke and mirrors, since much of their infrastructure is still smoldering from the pounding that was administered by the IDF - and from that have predicted increased stature for the organization across the board in the Middle East.
That conclusion is incorrect.
Truth is that Iran's moves have alarmed the more staid Arab nations and has hastened the crumbling dream of pan-Arabism. Thus Hezbollahs actions have reduced the group's reach and hampered its agenda.
Many of Hezbollah's supply lines have been cut, its resources depleted and its infrastructure decimated. It has been physically pushed north of the Litani river and will now have to contend with an amalgam of additional and outside forces [peacekeepers? - not on your life, but an impediment nonetheless operating under the rather low standards of the U.N. as well as 15,000 Lebanese soldiers.
Additionally the Bush administration stood in a steadfast manner with Israel in this conflict, mitigating the weasel influences of the Clintonistas over at the Dept. of State and defying 'world opinion' such as it is.
Both of these are excellent developments, as is the possibility of the Olmert/Kadima party falling to more hawklike forces who will prosecute the next battle in a more savage manner.
After-action assessments should allow Israel time to reconsider its poor grasp of media relations as well as hopefully killing its humanitarianism in dealing with civilians who harbor [uninentionally or with full knowledge and support, as was generally the case in Lebanon] terrorists.
The extraordinary degree to which Israel went in attempting to limit civilian casualties, even in populations which fully supported Hezbollah might well be no more - say goodbye - hopefully - to warning terror harborers via leafletting, Arab language radio broadcasts and even through courtesy telephone calls to private residences in harm's way.
To those that say Hezbollah had to be militarily defeated for this to be looked upon as a success let us look to history. Hezbollah replaced the PLO when the terrorist groups leader - Yasser Arafat - was defeated, forced out of Beirut in August of 1982 by an Israeli invasion mounted as a response to her ambassadors having been attacked in London by a faction of the group.
PLO defeated in Lebanon, Hezbolla takes over, did Israel prosper?
Hardly, so the estimation of win or loss turns on a more delicate calculation, which we believe in large part favors Israel, at this juncture. Therefore this event only looms as a defeat if one's gauge of such only accepts total defeat of Islamism in a single sortie, one in which the U.S. has played a very limited role - though not denying the cooperation that Israel got in this effort from the Pentagon as far a planning and most likely intelligence.
It's clear that this is by no means the final battle, but as these things go it could have turned out much worse and therefore the event has to be seen as a net plus.
Arabs and Muslims from Iran, Hizbullah and the PA are celebrating Israel's acceptance of the UN ceasefire, dubbing it a "surrender" and calling on Arab states to attack the new "weak" Israel.
"After one month of war against Lebanon's resistance, Israelis are the absolute losers and Hizbullah is the absolute winner of the war," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamida-Reza Asefi said Sunday. "The occupiers of Jerusalem failed, despite their military, economic, intelligence and diplomatic backings."
The Iranian official said the Islamic Republic of Iran is "very pleased" with the ceasefire, according to state-run Iranian news agency IRNA. He warned, though, that attacks on Israel would continue as long as "occupation lingers." He declined to outline whether occupation included retaining sovereignty in regions such as the Galilee – which Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah has termed "settlements" in his wartime addresses. "Let us not forget that as long as there is occupation there is resistance," he added.
Hizbullah central council member Ahmed Barakat told Qatari newspaper al-Watan Sunday, "Today Arab and Muslim society is reasonably certain that the defeat of Israel is possible, and that countdown to the disappearance of the Zionist entity in the region has begun… If a mere organization succeeded in defeating Israel, why would Arab nations not succeed in doing so if they allied? Many Arabs and Muslims viewed Israel in a fictional way and the resistance has succeeded in changing this."
Barakat boasted that none of Hizbullah's leadership were injured, and that the group still possesses thousands of rockets and other "surprises" for use in the days following the implementation of the UN ceasefire. He added that the remaining missiles and weapons allow Hizbullah to strike Israel from afar and do not require the group to be near Israel's border.
Photos of Hizbullah-leader Hassan Nasrallah "hang everywhere in Ramallah," according to Al-Jazeera, "covering the walls and shop fronts and plastered across T-shirts and demonstration banners." The number-one song in Ramallah this summer, "blaring [repeatedly] out of shops and streets stalls," is "The Eagle of Lebanon," referring to the Hizbullah chief.
"Secularists, Christians and Muslims alike refer to the Hizbullah leader as Palestine's newest and truest hero," the Al-Jazeera report states. "Back at Manara square in Ramallah, Waleed Ayyoub is still selling the Nasrallah images to ‘all people of all ages - even little children.' He is especially proud of a sale made to an Arab-Israeli woman from Haifa, fleeing the Katyusha attacks on her city."