On January 15 the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon is scheduled to issue
indictments against a number of Hizbullah operatives for the murder of former
Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. All of Lebanon and much
of the region is waiting in suspense that grows with each passing
The news that Hizbullah would be fingered by the prosecutors was
first made public in July.
Since then, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah
has threatened repeatedly to set fire to Lebanon and perhaps Israel if Daniel
Bellemare, the chief prosecutor, dares to go forward. Given Hizbullah’s track
record of war, murder and intimidation, no one doubts that the Iranian-proxy
force will keep its promise if it comes to that.
Almost immediately after
Hizbullah was named as the central suspect in Hariri’s assassination,
Hizbullah’s ally Syria began negotiating a deal with Saudi Arabia, which serves
as the patron of Lebanon’s Sunni community. The goal of these talks is to get
Hizbullah off the hook, “in order to preserve stability.”
clear this week that he will not be influenced by politics in dispatching his
duties to the law. If he is true to his word, then Hizbullah members will
certainly be indicted next month for assassinating Hariri.
means is that the most attractive option for Hizbullah and its allies right now
is to discredit the tribunal. To this end, Hizbullah has repeatedly
characterized the UN tribunal as an Israeli and American plot. Syria has
insisted that the Lebanese who testified before the tribunal gave false
While these allegations may have convinced their supporters,
both Syria and Hizbullah know that the only effective way to discredit the
tribunal is to coerce Hariri’s son, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to disavow the
tribunal and withdraw Lebanese governmental support for its
While such a move would probably have little impact on the
tribunal’s ultimate judgment, it might reduce the political impact of the
indictments for Hizbullah in Lebanon.
And so according to Haaretz, Syrian
dictator Bashar Assad and Saudi King Abdullah reached a deal in which Hariri Jr.
will disavow the tribunal.
In exchange, Hizbullah will agree not to
Hizbullah has not surprisingly announced its support for the
deal. Hariri has given a series of contradictory statements that lend to the
sense that he is trying to run out the clock. This week he met with Abdullah in
New York where the Saudi despot is undergoing medical treatment.
Wednesday he travelled to Saudi Arabia for further talks.
meantime, just to underline its willingness to make good on its threats, last
week Hizbullah had its affiliated trade union, the National Union for Labor
Syndicates, stage a protest against the government. As Hanin Ghadar at the NOW
Lebanon news portal noted, in the days leading up to the terror group’s coup in
May 2008, it had its labor affiliates stage similar protests.
brings us to the basic question of why is Hizbullah taking the tribunal so
seriously? What does it care if its members are indicted for murdering Hariri?
This is a terror group that has always been perfectly willing to kill in order
to get its way. And everyone knows it.
Hizbullah operatives killed Hariri
because he was irritating Nasrallah and Assad with all his talk about Lebanese
sovereignty. Then they killed parliamentarian after parliamentarian to deny
Hariri Jr.’s legislative majority the power to form a government or do anything
else without Hizbullah agreement. When even that was insufficient to force the
government to slavishly do its bidding, Hizbullah carried out its bloody coup in
May 2008 in order to take over effective control of the government and the
Lebanese Army. So, too, after the June 2009 elections, Hizbullah coerced members
of Hariri’s coalition to change sides and so prevented him from forming a
coalition without Hizbullah receiving veto power over all government
And even if Hizbullah did care about what its fellow Lebanese
think of it, the fact is that Hizbullah is not an independent actor. It is an
Iranian proxy. And the Iranians have made clear that they do not care what the
Iran’s supreme dictator Ali Khamenei announced earlier
this month that as far as Iran is concerned, the tribunal’s judgments are null
and void. In his words, “This court is a kangaroo court and every verdict it
issues is rejected.”
So again, why is Hizbullah so concerned about this
tribunal? Hizbullah is concerned because it understands the power of symbols.
No, its operatives will probably never be jailed for their crimes. But the
tribunal is a symbol. If Bellmare dares to defy Hizbullah, then others might
consider doing so.
On the other hand, if Hizbullah is able to coerce
Hariri to withdraw the Lebanese government’s support for the tribunal and
disavow its work, it will have demonstrated its strength and authority in a way
that will deter others from challenging it.
Hizbullah’s response to the
specter of the Special Tribunal is not only interesting for what it tells us
about prospects for Lebanon’s future and for regional stability and peace.
Hizbullah’s response to the threat that its members will be exposed as Hariri’s
assassins teaches us interesting lessons about the nature of information
Information warfare is not simply a question of competing
narratives, as it is often characterized in the West. Information war is a form
of warfare whose aim is to use words, symbols and images to force people to take
These actions can involve everything from war to terrorism
In closed societies, information warfare is used to cause
people to rally around the group conducting the information operation and to
mobilize supporters to act against the chosen enemy. For instance, when its
leadership is interested in inspiring terror attacks against Israel, the
Palestinian Authority broadcasts around the clock incitement against
On May 8, 2001, a group of Palestinians from a village adjacent
to the Israeli community of Tekoa in Gush Etzion got their hands on two Jewish
children, Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran, from Tekoa. The two boys were
bludgeoned to death with stones. The details of the butchery are
The question is, what can make human beings butcher
children? How can a person hurt a child the way that their killers hurt them?
The answer is Palestinian television.
In the weeks before the murder,
PATV (funded by foreign donors) broadcast doctored footage around the clock of
what they claimed were atrocities carried out by Israel. They showed doctored
images of mutilated corpses and claimed that Israel had mutilated and abused
them. Israel and Jews were so demonized by these false images that after awhile,
the Palestinians watching these shows believed that Jews, including Jewish
children, were all monsters who must be destroyed and made to pay for their
This was an act of information warfare that in the
event, led Palestinians to butcher Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran.
information warfare aimed at Westerners, here, too, the Palestinian Authority,
like Hizbullah, has a long track record of success.
Journalists know that
the PA has no compunction about kidnapping, arresting and beating up reporters.
They do it to Palestinian reporters routinely. Western reporters who come in to
the PA recognize that if they want to be safe, they have to report stories that
will make the PA happy.
For instance, after a television crew from
Italy’s Mediaset network broadcast footage of the PA police-supported lynch mob
murdering and dismembering IDF reservists Vadim Nozhitz and Yosef Avrahami in
Ramallah in October 2000, Ricardo Cristiani, deputy chief of Italy’s RAI
television network’s Jerusalem bureau, published an apology in the PA’s
newspaper Al- Hayat al-Jadida.
Among other things, Cristiani wrote, “We
[RAI] emphasize to all of you that the events did not happen this way, because
we always respect [will continue to respect] the journalistic procedures with
the Palestinian Authority for [journalistic] work in Palestine and we are
credible in our precise work.”
Fearing Palestinian revenge attacks,
Mediaset was forced to shut down its offices.
This week, Swedish and
Danish police announced the arrest of four Muslim terrorists who were en route
to carrying out a massacre at the Jyllands Posten newspaper. The attack was
supposed to avenge the newspaper’s publication of cartoons of Muhammad in
A US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks and published Monday by
Sweden’s Aftonbladet newspaper reported that Syria’s Assad himself directed the
information operation in 2006 that led to rioting against Denmark and Jyllands
Posten throughout the Muslim world in 2006. Assad reportedly ordered Syria’s
grand mufti to incite his fellow imams to attack Denmark for publishing the
The Arab world’s response to WikiLeaks shows just how powerful
the incitement against Israel and Jews on the Arab psyche is. According to Hazem
Saghiyah from the NOW Lebanon news portal, the Arab world was beset by confusion
because Israel was not exposed as demonic by the WikiLeaks documents.
Saghiyeh put it, for Arabs who have come to believe that Israel controls the
world through its satanic power, “these documents should have provided the
decisive argument” against Israel.
The fact that it is the Arab
leadership, rather than Israel that has been exposed as lying and two-faced,
makes the Arab world writ large view the WikiLeaks operation as a huge Zionist
WHAT ALL of this shows is that information wars are not just
about getting out the facts.
Like kinetic warfare, they involve power
plays, intimidation and the use of subconscious and visceral
Israel has recently awoken to one aspect of information
warfare. It has recognized the consequences of years of demonization of Israel
in Europe and international organizations. But Israel has yet to awaken to the
fact that it is a type of warfare and has to be countered with
Obviously this doesn’t mean that Israel
should begin acting like its enemies. But what it does mean is that Israel must
begin using more hard-knuckle techniques to defend itself. It must begin
targeting people’s emotions as well has their minds.
For instance, when
Israel is confronted by threats of lawsuits for acts of self-defense, it
responds with defense attorneys. When the US was threatened with lawfare by
Belgian courts, then-secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld responded by
threatening to remove NATO headquarters from Belgium.
When Israel is
accused of targeting Palestinian civilians, it responds by attaching legal
advisers to combat units. What it should be doing instead is providing video
footage of Palestinian children being trained as terrorists and exploited as
War is a dirty business. Information warfare is a dirty
form of war. And if we don’t want to lose, we’d better start