Gear public diplomacy toward global scene

Israel did not portray Hizbullah well enough as an indoctrinated guerrilla army.

katyusha hizbullah 298.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
katyusha hizbullah 298.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hassan Nasrallah and his patrons in Iran have successfully integrated the "ABCs" of public diplomacy into their long-term strategic war doctrine. Nasrallah ordered his men to remove their uniforms, blend into the population and continue to fight from within the population. This way, when Israel attacks Hizbullah, the scene is one of Israel moving against what appears to be a civilian population, even though rockets fired from these villages are striking Israel. Attacks on what looks like civilian targets can then be called "crimes against humanity" and "war crimes." Israel now faces the "special forces" of the Iranian military, the best guerrilla warfare units, in front-line positions. The whole concept of how they operate on the battlefield and in public diplomacy is directed by Iran. Over the last 25 years, Iran has gradually created a global network, first forming an axis with Syria and then building up Hizbullah, with Lebanon serving as a regional theater, part of Iran's global design in its confrontation with the West. Israel had been operating on the assumption that Hizbullah was a terrorist organization like Hamas or the PLO that had to be neutralized in order to bring about stability. But these are not merely terrorist gangs. This is an army - a well-trained, well-organized and ideologically indoctrinated guerrilla army - and Israel did not make that point strongly enough at the beginning of the war, neither to the world nor to itself. From the minute Israel left Lebanon in May 2000, Iran began to implement its initial plan for a takeover of Lebanon by Hizbullah. First, it got into the political system and tried to take it over from within. Public diplomacy for any country, not just Israel, has gone global. While the conflict may be determined in local terms, such as Israel's fight against Hizbullah, the ramifications of the action itself are global in nature. Therefore, public diplomacy must be geared toward the global scene. Ever since 9/11, we have been in a different type of war. We were exposed for the first time to a global network of terrorist organizations, sort of a multi-national corporation of non-state actors. On the Lebanese scene, through the careful manipulation of evidence, the theater of war has turned into a crime scene. Every action that Israel takes in Lebanon - with its densely populated villages that Israel must operate in because that's the only way we can uproot the terrorists within - creates an opportunity for the other side to use public diplomacy with global ramifications. Thus, instead of the war being about Israel's right to self-defense, Hizbullah was able to turn it around so that the issue on the international agenda became Israel's destruction of Lebanon and Israel as the cause of world instability. The victim becomes the criminal. Another way to change a theater of war into a crime scene is by building Hizbullah positions in close proximity to those of UNIFIL. Then, there is always an opportunity for a potential mishap, where Israel will hit the UNIFIL position by mistake. Or Hizbullah may provoke an Israeli attack by firing from a specific location and ensuring that a human shield of innocent civilians will be present at the site. The globalization of a local conflict has important implications for public diplomacy. What happens on Israel's northern border will affect what happens on its southern border with the Palestinians in Gaza. And the overall situation in the north and the south is going to determine the overall impact on the Arab world, and to what extent stability will be threatened in those regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan that fear the rise of Hizbullah. The kidnapping of the soldiers enabled Israel to preempt before the Iranians had completed their buildup. The Iranians did not want a full-scale war yet. They wanted to put pressure on Israel, but Hizbullah made a mistake in its assessment of Israel's response. The end result was a "premature" war that has put the Iranian terrorist threat on the global agenda of public diplomacy, alerting the West before Iran was completely ready. Hizbullah was also prepared with its public diplomacy. It had prepared for this war for a long time. It had spokesmen speaking fluent English who would escort reporters to the designated crime scenes. Hizbullah knew Israel was going to launch attacks on Beirut and that there would be scenes of destruction. This war is a symptom of Israel's inability to prepare strategically with public diplomacy as a tool of war. It would be useful to learn and follow what Hizbullah has done in terms of its preparations to meet the requirements of a proactive public diplomacy strategy. Hizbullah invests $15-20 million a year in its own TV station, Al Manar. That is more than the overall hasbara public relations budget of the State of Israel. Its broadcasts are pure propaganda, but they are professional and carried worldwide via satellite and cable. We need to recognize that the media is a tool and that it can serve as a weapons system. Hizbullah is 10 years ahead of Israel in the ability to use and manipulate the media for its strategic purposes. I don't want to underestimate the limitations that a democracy has in instituting a coherent long-term public diplomacy strategy, but we must start thinking about this as a strategic issue. The threat Israel faces is not just Hizbullah, it's Iran, and we should alert the rest of the world to that, as we alerted the world to the Iranian nuclear program. Israel is on the front line of Iran's war against the West. This may sound alarmist, but the best way to conquer fear is to tell people the truth. Tell them what we are facing, and then mobilize the world as well. Military action alone is insufficient. The Iranians are coming, and we better read the writing on the wall. It is not in Arabic; it is in Persian, and it is still not too late to learn. The writer is a former senior adviser to prime minister Ariel Sharon and a leading Israeli spokesman on security and strategic issues and the peace process. The above study was produced under the auspices of The Institute for Contemporary Affairs, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.