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Monday, March 12, 2007

Marvin Kalb paper on asymmetrical conflict

Marvin Kalb wrote a scholarly article on "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media As A Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict."

This is a topic I mentioned a number of times last summer during the war, and he does a very nice job surveying exactly what happened during the war and how the media portrayed it. Here is a sample:

For any journalist worth his or her salt, this should spark a respectful moment of reflection. Not only did this new and awesome technology enable journalists to bring the ugly reality of war to both belligerents (and others around the world), serving as a powerful influence on public opinion and governmental attitudes and actions; it also became an extremely valuable intelligence asset for both Israel and Hezbollah, and Hezbollah especially exploited it.

If we are to collect lessons from this war, one of them would have to be that a closed society can control the image and the message that it wishes to convey to the rest of the world far more effectively than can an open society, especially one engaged in an existential struggle for survival. An open society becomes the victim of its own openness. During the war, no Hezbollah secrets were disclosed, but in Israel secrets were leaked, rumors spread like wildfire, leaders felt obliged to issue hortatory appeals often based on incomplete knowledge, and journalists were driven by the fire of competition to publish and broadcast unsubstantiated information. A closed society conveys the impression of order and discipline; an open society, buffeted by the crosswinds of reality and rumor, criticism and revelation, conveys the impression of disorder, chaos and uncertainty, but this impression can be misleading.

It was hardly an accident that Hezbollah, in this circumstance, projected a very special narrative for the world beyond its ken—a narrative that depicted a selfless movement touched by God and blessed by a religious fervor and determination to resist the enemy, the infidel, and ultimately achieve a “divine victory,” no matter the cost in life and treasure. The narrative contained no mention of Hezbollah’s dependence upon Iran and Syria for a steady flow of arms and financial resources.

For Hezbollah, the 2006 summertime war was more than a battle against a mortal enemy; it was a crucial battle in a broader, ongoing war, linking religious fundamentalism to Arab nationalism. Will victory be defined as an open door to modernity or to a new caliphate? That is a key question. The whole Arab world is often framed as a “politically traumatized region,” wrote Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland, caught in the “morbid interim between the dying of an exhausted political and social order and the birth of a still-unknown way of life.”2 Hezbollah saw itself as a resolute leader in shaping the Arab future.

Like Hamas and al-Qaeda, it appreciated the central importance of the communications revolution sweeping through the region. These three radical groups believe, according to Steve Fondacaro, an American military expert, that it is on the “information battlefield” that the historic struggle between Western modernity and Islamic fundamentalism will ultimately be resolved. “The new element of power that has emerged in the last thirty to forty years and has subsumed the rest is information,” he said. “A revolution happened without us knowing or paying attention. Perception truly now is reality, and our enemies know it.”3

It is worth reading. A summary can be seen in the Jerusalem Post article about this paper.

Some of my postings on similar themes at the time:
Bill Maher: The world IS Mel Gibson
The perfect weapon
Three more asymmetries and its companion piece, The elephant in the room of international law.