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Asymmetry in Lebanon

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.


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