HEZBOLLAH’S PLAN….Why did Hezbollah conduct the cross-border raid last week that resulted in the capture of two Israeli soldiers? What did Hezbollah’s leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, think he was going to accomplish? I’ve read quite a few variations on the explanation offered here by Adam Shatz:

Since the 2000 Israeli withdrawal (“the first Arab victory in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” as Nasrallah often notes), Hezbollah has faced mounting pressure, from the West but also at home, to lay down its arms and become a purely political organization ? a fate the party dreads….By conducting a raid that was likely to provoke a brutal Israeli reprisal, Nasrallah may have gambled that the fury of the Lebanese would soon turn from Hezbollah to the Jewish state, thereby providing a justification for “the national resistance” as Lebanon’s only deterrent against Israel.

….By striking at Israel’s Army during its most destructive campaign in Palestine since 2002’s “Operation Defensive Shield,” Nasrallah must have known that he would earn praise throughout the Muslim world for coming to the aid of Palestinians abandoned by the region’s authoritarian governments, a number of which have pointedly chastised Nasrallah’s “adventurism.” And by bloodying Israel’s nose, Hezbollah could once again bolster its aura in the wider Arab world as a redoubtable “resistance” force, a model it seeks to promote regionally, especially in Palestine, where Nasrallah is a folk hero, and in Iraq, where Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the radical Shiite Mahdi Army, has proclaimed himself a follower of Hezbollah and has threatened to renew attacks against US forces in solidarity with the Lebanese.

I think of this as the “bin Laden strategy,” since there’s considerable evidence that the goal of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist attacks was to provoke the United States into a massive military response that he hoped would enrage and unify the Muslim world. Shatz claims that Nasrallah is doing the same thing on a smaller scale.

I find this unconvincing, in much the same way that I find almost all “two cushion bank shot” theories of political strategy unconvincing. Hindsight often makes such theories plausible, but bin Laden aside, the fact is that even the smartest political leaders rarely have either the subtlety or the guts to hang their future on a risky bet that a series of counterintuitive, low-probability events will all turn out just right.

Is Nasrallah such a guy? Maybe. But am I the only person who thought that his initial reaction to Israel’s massive retaliation seemed a bit….improvised? Perhaps a little more blustery than you’d expect even from a guy who trades in bluster? I can’t help but think that what Nasrallah really expected was that Israel would conduct a few bombing runs, eventually agree to a prisoner swap, and that would be the end of it. That’s a straightforward strategy that combines low risk with a clear benefit to Hezbollah’s reputation in the Arab world. It just didn’t work out that way.

Needless to say, this is idle conjecture. Anybody have a link to a piece that provides some more informed speculation?

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