Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Is Lebanon Israel's Vietnam?

The Boston Globe reports today from inside the Hezbollah unit which drove the Israelis from Bint Jbail:

It was here, a week ago, that Hezbollah fighters stopped several Israeli tanks and turned back an Israeli ground advance that sought to rout them from this strategic Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon. Israeli soldiers have given vivid accounts of hand-to-hand combat, sneak ambushes, and fighters who sprang from a network of tunnels to surprise the Israelis.

The article goes on to paint a portrait of rebels which are very much like the Viet Cong in tactics and determination. And there is a reason for that:

The two Hezbollah fighters described a discipline modeled on the Viet Cong, in which fighters live off the land, scavenge vegetables and canned food, and do battle in autonomous groups with little need for command supervision.

Hussein and Hamid credited their devotion to Islam for their success against the Israelis, but they described a meticulous blueprint for guerrilla warfare built around a carefully selected force, whose members begin training at age 14.

As for the dedication part, it apparently comes from deep religious belief and a profound sense of injustice:

Yesterday afternoon, downtown below Tel Masoud, Hussein was praying alone in a mosque whose rear wall had been blasted away by a shell, giving a view of the battleground above.

The fighter was by turns angry, mystical, and emotional. One day, he said, he gave his only food, a can of tuna, to a dog so hungry that its tongue was hanging contorted from its mouth.

"If I showed mercy on the dog, maybe God would show mercy on me," he said.

After scouring the battleground, Hussein returned with journalists to the hospital at the edge of Bint Jbail to visit friends. He put his head in his hands and started to weep.

"I'm not crying for the fighters. The fighters can handle it. I'm crying for the ordinary people," Hussein said.

Can Israel learn from the lessons of the United States in Vietnam, Somalia and now Iraq? If not, Lebanon just might be their Vietnam.

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