My BR article on the 33-day war

It’s finally here: The 33-Day War: Hizbullah’s victory, Israel’s choice, the piece I wrote back in late August/early September about the Israel-Hizbullah war.
Yesterday I went over to BR’s new digs, just a mile or so northwest from MIT, where they used to have their offices. I said hi to Josh Friedman, the Managing Editor, and Chloe Foster, an editorial assistant, who had both worked on editing my piece. I had my first look at the paper version of this issues, which is sensational. (It has the long piece by Nir Rosen in it, as well as other good pieces by Elaine Scarry and Anatol Lieven.)
Then I went out for lunch with Deb Chasman, who is one of the two incredibly talented people at the top of BR’s masthead. The other one, the political philosopher Josh Cohen, is now in California, having taken up a position at Stanford University. So he exercises his editorial functions from there.
It was a pity not to be able to see Josh C. here; but Deb and I had a good time. I always really appreciate the opportunity to connect with smart colleagues who are also female. We discussed a couple of new ideas for the mag, of which I’m a Contributing Editor. Actually, one of the new things they’re already doing is a series of short, very classily-produced books on various topics. Deb’s background is in book publishing, so she’s very attached to that project. (I immediately started thinking which of my various ideas could be crammed into that 20-30,000-word format…)
One final short point before I invite you all to contribute your comments on the text of the BR piece… Since the ceasefire I have nearly always referred to the war as the “33-day war”. However, toward the end of his editing, Josh F. noted that many other people refer to it as the “34-day war”. He asked me whether we should consider going with that.
Well, my original thinking was that the war “started” at around 9 a.m. on July 12 and the ceasefire went into operation at 8 a.m. (or earlier) on August 14. So in terms of 24-hour blocks of time, it was just under 33 of those. However, if you look at days on a calendar that included hostilities, there were 34 of those…
There is a small political subtext to the choice, too. In calling it the 33-day or 34-day war, there is an almost immediate contrast with the 6-day war of 1967– one in which the Israeli army definitively conquered the armies of of three entire Arab states (or four, if you count Iraq, which did contribute some troops.) So just in mentioning the length of this summer’s war– in either of the two formulations– one is pointing toward the fact that Hizbullah not only held out 5.5 times as long as those Arab armies but also that it was by no means definitively defeated by them… Given that political subtext, therefore, I think it’s wise to go with the slightly smaller counting method. No need to exaggerate Hizbullah’s strategic achievements during the war, I figure: they were evident enough without any exaggeration.
So we went with the 33-day figure.
Today, I get to take a boxfull of copies of this issue along to the Middle East Studies Association meeting in downtown Boston.
Enjoy the article; tell your friends and colleagues about it; and comment (courteously) on it here.

9 thoughts on “My BR article on the 33-day war

  1. blowback

    Helene – v good article. One point about the war against Japan. There was another reason for Japan’s surrender other than the A-bombs. It was the declaration of war by Russia followed by the invasion of Manchuria followed by landings in North Korea, Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands with plans to invade Hokkaido.

  2. Helena

    H’mmm… about the influence of Russia declaring war agt Japan, or the prospect of it doing so… I don’t know enough about the exact diplomatic history there to agree or disagree. But the point I was making in the article– that even the ghastly, extremely lethal firebombing of Tokyo and other cities was NOT sufficient to “persuade” the imperial authorities to surrender– still stands and perhaps is strengthened (w/ rgd to the persuasiveness “effectiveness” of even the atomic bombings) if the Russian factor was indeed significantly decisive.
    I see nothing for you to apologise for, Blowback.

  3. Jim S

    An important article, but now ancient history for the 24 hour corporate media. If the USA does not attack Iran or Syria in the next two years, thank Hezbollah. Israel has been taken out of the GWOT because they cannot afford to shutdown Northern Israel for the duration of the Iran Bombing Campaign, which could be forever. An Armored Invasion like 2003 is also ancient history. A Muslim state with modest support of its people will turn any urban area into tank killing zone by following Hezbollah’s example.
    Finally, the options for the US in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned from bad to really bad; stay the course or stay the course with troop withdrawal. The only chance for a stable Iraq is 500,000 to a million boots on the ground, the draft, exorbitant taxes, Arab League support and a deadline to withdraw all Christian soldiers out of the Middle East.
    Containment, justice, rule of law and cooperative defense are the only battlements against the oncoming resource wars.

  4. tc

    Excellent article. I would like to point out two incidents of far reaching sequalae for the internal Lebanese situation that I did not see covered by your article. The first was the visit to Lebanon early in the war by Secretary Rice, where she met at the US embassy with senior members of the March 14th ruling coalition. TV pictures showed the conferees having an amicable time chatting in the course of a working lunch. These pictures became the iconic evidence for the charge of collusion with the Americans and Israelis leveled by many Lebanese (and explicitly by Hizballah later on) against the govenrning coalition (a charge that I personally find credible).
    While the first incident deligetimized the Lebanese political establishment, the second one did in the military. Towards the end of the war, the Israelis entered the Lebanese internal security barracks in the town of Marjayoun, south of the Litani. In addition to the internal security forces, there were also Lebanese army elements present in the barracks but neither offered resistance. Then came the killer moment. The commander of the Lebanese internal security forces at the barracks, a protege of the rather nefarious and Hariri-associated minister of the interior, offered tea to the commander of the Israeli force that has just occupied his barracks. This was later prodcast on Lebanese satallite channels, as scene that in turn has become iconic of how untrustworthy some elements of the Lebanes military are in protecting the countyr. Both events have had a prodound impact on the role of the government and the military in the post war scene. The first sharpened the divisions withtin the government and the country and helped lead to the current political crisis in Lebanon while the second rendered any talk of the Lebanese army taking control of the South of the country (a code word for disarming Hizballah) a rather moot point.

  5. blowback

    Helena – I apologised because I misspelt your name .
    The point I was trying to make and didn’t was that even two atomic bombs (which each caused fewer casualties than the worst fire raids) didn’t force Japan to surrender so why anybody should think that conventional bombing would is beyond me. It takes something else.
    The Japanese had been in awe of the Soviet Red Army since their defeat at the battle of Khalkin Gol, so much so that the Japanese never seemed to have even considered co-ordinating an attack on the Soviet Union with Germany’s invasion. The Japanese would also have known what the Soviet Red Army had done in the Battle of Berlin.
    Operation August Storm was a complete surprise to the Japanese, because they totally underestimated the logistical abilities of the Soviets.
    Although they would not have known at that stage that the Soviet Union was planning to invade the Japanese home islands before the western allies, they knew what the Soviet Red Army was capable of.
    Last night’s events in Gaza show that reliance on air power alone is becoming even more difficult.

  6. brenda

    Very nice piece, Helena. I also read your Spring 2005 “Hizbullah’s New Face”, and I wondered as I read it if you were surprised at how the 33-day War played out. I think most of the rest of us were. Surprised, that is.

  7. Helena

    Was I surprised? I think the main thing that surprised me about it was Nasrallah’s apparent miscalculation re the ferocity of Israel’s response to the capture of the two IDF soldiers. I was surprised mainly because I had had this concept of Hizbullah as following developments in Israeli strategic thinking and politics very closely, so I figured they should have known how fiercely Olmert would respond, and should have taken more effective steps to guard the welfare of the Lebanese population (including provision and provisioning of shelters in southern towns and villages, etc.)
    However, H did not do that, and the flight of residents from the south was very chaotic and dangerous for those fleeing… Within three or four days, however, H’s excellent social-welfare organization and planning, and the network of relations it had built up with many sectors of Lebanese society, all kicked in. Those developments didn’t surprise me.
    The fleeing southerners who made it to beirut were given shelter in schools, public spaces, and even convents and monasteries there; and actually by doing so (and because of Israel’s closure of most means of escape for non-Shiite Lebanese) they were able to strengthen the pan-Lebanese solidarity that was the main response to Israel’s bombing.
    At the military level, meanwhile, H’s contingency planning had apparently been very well done.
    Another thing that surprised me was the extreme ill-preparedness of the Israeli ground forces and the extreme degree of ditheriness of the Israeli national command authorities…

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