July 20, 2019

AJC Panel: Combating Hezbollah’s Terror Tactics

Photo courtesy of Siamak Kordestani/American Jewish Committee.

What are Hezbollah’s terror aspirations and how can we combat them?

This was the topic of a panel hosted by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles in partnership with the Consulate General of Romania in Los Angeles on May 28 at Wilshire Boulevard Temple School.

Around 200 people came to hear Lt. Gen (Ret). and Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) Hybrid Warfare Task Force member John Toolan, AJC Transatlantic Institute Director Daniel Schwammenthal, Southwestern Law School Professor, Lt. Col. of the U.S. Air Force (Ret.) and JINSA Hybrid Warfare Task Force Member Rachel VanLandingham, and U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps Col (Ret.) and JINSA Hybrid Warfare Task Force member Ian Corey.

Toolan noted that the first time U.S. Marines had to deal with terrorism was in 1983 when Hezbollah bombed U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American service members.

“Since that time we’ve learned an awful lot about terrorism,” Toolan said, adding that at the time Hezbollah was a “faceless enemy” and that “today terrorism has morphed probably 50 times and it continues to change.”

He went on to say that one of the challenges involved in combating a terror group like Hezbollah includes balancing rules that nation-states have with the lack of rules constraining Hezbollah and their ilk.

Schwammenthal added, “Hezbollah has one goal and it shares the same goal with other radical Islamic organizations and that is to establish an Islamic state where Sharia [law] rules supreme.”

Schwammenthal also said that along with terrorism, Hezbollah uses political methods in Lebanon through their use of “welfare organizations” to provide “subsidized healthcare for the population in southern Lebanon. They do this in the same way as the mafia in Sicily provides similar services… all within the same goal of strengthening their support base.”

“Hezbollah has one goal and it shares the same goal with other radical Islamic organization and that is to establish an Islamic state where Sharia law rules supreme.” — Daniel Schwammenthal

He added that Hezbollah has been involved for many years in transnational criminal activities, including drug trafficking in Latin America, where it conducts business with various drug cartels.

Regarding the rule of law, VanLandingham said Hezbollah exploits “a misunderstanding of what the law allows [by] delegitimizing Israel in the eyes of the world.” She added that Hezbollah stations around 150,000 rockets in Lebanese civilian homes and hospitals, which amounts to “every third Shia home in Lebanon” being used as a human shield. “Hezbollah knows the law of armed combat allows Israel to strike [these civilian areas], she said, “because they become military targets once the weapons are stationed there.

“[Hezbollah] know their civilians are going to die and they’re OK with that because they want to show the carnage” on global television, VanLandingham said.

Toolan said that information warfare is important to fight terror groups like Hezbollah since “virality trumps veracity.” He cited the October 2013 viral video of Marines desecrating the bodies of dead Afghanis as an example of something that could “set us back years” in terms of public opinion.

VanLandingham added that the information war is something that Western militaries struggle with since it takes time to analyze and declassify information needed to determine the legality of civilian strikes.

Corey suggested that maintaining good relations with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is a good way to “counter the narrative that Hezbollah is the only force powerful enough [to control Lebanon.]”

Schwammenthal also criticized media coverage of Israel’s conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah, saying the terror groups keep firing rockets at Israel until Israel is forced to respond, and that media coverage focuses on Israel’s response and then buries the fact that Hamas and Hezbollah instigated the conflict.