The Resistance’s Disruptive Military Innovation May Determine the Fate of Israel

by | Mar 19, 2024

Looking back to what I wrote in 2012, in the midst of the so-called Arab Spring and its aftermath, it is striking just how much the Region has shifted. It is now almost 180° re-orientated. Then, I argued,

“That the Arab Spring “Awakening” is taking a turn, very different to the excitement and promise with which it was hailed at the outset. Sired from an initial, broad popular impulse, it is becoming increasingly understood, and feared, as a nascent counter-revolutionary “cultural revolution” – a re-culturation of the region in the direction of a prescriptive canon that is emptying out those early high expectations …

That popular impulse associated with the “awakening” has now been subsumed and absorbed into three major political projects associated with this push to reassert [Sunni primacy]: a Muslim Brotherhood project, a Saudi-Qatari-Salafist project, and a [radical jihadi] project.

No one really knows the nature of the [first project] the Brotherhood project – whether it is that of a sect; or if it is truly mainstream … What is clear, however, is that the Brotherhood tone everywhere is increasingly one of militant sectarian grievance. The joint Saudi-Salafist project was conceived as a direct counter to the Brotherhood project – and [the third] was the uncompromising Sunni radicalism [Wahhabism], funded and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that aims, not to contain, but rather, to displace traditional Sunnism with the culture of Salafism. i.e. It sought the “Salifisation” of traditional Sunni Islam.

All these projects, whilst they may overlap in some parts, are in a fundamental way competitors with each other. And [were] being fired-up in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, north Africa, the Sahel, Nigeria, and the horn of Africa.

[Not surprisingly] …Iranians increasingly interpret Saudi Arabia’s mood as a hungering for war, and Gulf statements do often have that edge of hysteria and aggression: a recent editorial in the Saudi-owned al-Hayat stated: “The climate in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] indicates that matters are heading towards a GCC-Iranian-Russian confrontation on Syrian soil, similar to what took place in Afghanistan during the Cold War. To be sure, the decision has been taken to overthrow the Syrian regime, seeing as it is vital to the regional influence and hegemony of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Well, that was then. How different the landscape is today: The Muslim Brotherhood largely is a “broken reed,” compared to what it was; Saudi Arabia has effectively “switched off the lights” on Salafist jihadism, and is focussed more on courting tourism, and the Kingdom now has a peace accord with Iran (brokered by China).

‘The cultural shift toward re-imagining a wider Sunni Muslim polity,’ as I wrote in 2012, always was an American dream, dating back to Richard Perle’s ‘Clean Break Policy Paper of 1996 (a report that had been commissioned by Israel’s then-PM, Netanyahu). Its roots lay with the British post-war II policy of transplanting the stalwart family notables of the Ottoman era into the Gulf as an Anglophile ruling strata catering to western oil interests.

But look what has happened —

A mini revolution: Iran has, in the interim, “come in from the cold” and is firmly anchored as “a regional power.” It is now the strategic partner to Russia and China. And Gulf States today are more preoccupied with “business” and Tech than Islamic jurisprudence. Syria, targeted by the West, and an outcast in the region, has been welcomed back into the Arab League’s Arab sphere with high ceremony, and Syria is on its way to assuming again its former standing within the Middle East.

What is interesting is that even then, hints of the coming conflict between Israel and the Palestinians were apparent; as I wrote in 2012:

Over recent years we have heard the Israelis emphasise their demand for recognition of a specifically Jewish nation-state, rather than for an Israeli State, per se. A Jewish state that in principle, would remain open to any Jew seeking to return: the creation of a ‘Jewish umma,’ as it were.

Now, it seems we have, in the western half of the Middle East, at least, a mirror trend, asking for the reinstatement of a wider Sunni nation – representing the ‘undoing’ of the last remnants of the colonial era. Will we see the struggle increasing epitomised as a primordial struggle between Jewish and Islamic religious symbols – between al-Aqsa and the Temple Mount?

It seems that both Israel and its surrounding terrain are marching in step toward language which takes them far away from the underlying, largely secular concepts by which this conflict traditionally has been conceptualised. What will be the consequence as the conflict, by its own logic, becomes a clash of religious poles?

What has driven this 180° turn? One factor, assuredly, was Russia’s limited intervention into Syria to prevent a jihadi sweep. The second has been China’s appearance on the scene as a truly gargantuan business partner – and putative mediator too – precisely at a time when the US had begun its withdrawal from the region (at least in terms of the attention it pays to it, if not (yet) reflected in any substantive physical departure).

The latter – US military withdrawal (Iraq and Syria) – however, seems more a question of “when,” rather than if. All expect it.

Put plainly, we have experienced a Mackinder-style “pivot of history”: Russia and China – and Iran – are slowly taking control of the Asian heartland (both institutionally and economically), as the pendulum of the West swings away.

The Sunni world – ineluctably and warily – marches towards the BRICS. Effectively, the Gulf finds itself badly wrong-footed by the so-called “Abraham Accords” that tied them to Israeli Tech (which, in turn, was channelling considerable Wall Street venture “free money” their way). Israel’s “suspect genocide” (ICJ language) in Gaza is slowly driving a stake into the heart of the Gulf “business model.”

But another key factor has been the smart diplomacy pursued by Iran. It is easy for western Iran-hawks to decry Iran’s politicking and influencing across the region – the Islamic Republic is after all, unrepentantly “non-compliant” with the US aims and pro-Israeli ambitions in the Region. What else, other than pushback, might you expect when all the encircling western “fire” was so concentrated on the Islamic Republic?

Yet, Iran has pursued an astute path. It has NOT gone to war against Sunni Arab states in Syria, as was mooted in 2012. Rather, it quietly has pursued a strategy of diplomacy and joint Gulf security and trade with Gulf States. Iran too, has partly succeeded in shaking itself free from much of the effects of western sanctions. It has joined both BRICS and the SCO and has acquired a new economic and political “spatial depth.”

Whether the US and Europe likes it or not, Iran is a major regional political player, and it sits atop, with others, the coalition of Resistance Movements and Fronts that have been woven together through shrewd diplomacy to work in close conjunction with each other.

This development has become a key strategic “project”: Sunni (Hamas) and Shi’i (Hizbullah) are joined with other “fronts” in an anti-colonial struggle for liberation under the non-sectarian symbol of Al-Aqsa (which is neither Sunni, nor Shi’a, nor Muslim Brotherhood, nor Salafist or Wahhabi). It represents, rather, the storied tale of Islamic civilisation. Yes, it is, in its way, eschatological too.

This latter achievement has done much to limit the threat of all-out war from engulfing the region (fingers-crossed though …). The Iranian and Resistance Axis’ interest is twofold: First, to retain power to carefully calibrate the intensity of conflict – upping and lowering as appropriate; and secondly, to keep escalatory dominance as much as possible in their hands.

The second aspect encompasses strategic patience. The Resistance Movements well understand the Israeli psyche – therefore, NO Pavlovian reflexes to Israeli provocations are accepted. But rather, to wait and rely on Israel to provide the pretext to any further step up the escalatory ladder. Israel must be seen to be the instigator for escalation – and the resistance merely the responder. The “eye” must be on the Washington political psyche.

Thirdly, Iran draws confidence to pursue its “forwardness” by having innovated a tectonic shift in asymmetric warfare, and in deterrence against Israel and the West. The US might huff and puff, but Iran felt assured throughout this period that the US well knows the risks associated with trying “blow the house down.”

Realists in the West tend to believe that “power” is a simple function of national population size and GDP. So that, given the disparity in air and firepower, no way, as an example, can Hizbullah expect to “come out quits” against Israel – a much richer and more populated entity.

This blindspot is the Resistance’s silent “ally.” It prevents the West (mostly) from understanding this pivot in military thinking.

Iran and its allies take a different view: They regard a state’s power to rest on intangibles, rather than literal tangibles: strategic patience; ideology; discipline; innovation and the concept of military leadership defined as the ability to cast a “magic” spell over men so that they would follow their commander, even unto death.

The West has (or had) airpower and unchallenged air superiority, but the Resistance Fronts have their two-stage solution. They manufacture their own AI-assisted swarm drones and smart earth-hugging missiles. This is their Air Force.

The second stage naturally would be to evolve a layered air defence system (Russian-style). Does the Resistance possess such? Like Brer Rabbit, they stay mum.

The Resistance’s underlying strategy is clear: the West is over-invested in its air dominance and in its overwhelming fire-power. It prioritises quick shock and awe thrusts, but usually quickly exhausts itself early in the encounter. They rarely can sustain such high-intensity assault for long.

In Lebanon in 2006, Hizbullah remained deep underground whilst the Israeli air assault swept overhead. The physical surface damage was huge, yet their forces were unaffected and emerged only afterwards. Then came the 33 days of Hizbullah’s missile barrage – until Israel called it quits. This patience represents the first pillar of strategy.

The second therefore, is that whereas the West has short endurance, the opposition is trained and prepared for long attritional conflict – missile and rocket barrage to the point that civil society can sustain the impact no longer. War’s aim not necessarily has killing the enemy soldiers as a prime objective; rather it is exhaustion and inculcating a sense of defeat.

And what of the opposing project?

In 2012, I wrote:

It seems that both Israel and [the Islamic world] are marching in step toward [eschatological narratives] which is taking them far away from the underlying, largely secular concepts by which this conflict traditionally has been conceptualised. What will be the consequence as the conflict, by its own logic, becomes a clash of religious poles? [– Al-Aqsa versus the Temple Mount].

Well, the West remains stuck with trying to manage and contain the conflict, using precisely those “largely secular concepts” by which this conflict has been conceptualised and managed (or non-managed, I would say). In so doing, and through the West’s (secular) support for one particular eschatological vision (which happens to overlap with its own) over another, it inadvertently fuels the conflict.

Too late to return to secular modes of management; the genie is out.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.