Understanding the Arab Military Mind

A key aspect of winning any war is to define the goals. This is especially true of the current fighting in Gaza and Lebanon. By trying to do too much – or believing that one can achieve more than is possible – the result can be failure and certainly will be disappointment.

In this case, the mistake is to think that Israel can destroy Hezbollah or eliminate it as a political and military entity. To claim otherwise plays into the hands of Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, which want to define their victory as Hezbollah’s survival.

Defining victory as merely survival is a pattern often typical of Arab (and Iranian) politics and it is simultaneously disastrous and sensible. It is disastrous because it courts defeat by attacking superior forces: the 1967 Six Day War, Saddam Hussein’s challenge to the United States and his attack on Iran, Yasir Arafat’s fighting an endless battle in which he was always defeated, and so on. The Arab side is left with tremendous losses in casualties and material, as is once again happening with Lebanon and the Palestinians.

But what is to a large extent a defeat in practical and military terms also can be considered a political victory. The Arabs never “lose” because they never surrender. Thus they do not formally give up anything. The leaders that brought on failure and the groups that did not triumph become heroes for being able to claim that they courageously fought the enemy without being crushed. The important points for them are that they gained revenge by inflicting damage, showed that they were real men, did not buckle under, and survived.