The missing context behind the recent Hizballah attacks on Israel, and ISIS attacks on Saudi Arabia.
Yesterday two Israeli soldiers were killed and seven others were wounded by aHizballah rocket attack from across the Lebanese border. On January 6, three Saudi border guards were killed by an ISIS suicide squad just inside Saudi territory. What, if anything beyond the militarily obvious, do these two incidents have in common?
Plenty. Three things (why is it always three?) come readily to (my) mind.
First, and of least importance, is the oft-noted fact that American mainstream media habits have devolved into providing mostly context-free information points, so that little to no background is provided to help readers turn information into knowledge. It was not always so, but it is so now. We generally get only dots, not lines or shapes, and certainly not useful three-dimensional displays. But both the recent Israeli and Saudi episodes have backgrounds that do enable information to become knowledge. More of this background anon.
Second, of considerable importance, is the fact that both attacks were perpetrated by networks operating beyond the usual habits and constraints of Westphalian states.
Hizballah is an Iranian proxy operating for many years now in and out of Lebanon and, more recently, in Syria. Its past forays have extended all the way to Buenos Aires, and not long ago to Bulgaria. It is part of an Iranian-supported, and in many cases Iranian-directed, network that also includes several murderous Shi’a militias operating on Iraqi territory. What is novel is that in recent months Iranian forces themselves, mainly from the Al-Quds Brigades, have gone expeditionary and are now present physically in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq (in rather large numbers), and soon if not already very likely in Yemen, perhaps Sudan, Afghanistan (first in and around Herat), and, in due course, even Turkey.
ISIS is engaged in a state-building enterprise as a quintessential premodern “revitalization movement” (Anthony F.C. Wallace, 1956), but it is trying to do so on the dying corpses of several Arab states. These states centrally include Syria and Iraq, but in accordance with the Islamic State’s “survive and expand” annexation strategy, it now also arguably encompasses ill-defined but real chunks of Yemen, Libya, Egypt (Sinai), Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. For all anyone knows, the second-largest city in France, Marseilles, is next. In IS parlance, there is now a vilayet, or province of the State, in each of these proto- or para-Westphalian units (and, as I have argued before, they were never really any more than that).