Whose War Crimes?
Evidence from Lebanon about how terrorists use civilians.
A few scenes from modern warfare:
Mohammad Abd al-Hamid Srour moved missiles across southern Lebanon under cover
of a white flag. Hussein Ali Mahmoud Suleiman used the porch of a private home
to fire rockets. Maher Hassan Mahmoud Kourani dressed in civilian clothes, hid
his Kalashnikov in a tote bag and stored anti-aircraft missiles in the back of
a green unmarked Volvo. The three men, all members of Hezbollah, were captured
by Israel during last summer's war.
Now their videotaped interviews form part of a remarkable report by retired
Lieutenant Colonel Reuven Erlich of Israel's Intelligence and Terrorism
Information Center. Relying heavily on captured Hezbollah documents, onsite
and aerial photography and other first-hand evidence, the report shows how the
Shiite group put innocent civilians at risk by deliberately deploying its
forces in cities, towns and often private homes.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has accused
Israel's military of "indiscriminate warfare" and "a disturbing disregard for
the lives of Lebanese civilians." Mr. Erlich demolishes that claim, and in the
process shows the asymmetric strategy of Islamist radicals.
The most persuasive evidence here is photographic, so we urge readers to
access the report itself on the Web site of the American Jewish Congress (
Hezbollah's headquarters in Aita al-Shaab, for instance, sits in the heart of
the village. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's office and home are in a
densely built neighborhood of Beirut. In the town of Qana--site of an Israeli
bombing on July 30 that killed 28 and that Hezbollah's apologists were quick
to label a "massacre"--an arms warehouse can be seen adjacent to a mosque.
There are photographs of rockets in the back seats of cars, missile launchers
adjacent to farm houses, storage bunkers hidden beneath homes. There is also a
trove of before-and-after photography demonstrating the precision of most
The report also shows how the use of civilian cover was explicitly part of
Hezbollah's strategy. "[The organization's operatives] live in their houses,
in their schools, in their churches, in their fields, in their farms and in
their factories," said Mr. Nasrallah in a TV interview on May 27, several
weeks before the war. "You can't destroy them in the same way you would
destroy an army."
Exactly what Mr. Nasrallah means is illustrated in the testimonials of the
captured fighters. Asked why Hezbollah would risk the destruction of civilian
areas by firing from them, Mr. Suleiman replied that while in theory private
homes belonged to "the residents of the village . . . in essence they belong
Perhaps that's true; if so, then Human Rights Watch has no grounds to accuse
Israel of atrocities when Mr. Nasrallah has effectively declared everyone and
everything in southern Lebanon to be his fief. Our sense, however, is that not
all southern Lebanese were delighted to have their livelihoods appropriated
for Hezbollah's political purposes, even if they were too intimidated to
register a protest. Either way, it is Hezbollah, not Israel, that is guilty of
war crimes here.
Beyond the war in Lebanon, these images suggest how Islamists seek to use the
restraint of Western powers against them. They shoot at our civilians from the
safety of their own civilian enclaves that they know we are reluctant to
attack. Then if by chance their civilians are killed, they call in CNN and
al-Jazeera cameras and wait for the likes of Mr. Roth to denounce America or
Israel for war crimes.
None of this means the U.S. shouldn't continue to fight with discrimination
and avoid civilian casualties. But it means our political leadership needs to
speak as candidly as Israelis now are speaking about this enemy strategy, so
the American people can understand and be steeled against this new civilian
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