July 27th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Theory and Practice of Suicide Bombing

I forgot to mention one of my hypothetical, theoretical principles of suicide bombing as a weapon of resistance against an occupation force and its occupiers the other day. I mentioned my theory that for suicide bombing to be used as a weapon by a successful resistance movement it must be planned so as to at least have the theoretical possibility that the heroes might survive to fight another day. I mentioned my theory that it must be a rare and uncommon tactic, reserved only for high value hardened targets, and not the only weapon for which the resistance movement is known. I don't know how I forgot (I blame the mind-sapping heat and noise of the other day), but I also theorize that in order to actually aid the resistance instead of hurting it, suicide bombing, like sabotage and targeted assassination and all the other weapons of a resistance, must be targeted only at occupation forces, citizens of the occupying nation who are in country, and local civilians only when it can be clearly shown that they are willingly collaborating with the enemy or encouraging others to do so.

So, those three theoretical principles enumerated, let's add four current examples, good and bad, to the Free French resistance movement that I used as day before yesterday's example.

Lebanon versus Israel. Background: Anti-Israeli Syrian and Iranian forces were using the chaos of the Lebanese Civil War as an opportunity to stage deniable attacks on northern Israel. Ostensibly it was local Lebanese militias and Palestinian refugees who were using weapons that they were given by Iran and Syria for the civil war, "misusing" them to attack farms across the border in Israel. Because of this legal fiction, Israel chose not to counter-attack Iran and Syria (yet again), and instead moved their own troops, with US backing, into the pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian strongholds in southern Lebanon, and set about exterminating them. The US sought, and received, UN authorization to send in a "peacekeeping" force to occupy the Beirut waterfront, and use it as a base to bring the 17 warring sides in Lebanon to the bargaining table, where, under US mediation, they were presumably going to be "encouraged" to select a pro-US, pro-Israel government. Suicide Bombing: Hamas and Hezbollah had been fighting using all the traditional tactics of civil war. Most of their attacks were against military targets, with the proviso that Israeli civilian settlers in occupied Palestine are not widely accepted to be true civilians. The overwhelming majority of attacks were by artillery (both traditional and rocket), sniper, and commando forces who struck and got away. But in October 1983, two separate solo truck bombers drove delivery trucks, each carrying approximately six tons of explosives, directly into UN barracks, US Marine Corps and French paratrooper. The US had 241 dead and 60 wounded, all occupation military; the French had 58 dead and 15 wounded. 3 Lebanese civilians and the 2 resistance fighters died. Final Outcome: The US and France both vowed to stay and fight on, but facing public pressure at home, both countries withdrew less than five months later. The resistance continued until 2000, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon. At the time, Israel said that they were doing so to remove an obstacle to peace talks with Syria, but Hezbollah claims at least partial credit for their resistance.

Occupied West Jordan and Gaza versus Israel. Background: As a result of the failed invasions of Israel by Egypt and Jordan (among others), Israel pushed into, captured, and still occupies the Egyptian city of Gaza, and western Jordan to the banks of the Jordan river. Suicide Bombing: At least four separate resistance movements have waged a nearly 40 year war to expel Israel from those territories, and ideally from southwest Asia altogether. Tactics used have ranged all the way from passive resistance and stone-throwing children up to snipers, roadside bombs, commando raids on Israeli settlements in occupied territory, and suicide bombings. For most of the history of the resistance, suicide bombings were used only against Israeli military targets that could not be successfully attacked in any other way. However, the Israeli military got better and stopping suicide attacks on their positions, and at guarding Israeli occupation settlements. At this point, at least two of the resistance movements shifted their targets to relatively unprotected civilians deep inside Israel proper, usually shopping areas but also including at least one civilian religious service. Outcome: Around the same time that the Palestinian resistance switched tactics to almost exclusively suicide bombing and almost exclusively against Israeli targets outside the occupation area, world opinion, which had previously been almost unanimously pro-Palestinian (except for the US and the UK), started turning against the Palestinians. However, this is usually blamed (rightly or wrongly) on successful American diplomacy rather than on the change in Palestinian resistance tactics. A two-state solution is still being pursued, but under the control of Israel who are backing their own side, mostly against the former resistance elements inside the occupation territories.

Chechnya versus Russia. Background: The formerly independent nation of Chechnya was annexed by the Tsars over a hundred years ago. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, Chechen resistance fighters sensed weakness, and stepped up what had been mostly a nuisance campaign into a full-fledged war of resistance, reaching at times to the level of military force traditionally identified with civil wars, in this case a war of secession. Suicide Bombing: As I said, the Chechen secession movement has used all of the tactics of both resistance and war, but there have been a couple of dozen suicide attacks in the last five years. Nearly all were against Russian military targets and pro-Russian government targets inside Chechnya, but there have been 6 attacks on civilians, including a few spectacular attacks on civilians in Moscow. In the most famous incident, the Chechen fighters had a plan to get out, with poison gas bombs as a deterrent and emergency fall-back plan for taking some Russians with them if they failed; they ended up triggering those bombs. Outcome: Unclear, but the suicide attacks on civilians in Russia (combined with the US's pressing need to keep Russia out of our war in Iraq) lead directly to the US taking Russia's side in the conflict, at least on a diplomatic and propaganda level. And since the 2003 terror attacks inside Russia, the resistance has lost virtually all of the ground that it had previously controlled.

Iraq versus USA. Background: Rather than let the sanctions imposed by the Gulf War cease fire lapse under a wave of international pressure, the US fabricated evidence of Iraqi intent to equip terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, and invaded. At the moment, US forces are still providing the overwhelming majority of the military support for a collaborationist (they would say "pragmatic") government. Suicide Bombing: Until the Second Battle of Fallujah, the Iraqi resistance was primarily depending on sniper attacks and improvised land mines and other explosive devices; suicide attacks mostly consisted of resistance fighters, caught at checkpoints with explosives in their cars, choosing to detonate the explosives rather than be captured. Since the resistance's catastrophic failure in the Second Battle of Fallujah, however, the bulk of the native resistance has laid down arms and are negotiating peace terms in hopes of finding a place in the new government. Foreign fighters (mostly al Qaeda), largely deprived of local support since Second Fallujah, have continued with the only tactic they know how to use, suicide bombings. Most bombings have been at least nominally against neighborhoods that house collaborationist opinion leaders and mosques that preach at least limited collaboration, but the remaining "resistance" have done a very poor job of explaining their strategy, both in the world press and locally in Iraq. Outcome: The suicide bombings continue, but with ever-declining popular support within Iraq, among the civilians within the occupying nations, and on the world stage. At this point it is pretty clear that the occupation will result in a successful setup of a pro-US government, although how long that government will stay pro-US once our troops pull out is unclear, at best.