The General Of The Dead Army

Hezbollah says they have in their possession body parts of Israeli soldiers dead during the July 2006 agression on Lebanon and abandoned on the battlefield by the Israeli army. (Reuters 19.01.08. 22h30 by Yara Bayoumy, translated from the French version.)

I read this yesterday and asked myself what is the point of Israeli soldiers' body parts thrown in the middle of a speech on 'Achoura day ? 'Achoura for the Chi'ites designates the tenth day of the first month of the Muslim year during which the Chi'ite community commemorates the killing on year 680, at the orders of the Umayyad Caliph, of Imam Husayn, son of Imam Ali, and grand'son of the prophet. It is a day of atonement, remembrance and mourning.

"O zionists, your army has been lying to you. Parts of your dead soldiers' bodies were left behind in our fields and in our orchards", Nasrallah declared to a crowd of hundred thousands gathered for the commemoration of 'Achoura.
"Our moudjahidins are used to fight these zionists, to kill them and to keep whatever left of their bodies (...) I am telling Israelis, We have your soldiers heads, we have their hands, we have their legs", added Nasrallah, who was speaking on a rare appearance. He has not been seen in a public appearance since months.

The 34 days of the Israeli agression on Lebanon left Israel with 157 deaths, most of them soldiers, while there were more than 1200 victims on the Lebanese side, mostly civilians.
"We even possess an entire body, we also have half bodies or more, from the head to the chest", insisited the head of Hezbollah.

Israel condemned the speech as a disregard for elementary humanitarian principles and even the religious principles of Islam. Some in Israel were of the opinion to ignore the speech as not to give importance to Nasrallah. Some analysts believe that Nasrallah's speech is meant to pressure Israel into releasing Lebanese prisoners in exchange of the two Israeli soldiers detained by Hezbollah and whose kidnapping officially started the 34 days Israeli agression on Lebanon. Twice this month, Israel detained temporarily for interrogation, from Lebanese territory, two Lebanese shepherds. Israel continues also to violate Lebanon's airspace almost daily.

"We believe that Israeli attacks against civilians on the border are humiliations for the lebanese nation and its people. We cannot stay silent in the face of these attacks and we must confront them one day, if God's willing." Threatened Nasrallah.

The head of Hezbollah doubted the capacity of the political and military leadership of Israel to launch a war on Lebanon. But he added that if this were to happen, "We promise them a war that will change the course of war (meaning the usual course of wars between Israel and Arab states) and the destiny of the region, if God's willing".

Despite the fact that it was delivered to a civil audience, and on a religious occasion, Nasrallah's speech is 100% military speech, destined in the first place to Israel and its army, and through them to their Lebanese allies, Sanyura, Hariri, and March 14th. Everybody knows that an army that respects itself doesn't leave bodies of soldiers behind in the battelfield or, if it leaves them, it tries to have them back by time of peace through negotiations, or through revenge by war. Israel has been ignoring this fact and doing neither both.

The theme of dead soldiers' bodies and armies' honor has inspired poets and novelists. One of the most interesting novels on the subject was written by Albanian author Ismail Kadare, "The General Of The Dead Army".
Twenty years after World War II, an Italian general—armed with maps, measurements, and dental records—is sent to Albania to recover the remains of his country’s fallen soldiers...In addition to the brutal weather, they (he and a priest) also battle the hostility of the Albanians working for them. This may be an errand of mercy for the general, but the chance to humiliate their one-time conquerors offers the Albanians a welcome vengeance...Then, in a terrible crescendo at a wedding, the Italian general must answer for the crimes of his country and all countries that have invaded this land of eagles, seeking to destroy its people.

Beside the fact that Nasrallah is emulating Imam Ali's speeches, this speech is clearly an invitation, a challenge, for Israel to revisit the battlefield, either by pacifist means, through negotiations, or through war, because an army that leaves its soldiers behind is an army without honor. Some may think that Nasrallah has gone mad. Why provoke Israel ? To receive the same reply as in July 2006 ? I think that Nasrallah is sending, through Israel, a signal to his opponents in Lebanon who are refusing any compromise. The dialogue in Lebanon has become so impossible that Lebanese have to speak through foreign intermediaries, all ennemies of Lebanon. Sanyura and March 14th are speaking with the foreign intermediaries the language of surrender and treason while Nasrallah is speaking the language of patriotism.

Lebanon is going through its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, and negotiations between the Hezbollah led oppostion and the government on a consensus presidential candidate are stalling to the point many are evoking the increasing risk of a civil war. Nasrallah has stated on many occasions that Hezbollah will never use its military power against other Lebanese, as he has never done so in the past, an act from which Hezbollah takes pride and popularity among non Chi'ites Lebanese; Lebanese Christians and Sunni Muslims. Nasrallah was conciliatory to a maximum with the government and March 14th who are showing no will to talk to his powerful alliance, betting on the inability of Hezbollah to engage in internal warfare and risk loosing its popularity. And so Nasrallah is sending a signal to the Sanyura government telling them that even though Hezbollah may seem cornered for the time being, it can engage at any time in hostilities against Israel, recreating the kind of consensus around him that emerged spontaneously during the Israeli agression on Lebanon. This might be Sanyura's and March 14th's worst nightmare. They would rather prefer an Iraqi style civil war in which they receive US and Israeli support to terminate Hezbollah. But Nasrallah is fully aware of this and aware that this is exactly what is behind the stalling of the negotiations on the future president while the country is without a president since the end of August. So if one party is determined not to engage in a civil war when it had many chances to do so during the last two years, there won't be a civil war, despite the many efforts made by Saudi paid Sunni extremists, renegades from the Iraqi insurgency, to throw a chaos in Lebanon leading to a new civil war.

Then the only way this is going to end is, most probably, and if Hezbollah has the means, by a new war with Israel. And don't expect Israel to listen to Sanyura or any other anti-Hezbollah politician in Lebanon when it feels it will be time to discipline Hezbollah for their audacity. Recently, the web was buzzing with reports from military strategists reflecting on the Israeli debacle against Hezbollah in July 2006 and on future prospects. And it is almost certain that Israel will return as an agressor to south Lebanon, to take revenge. And it is almost certain that Hezbollah will be there, as it is certain that hezbollah will never engage in a civil war in Lebanon.

So it seems to me that the prospects in Lebanon are set, in the absence of a consensus between March 14th and the opposition, toward either a civil war, or a war against Israel, ot both...But as Nasrallah will try to escape the prospect of Hezbollah having to fight a civil war, as he did for the last two years despite great tensions, it will certainly be an Israeli-Lebanese war...Neither is suitable for the future of Lebanon. Nasrallah's speech is just a reminder to Sanyura, Hariri, their allies, and the lousy politicians in Lebanon, that an agreement is unescapable if we want to avoid a catastrophe. And that if there should be a catastrophe, it will be Nasrallah's kind of catastrophe, and not theirs.

UPDATE ON february 16th: Sanyura warns hezbollah that an open war against israel is bad for Arabs and Muslims. This man is freaking out...


M Bashir said...

Sophia, those who saw the speech as disgusting, will never understand, in fact they do not read, and when they do, can not understand what they read. it is disgusting to see mass murderers and war criminals talk about their disgust when nassrallah uses whatever means in hand to free live prisoners and bodies of lebanese still held by israelis.

Sophia said...

What is written in the comment section on your blog is more of a gutr eaction, I think, contrary to what these people are saying, Nasrallah has got more respect from israelis than from ebanese like them and moreover, these lebanese will never ever get any real respect from an Israeli.

bech said...

very interesting idea. I would just object to one simplification, that of thinking that Sanyura et al. are allied with Israel. Not because it's good or bad mind you, but because this changes the whole analysis of political agendas.
Sanyura and march 14 have no interest at all to see israel return even if (in the best of possible worlds) it this time restricts its strikes on Hizb.

The battle is indeed local, and Hizbullah is talking to the Lebanese by addressing himself to the Israelis, but not because one is the ally of the other, but because one will react to what is being said to the other.

One thing is sure, the capture of prisoners in July 2006 was aimed at breaking the local deadlock. But this does not mean Hibullah wanted or wants war. War against Israel or any measures that changes the status quo with Israel in terms of territory, prisoners, military arsenal etc. is aimed at securing battles on the local level. And in a sense it is a type of nationalism being constructed.

Sophia said...


I agree with you that this was a simplification. Samyura and March 14th do not want Israel to return. They are not objective allies but implicit allies in the sense that Sanyura's govrenment and March 14th, by refusing to compromise for a solution with hezbollah, are applying the agenda of Israel's closest ally in the region, the US.
Their strategy, or absence of strategy, sometimes baffles me. How March 14th can conciliate their total allegiance to the US and yet want israel away ?

bech said...

The logic is simple (yet very destructive). They think the US will stand by them (help them keep power through continuous pressure on Hizbullah), even if it is allied with Israel. So basically they don't really care as long as they keep the political status quo intact. What would a Jumblatt or a Geagea become without this artificial alignment today? Imagine a more equitable electoral law is voted in parliament and most of these guys are out.

It is like a child who breaks his toy. This is how you could read Sanyura's cries during the last war. It was kind of: "we played by the rules, why are you doing this to us?"

The US, Israel, the 14th of March although seemingly aligned, each work with a completely different perspective, just as much as Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah are aligned but for drastically different political imperatives.

bech said...

hey i wrote a big answer that was lost! i'll try writing again later... to tired to think this morning..

Sophia said...


Your answer was mot lost but my comments are moderated.

Thanks for the reply. Very interesting this image of Sanyura. And I agree with you that organisations and countries within each of the alliances on both sides of the divide have different agenda. The only exception by now is the US and Israel who end up applying the same agenda in the middle east. That's because Israel is an extension, geographical extension to the US's imperial appetite in the region. If you look at the history of the middle east, all empires started somewhere nearby and extended, even Europe and the crusaders were not that far. The problem of the imperial projects of the US is geographical, they need a kind of geographical entity on which they can rely, military bases are not enough because imperial geographical continuity must ensompass cultural and demographic mixing...

dubhaltach said...

Sophia for religous right-wing and religious extreme right-wing Jews in Israel getting as much of the body back as possible is religiously very important.

That's why there are teams of Rabbis who quite literally rush to the site of for example, a suicide or car bombing to pick up as many of the pieces of flesh inevitably strewn around on such an occasion. The same applies to the bits of dead invaders left behind in the most recent invasion of Lebanon by the Israelis.

I wouldn't say this was a mistake by Nasrallah at all, I would say this was him having a very useful weapon in his hand and knowing exactly how and where to twist it.

bech said...

The relation between Israel and the US is not quite as straightforward (imperial satellite etc.) but there is an element of truth in what you are saying. Yet it is interesting to see how dissension may arise between the two.

Sophia said...


No, the relation is not straightforward. But it is in cases like the war on Iraq and the actual showdown with Iran.
And it is actually this that is creating dissent in the US. Because the US could achieve its imperial goals in the ME, and stay friend with Israel, in more peaceful ways.
I think one of the goals of the Iraq war, and then maybe the Iran war is to subjugate and to divide the whole region as to make things easier for Israel to go its own way.

Sophia said...


Religion aside, any army has a duty to collect its dead soldiers and remove them from the battlefield and ennemies' possession. In the case of Israel I agree that the issue is even more acute.

dubhaltach said...

As you konw Sophia I am a serving soldier and the son of a soldier, and I am married to a soldier, I am aware of that duty :-).

That is not what I am saying.

What I am saying is that the Israeli political elite cares not a piastre for their soldiers they do however care very much about the votes of those soldiers and of those soldiers' families.

Nasrallah knows this and is turning the knife where it will give a lot of pain and trouble to those politicians and to the blatantly politicised high command of the Israeli armed forces.

Sophia said...

Dear Du,

I understood you well. But to be frank I didn't think in electoral terms and you are 100% right on this point as on the other point where Israel doesn't care for its soldiers, as much as the US authorities actually care for their their own...

smk873 said...

Sophia - on your comment . . . "subject was written by Albanese author Ismail Kadare", please note that those from Albania or Albanian territories (outside of her internationally recognized borders) are known as "Albanian" and not "Albanese".

However, I will admit that I tend to use the term "Albanese" when refering to the likes of my children . . . half Albanian & half Lebanese. ;)

Sophia said...


Thanks for the comment. I will correct the term in the post.

Randy said...

i read your comments above now, with the perspective of knowing that Israel had to release a child murderer in order to get back these body parts. Do you feel that you were totally wrong by saying:

Everybody knows that an army that respects itself doesn't leave bodies of soldiers behind in the battelfield or, if it leaves them, it tries to have them back by time of peace through negotiations, or through revenge by war. Israel has been ignoring this fact and doing neither both.

Since March 29th 2006