The World's Best-armed and Most Dangerous NGO

We don't know what to call Hezbollah, because we don't really know what they are: A guerrilla organization, a group of farmer-by-day resistance fighters, or a terror group?

In the 1960s, when a computer in the home, a telephone in the pocket, and a television satellite in orbit were the outlandish stuff of cartoon fantasy, defense industries in the United States were hard at work preparing for the electronic battlefield of the 21st century.

Sure enough, the real electronic battlefield of the 21st century would prove to be the collective subconscious: the war for public opinion fought live via cellular phones and satellite television and home computers - even when home is a Bedouin tent.

The recent Lebanon war was a new model of warfare, just as the Hezbollah/Hamas model is a new model of governance.

The war was one of the first in history in which both sides began by concentrating their fire on the enemy's home front. It was the first in history in which a force of irregulars fired thousands of surface-to-surface missiles - as many as 250 a day - into civilian areas deep within a sovereign nation.

Predictably, in the electronic struggle for hearts and minds, there is no overlap between the way Hezbollah is pictured in Israel and in the Muslim world.

In Israeli media, even in ostensibly left-leaning outlets, Hezbollah men are with rare exceptions referred to as mehablim, terrorists. Hezbollah and Hamas are routinely described as Islamic terrorist organizations bent on Israel's destruction, just as they always have been - and which the knee-jerk right insists they always must be.

In much of the foreign media - in particular among the acrobatic apologists of the Lawrence of Arabia left - Hezbollah is identified variously as a guerrilla organization, a group of farmer-by-day resistance fighters, a political party and coalition partner in the ruling Lebanese cabinet, or a vast and vital social welfare network for the poorest of Lebanon's citizens.

All of this is true, and the terrorism as well. That is precisely the problem with the facile label. Hezbollah is all of these at once, and thus, no single one of these labels is accurate. We don't know what to call them, because we don't really know what they are.

Because we dismissed them as terrorists, we didn't know how to fight them. And because we didn't know how to fight them, we used sledgehammers instead of scalpels in areas where hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians lived.

And because we so entirely dismissed them, we helped Al-Jazeera and much of the caricature-driven media of the cable-satellite West, transform them from killers to giant-killers.

This is the new model, the agent of the truly New Middle East, so new that we don't even have a workable name for it.

Just as Israel would do well to look with fresh eyes and new candor at itself in the light of the war, we would do well to try to divine what this creature called Hezbollah really is.

It is the world's best-armed and most dangerous NGO, a relief agency that does everything it can to kill maximum numbers of innocents across the border. It is the Corleone model of humanitarian aid work, winning gratitude and fealty with family packs of $12,000 in freshly wrapped currency.

It is our enemy. We don't know how to fight it. Not yet.

Does it want to destroy Israel? Of course it does. Did its rockets kill Israeli civilians indiscriminately, among them Arab citizens of the state? Did its apologists insists that the targets of its 3,700 rockets were really army bases? Of course they did.

Is it a terrorist organization? No. Not because it doesn't engage in terror, but because its real power in the world of radical Islam, Israel-hate and America-hate, comes from this new model of the Islamic super-state.

For the first time since Islam lost Spain, radical Islamists - even those who hate Shi'ites nearly as much as they hate Jews - have begun to believe that the caliphate can be restored, that the empire of Allah can overcome and eventually supplant the West.

And we are helping them. By dismissing them as terrorists, and by playing directly into their hands, by undermining governments, like that of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, that actually want to see peace come between our peoples, before radical Islam rings down a curtain on all of us.

If the Israeli and Jewish fossil right are to be believed, all this talk about peace is self-destructive. All that matters is to hang on to all the land we have, and blast away at everything that moves across the border. To "finish the job."

If the right are to be believed, all the Arabs want to see Israel dead, and despotic Islamic regimes reign supreme. If the fossil right is to be believed, then there's no hope for any of us. If we are facing 200 million terrorists, as the fossil right would have us believe, there's no hope for the right, either.

There is another possibility, of course. That is, that something about terrorists changes over time when they actually are faced with the real challenges of governance. When they are faced with actual constituents, with diverse needs and diverse belief systems, and little real taste for the iron fist and the religion of rifles and explosives.

It is too convenient for many of us, rightists here and abroad, to dismiss the Arabs as terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.

It is too convenient for many of us to decide that nothing changes, that they will all hate us until we are dead and/or gone.

The challenge now is to find the strength to believe that we, in fact, have a future with the people who live across the line.

The challenge we face is to respect our enemies enough to know how to hang on to what is ours. To be strong enough to fight them when they come to kill us. But to be strong enough, as well, to remain open to those who want to find a way to live and let us live as well.

In the end, the Lebanese people no more want a Hezbollah state than we want a Kahane state. The Lebanese people are not terrorists.

The label terrorist is much too simple. We love to use it, but it can blind us to the complexities of reality, and the fact that things, and even those we label terrorists, can change over time.

Think, for one brief moment, about Menachem Begin.