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    Middle East
     Jul 25, 2006
Hezbollah digs in deep
By Richard M Bennett

Hezbollah, Hizballah, Party of God, Islamic Jihad or Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, the radical Lebanese Shi'ite organization that goes under a wide range of names was formed in the Lebanon in 1982 as the natural offshoot of the Iranian Islamic Revolution three years earlier.

To many observers it is nothing more than an extension of Tehran's power westward to the shores of the Mediterranean, while others believe that Hezbollah also has a second agenda of its own ... the eventual total political control of the Lebanon.

Serious military force
Hezbollah is a serious military force with well trained, heavily armed and competently led combat units. Estimates vary on its

true strength, but the probable number of front line fighters available before the current conflict began was about 3,000.

To this must be added up to 20,000 veterans and well-armed militia. Its potential overall strength numbers over 50,000 if party workers, relatively untrained supporters and the potential assistance from the well-armed gunmen of the Syrian-controlled PFLP-GC (Popular Front of Liberation of Palestine - General Command) and the militia of the SNSP (Syrian National Socialist Party), operating in the Marjeyoun area of Lebanon, are taken into account.

However, the most significant and to the Israelis the most worrying element is the presence of an unknown number of Iranian Islamic Republican Guards. Thought to number anything between 500 and 2,000, these tough soldiers are responsible for the operation of most of Hezbollah's most sophisticated weapons.

They fired the C802 anti-ship missile which damaged an Israeli warship off the Lebanese coast; Iranian military technicians are involved in providing communications and SIGINT support, as well as probably controlling the longer-range Zelzal ballistic missiles, modern anti-tank and air defense missile systems.

It is perhaps also highly significant that this Hezbollah missile onslaught on Israel is taking place only a few short weeks since Syria and Iran signed a military cooperation pact against the United States, and by inference, Israel.

Hezbollah's arsenal
Hezbollah's impressive arsenal has taken some professional observers and large parts of the news media by surprise, though as yet many of its potentially most lethal weapons have not been used and probably won't be until a full-scale Israeli invasion has been launched.

They are believed to have significant quantities of Russian AT-5 Spandrel, AT-3 Sagger, a few AT-10 and a number of US TOW anti-tank guided missiles. Huge numbers of Russian RPG-7 and the Iranian-built version, the Saghegh, with a lethal 80mm tandem HEAT warhead, 82mm B-I0 and 107mm B-11 recoilless anti-tank guns, supplement 60mm, 82mm and 120mm mortars, vast numbers of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines of Chinese, Russian, Italian and Iranian origin.

Plentiful quantities of explosives and a proven ability to produce highly effective improvised explosive devices (IEDs - booby-traps and road side bombs) round out the inventory. It also has SA-7 and perhaps some SA-14-man portable surface-to-air missiles and twin 23mm ZSU anti-aircraft guns in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley.

To this can be added a few tanks, either captured from the Lebanese Army or purchased from the old Palestinian Liberation Army; numerous M113 and BTR armored personnel carriers and some towed artillery.

Hezbollah has established a large number of cleverly placed and well-defended fire positions and bunkers along the border with Israel and every road north is mined, sowed with IEDs and covered by numerous possible ambushes. The upper Bekaa Valley will only be taken at considerable risk to the Israeli ground forces and only the use of overwhelming military force will provide any certainly of success.

Hezbollah's dangerous game Hezbollah has quite callously placed a large number of the missile launchers within built-up areas with little or no consideration for the civilian casualties that would be caused by any Israeli retaliatory raids.

Despite the known accuracy of the Israel Defense Force's (IDF's) targeting intelligence and the precision-guided munitions, there will always be mistakes in identification, and it is the nature of war that occasionally munitions will go astray.

Hezbollah is undoubtedly playing a dangerous game in the hopes of a single incident with appalling civilian casualties turning world opinion solidly against Israel.

Missile threat
Once again, therefore, attention falls mainly on its missiles and artillery rockets. Hezbollah could field some 12,000-13,000 107mm, range 11 kilometers, 122mm Katyusha-style man-portable bombardment rockets with a range of 20km and an increasing number of the Fadjr variants capable of striking up to 70km into Israel, before the current conflict began.

The ranges of some of these systems have been increased, though the accuracy is still severely limited. The IDF claimed recently that Hezbollah fired a Syrian-supplied 220mm artillery rocket with a 90 kilogram warhead into Haifa which killed eight civilians.

Of far greater concern to Israel is the rumored presence of some 250 Zelzal-2 missiles in the upper Bekaa Valley. These are road-mobile, solid-propellant systems intended to be a cheap replacement for the aging SCUD missile. The Zelzal uses a rudimentary inertial guidance system and is believed to be able to deliver a warhead of some 600kg (about 1,300 pounds) over ranges varying from 150km to 400km (about 95 miles to 250 miles) , thus putting most of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, under grave threat.

Israel's nightmare scenario is one in which these long range missiles are fitted with a chemical or biological warfare payload, or even a "dirty" (ie radioactive) warhead. Both of Hezbollah's main sponsors and paymasters, Syria and Iran, are known to have such warheads available and indeed some intelligence reports have suggested that a small number of Syrian chemical weapons are well hidden in bunkers in the upper Bekaa Valley.

Hezbollah is well supported
Hezbollah still has a level of fanatical support among many ordinary Lebanese and particularly in South Beirut, southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. It is highly respected as the only Islamic force that has achieved any serious military success against Israel and is indeed the only Arab force willing, or perhaps capable, of joining the Palestinian Hamas campaign against Israel launched from Gaza.

It continues to operate openly throughout the border regions with the willing assistance of the local Lebanese population and the connivance of the government in Beirut. Internationally, Hezbollah has established cells in Europe, Africa, South America, North America and elsewhere.

Hezbollah has its political leadership well hidden in the tightly packed suburbs of south Beirut, while its main military command is split between bunkers near Ba'albek and safe havens in Syria.

Its training bases are mostly in the Bekaa (Biqa)Valley and include; Ain Bourday Base (South of Ba'albek) - guerrilla warfare training. Nabi Sheet Base - guerrilla warfare training. Ba'aIbek Homs Road Base - guerrilla warfare training. Wadi Firsan Base (in the Hermel, Bekaa Valley) - terrorist training, long-range patrols, observation techniques, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon techniques. Wadi al-Yammouneh Base (edge of the Jbeil mountains) - terrorist training. Nabeh El Assi Base (Hermel, Bekaa Valley) - terrorist training.

Israel will undoubtedly find Hezbollah a tough and resilient enemy, it will ultimately prove very difficult to destroy militarily and virtually impossible to defeat politically.

AFI Research provides expert information on the world's intelligence services, armed forces and conflicts. Contact rbmedia@supanet.com

(Copyright 2006 AFI Research. Used with permission.)



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