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    Middle East
     Aug 9, 2006
Hezbollah - a clever and determined enemy
By Richard M Bennett and David McKenzie

As the Israeli response to Hezbollah's attacks enters the fourth week, it is a good time to assess the current military position.

The reactions of the popular media in the West, the Middle East and indeed even Israel once again highlight the difficulties ordinary journalists have in grasping the true significance of military tactics and events on the battlefield.

Those who expected a war of dramatic military movement with lines of tanks and armored vehicles racing north to the Litani River and a ceasefire agreed within a week or so have been, and will continue to be, disappointed.

It was an unrealistic expectation based on experience and not on

today's rather different situation. Hezbollah is not just a rag-tag militia; it is a well-trained, well-armed, disciplined and highly motivated fighting force.

With considerable help from Iran and Syria and using even some North Korean expertise, Hezbollah has created a vast network of well-hidden tunnels, bunkers and missile-storage dumps over a wide area of south Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley.

Missiles and other arms have been stored on farms and in garages, workshops and office blocks as well as in the cellars and roof spaces of private homes. Each village has a network of "stay behind" bunkers from which small groups of Hezbollah reappear each time the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has "captured" the area.

Hit-and-run tactics by small, well-armed units have caused more of an ongoing nuisance and created additional casualties for the IDF than any serious military defeat. However, the unwanted losses and the embarrassment of apparent failure have been difficult for the IDF to swallow. The terrain is also much in favor of the defenders and against the rapid deployment of massed armored vehicles.

Israel's military response
Israel has therefore opted, out of necessity, for a twin-track approach characterized first by sustained, but occasionally wayward, air strikes to paralyze Hezbollah's ability to move significant quantities of men and weapons to the south and to hinder the resupply of the fighters by Iran and Syria while degrading Hezbollah's command network. The Israeli Air Force has had some success in this so far, but nowhere near enough to satisfy its many critics.

The second part of this approach has been to "fix the battlefield" in an 8-kilometer strip inside the Lebanese border. This has had far more success than is currently being believed by the news media. First, the IDF's combat engineers have found and destroyed a considerable portion of Hezbollah's military infrastructure directly threatening northern Israel. Large quantities of arms and many hidden facilities have now been neutralized.

Though the IDF has been unable completely to prevent the infiltration of additional Hezbollah fighters into the newly captured areas, Israeli commanders on the ground have turned this to their own advantage. The IDF has been presented with the opportunity to kill many more of the Hezbollah than they could possibly have hoped. Indeed, it is more than likely that many of the civilian casualties being repeatedly mentioned in the media are in fact Hezbollah fighters killed while hiding in civilian clothes.

This does not excuse Israeli mistakes that have undoubtedly cost the lives of genuinely innocent civilians, but exaggeration and Hezbollah tactics of mixing combat fighters among civilians clearly accounts for a fair percentage of the lives lost so far.

Intelligence failed at a vital moment
There is justified criticism of the lack of intelligence on the ground in the Lebanon. Intelligence that should have been available to find, fix and eliminate many of the so far elusive Hezbollah targets has simply not been available to the IDF.

The Lebanese government is in part responsible for this. Several months ago the Lebanese Security Service, working in close cooperation with Hezbollah's own counter-intelligence unit, smashed an Israeli spy ring. As many as 80 Lebanese Christian, Sunni Muslim and Druze agents working for Mossad were arrested in a series of police operations.

Crucially, in the last few weeks before Hezbollah launched its missile offensive, Israel was deprived of one of its vital sources of intelligence in the cities and towns of south Lebanon. During this critical period, Hezbollah was able to move much of its weaponry and support infrastructure to new sites, leaving the Israeli Air Force partly blinded.

This is one of the explanations for a series of Israeli air strikes on what turned out to be non-Hezbollah targets. Israel has not chosen to use this to explain away its mistakes, for to do so would endanger its operatives held in Lebanese secret-police interrogation cells and, of course, admit to a major intelligence failure.

What next for Israel?
Assuming that the US and British governments successfully resist mounting international pressure to force Israel to agree to an immediate ceasefire before it has done significant and long-term damage to Hezbollah, then much greater use of special forces and a possible full-scale ground invasion to seal off south Lebanon are undoubtedly being closely considered.

Should Israel opt for this high-risk strategy, it would at the very least provide the opportunity to cut Hezbollah off from reinforcement and allow the IDF to destroy the remaining forces trapped behind the new front line without the risk of incurring politically unsustainable Israeli casualties.

Only then would Israel be able to put a stop to the Hezbollah barrage of shorter-range missiles.

There are two pointers to this becoming the preferred option: First, the call-up of about four full divisions of reservists, something that Israel finds hard to maintain economically for any length of time, and second, the special-forces raids on Baalbek in eastern Lebanon and the one carried out in Tyre by the elite naval commandos of Shayetet-13 (S-13).

However, whatever option Israel chooses, it will still be faced by a determined and clever enemy that has growing popular support and the patronage of two major states prepared to rearm it in an attempt to force the international community to accept them both once again as major players in Middle East politics.

It's fair to say that the paymasters sitting in Damascus and Tehran are quite happy to fight their war to the last Lebanese, or Israeli, civilian.

There are no bombs dropping on Syria or Iran ... yet.

It remains to be seen whether an international force will ever have the will or military capability or be backed by sufficient political resolve to enforce any resolution that requires Hezbollah being disarmed. Signing ceasefires or peace settlements may please protesters and the media, but it doesn't stop missiles.

Ultimately the Israeli armed forces may still be called on to fight this war all over again, though one suspects using rather more aggressive tactics.

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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