resists almost four weeks of Israeli air and
ground operations, many analysts are calling it
the most effective Arab force the Israeli army has
The militia has stockpiles of
missiles and light arms and, perhaps most
important, a highly mobile command structure that
allows it to conduct a classic hit-and-run
guerrilla war of attrition.
Europe/Radio Liberty correspondents Charles
Recknagel and Dominik Breithaupt spoke with Timur
Goksel, the former spokesman of the United Nations
monitoring force in south Lebanon, to learn more
about Hezbollah's organization and
tactics. Goksel now teaches
at the American University in Beirut.
RFE/RL: Looking at the
number of about 2,000-4,000 soldiers that fight
for the Hezbollah against 10,000 Israeli soldiers,
it seems unlikely that the militia could keep up
an effective resistance for long. What makes it so
difficult for the Israeli army to defeat the
These people have been fighting the
Israelis for 18 years in south Lebanon. People
forget that. They already know the Israelis. And
they fought them when they occupied Lebanon
[Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and maintained a
buffer zone in south Lebanon until 2000] and since
then they have been preparing for a guerrilla war
And they are a very experienced,
very well-equipped guerrilla army and they also
believe in what they are doing. And they have the
local support of the population and they are local
people themselves, they feel like they are
defending their own villages. So when you put this
together you get a very strong army - a guerrilla
army, at least.
Lack of hierarchy
important RFE/RL: A common
strategy in wartime is to disrupt the
command-and-control capability of the enemy. But
Hezbollah seems to have survived almost a month of
heavy Israeli bombing. How does the militia remain
effective on the battlefield?
Goksel: They don't work in
military hierarchies or military command levels.
They don't have anything like that. There is one
leader in Beirut and all the other units in the
field are autonomous, they know what they are
doing [by themselves]. They don't need
communications, they don't report everything, they
don't ask for orders, they know what they are
There are small units of not more
than 20 men, and most are local people. They
operate on their own, they don't need supplies.
They are very independent. That makes it very
difficult to catch them, of course.
RFE/RL: The organizational
structure you describe is common to a secret
guerrilla movement. Yet Hezbollah has been a
highly public presence in Lebanon for more than
two decades, including now being part of the
government. Could you describe the group's
structure in more detail?
political and social arm is very public [but]
Hezbollah's military is a very secretive
organization. Even most other Hezbollah people
will not know who they [military members] are.
They are extremely security-conscious - extremely
- to the point of paranoia.
don't know who these people are because they never
display themselves, they don't have uniforms, they
don't have any bases, they don't work out of
bases, they don't have supply depots. Therefore,
it is a very secretive arm [and that is] because
they have a very healthy respect for Israeli
intelligence, which is always trying to track them
leadership RFE/RL: How
directly does Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual
leader of Hezbollah, control its military arm?
Goksel: Their structure is
that only Sheikh Nasrallah is the supreme
commander and there is nobody else between him and
the field leaders. They removed all those
[intermediate levels] years ago, because they felt
like when you are organized as a military unit
then it is very easy for Israel to detect you,
because when you are [such a formal] organization
you make noise when you move. So they removed all
organization and they are working with a secret
cell system, actually.
RFE/RL: But doesn't a secret
cell system also present some disadvantages when
it comes to launching coordinated operations on
the battlefield? Is there no central planning?
Goksel: There are also
predetermined operations. They have a lot of local
autonomy but they will not launch an operation
unless it is all part of a plan. There is a local
leader, there is a regional leader system, but
they don't report to [any military headquarters
in] Beirut. It is not cumbersome, there are no
levels like in a normal army, [such as] companies,
battalions, regiments, nothing like that. It is a
very flat sort of organization, not a pyramid sort
we know where Nasrallah is now?
Goksel: I wouldn't know
where he is and certainly they [Hezbollah] are not
advertising it. But I know one thing about that
man: he never abandons his people. He is famous
for that. The reason he became Sheikh Nasrallah
[the leader of Hezbollah] is because of his
reputation for never leaving the fighters.
So I can safely assume that he is with his
own people. He never abandons them, that is not
his style. That's why he became so famous and so
adored within the whole of Hezbollah, because he
never leaves his people alone.
RFE/RL: There are reports
that the Israeli army is trying to assassinate
Nasrallah by targeting Hezbollah compounds in
southern Beirut and elsewhere. Would Hezbollah
fall apart if he were killed?
Goksel: If Sheikh Nasrallah
goes, that organization is likely to come apart.
Because, especially at a time like this, no
[other] leader can emerge to keep this whole
massive organization of social, economic,
political, and military things together. Nobody
can do that.
And there are some
[competing] currents in Hezbollah that Sheikh
Nasrallah is keeping together. In my
understanding, some of these groups might become
more independent in their actions. And when you
have people with guns and rockets [taking]
independent action, then you are looking for
trouble because you never know which way they will
go. Because he is providing the central discipline
and the central command.
Hezbollah, or Lebanon? RFE/RL:
The Israeli army says it is bombing
Lebanese infrastructure such as highways to cut
supply routes from Syria - and ultimately Iran -
which are suspected of rearming Hezbollah. But is
it possible to stop supplies from reaching the
Goksel: More than
[being] a strategy, that is a way of destroying
the Lebanese infrastructure. That is not a
strategy, that is an excuse to inflict maximum
pain on this country. Because they [the Israelis]
couldn't do it [stop Hezbollah], they want the
[Lebanese] people to stop Hezbollah. And certainly
[if the bombing is] to prevent the supply [of arms
to Hezbollah], it cannot do that. There are 300
kilometers of open borders. Are they going to
watch every border crossing 24 hours a day? That
is a "no go", but it is a good excuse to keep