HOW HEZBOLLAH DEFENDED LEBANON
OLD-STYLE GUERRILLA WARFARE DEFEATED HIGH-TECH INVADERS
By Richard Walker
Now that the dust has settled in bomb-ravaged Lebanon, evidence shows that Israel’s military defeat at the hands of Hezbollah, the militia group in southern Lebanon, was bigger than at first thought and it eroded America’s standing in what the Bush administration calls the Muslim street, as well as in the palaces of America’s few Arab friends.
The most starling facts now coming to light reveal that Hezbollah outmaneuvered Israel’s highly vaunted military strategists, defeated its counter-intelligence planners and built a sophisticated command and control system that proved impervious to a high-tech war. That system allowed Hezbollah’s military leaders to communicate with frontline fighters despite Israel’s carpet bombing huge swathes of Lebanon, a country about the size of Connecticut.
Hezbollah, and not Israel or the Pentagon, learned quite a bit from studying the Vietnam War. Hezbollah leaders deduced that if a guerrilla army can survive heavy bombing, it can emerge to successfully confront ground assaults. That is how Hezbollah played it.
From the outset, the Israelis arrogantly believed it was facing an inferior opponent. They believed they knew where their enemy’s main ammo dumps and command and control systems were located.
Israeli generals presumed that the Israeli air force and its heavily armed unmanned drones could seek and destroy all Hezbollah bunkers in a three-day “shock and awe” blitz. This, they thought, would decapitate the Hezbollah leadership, destroy its weapons dumps and knock out its command systems. As a consequence, Hezbollah fighters would have no means of re-supply and would have to emerge from their foxholes to surrender or be shot.
That, however, proved to be pure military fantasy rooted in Israel’s belief in its own military invincibility. And what Israeli generals did not anticipate was the fact that Hezbollah could beat them at their own game.
In the aftermath of Israel being driven from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah had been setting the stage for an elaborate ruse that Israeli intelligence and military planners fell right into.
Over the years, Hezbollah had built bunkers to protect fighters when the time came for war. Hezbollah’s leaders knew Israeli satellites could see from space and they knew Israel had agents on the ground who were watching their every move. So what Hezbollah did was to build decoys to fool the Israelis. It was a classic military tactic used by Allied forces during World War II, especially the British who often used decoy tanks or boats to fool the Luftwaffe.
However, while Hezbollah was building the decoys, it secretly constructed the deep, hardened bunkers, many with air-conditioning, to hold their fighters, their command and control centers and massive arsenals of weapons, including missiles.
Mossad, the famed Israeli intelligence agency, is only now beginning to realize that, for years, Hezbollah had also been training highly specialized troops, and frontline fighters who could hit and run, using classic guerrilla tactics against advancing heavy armor and troops.
Like most guerrilla armies, a cell structure was employed, whereby each Hezbollah unit assigned to the front line knew what it had to do and the locations of its own arms dumps. That meant if a fighter was captured he could only divulge a limited amount of information under tough or brutal Israeli interrogation.
The effectiveness of Hezbollah’s high-tech command system shocked U.S. and Israeli military analysts because it operated unhindered throughout the 34-day war. It allowed Hezbollah leaders to provide their front lines with detailed information from informers about Israeli troop movements.
More importantly, it provided the Hezbollah leadership with a picture of the battlefield that led them to conclude that only one brigade of several thousand fighters, known as the Nasr Brigade, was sufficient to handle the large Israeli advance. There was, therefore, no need to commit reinforcements from the organization’s 20,000 reserve force which was intended for use in a long, drawn-out war with Israel.
It has taken until now for Israeli and U.S. military experts to fully comprehend the sheer scale of the Israeli defeat and its implications for both countries.
New figures show that contrary to initial Israeli claims that Hezbollah lost upwards of 500 fighters, the real number of losses totaled somewhere around 200. That is close to the number of Israeli military dead—a reflection of just how formidable a foe Hezbollah had proven to be.
For the U.S. military in Iraq, and more specifically the so-called “Rumsfeld Doctrine,” which AFP analyzed in-depth on Oct. 23, Israel’s defeat had some very sobering lessons.
First, Israel was quick to underestimate its enemy because, within days of its bombardment of Lebanon, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his cabinet were in “George Bush Mission Accomplished” mode. However,
when the Israeli military moved into Lebanon, it found exactly what the U.S. military learned in Iraq—it is one thing to seize ground, but it is a far different story to hold it.
Throughout the war, the Israeli army could advance into towns in southern Lebanon, but it was never capable of holding on to them. Each time it moved into a bombed-out village, it lost so many tanks and men that it was forced to retreat or lose more men and machinery.
Dispirited at the end of the war, the Israeli command—in an act of bloody revenge considered a war crime by many foreign observers—littered vast areas of Lebanon, including hundreds of towns, villages and farms, with cluster-bomb droplets, which have been killing innocent men, women and children ever since.
On the political front, Israel’s defeat at the hands of Hezbollah has done more than discredit a military strategy. It has ripped down the country’s mantle of invincibility. In addition, the United States has lost what little influence it had in Lebanon and found its standing among the majority Shiite population in neighboring Iraq severely weakened.
Hezbollah’s victory has also put America’s puppet regimes in the Middle East on notice that the Muslim street sided with Hezbollah in contrast to the outspoken opinions of the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, who backed the Israeli-U.S. goal of destroying Hezbollah.
Worse still for Washington, Israel’s loss was also America’s, because Hezbollah’s victory has now empowered Syria and Iran in the region and has inflamed Muslim anger at the United States.
Ironically, U.S.-backing for Israel illustrated once again President Bush’s hypocritical call for bringing democracy at the barrel of a gun to the Middle East. Bush supported Israel’s plan to destroy Hezbollah, a Shiite militia group that has been active in democracies in Lebanon and in Iraq.
Shiites have always condemned Israel’s policies in the Middle East. Iraqi Shiites see Hezbollah Shiites as their brothers, just as they do the majority Shiite population in Iran. The lesson that Washington should have learned from the massive Baghdad demonstration in favor of Hezbollah during the war was that Iraqis have no allegiance to the United States, which toppled the Sunni-led government in Iraq.
The failed Israeli military campaign was also a body blow for neo-conservatives and their Israeli allies who believed the defeat of Hezbollah would humiliate its backers, Iran and Syria, and also further the strategy of regime change in the region. Neo-cons in the White House did not even care how many innocents were killed by Israeli air strikes in Lebanon. They were prepared to support a long war by Israel and applauded Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice when she made the absurd claim that the Lebanon war represented the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
There are now concerned voices warning that it is only a matter of time before Israel seeks to restore its cloak of invincibility by finding an excuse to invade Lebanon again and finish the job. Alternatively, Israel could mount an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Either course of action would be disastrous. It would lead to all-out war and would collapse the Middle East, leaving nearly 140,000 U.S. soldiers hostage to attacks across the region.
(Issue #44, October 30, 2006)