In the past month, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) was routed by the Hezbollah militia. In 2006, the Israelis also got skunked by Hezbollah. Let’s give credit where credit is due: Hezbollah is a master of hybrid warfare. It can combine state of the art weaponry and asymmetric tactics to defeat a conventional force — especially when that force is unprepared as was the case with both the Lebanese National Army and the Israeli Defense Force in 2006. Israel will not make the same mistake twice. The Lebanese military may need some help.
The military arm of Hezbollah is a very good fighting force, but it is not invincible. In fighting the Israelis to a standstill in 2006, the Shi’ite militia used the tactics that the Japanese used on Okinawa in 1945 combined with sophisticated Iranian-supplied Kornet missiles, Ababail unmanned aircraft, and anti-ship missiles to embarrass their Israeli foes. Every Hezbollah squad had more night vision devices and snipe scopes than did an entire platoon of their Israeli counterparts.
The Japanese failed on Okinawa because the Americans, still smarting from humiliations at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, were willing to pay any price. Neither the Israelis nor the Lebanese Armed Forces can afford that luxury. Yet the Israelis can nonetheless take care of themselves; we need to ask what we can do to help the Lebanese military.
We could help greatly by assigning special forces operators to advise each Lebanese battalion. We should spend the money to put each Lebanese battalion through the rotations at the U.S. Army’s National Training Center or the Marine Corps Combined Arms Center — both are located in the California high desert. We should have done this with the Iraqis, but we failed to do so. We are just now recovering from that mistake. The Lebanese army is a legitimate — if under-trained and under-supplied — army. It is a viable, but flawed, institution. Our Special Forces guys transformed the armed forces of El Salvador and that is a model to emulate. We did this without a single American death. Let us allow the professionals to do the job.
From an equipment stand point, we could provide the Lebanese military with the Israeli TROPHY Active Protection system. This system is capable of defeating both Kornet anti-vehicle weapons and small killer unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the Iranian Ababail. Ironically, the Israelis had not provided their own forces with this system in 2006.
We could also supply the Lebanese military with unmanned ground robots that can deal with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and clear tunnels which Hezbollah use liberally. We might also want to give any Lebanese navy craft operating against Hezbollah in littoral waters some top cover against Iranian anti-ship missiles. The experience might be useful in a potential conflict with Iran.
No nation can be truly sovereign if it cannot control or eliminate armed factions within its borders. Lebanon is no exception. Hezbollah must be brought to heel.
I have a bias here. I was an unarmed U.N. observer from 1986-87; Hezbollah was actively trying to kill or capture me. If it were not for good Shi’ite locals who tipped me off, I would be dead today. My successor, Rich Higgins, was not so lucky: He was captured, kidnapped and killed by a Hezbollah sub-faction. I survived by becoming a de facto unarmed guerrilla myself. I slipped into and out of villages unannounced. I knew which muktar liked Bailey’s Bristol Cream and always brought a bottle to the “room where Allah cannot see.” They invariably let me know when it was a bad day to visit a village.
Hezbollah is probably not totally evil — but it is ruthless and well disciplined. If someone does not control them, the Iranian-backed militia will control the country. Hezbollah is a political power in Lebanon, and it needs to be brought under control and reduced to a legitimate political party. If we cannot help the Lebanese government do this, we will have handed the Iranians a victory on a platter.
Lebanon is a key to peace in the Middle East. Israel cannot abide by a threat from Hezbollah on its northern border. The Israelis cannot control Hezbollah. They proved that from 1982 to 2000. Only the Lebanese government can do that. If we do not give them the tools to do so, shame on us.
Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps officer, lectures at the George Washington University’s Elliot School.