Despite the recent U.N. ceasefire, the fighting in Lebanon is likely to continue. Shariah law allows a ceasefire in battle against infidels, but only for regrouping. Nor have the Israelis finished.
Hezbollah’s highly potent kind of warfare could have profound strategic impact throughout the Middle East. Previously, Israel could capture Beirut in a week; now it has struggled for over a month to control small villages right on its own border.
Hezbollah, a novel hybrid, combines the sophistication and weaponry of a formal army blended with the near-invisibility of a hit-and-run insurgency. Fighting as tenaciously as the Viet Cong, Hezbollah has dramatically modernized classic guerrilla tactics, not least that it also holds territory and has seats in the Lebanese parliament and government. But it does not abide by the laws of war.
Like Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army, it has an authentic constituency base, one which was partly created by Israel’s 1982 invasion.
Western experts are struggling even to name this new phenomenon. Some call it network warfare. Traditional armies are large, often cumbersome and organized in a strict disciplined hierarchy; networks such as Hezbollah have numerous, widely dispersed, agile and able soldiers who can improvise quickly, especially in their use of high-tech communications and propaganda.
Israeli special forces are surprised to come up against Hezbollah fighters with almost the same quality of equipment — and training — as themselves. Sophisticated anti-tank weapons have crippled even the much-vaunted Merkava tanks.
White flags are not in evidence. Hezbollah has not run away from Israeli military might as Arab forces did in earlier wars. Morale, organization, hi-tech weaponry and the cult of martyrdom equate to effective resistance. As the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) advances, Hezbollah hides in underground systems or simply merges with civilian refugees, then they attack from the rear.
Western defense colleges have spent much time studying how to counter so-called “asymmetric warfare.” One method is deploying a network to fight a network. In late 2001 small groups of U.S. special forces cooperated with Northern Alliance fighters to utilize devastating air power to rapidly overwhelm the Taliban. Interestingly, the Taliban have recovered ground now that they are fighting conventional NATO forces. Insurgents are adapting and rapidly learning from one another. No doubt lessons on elaborate air-conditioned bunker systems are being Power-Pointed around the jihadist world.
In Vietnam, guerrillas made cross-border raids from the sanctuaries of neighboring states. Hezbollah, however, has waged a sustained daily war of attrition against another nation across a state border.
Arab states just tut-tutted while Israel operated over another (arguable) state border by striking at Hamas in Gaza. Hezbollah opened up a second front in the north, and maintained a high-tempo war against Israel, the regional superpower. Previously, Israel managed to wipe out conventional armies in days, such as when caught by surprise in the 1973 war. Now the IDF is being ground down and suffering major casualties at home.
Hezbollah learned first hand from the Chechens’ fight against a much stronger power, Russia. It has challenged a number of state monopolies of force — air and naval power. Hezbollah withstood the shock and awe tactics of bombing from the air, escalating its counter-attacks of rockets with augmented range, though not precision. Hezbollah has also hit Israel’s navy.
Thinking in the old paradigm, Israel has struck at the infrastructure of the Lebanese state by air attacks, while trying — belatedly — to engage Hezbollah on the ground. This is self-defeating, not least because it undermines the Arab world’s most moderate (and weakest) government.
Hezbollah has done a lot better than the conventional forces of all the Arab states that fought Israel since 1948. It has won a stunning propaganda victory and shattered Israel’s deterrence posture. Israel’s very survival is now on the line. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has done what Osama bin Laden could never do: He has united Shi’ite and Sunni throughout the region, especially the young, to believe the Muslim renaissance must come via the gun. Many Lebanese Christians are hailing Sheikh Nasrallah’s resistance as well.
Iraq demonstrated the limits of U.S. power; the war on Lebanon displayed Israel’s weaknesses. Radical Islam has been the victor. Israel will now be more reluctant to fight Hamas, despite the differences in terrain and organization. Likewise, the Israeli experience must give the United States pause before attacking Iran to prevent its nuclear program. The Iranians will fight just as effectively as their students in Hezbollah.
Arabs are not used to military victories. Hezbollah’s success will galvanize jihadists from Boston to Bombay. Its mentor, Iran, has a long reach — ranging from attacks in Latin America to likely command of sleeper cells in the United States. The supine political response of the Sunni Arab leaders, who privately loath Shi’ite success, has played badly in the Arab street. Militant Islam could displace secular despotisms including Syria, a supporter of Hezbollah.
Hezbollah acts as Iran’s expeditionary force in Lebanon. Iran’s large stockpiles of old Russian and Chinese Katyushas have a range of 12 miles. The IDF may have destroyed most of the Iranian Zelzal 2 “earthquake” missiles, which could hit Tel Aviv with 1,000-pound warheads. So far, no Islamic fanatic has put unconventional warheads on these Iranian missiles.
Dr. Paul Moorcraft is the director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis in London.