More on Hezbollah’s new operational announcements…

…the Christian Science Monitor’s interview with some Hezbollah members has yielded some information which is worth expanding on since the last blog post. The main one is a possible misinterpretation of the Hezbollah member’s quote used to describe the organization’s new operational bent: “seize and hold.”

There is an urge to perhaps make more out of this statement than there, in fact, is. Hezbollah has had a history of adjusting it’s tactics to suit both the strengths of it’s organization and the weaknesses of it’s enemy. And to believe that such a resilient and long-lived guerilla organization with a long view of the history of warfare in Palestine would suddenly decide to make a switch to out-and-out conventional warefare is dangerously biased at worst.

During the 2006 War, Hezbollah demonstrated it’s ability (largely done by the seat of it’s pants) to counteract Israeli pushes with it’s own defensive stands that were significant departures in operational and tactical doctrine from previous battles in the 1980s and 1990s. At the Battle of Bint Jbeil, the IDF was drawn into an urban area only to be assault by interlocking anti-tank guided missiles and machine guns covering a company-sized Hezbollah force. For over a week, the IDF fought to secure the city.

Another telling event happened on a road just north of the Lebanese/Israeli border, when a convoy of Israeli armour encountered a collapsed house blocking the road they were advancing down. A tank from the force attempted to move around the obstruction to find an alternate route, but slid down a hill on one side of the road and threw a track in the process. As another tank attempted to extricate the stricken vehicle, the force came under attack from long range by a Hezbollah force firing anti-tank guided missiles. One Merkava Mk. III tank had it’s barrel blown off, and another suffered multiple hits. Both had to be evacuated from the warzone for the rest of the conflict.

This in itself highlights an important point of Hezbollah’s changing warfighting capability, and what it seems to be aiming for: an ability to recognize possible battlefield opportunities and react to them as they arise. This is something they have the communications technology for already, as Israeli soldiers found burst radios on the bodies of many dead Hezbollah fighters in the 2006 fighting. The fighters training in Iran may also be getting training in military theory, which will allow them to understand the concept of the battlefield as a fluid whole and to move troops around it in a pattern.

During the war, an Israeli tank force attempted to cross the Listani River. The crossing was carried out as per the book, complete with smoke to cover their ascent. But unlike normal, the smoke was provided completely by artillery. None of the armour’s organic grenade launchers were used, because none of the tank crews had trained on their use in years.

It is this blogger’s opinion that a fair amount of luck prevented the Israeli force on the Litani from encountering a hostile crossing just as the force on the road encountered a hostile obstruction: an ambush force, even one brought in by pickup and consisting of only two or three ATGM launchers, would have been able to slow down the Israeli advance by hours. It was an advance that had already been stalled for a quarter of a day in the first place because of the need to coordinate with Northern Front artillery for smoke.

Things like the meat grinder at Bint Jbeil, the attack on the road, and the traffic jam south of the Litani were not just caused by a systemic breakdown in the Israeli Defense Force, no matter how much that may soothe some nerves. The IDF acquitted itself very well. They were caused by an enemy which was able to play it’s own strengths (high morale, knowledge of terrain, defensive strength) against the Israelis’ weaknesses (incomplete local knowledge, low manpower, brittle public opinion, hubris).

These were things that had worked against Israel before, in 1973, in 1982, and now in 2006. And time will tell if they work against it again.

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