[Marxism] "The Best Guerrilla Force in the World"
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 14 07:27:58 MDT 2006
'The Best Guerrilla Force in the World'
Analysts Attribute Hezbollah's Resilience to Zeal, Secrecy and Iranian Funding
By Edward Cody and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 14, 2006; A01
BEIRUT, Aug. 14 -- Hezbollah's irregular fighters stood off the modern
Israeli army for a month in the hills of southern Lebanon thanks to
extraordinary zeal and secrecy, rigorous training, tight controls over the
population, and a steady flow of Iranian money to acquire effective
weaponry, according to informed assessments in Lebanon and Israel.
"They are the best guerrilla force in the world," said a Lebanese
specialist who has sifted through intelligence on Hezbollah for more than
two decades and strongly opposes the militant Shiite Muslim movement.
Because Hezbollah was entrenched in friendly Shiite-inhabited villages and
underground bunkers constructed in secret over several years, a withering
Israeli air campaign and a tank-led ground assault were unable to establish
full control over a border strip and sweep it clear of Hezbollah guerrillas
-- one of Israel's main declared war aims. Largely as a result, the U.N.
Security Council resolution approved unanimously Friday night fell short of
the original objectives laid out by Israel and the Bush administration when
the conflict began July 12.
As the declared U.N. cease-fire went into effect Monday morning, many
Lebanese -- particularly among the Shiites who make up an estimated 40
percent of the population -- had already assessed Hezbollah's endurance as
a military success despite the devastation wrought across Lebanon by
Hezbollah's staying power on the battlefield came from a classic
fish-in-the-sea advantage enjoyed by guerrillas on their home ground,
hiding in their own villages and aided by their relatives. Hasan Nasrallah,
the Hezbollah leader, summed up the guerrilla strategy in a televised
address during the conflict when he said, "We are not a regular army and we
will not fight like a regular army."
The group's battlefield resilience also came from an unusual combination of
zeal and disciplined military science, said the Lebanese specialist with
access to intelligence information, who spoke on condition he not be
identified by name.
The fighters' Islamic faith and intense indoctrination reduced their fear
of death, he noted, giving them an advantage in close-quarters combat and
in braving airstrikes to move munitions from post to post. Hezbollah
leaders also enhanced fighters' willingness to risk death by establishing
the Martyr's Institute, with an office in Tehran, that guarantees living
stipends and education fees for the families of fighters who die on the front.
"If you are waiting for a white flag coming out of the Hezbollah bunker, I
can assure you it won't come," Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, a member of the
Israeli army's general staff, said in a briefing for reporters in the
northern Israeli village of Gosherim. "They are extremists, they will go
all the way."
Moreover, Hezbollah's military leadership carefully studied military
history, including the Vietnam War, the Lebanese expert said, and set up a
training program with help from Iranian intelligence and military officers
with years of experience in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The training
was matched to weapons that proved effective against Israeli tanks, he
added, including the Merkava main battle tank with advanced armor plating.
Wire-guided and laser-guided antitank missiles were the most effective and
deadly Hezbollah weapons, according to Israeli military officers and
soldiers. A review of Israel Defense Forces records showed that the
majority of Israeli combat deaths resulted from missile hits on armored
vehicles -- or on buildings where Israeli soldiers set up observation posts
or conducted searches.
Most of the antitank missiles, Israeli officers noted, could be dragged out
of caches and quickly fired with two- or three-man launching teams at
distances of 3,200 yards or more from their targets. One of the most
effective was the Russian-designed Sagger 2, a wire-guided missile with a
range of 550 to 3,200 yards.
In one hidden bunker, Israeli soldiers discovered night-vision camera
equipment connected to computers that fed coordinates of targets to the
Sagger 2 missile, according to Israeli military officials who described the
details from photographs they said soldiers took inside the bunker.
Some antitank missiles also can be used to attack helicopters, which has
limited the military's use of choppers in rescues and other operations. On
Saturday, Hezbollah shot down a CH-53 Sikorsky helicopter in Lebanon,
killing all five crew members, according to the Israeli military. As of
late Sunday, Israeli troops still had been unable to retrieve the bodies
because of fierce fighting in the area of the crash.
The Hezbollah arsenal, which also included thousands of missiles and
rockets to be fired against northern Israel's towns and villages, was paid
for with a war chest kept full by relentless fundraising among Shiites
around the world and, in particular, by funds provided by Iran, said the
intelligence specialist. The amount of Iranian funds reaching Hezbollah was
estimated at $25 million a month, but some reports suggested it increased
sharply, perhaps doubled, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took over as president
in Tehran last year, the specialist said.
Fawaz Trabulsi, a Lebanese professor who helped lead Palestinian-allied
militia forces against the Israeli army in 1982, noted that Hezbollah's
fight has differed in several respects from that mounted by the Palestine
Liberation Organization during the 1980s. In that war, Israeli forces
punched straight northward and reached Beirut in a few days with only minor
resistance, he recalled, saying Israeli officers seemed to think they could
duplicate that performance against Hezbollah.
One reason for the sharp difference is that Israeli intelligence had much
less detail on Hezbollah forces, tactics and equipment than it had on the
PLO, which was infiltrated by a network of spies, said Trabulsi, now a
political science professor at Lebanese American University. "Hezbollah is
not penetrated at all," he said.
Nehushtan, the Israeli general, said the Israeli military had enough
information to appreciate the fighting ability and weaponry of Hezbollah as
the conflict opened. In addition, Israeli warplanes have hit pinpoint
targets throughout the fighting, presumably on the basis of real-time
intelligence reaching the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv through drones and
other surveillance equipment. Other observers, however, said the sweep of
fighting over the last month -- when Israel on several occasions said it
controlled the terrain, only to continue fighting in the same border
villages -- suggested intelligence had not provided an adequate
appreciation of the battlefield.
"I think it's no secret that the Israeli military didn't have the
intelligence on this," said Richard Straus, who publishes the Middle East
Policy Survey newsletter in Washington. "They didn't know what Hezbollah
had, how it had built up, what it was capable of."
Another difference that gave Hezbollah fighters an edge is the experience
they acquired in combating Israeli troops during the nearly two decades of
Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon that ended in 2000. In contrast,
Palestinian guerrillas had gained most of their experience fighting
Lebanese militias in the civil war here -- using nothing more than assault
rifles and rocket-propelled grenades -- and were unprepared and unequipped
to resist the advance of Israel's modern army.
"The difference is in training, the difference is in weapons, but the big
difference is that most of the Palestinians had never engaged in fighting
Israel," Trabulsi said. "They were used to fighting a civil war in Lebanon."
Hezbollah's resistance to penetration by Israeli intelligence was part of a
culture of secrecy extreme even by the standards of underground guerrilla
forces. The code fit with a tendency toward secrecy in the Shiite stream of
Islam, called faqih . It also fit with a sense of solidarity against others
that Lebanese Shiites have been imbued with since the beginning of their
emergence as a political force in the mid-1970s, when their first
organization was called the Movement of the Deprived.
One young Lebanese doctor learned that her brother had been a Hezbollah
fighter for several years only when the movement notified her he had been
killed, colleagues said. Similarly, a Lebanese man found out his brother
was a senior Hezbollah militia officer only when informed of his death; the
brother had cloaked occasional trips to Tehran by saying he was trying to
start an import-export business.
Reporters who over the last month went to the bombed-out sections of
southern Beirut suburbs where Hezbollah had its headquarters were
approached within minutes by young men asking who they were and what they
were doing there. Interviews with the people living there, most of whom
were ardent Hezbollah supporters, were not allowed, the young men said.
Around the battlefields of south Lebanon, however, the militia was busy
fighting Israeli troops and hiding from airstrikes.
Reporters were free to move as much as they dared, since they, too, feared
being hit by Israeli jets.
Even the movement's political leadership was kept in the dark about many
military and intelligence activities, Trabulsi noted. Ghaleb Abu-Zeinab, a
member of Hezbollah's political bureau, said in an interview, for instance,
that he was not informed about operations on "the field," Hezbollah
shorthand for the villages and hillsides across southern Lebanon where the
"They have a military and intelligence organization totally separated from
the political organization," Trabulsi said.
A dramatic example of the secrecy and careful preparations for conflict
with Israel was Hezbollah's al-Manar television. The station has kept
broadcasting its mix of news and propaganda from hidden studios throughout
the fighting, despite repeated Israeli airstrikes against relay towers and
antennas across the country. Lebanese said some of the broadcasts seemed to
include coded messages to Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon. But as
with most things about Hezbollah, they were not really sure.
Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, used al-Manar to make a number of speeches
rallying his followers and explaining his strategy. With his cleric's
turban and student's mien, appearing on the screen in pre-taped broadcasts,
he was perhaps the biggest secret of all, hunted by Israeli warplanes and
hiding in a location about which Lebanese could only guess.
Moore reported from Jerusalem. Correspondent Jonathan Finer in Gosherim
contributed to this report.
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