Hizbullah prepares for war

Nicholas Blanford JDW Correspondent

The inconclusive outcome of the 2006 conflict between the IDF and Hizbullah has heightened fears that a new confrontation is imminent. Nicholas Blanford reports

“The Islamic Resistance is prepared for all eventualities”

Lebanon’s Hizbullah organisation is mobilising its military wing, the Islamic Resistance (IR), in preparation for an expected new confrontation with Israel in mid-2007.

New recruits are being pushed through an intensified training programme at the Iranian-backed group’s training camps in the Bekaa Valley and a steady flow of arms, including surface-to-surface rockets, is coming into Lebanon from Syria, sources within Hizbullah, Lebanese military intelligence and other Lebanese close to the Shia Muslim party told Jane’s.

The preparations have been detected by Israel, which reportedly delivered a message through US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the Syrian leadership in Damascus on 4 April assuring that no war against Lebanon or Syria is being planned.

Hizbullah’s build up began immediately following the 14 August 2006 ceasefire, which ended the 34-day conflict between the Lebanese militants and the Israel Defence Force (IDF). The war yielded inconclusive results for both sides. Hizbullah was able to withstand the IDF’s month-long onslaught, killing 119 IDF soldiers and launching an uninterrupted flow of rockets into Israel.

However, Hizbullah lost its military autonomy along the Blue Line, the UN name for the Lebanon-Israel border, abandoning its elaborate network of fortified underground bunkers and firing positions to a reinforced 13,000-strong UN Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL 2) and to some 20,000 Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) troops.

Israel failed to achieve its pre-war goals of securing the release of two IDF soldiers captured on 12 July 2006, which triggered the war, and of crushing the IR. The repercussions of the conflict have weakened the Israeli government and eroded the IDF’s image of deterrence.

The ambiguous outcome of the war has fostered expectations of a second confrontation between Hizbullah and the IDF, possibly in tandem with a US attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Officials in Hizbullah, which is spearheading a four-month campaign to bring down the Western-backed Lebanese government, has asserted that a US war against Iran is imminent and will be used by their political opponents in Lebanon to weaken the militant group.

“Some [parliamentary] majority leaders were told [by the US] that an upcoming US war against Iran is due within two months, after which you will find Hizbullah and the opposition weakened and willing to give you all you want,” said Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hizbullah’s deputy secretary-general, in a speech on 3 April.

Such assertions may be more part of political rhetoric than grounded in fact. Nonetheless, Nawaf Mussawi, Hizbullah’s external affairs advisor, told Jane’s that the IR “is ready for all eventualities”.

Both Hizbullah and the IDF continue to absorb and adapt the lessons learned from last year’s war. The conflict forced the IR to expose six years of military preparations, including the underground network of bunkers and firing positions which were far more elaborate than previously thought and to confirm its possession of advanced anti-tank weaponry and long-range rockets as well as its apparent ability to tap into IDF communications.

However, Mussawi said that the IR is always attempting to keep one step ahead of the IDF to maintain the element of surprise.

“The Israelis know what we have and we know they know. Now Israel knows we are preparing again but they don’t know what we are preparing. They take one step forward and we take two steps,” he said.

On the ground, Hizbullah is establishing a new line of defence just north of the Litani river, which marks the northern limit of UNIFIL’s area of operations. The IR has expanded and increased the number of positions in the mountains between the Litani river and Kfar Houne village, sealing off valleys and hill-tops to outsiders. New weapons storage facilities are being constructed in the southern Bekaa Valley and in the area around Nabatieh.

Training has intensified at the dozens of camps located in Shia-populated areas along the eastern and western flanks of the Bekaa Valley. New recruits are given a month-long basic training course that includes 20-mile (32 km) route marches across the mountains with rifles, ammunition and backpacks filled with rocks. They are given lessons in the use of automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, learn surveillance and ambush techniques and are taught navigation skills.

Recruits can later elect for specialised training courses involving, for example, sniping, anti-tank missiles or rocket and mortar artillery. Veteran cadres are given refresher courses while volunteers for the IR’s special forces units undergo intensive 45-day training programmes.

Hizbullah is also recruiting outside its normal circles, mainly members of the one-time Shia rival, today allied, Amal Movement. Former Amal militiamen are being marshalled into reserve units as a contingency in case the political tensions in Lebanon spill over into a civil war. The mobilisation of the Shia community is paralleled by similar developments within the Druze, Sunni and Christian communities.

“There is a high level of recruitment, focusing on the Shia and Sunnis that support us. We are training them as fast as we can,” said one Hizbullah activist in Beirut.

Hizbullah sources confirmed that a large number of arms are entering Lebanon from Syria: some along remote mountain trails; others more directly through established border crossings. The Lebanese government, with the technological assistance of Germany, is attempting to tighten the flow of smuggled goods to and from Syria. Israel recently submitted to the UN alleged photographic evidence of what it said was arms smuggling activity by Hizbullah from Syria. The Lebanese government says there is no credible evidence that any smuggling has taken place.

Nonetheless, the intense and divisive political crisis in Lebanon is absorbing much of Hizbullah’s attention at present. The IR’s periodic ‘reminder’ military operations against the IDF along the Blue Line, which marked the period between October 2000 and July 2006, are on hold for now.

Hizbullah’s principal priority is to safeguard the IR. As such it views the political battle with the government as a direct continuation of last year’s war, with the US using its political allies in Lebanon to finish the job that the IDF failed to do.

© 2007 Jane’s Information Group

May 11, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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1 Comment / 1 Comment

  1. The war was “inconclusive” because Israel did not have enough time to defeat Hezbollah or its Lebanese backers. Using only conventional means there is no way the military force of any Western nation, could degrade Hezbollah’s military capability enough to make an appreciable difference.

    The military strategy was brilliant. It just was not given enough time to work. In all likelyhood, Israel could have degraded Hezbollah’s military fighting capability enough to be worthwile, if only they had allowed six months for the job to be done. Unfortunatly the next round will be even harder for Israel.

    In any event, Israelis took on Hezbollah who poses an existential threat to their country and they survived. For this, they should be proud of their country. I am certainly proud of them.

    I hope and pray that when Hezbollah initiates the next round of fighting that the American government will do its part to assist Israel in the fight against Hezbollah. After all, we should not forget that Hezbollah poses an enoromus threat to America as well. To say that the performance of the American government was less than stellar during Israel’s war with Lebanon, is a major understatement. I hope and pray we will do better next time. Do better we must becuase America’s survival depends on it.

    It is my understanding that Israelis are investigating the performance of the Governmnt during the war. This is a very good idea. It needs to be determined what was done well and what can be improved upon. Learning from this experience is vital for the next encounter.

    Some very important questions that need to be asked are as follows: Any general or military planner worth his or her salt knows that it would be easier to part the red sea than to defeat an enemy like Hezbollah, using only conventional means, in only one month. To do this properly would have required at least three months and that is assuming every thing went perfectly. Every thing clearly did not go perfectly, therefore, using only conventional means, it was going to require at least six months to defeat this enemy. To sum this up, who was the general or generals that informed the Israeli governemnt that Hezbollah could be beaten in only one month using only conventional means and what was this guy or gal smoking?

    Another question to ask is what role did international pressure specifically from the US play in the Israeli government’s decision to go along with the UN resolution and pull the plug on the military operations so soon?

    What it ultimately comes down to is who was the Pollyana that told Israeli and possibly American officials that conventional force alone would be sufficient to beat Hezbollah in only one month? If this person or persons are still in the military they should be fired at once.

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