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Hizbullah's resilience built on years of homework

Meticulous planning and a thorough understanding of Israeli military doctrine both play into its success.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / August 11, 2006


For a month, several small groups of Hizbullah militants on a Lebanese hillside have withstood heavy artillery shelling and airstrikes to continue firing hundreds of Katyusha rockets into Israel from positions just a few hundred yards from the border.

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Even seasoned observers with the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, whose headquarters lies at the foot of the hillside, are baffled at how the guerrillas have managed to survive and keep up their steady rocket fire.

It's just one example of Hizbullah's surprising resilience in this war. Their ability to continue fighting against the most advanced and powerful army in the Middle East is rooted in the group's meticulous planning and thorough understanding of Israeli military doctrine and capabilities.

"They have done incredible staff work, learning the lessons of guerrilla warfare down the ages and carrying out a very deep and accurate analysis of the Israeli army," says Timur Goksel, who served with UNIFIL from 1979 to 2003 and witnessed Hizbullah's military evolution over two decades.

Israeli forces are poised to mount a full-scale invasion of south Lebanon – pending a last-ditch negotiation effort – in a bid to crush their Hizbullah foes and drive the remnants north of the Litani river, about 18 miles north of the border. Still, despite two decades of experience fighting Hizbullah in south Lebanon, the Israeli military appears to have underestimated the resilience of their Lebanese opponents.

Using advanced anti-armor missiles, snipers, and roadside bombs, and operating from an complex system of bunkers and tunnels, Hizbullah's battle-hardened fighters have survived airstrikes and artillery barrages enabling them to keep killing Israeli soldiers and firing rockets. On Wednesday, 15 Israeli soldiers were killed, the highest toll in a single day since the war began.

"They have lots of strongholds, which are very well disguised, and we need to eliminate their ability to attack Israel from these places," says a senior IDF military official. "It's a very hilly area and it's not easy. You cannot identify their bunkers until you're right there."

Small forces of locals

The militants presently on the front line are thought to number no more than 1,000, a fraction of the potential force Hizbullah could unleash. The fighters are drawn from the villages on the front lines, using their intimate knowledge of the local terrain to their advantage. Local groups of Hizbullah fighters communicate with each other by walkie-talkie using a code that draws upon their personal knowledge of each other and the geography. If Israeli forces push deeper into Lebanon, moving to new towns and villages, they will encounter new lines of fresh Hizbullah combatants.

"Even I have been surprised at the tenacity of these groups fighting in the villages. They have fought far beyond my expectations. And they haven't even committed all their fully-experienced troops yet," says Mr. Goksel.

The guerrillas are drawing on years of meticulous preparations and training, combined with access to newer weapons technology. The most effective weapons system employed by Hizbullah's front line guerrillas are antitank missiles. Small teams of specially-trained fighters have inflicted comparatively heavy casualties on Israeli troops, using advanced missiles to knock out the formidable Merkava tank and using older versions to punch through the walls of houses sheltering Israeli soldiers.