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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.

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In the current war, Hizbullah has used for the first time the Russian Metis-M, which can be fitted with an anti-armor warhead for destroying tanks, or a fuel-air explosive warhead to use against troops or bunkers. The missile has a range of about one mile. Hizbullah is also reported to be employing the laser-guided Kornet-E anti-tank missile which has a range of about 3.5 miles. Individual fighters carry the shoulder-fired RPG-29, a more advanced version of the RPG-7 loved by guerrilla groups around the world since the 1960s. The RPG-29 was first used by Hizbullah last November in a failed attempt to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

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The ability of the well-trained missile teams to knock out Israel's vaunted Merkava tanks has frustrated the traditional Israeli military doctrine for rapid armored thrusts deep into enemy territory. Instead, Israeli forces have inched cautiously northward and even after more than two weeks of stiff fighting have yet to capture and secure key border towns.

Was Hizbullah underestimated?

There's been criticism in Israel that the military waited too long to move against Hizbullah with large forces of infantry and armored vehicles.

"I don't think Hizbullah was underestimated by a great deal, but there was an expectation that the air attacks would cut off the command and control process,'' says Gerald Steinberg, political science professor at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. "There was a hope that this could be done without large scale casualties.''

In an indication of the difficulty, Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz sidelined the general charged with overseeing the ground war in Lebanon. The decision was the first time since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war that a general has had his authority curtailed in the middle of fighting.

"As a fighting army, I don't find the IDF performing worse than it has in the past,'' said Yossi Alpher, the editor of the online Arab-Israeli journal "These are probably the best trained and most highly-motivated Arab fighters we've ever faced.''

Mr. Alpher noted that Israel's army has never succeeded in snuffing out rocket fire from Lebanon, going all the way back to the 1982 invasion.

If Israeli troops enter Lebanon in strength, Hizbullah will resort to another favorite weapon, the roadside bomb. Roadside bombs killed more Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon in the 1990s than any other weapon, and the technology used to build and detonate them has become highly sophisticated.

Early roadside bombs consisted of home-made Claymore-style explosive charges that spray hundreds of ball bearings, and were detonated by a command wire or remote radio control.

Hizbullah's bombs today include shaped-charge warheads which concentrate the blast in a single direction, similar to an anti-tank missile, to punch through the walls of armored vehicles. They are detonated by infrared beam – when the beam is broken, the bomb explodes.

Military observers believe that Hizbullah long ago planted huge mines under all the roads crossing the border. In June 2002, a shepherd inadvertently stumbled across one of these bombs and alerted the local police, much to Hizbullah's annoyance. It consisted of 180 kilograms of plastic explosive that had been buried several feet beneath a road 500 yards from the border.