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 anticipation of these land mines, Israeli tanks have avoided the border roads, cutting across country instead.Skip to next paragraph
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From the summer of 2000, Hizbullah established an intricate and secret military infrastructure in south Lebanon, consisting of tunnels, expanded natural caves, and underground bunkers where weapons were stored and fighters could live. Much of this construction work was carried out in remote stretches of the border away from the public gaze and at night. Three years ago, residents of villages near a valley known to be controlled by Hizbullah were kept awake at night by the sound of explosions as the guerrillas dynamited the limestone cliffs to build new bunkers.
Highly trained Hizbullah marksmen have also contributed to Israel's troop casualties. Equipped with high-powered rifles, the snipers lie undercover for days at a time, picking off Israeli soldiers when the opportunity arises. In July 2004, a Hizbullah sniper shot dead with extreme precision two Israeli soldiers from a range of 500 yards.
Israeli commanders concede that while they claim to have destroyed many of Hizbullah's long-range rocket launchers, including the 600mm Zelzal which can reach Tel Aviv, the standard 122mm Katyushas can be fired more easily by mobile teams without the need for launchers visible to spotter drones or surveillance planes. Generally, the rockets are fired from multi-barreled launchers on the back of flat-bed trucks, but they can also be fired singly, even from a simple mounting of crossed sticks which is all but invisible to drones and aircraft when hidden inside an olive grove or orange orchard. Some rockets are fired by timers, allowing the militants to escape the area in advance.
Despite saturation air coverage with missile-firing reconnaissance drones, F-16 fighter-bombers and Apache helicopter gunships, the Israelis have been unable to stem the flow of rocket fire across the border. Last week, Israeli commandos staged a pre-dawn raid on an apartment block on the outskirts of Tyre housing a team of Hizbullah militants who had been firing long-range rockets into Israel. But hours after the raid, rockets were again being fired from the same location.
Instead of stockpiling munitions in just a handful of arsenals, Hizbullah carefully dispersed ammunition, rockets, and weapons all over south Lebanon, stashing them in private homes, garages, basements, bunkers, and caves. That has ensured that small isolated Hizbullah units have a readily available supply of weapons and ammunition.
"They have amassed huge stockpiles of rockets in the area," says Gen. Alain Pellegrini, UNIFIL's commander. "I think the Israelis were hoping they would have had a faster success against Hizbullah by now."
The most important weapon in Hizbullah's arsenal may in fact be the motivation and determination of each fighter.
"The number one element is that Hizbullah is not afraid of the Israelis," says Goksel. "After 18 years fighting Israeli troops, they see them as vulnerable human beings who make mistakes and are afraid like anyone else."
• Staff writer Ilene Prusher in Jerusalem and correspondent Josh Mitnick in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.