Israel vs. Hezbollah: Again, and Again, and Again

Phil Howison's picture
Submitted by Phil Howison on Mon, 2006-08-28 06:13

Lindsay said the following in his otherwise very worthy editorial on Saturday 19 August:

Israel lost. For the first time since its founding in 1948, Israel lost a war started against it by Islamo-Fascist filth. Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers and sent rockets into Israel from Lebanon. Israel fired back, and sent its soldiers in.

To which I responded:
Israel lost the Lebanon war in 1982, the occupation of Southern Lebanon, wars against Hezbollah in 1993 and 1996, the first Intifada, and the withdrawal from Gaza.

According to Linz I am merely picking nits, while Craig Ceely says I am wrong - the 1982 war was a victory over the PLO, and the withdrawal from Gaza was strategic, so the outcome cannot be judged yet.

I think the question is important enough to be put on a separate thread.

I agree with Linz that Israel's loss against Hezbollah is important, but I suspect we have vvery different ideas about the reason why Israel lost. I also think a knowledge of the history of Israel's conflicts is important when trying to understand the current situation - they say he who forgets history is doomed to repeat it. And Israel's loss against Hezbollah is a replay of skirmishes on the Lebanon border dating as far back as 1969.

Before 1968, the border with Israel was the most peaceful of Israel's borders. In 1968, the PLO and various other non-state armed groups moved in to southern Lebanon, taking advantage of the weakness of the Lebanese state. Israel mounted many small attacks, unsuccessfully attempting to drive the guerrillas out. In 1969, two armoured columns crossed into Lebanon, holding a 45 square mile area for 34 hours, killing no more than 20 guerrillas. Less than 12 hours after the Israeli withdrawal, the rockets began falling again.

Sound familiar?

In 1978 the PLO launched a bloody attack on Israeli and American travellers on the coastal highway. The Israeli response involved an invasion by more than 7000 troops supported by aerial bombing. More than thirty Israeli soldiers were killed, along with hundreds of locals, while tens of thousands left their homes. After the Israeli withdrawal, a small UN force moved in. Almost no damage had been done to the guerrillas. The PLO treated the operation as a victory, and the rockets kept falling.

The PLO in southern Lebanon only kept getting stronger. In 1982, Israel decided to launch a full-scale invasion. Clashes with Syrian troops were inevitable - the Israelis intended to link up with Christian militias in the north to turn the Lebanese civil war in Israel's favour. Progress was slow, despite there being little resistance at first.

When the clash with Syria came, the Syrian air force was destroyed with an incredible 100:1 kill ratio. But while a high-tech modern force stood no chance against Israel, Lebanese guerrilla forces and militias proved impossible to destroy. In the inevitable war of attrition, the Israelis were outnumbered and defeated - as were the peacekeeping forces of the US and France. The final blow to the operation was the collapse in public support following the Sabra and Shatila massacres. By the time the IDF withdrew from all but a narrow strip of land, they had lost 675 troops at massive economic and political cost. While the PLO had left, they were replaced by a far more dangerous group - Hezbollah.

Hezbollah's unceasing guerrilla and terror attacks resulted in major operations in 1993 and 1996. Both times, despite massive aerial bombing and the use of advanced weapons systems, UAVS, guided missiles and the like, Hezbollah survived, and increased in strength. The rockets never stopped hitting Israel, even when Israel withdrew from the security zone in the south, effectively handing it back to Hezbollah.

Given the failure of every armoured ground incursion and aerial bombing campaign against groups in southern Lebanon, why did Israel expect 2006 to be any different?

Note: Martin van Creveld's excellent book, The Sword and the Olive: A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force was an important resource while writing this post. See also The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century, by Colonel T.X. Hammes, for a similar perspective on the 1987 and the al-Aqsa intifadas.

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Robert's picture

As I see it, the Israeli's Achilles heel is their supply line, a supply line that can be interdicted, not by military action, but by political agitation in the UN and international community. And as you point out Peter, it is a very successful tactic that has been used every time the Israelis have begun to win by a margin deemed unfair by the West. In other words, Israel doesn't have the miltary or economic power conduct a military operation totally independent of the rest of the world. Israel is, in effect, in the same boat that the US might have been had John Kerry won the '04 election and put every US national security question to a global test.

I don't really see what Israel can do about that tactic on its own. It needs allies with the intestinal fortitude to tell the UN/lefties and their fellow travellers to f-off. It needs the EU to stop pouring money into the Palestinian "government" black-hole. When the Palestinians actually form a government (a real government that is, not allow some terrorist/tribal group with the most guns to proclaim themselves government) then the money will stand a chance of being used for its intended purpose rather than being funneled into guns.

It needs France and other nations with peace keepers in the battlezone to close the Lebanese border to arms shipments and to disarm Hezbollah. Something that Coffee Anana has already quashed. This not long after Israel begins to demolish a Hezbollah tunnel complex built close to a UN "observer" post.

Asymmetric warfare

Peter Cresswell's picture

Understanding the nature of asymmetric warfare is crucial to understanding the battle facing both Israel and the west.

Another point worth considering is that every single campaign fought by Israel in their sixty-year-old war to survive has been ended by the UN (often on the brink of some tangible victory by Israel) -- this might help you understand one of the chief means by which Israel's opponents have fought their 'asymmetric' campaigns.

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

Hard to say...

Robert's picture

... without actually being in Lebanon and having first hand knowledge of the terrain at the various borders.

I guess we need to define what the threshold is for "cutting their supply base." If you mean stopping the movement of truck sized weapons and ammuntion (Katayusha rockets) then all you have to do is tightly patrol the roads and rivers large enough for moderately large boats to travel down. If there are key choke points (bridges or mountain passes) this makes things really easy. 

If your threshold is stopping the traffic of small-arms and crew-served weapons (mortars, tripod mounted machine guns, pack howitzers, man portable anti-air and anti-tank missiles) then you need to monitor every path capable of being navigated by mules and men. 

That takes care of the land-based means of smuggling. You'd also have to impose a air and sea blockade of Lebanon to prevent resupply by air (I believe that Iran has passenger airline services running to Lebanon), surface-vessel or submarine. "Subs?" I hear you ask. The North Korean's have a few subs and the Iranians have been futzing around with sub-launched missiles which leads me to conclude that they have a few that survived the Reagan-era US naval attacks that devastated the Iranian navy.

Hezbollah stronger, or weaker?

Richard Wiig's picture

Brant said: "What it has done so far for instance, is make Hezbollah stronger and more prestigious in Lebanon and the Muslim world generally"

That's one view Brant, but there are others, assuming the below is a truthful, and real, exchange:

A Lebanese Student Speaks Out
**A Pedestrian Infidel exclusive **

As you may or may not know I am a regular chatter in Jewish chat rooms. In there, I am meeting friend and foe. The man who wrote the article below is a young friend of mine, and someone I met in one of those rooms. I hope you enjoy his interesting ideas as much as I do. The following is a question-and-answer paper written recently in the aftermath of the conflict in south Lebanon. The questions (in italics) have been posed by an American professor of international relations who is working in the US. The interviewee is my friend, an anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Druze, who is a student at a leading university in Beirut.

American Professor: What is your take on why the Palestinians won't behave? I would think that since Israel gave them Gaza back, they would hope to also get the West Bank. But their elected government, led by Hamas, is still so filled with hatred towards Israel. I'm surprised that they can't look at countries who have made peace with Israel as examples of security and prosperity.

Lebanese Student: Well there are two parties in the Palestinian community as you know. The militant religious radicals who believe that Israel has no right to exist and they wish to kick all the Israelis out of Israel and announce a Palestinian state in place of Israel. (They) benefit each time from war and what they call Intifadas (or uprisings) by getting more support from their people. This usually happens when the other party, the government, begins to have problems with the negotiations with Israel, and the Palestinian government doesn’t want to create a civil war. So it looks the other way at what the militants are doing and helps the militants sometimes too.

So you can say there’s a consensus between both the militants and the government that, when the negotiations are going well with Israel the militants wont attack Israel and when the negotiations go bad the government uses the militants to score more points with Israel during the next negotiation. Sometimes it’s a struggle behinds the scenes between both parties to gain power over each other and gain popularity in the Palestinian audience and this is done by taking a strong firm position with Israel either during peace talks or militarily.

Okay, I think (the above) paragraph provides an answer to your question on why Palestinians won't behave, and I believe this multi dimensional struggle among themselves and with Israel will continue until a final peace agreement is reached. Regarding Hamas, I’m sure you're aware that it is a radical Islamic Sunni (not Shiite like Hezbollah) whose goal is to destroy Israel and it doesn’t acknowledge the existence of Israel. That’s their goal and they don’t believe in compromise with Israel. That’s why they don’t look at other Arab countries that (have) made peace with Israel.

From Hamas’ point of view, the issue of honor, national pride which is fueled by their religious ideology, which they see as an obligation, is much more important to them than any personal security or prosperity. It is even more important than their lives and their children’s lives. Thus you will see that they will make (use) of their children soldiers to continue the battle for their cause, which is sad and which will lead to the endless circle of violence and death.

American Professor: Has there been any backlash from the people of Lebanon against Hezbollah or do the majority of people still blame Israel?

Lebanese Student: We in Lebanon, unlike any other Arab country, are a democracy. There have been a lot of disagreements with Hezbollah, and the vast majority of people--at least the majority of the Christians, the Sunni Muslims, and the Druze (which I am)—do not agree with Hezbollah.

I would like to include some relevant personal experiences I have had with people on the street. I have spoken with two doctors, one who is Christian and another who is Sunni. On two different separate occasions both of them have talked to me about their disagreement with what Hezbollah did, and of the existence of two different cultures in Lebanon. One seeks wants destruction, martyrdom, war, escalation, national pride and destruction of Israel, and another which yearns for peace, prosperity, security, and life. Even some of the Shiites have taken strong stands against what Hezbollah did against Israel, but we in Lebanon do not want a civil war. We have experienced that from 1975 till 1991 and nobody here wants to go through that again.

Many here have noticed here that Hezbollah has grown weak since the most recent fighting stopped. Weapons smuggling to Hezbollah has decreased radically and promised financial aid from Iran (needed to compensate the many in south Lebanon who lost homes or property) has not been forthcoming to Lebanon. This is because the borders are being watched more closely now by the Lebanese army and the UNIFIL troops as well. Every person who wishes to travel to Lebanon has to go through Amman (in Jordan) and there the people are being searched (Hezbollah complained against the searches in Amman last night on the news). In addition to this, the money cannot be wired (to Hezbollah) since it would have to go through New York before it gets here, and it will be stopped if Washington suspects it’s for Hezbollah.

So, I predict that without weapons and without financial support Hezbollah won’t be half as influential as it is now, and people from inside the Shiite community will begin to protest against Hezbollah for not compensating for what they lost. The argument in Lebanon against Hezbollah is, if Hezbollah knew Israel was mounting an attack against Lebanon, then why give it (Israel) a reason to (continue attacking)? Thus the Lebanese blame Hezbollah for bringing the fox and placing it in a chicken barn and then complaining about the fox eating the chicken.

American Professor: You mentioned that a civil war may be a possibility in Lebanon. Do you see any signs or are people generally getting along?

Lebanese Student: People are trying to get along, but I will quote an owner of a jewelry store here in Beirut, while he described how his business came to a complete stop for a month and how after that the business was running really slow. He described his feelings whenever a woman with a black veil (Shiite woman) entered the store. He said, I try to be nice to everyone, I really do, but it’s really hard to do so after what they’ve done to this country.

Can't they?

Richard Wiig's picture

"How do you cut Hezbollah off from it's supply base?"

Can't they seal off the border between Lebanon and Syria, which I believe is the supply line for weapons to Hezbollah?

And not only that

Richard Wiig's picture

"True Egypt has a non-aggression pact with Israel, but they have plenty of facist nutters running around their country dreaming of pulling off a coup and resuming the Jihad."

Egypt is presently buying up military hardware, sold to them, I believe, by America (as has been Indonesia). One thing to keep in mind about the rules of jihad is that traditionally a ceasefire, or Hudna, which is the Islamic term, is only to be undertaken in a time of weakness - it's purpose is only to regain strength to further the jihad, and should last no longer than ten years - ten years is the longest that Muhammad ever adhered to a treaty. Muhammad also broke treaties when it suited him, which gives the Mujahadin the green light to break them whenever it suits.


eg's picture

Israel is at war, but doesn't act accordingly because it can't afford to be at war and can't make a peace. Its dependence on the United States both weakens it and makes it generally invulnerable re state survival in the short term. Long term, it is doomed by demographics, but that is very long term. Egypt is little threat because of distance, Sinai is a buffer, and because if it has to Israel will blow up the Aswan dam. Since Israel went after Hezbollah it needs to occupy Lebanon to the Litani River or what was the point? Etc.

The more tactics are discussed the less appropriate it is to have that discussion on this kind of list. On the other hand, Israel doesn't understand at all how it has contributed to the health, well being and propagation of its enemies. What it has done so far for instance, is make Hezbollah stronger and more prestigious in Lebanon and the Muslim world generally--or at least more respected. At least Israel now knows how dangerous it is to let Hezbollah military power grow on its Lebanese border.



Robert's picture

... because there isn't much else to say.

Militarily Israel has some big problems dealing with Hezbollah and Hamas. Hell, the UK had a hell of a lot of trouble dealing with the IRA and their Prodestant mirror-images. The fact is, that terror groups are difficult to deal with if you care about liberty etc. If that isn't the case then you can behave like Stalin can be thorough and liquidate everybody in a given region to make sure you get the couple of people bugging you.

Militarily Israel is in a vulnerable position. Geographically, it's a long contry surrounded on three sides by enemies who've sworn to liquidate every Jew residing there. True, Egypt has a non-aggression type agreement with Israel. But there are plenty of facist nutters running around Egypt who dream of pulling off a coup and resuming the Jihad. So Israel can't just commit 90% of their military forces to occupy and cleans Lebanon of Hezbollah. That'd be like leaving the back door open. Yes the Sinai is a buffer zone, but an army can cross it in about a week.

Of course if the Israelis had more than 4 million people or some powerful allies willing to send troops to their aid (as opposed to just weapons and ammunition) then they could accumulate the military force they need to delouse Lebanon properly. Sadly, I very much doubt that US or UK troops will ever set foot on Israeli soil again. The political fall out from such blatant support of Israel would be too much for any US president or UK PM to take in my humble opinion. So if they are to do the job then they must do it with their own small army. And it is small. They can swell their ranks temporarily with draftees but only for a short time, because they will run low on civilian man power if they embark on a full-scale, no-holds-barred occupation and delousing operation in Lebanon. 

The second, and more important problem, is logistical. When Napoleon stated that "an army marches on it's stomach" he was emphasising that logistics are ~the~ most important factor in war. Any war. It is an immutable fact that soldiers need ammunition, food and water and their machines need petrol, oil, lubricants, and spare parts. Failure to provide these essentials will stop your operations faster than any enemy action. See how the Allied advance across France in '44 stopped at the Rhine due to lack of supplies - mainly because Monty didn't clear the approaches to Antwerp, thus denying the Allies the use of the only intact port on mainland Europe through which they could support their army.

Israel has a logistics problem. It isn't rich in minerals or oil. And as far as I'm aware, it isn't blessed with the ability to self-supply it's army with munitions at anything like the rate they would be consumed in the close-combat operations required to utterly delouse Lebanon.  

Therefore the Israelis have to be very careful to avoid embarrassing their Allies and supporters because any economic sanctions or arms/raw-materials blockade would put a huge crimp on any military campaign they care to wage. 

Assuming they were able to sort those problems out then they have one more to solve. The same one, in my estimation , that the US must solve in Iraq and Iran. That problem is that the population of Lebanon and neighbouring Arab states are still in the philosophical maw of fascist Islam and has been for several generations (at least since WWII and probably earlier.)

When you study military campaigns, you will find out very quickly that it is difficult to annihilate an army. Armies are vanquished by battering them into submission after you've cut it off from or destroyed its supply base. Physically having to kill every single soldier in the enemy army is going to cost you a lot of casualties. Condemned men fight very hard. For example see the Pacific Island hopping campaign that the Allies waged against the Japanese Empire.

So the question is, how do you cut Hezbollah off from it's supply base? It's going to be hard to cut off all of Hezbollah's military supplies because the Middle East is awash with guns and explosives can be made out of household items. Hezbollah's most vulnerable consumable is men, particularly foot soldiers and commanders. So you'd have to assassinate their most able leaders and then cut them off from their source of recruits. That way, hopefully, those that remain will be less competant and less able to replace their losses. 

To conduct assassinations you need good intelligence. To dry you the replacement pool you need to show young Arabs that there is no future in being a Hezbollah foot soldier. In other words, you'd have to conduct a hearts and minds campaign.

Good luck trying to figure out a quick way for Israel to conduct a hearts and minds campaign in Arab country in 2006.

Alternately, course you could pull the trick that the Brits successfully pulled in Malaya. That is, you could physically move the population to terrorist-free, easily defendable holding areas while you delouse their homes. I believe that the first time the Brits tried something like this was during the Boer Wars in South Africa at the turn of the century, they called their holding pens "concentration camps." And  that term says all that needs to be said about the way this tactic violates personal liberties. I don't know, but I suspect that that emergency tactic would last about as long as it would take to say "UN resolution against Israel."

What you need to do of course is to first effect a revolution in the heads of the Arabs who would normally flock to Hezbollah's banner. It was the same problem the Sam Adams et al. had when they set out to forment a revolution in the Colonies and gain a country of their own. I'm told that that took them something like 10 years of political agitation to achieve. Unfortunately for Israel, the hearts and minds of colonial Americans were far more fertile soil for ideas about personal freedom and liberty to take root. They being people who (by and large) had come to the New World to escape the Old World and build a new life for themselves with their bare hands. 

In other words, colonial Americans had one eye on a bountiful, terrestrial future. Your average suicide bomber has his eye on paradise, so he hasn't got much use for long-range thinking. I mean why go to school and suffer all that study or work 9-to-5 at some job when you can run round with a gun or bomb belt and garuantee yourself an eternity of deflowering virgins in the after-life?

Just think about that for a second. The people who swallow this crap have about as much regard for woman's right's as they have for toilet paper. Thus, I wouldn't care to guess how long it would take to light the fire of personal liberty in the minds of Palestinian and Lebanese youth. Maybe the example of a free, secular and democratic Iraq might help? But that's going to take a lot of work and patience though. 
One thing is for sure. There is no time like the present for the USA and Israel to fire up that pro-liberty propaganda war. Sadly, when it comes to propaganda, anti-freedom anti-capitalist forces amongst the Arabs and US-based Left-wing are better at it than those charged with defending the USA and Israel.  

Given these problems, Israel can only really do what she is doing: conduct punitive campaigns, build a wall and hope that the prevailing philosophical wind will change. 

Of course it would help if they set up something like Radio Free America and began secretly assassinating the leaders & generals in charge of the governments, intelligence services and militaries belonging to Iran and Syria. I'm betting that the latter might curb the enthusiasm with which those entities support Hezbollah et al. Sadly, the Mossad (or their foreign equivalent) has lost some of their skill if the bruhaha over Israeli agents optaining NZ passports is anything to go by.

Those are my amateur thoughts on the matter. Feel free to castigate me for any errors in history or logic. All my facts and figures are off the top of my head.


Lindsay Perigo's picture

Sorry your post doesn't seem to be provoking the degree of debate you'd hoped for. Part of the problem, I suspect, is that we here are not expert military strategists. All of us, apart from the Saddamites, understand the need for "political will" & that indeed, regime change in Syria & Iran is necessary. We understand the need for an unabashed *imposition* of a genuine pro-freedom constitution on the countries whose regimes are changed. But your question is a very specific one about military tactics. My answer, on a generalised level is, "whatever it takes." But I wouldn't pretend to know exactly what that is. Those best qualified to answer that question, like Winefield, Ceely & Gaede, are remarkably silent.

This doesn't worry me in terms of what I personally should be doing, which is helping those who would put a cattle-prod up W's ass & some steel in his backbone—& helping to shame the Saddamites who would have the West do nothing. What I should be doing is what I do. There are several anti-Saddamites (privately) right here who should be doing the same, but are too concerned with respectability & not sticking their necks out—not being seen to be supportive of a correct action that has gotten screwed up—to do so. That's bad. The world is perishing from an orgy of such cowardice.


Informative article Phil

LWHALL's picture

I believe this exemplifies some of the major obstacles which are inherent in urban warfare. Dealing with an enemy which is fluid, able to move it's base of operations in short order and mix in with the citizenry is indicative of why superior firepower does not always translate into victory in these types of situations.


Thanks, Lindsay

Phil Howison's picture

I felt somewhat exasperated too, having spent most of two weeks researching an essay about the very depressing subject of non-state actors in the Israeli-Arab conflict Smiling So I'm glad my post is appreciated.

To answer your question, I don't think the ceasefire is to Israel's advantage. But the current intervention was doomed to failure. Inaction would also have been taken as a victory by Hezbollah, but going in with tanks and aircraft has also resulted in a Hezbollah victory. The problem, as I see it, is that Israel lacks the political will to take the casualties which securing its northern border would entail. Israel's armoured columns were successfully halted by Iranian-supplied missiles, and dropping massive amounts of explosives from the air had no impact on Hezbollah communications or the number of rockets fired. In my opinion, the solution should involve an invasion with infantry playing the main role. But regime change in Syria and Iran is probably also necessary.

The key lesson, I think, is that fighting against non-state groups is radically different from, and far more difficult than, waging wars against states.

I hope this posts sparks a debate - I'm interested to hear what ideas others have for dealing with the challenges of this new kind of warfare.

Phil ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Nice to see this article.

I wouldn't want to die in the ditch for the proposition that this was the first time. It was just exasperating, after dealing with the talk-back Islamo-Fascist dorks, to be greeted by *that* kind of ... well, in the circumstances it seemed like nit-picking, here on SOLO. No biggie! Smiling

But precisely (in part) because of the lessons you cite, Israel should not have agreed to a ceasefire this time. Or are you saying Israel shouldn't have gone in at all, that no air-backed ground incursion could *ever* succeed?!

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