Hezbollah’s Army Revisited

The skill and training of Hezbollah’s Army in southern Lebanon becomes clearer after details emerge about Wednesday’s fighting in Bint Jubayl, where the Israeli Defense Force’s elite Golani Brigade and Hezbollah fighters have been slugging it out since last week. The most recent combat in Bint Jubayl claimed the lives of 9 Israeli soldiers and wounded 27. The Jerusalem Post provides further information about the fighting in the town the IDF recently claimed was under their control.

Dozens of Hizbullah gunmen armed with antitank missiles and machine guns and geared up in night-vision goggles and bulletproof vests set a trap for a force of Golani infantrymen… [Lieutenant Colonel Yaniv] Asor and his men moved quickly through approximately 15 one-story homes. But as the troops moved through the narrow alleyways, a strong Hizbullah force sent a wave of gunfire and missiles at the force, killing and wounding several soldiers in the first moments of the fight. As Asor and his men fought to regain control of the situation, other Hizbullah cells outflanked them and opened fire on the force as well as other IDF positions in the town… The battle lasted for several hours during which Asor and his men sustained heavy casualties and killed at least 40 Hizbullah guerrillas, some in gunbattles at point-blank range… Wednesday evening, after the IDF had once again declared it had secured the town, a Paratrooper force nearby was hit by a Sagger antitank missile… [1 IDF paratrooper was killed and three wounded]

There is one problem with the description: the statement “other Hizbullah cells outflanked them” should read “other Hizbullah squads outflanked them.” Terrorist cells are by definition clandestine in nature. This ambush was the work of well trained and well armed infantry, conducting attacks at the squad and platoon level.

We began discussing Hezbollah’s military capabilities on July 21, after it became clear during the ambush of the Golani Brigade forced the unit to retreat near Maroun al-Ras that Hezbollah was not your average militia. On that date we noted “Hezbollah also possesses mortars, RPGs, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, anti-tank missiles and possibly surface to air missiles…. Hezbollah is using infantry tactics and fighting at the squad and platoon level.” The IDF’s slow advance (over two days) into Bint Jubayl and the ambush on a tank unit were clear indications of Hezbollah’s abilities to stand up to the IDF as well as the IDF’s cautious nature on the battlefield. Yesterday we confirmed Hezbollah is fighting at the company level, has specialized units (mortars, antitank, logistics, etc.) in its combat units and is using sophisticated communications equipment, body armor and other gear.

This is not to say the IDF cannot defeat Hezbollah’s army on the battlefield; the IDF can, and has done so at Maroun al-Ras, Bint Jubayl and elsewhere. But this comes at a cost in casualties, a cost the Israeli government seems unwilling to pay.

Hezbollah’s actions on the battlefields of southern Lebanon should give the Israelis, the West and neighboring Arab governments reason to worry. In just two weeks, Hezbollah has been fighting the Israeli military to an effective standstill on the ground (remember that time is not on Israel’s side due to pressure to accept a cease fire). Not only is Hezbollah fighting at the platoon and company level, but fighting effectively during the initial engagements. al Qaeda in Iraq (3 years of fighting) and the Taliban in Afghanistan (almost 5 years of fighting) have yet to reach such a level of effectiveness on the battlefield.

Iran has trained a proxy army that now sits on the border with Israeli, an army that cannot be dealt with from the air. If this problem is kicked down the road, Hezbollah will be that much more dangerous. And everything we think we know about Iran’s conventional military capabilities needs to be rethought.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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8 Comments

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