Hezbollah to the Rescue?

By Clint Douglas

In 2006, Hezbollah fought Israel to a bloody stalemate using what many analysts are calling "hybrid-warfare," which lies somewhere between what we generally understand to be guerrilla and conventional warfare. Hezbollah fighters utilized sophisticated anti-tank and anti-ship missiles, as well as surprisingly secure high-tech communications systems, all the while maintaining a decentralized and dispersed organizational structure that remained resilient under continuous Israeli bombardment. Small mobile anti-tank teams proved elusive targets to both air and artillery attacks, and were highly effective in blunting the progress of Israel's armored columns. Hezbollah not only survived the contest, but emerged more powerful than ever.

After Georgia's calamitous war with Russia, there has been discussion as to how we should help re-equip and re-train the Georgian army. Some have suggested that we learn from our adversaries and teach the Georgians how to apply some of these lessons from Hezbollah. In principle, this sounds like sage advice. A Georgian force that eschewed such hardware as tanks, and focused instead on procuring and mastering such infantry systems as night vision devices, secure radios, sniper rifles, and guided missile launchers would be a potent force. Should the Russians decide to invade once again, they would be confronted with the same problems that the Israelis faced in southern Lebanon. Georgia is more mountainous and Russian mechanized forces would, by necessity, be confined to the roads, where they would be vulnerable. It could go even worse for them, given that the American systems that would be supplied to Georgia, such as the Javelin anti-tank missile and the Stinger shoulder launched surface-to-air missile, are superior to anything fielded by Hezbollah. The other, political, advantage of such a military structure is that it is fundamentally defensive in nature, as it lacks an offensive maneuver element -- those tanks again -- that the Russians might reasonably find threatening. They wouldn't have to worry about the Georgians making a dash to the Roki tunnel in South Ossetia, and the Georgians would have a credible deterrent to further Russian incursions.

Sadly, it's not so simple.

In the first place, by all accounts, the Georgian army conducted itself poorly in their brief conflict with Russia last month. Many troops panicked and fled well before they even had contact with the advancing Russians. If history is any guide (which it is, on occasion) the Russians will not respect the Georgian's fighting ability for this reason alone, while on the other side, the young men of Georgia will no doubt long for the day when they can restore their national honor. This, compounded by the fact that Russia effectively stole South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is loudly proclaiming that he will re-unify the country, almost guarantees another war. We should consider this fully before we decide to re-arm Georgia. The United States is simply too preoccupied in Iraq and Afghanistan to become effectively enmeshed in the Caucuses. The Russians have already threatened to close their air space to NATO flights to Afghanistan, which may become even more important given our deteriorating relations with Pakistan.

I am very sympathetic to Georgia's plight and its desire to get out from under Russia's thumb. But, painful as it might be to its citizens, they have to understand that the lost provinces are not coming back. Then, again Georgia never controlled them in the first place. Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia violently attempted to secede from Georgia as soon as the Soviet Union fell apart. President Saakashvili is, at best, a bungler, who allowed himself to be drawn into a war that he never had a chance to win and as such his judgment remains suspect. Only after the passions have cooled should we seriously consider giving the Georgians weapons of any kind.

As for today, and how to punish the Russians for their recent brutishness, the markets seem to be doing that quite nicely for us. While all of the stock markets of the world are certainly taking a beating, the Russian market has been absolutely eviscerated. They're dealing with the financial meltdown just like everyone else. However, their problems are compounded by a flight of international capital, caused by a lack of the rule of law in the country and the fact that already nervous investors are wary of a new aggressive Russia. This hits the wealthy ruling class right where it hurts-they're pocket books. And these are the people, who have the ear of Vladimir Putin. The Russians might see that it's in their own best interests to tone down their recent swagger.

By washingtonpost.com |  September 18, 2008; 4:49 PM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Clint, saying Hezbollah fought Israel to a standstill is like saying the Indian Wars were at a standstill because of Little Big Horn.

Hezbollah did ok for the limited amount of time that Israel wished to stay engaged and at the level of violence in which Israel was willing to engage. Please do not be in doubt that if the Israelis had wanted to crush Hezbollah and reoccupy the Galilee they could have done so. They have resources and weaponry that eventually would have rooted out Hezbollah fighters using whatever tactics they wanted.

The fact that they didn't speaks partly to a temporary set back for Israeli operational planning when faced with a battlespace they had hitherto not experienced (similar to the initial confusion of American forces in the Iraq invasion).

However, Israel, like the US Military, can react and adapt faster than anybody that surrounds them in their regional battlespace. Sooner, rather than later, Israel would have used their superior firepower, manuverability, logistics, operational planning and their own asymmetric advantages to outflank, cut off and crush the Hezbollah fighters that thought they were winning.

In 1973, The UAR was exultantly thinking they had fought Israel to a standstill at the Suez, when unexpectedly Ariel Sharon's tanks showed up at the outskirts of Cairo.

Hopefully the Georgians will not be too hasty in beating their plows back into swords. These aren't the 19th century Russians and the Georgians are not the Israelis. The Russians may have may military shortcomings...but they certainly have the firepower and numbers to handle Georgia's military.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 18, 2008 9:54 PM

The Hezbollah defensive strategy did work against Israel, even with the Israel using sophisticated real time satellite intelligence and wickedly effective cluster bombs supplied by the US.

It is the same defensive strategy that the US developed many years ago to stop the tanks of the USSR if they invaded Germany and Europe. And before that used by Tito in the mountains of Yugoslavia.

As a nation that likes to make armored units the spear tip of our land based operations, this is an emerging reality that we have not yet come to grips with. It's a bit more sophisticated than a couple of men with an IED.

Posted by: JM | September 19, 2008 11:25 AM

It's even simpler than that.

Hezbollah is the product of twenty years of savage fighting in South Lebanon between the hated Israelis and their SLA proxies and a desperate, poor Shiite community. Combine the Shia love for martyrdom with grinding poverty and religious and racial hate and you get the kind of military organization that will take horrific casualties to inflict a handful on a casualty-averse organization like the IDF.

Georgia, so far as any of the former Soviet "republics" can be, is a relatively prosperous, only-semi-corrupt, almost-kinda-sorta-democratic middle classy kind of place. Trying to turn relatively apolitical and agnostic, life- and comfort-loving Georgians into fanatical, Israeli-hating Lebanese Shiites is ALMOST as impossible as turning the messy, marginally competent but casually brutal low-Second-World Russian Army into the pernickity, highly trained, First World IDF.

This scheme probably sounded better over at Little Green Footballs or Instapundit where, along with the other Buck Rogers schemes for clubbing the People We Don't Like seem to either originate or end up...

Posted by: FDChief | September 19, 2008 2:12 PM

As long as the israelis have access to additional supplies I'll take the israelis over the russians anywhere, anyday, anytime, and if it didn't sounds so vulgar I'd spot you 300 no 3000 to 1 odds.

Posted by: utfb | September 19, 2008 3:25 PM

Sir, Exile has the best comment to the whole "Lets make Georgia into Hezbollah"-meme at http://exiledonline.com/please-dont-help-the-georgians/. The argument is quite simply that you wouldnt wish upon your worst enemy the hardening process that makes you fight with the strength of the Hezbs. Fighting in that style means that you are willing to fight to the death. Based on the showing of Georgian forces when faced with real opposition, I think we surely can say they do not have that sort of fanatic strength.

Panhandlewilly: You forget the parameters of democracy. Israel could have gone in genocidal, sure, but since Hezbollah had both the morale to stay fighting AND the support of the local populace, that was the only way they could have done it. And that was/is just not doable, unless you truly dont care a damn about international rules.

As an aside, its a funny part of the Georgia/Lebanon parable that this time we, the west, were howling about disproportianate use of force, while when Israel responded to a kidnapping of two servicemembers with all out war the west kept their mouth shut. Ho hum...

Posted by: fnord | September 19, 2008 3:30 PM

PanhandleWilly is pretty much right, but didn't mention what I think was the decisive factor in Hezbollah's ability to achieve a stalemate -- the tactical advantage provided by its underground network. Like the VC in the western part of III Corps who used the famous Cu Chi Tunnels to keep the Big Red One off balance, Hezbollah utilized a cave network that was a couple of decades in the making. The IDF apparently had no adequate means of coping with this underground network, so Hezbollah was consistently able to achieve tactical surprise. Had the IDF gone in with sophisticated anti-underground capabilities -- lots of engineers, ground-penetrating radars, flamethrowers, nonlethal gas, etc., and Hezbollah seen a slow but methodical destruction of its underground network, my bet is that they would have come to the table pretty quickly. For a parallel, in Gulf War I the USAF's slow, methodical destruction of the Iraqi Air Force's huge array of "bombproof" shelters triggered the panicked flight of its aircraft to Iran. I've never understood why the IDF failed to realize what it was up against -- another clear failure of the DMI.

Posted by: Ralph Hitchens | September 19, 2008 3:30 PM

P.S. A small counter-idea: Instead of feeding the war-meme, it would be an interesting way out if the west offered to make S. Ossetia and Abkhazia international investment-zones, pouring money into those areas so as to make them independent of both Russia and Georgia. Since they are effectively mafya zones anyway, they should be possible to buy... (I am aware that it is propably too late by now, but as a model for future conflict-prevention, I think it is a good idea...)

Posted by: fnord | September 19, 2008 4:27 PM

>>>You forget the parameters of democracy. Israel could have gone in genocidal, sure, but since Hezbollah had both the morale to stay fighting AND the support of the local populace, that was the only way they could have done it.

Copy...that's what was meant by the level of violence in which Israel was willing to engage. Still Galilee is a limited geographic area that could have been surrounded and slowly, methodically 'processed' to isolate and root out Hezbollah fighters. Hezbollah supplies could not have lasted forever. Israel was alrerady taking nsteps to cut off the supplies through Syria and the coast.

Ultimately, Israel probably concluded that Hezbollah couldn't by itself destroy Israel and thus was not worth the international opprobrium that would have followed a nastier campaign.

However...bet heavily that Israel went back to its borders with a solid bit of intelligence on the shape of this new battlespace and is using the knowledge and time afforded to approach the threat better next time...when next time unfortunately becomes necessary again.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 19, 2008 4:58 PM

>>>I've never understood why the IDF failed to realize what it was up against -- another clear failure of the DMI.

Maybe they saw what they were up against and thought it too costly to counter immediately when they really didn't have to. Maybe cooler heads at IDF decided: "ok, let's take what we know now, go back and work on it. Let's get the right equipment to map this all out, turn a few informers, send in some 'rangers' to get some eyes on all of it...and figure out how to solve this problem within the safety of our own borders and without a bunch of casualties trying to do it on the fly."

They've got a secure border and the time and resources to figure it all out. It would be the smart path.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 19, 2008 5:07 PM


Nice post. Yea, ya just feel like pointing out, "Look at a map!" Georgia has the same problem that Czechoslovakia had pre-WWII, the newly independent countries of the area actually created an unstable situation which would lead to all sorts of problems barring coming to some sort of agreement with their stronger neighbours, if any agreement was even possible.

Georgia's best bet is to forget about forming any sort of military, invest the money in their country's infrastructure and social system and come to some sort of agreement with the Russians. NATO membership will not improve Georgia's security, but will most likely lead to the effective end of NATO. Western Europe is not going to go to war over Georgia, and even Cheney, despite the huffing and puffing, ain't either. Why not stop the charade and start dealing with the geo-strategic reality. . . ?

Posted by: seydlitz89 | September 19, 2008 7:23 PM

PanhandleW: Or maybe they just said "Fck it, it aint worth it". Because in the Israeli calculation comes also economy, much more so than in the US where they just print up new money. Israel, despite (or as some Israelis say, because) its massive aidpackage from the US is in deep financial strains, and the war in Lebanon exposed a lot of the weaknes in the Israeli society. Olmert is resigning now, over corruption scandals, and this can be symptomatic of how much of Israeli society has been developing the last 20 years. A shadow of the US, really, with their own little Enrons, their own religious fanatics who demand (and get) huge subsidies, their own welfare crisis, etc. So at some point the war must have gone well beyond their cost/result parameters and become officialy stupid. Much the same as with the Iraq war, wich broke its own cost/benefit parameters after Year 1.

Posted by: fnord | September 20, 2008 2:25 AM

The feature in common between the war in Lebanon and the War of Georgia, and the Israeli and U.S. interference in other countries.
The real interest of Israel and USA, and Georgia's territorial use to attack Iran.
This time the plan not worked, the Russian Federation this with all their arsenal in South America and the equipping and creating bases in Syria.
This accelerating the construction of nuclear power plant in Iran.
The U.S. and a country that is falling.
While Russia, China, Brazil are countries that are growing.
Soon, the U.S. will have a war on its territory.
The U.S. people will discover that the war made by the U.S., are only for interest economicos.E that (The war against terror) is a lie, a slogan created by Bush.
That I will assist in Rio de Janeiro, on the beach, drinking caipirinhas.
Because I live in a true country of freedom.

Posted by: Alex | September 20, 2008 8:43 AM

Alex...the only reason you live in a country of freedom is because James Monroe told the European's their days of running the Western Hemisphere like their own sweatshop were over about 175 years ago.
You're welcome. Enjoy your capri...whatever.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 20, 2008 8:52 AM

fnord...yeah but we basically said the same thing. And despite their many problems, the Israelis still want to exists as a nation and as long as there are stalwarts that think Israel is more than a country...it's an idea...then there are those who will devote themselves to warfare for the protection of the idea.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 20, 2008 8:57 AM

Israel accomplished none of its stated war aims in Lebanon and left the enemy in possession of the battlefield. This is called "losing." Talking about what the Israelis could have done is like talking about how the US could have won the Vietnam war by nuking Hanoi. The IDF is one of the world's more overrated militaries--it's basically a colonial occupation force that's great at knocking down the houses of civilians, not so great at dealing with enemies that actually shoot back.

And panhandlewilly--the loss of the Spanish colonies had nothing to do with awesome military power of the United State.

Posted by: Bill | September 21, 2008 11:44 PM

For a second I read the post as referring to the other Georgia. What could Light Horse Harry Lee or the Confederates opposing Sherman have learnt from Hezbollah?

Posted by: James Wimberley | September 22, 2008 4:35 AM

"The IDF is one of the world's more overrated militaries--it's basically a colonial occupation force that's great at knocking down the houses of civilians, not so great at dealing with enemies that actually shoot back."

Which is a cautionary tale to those among us who are wriggling with the frantic eagerness of a kindergartner overdue for a potty stop to "reform" the U.S. Army and USMC as "COINcentric" organizations that tihs is what happens to militaries that cease becoming high-intensity conflict organized because of the mission demands of imperial policing. The British Army had this problem in WW1 and to a lesser extent WW2: it had become to a huge extent an imperial constabulary. Delightful for bashing a stray wog or thousand - for organizing the logistics and the operational art for defending against the German Army?

Not so much.

As much fun as chasing Waziris around the FATA is, we should remember that the primary mission of the U.S. Army is supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States. Until they fund and build their Air Force and Navy the neoTaliban cannot seriously "fight us here". They can inflict damage and kill people but cannot be an existantial threat.

To reshape the bulk of the land forces of the United States, as the IDF has remade itself to deal with the intifada, carries a great risk that IF we should ever need to fight a conventional war against a difficult enemy (such as Hezbollah on its own turf) we risk the same result.

Posted by: FDChief | September 22, 2008 12:39 PM

>>>not so great at dealing with enemies that actually shoot back.

Your knowledge of Israeli military history is terrible. 1948, 56, 67, 73, 82...where were you? One of the world's over-rated militaries? It completely dominates its entire region despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered. Tell me in what rational construct could that be seen as over-rated? Your definition of losing is so linear as to defy serious consideration. There is clearly more to this 'battlefield' than you understand.

Posted by: Panhandle Willy | September 22, 2008 12:46 PM

FDC--good points. The US military is the primary vehicle for "providing for the common defense" The biggest threats to the "commom" are not the Taliban in Afghanistan. Thus the US military should not lose sight of the responsibility to O,T, and E for the primary threat to the homeland.

Posted by: Panhandle Willy | September 22, 2008 12:50 PM

>>>the loss of the Spanish colonies had nothing to do with awesome military power of the United State.

I never mentioned the 'awesome' military power of the United States.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 23, 2008 11:28 AM

I thought that Israelis had trained and supplied Georgian army. And apparently training and re-equipment had been going on for years. IMO, Russians did what armies should do. Overwhelming ground force from many directions after fairly short artillery/air preparation. Ground force deployed with no hesitation and with ultimate aggressiveness. As I understand, in Lebanon IDF though that air-force alone may win the war. It took a while to realize that 30-40.000 troops are really needed and were not there to begin with. Too much reliance on air-force, no decisiveness. Can't say that for Russians, can you? Also, when it comes to sacrificing to victory one can hardly find nation that could equal Russians. Yes, the army is bad, the technology is outdated, but Hitler thought the same back then... Nevertheless, Georgians stand no chance, they better invest in economy. They have been spending 70% of their budget on military for a period over 6 years. The military was destroyed in 6 days... Bad investment...

Posted by: arkos | September 24, 2008 2:20 AM

You know, whether or not Georgia could actually adopt the Hezbollah tactics, it certainyl wouldn't have helped them in the war they started when they tried to invade South Ossetia in the first place...

Posted by: Martin Wisse | September 24, 2008 12:57 PM

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