Posted by Joshua on Saturday, January 6th, 2007
Andrew Exum and Nicholas Noe have spent considerable time researching Hizbullah and studying the summer war of 2006. They differ on some important points about its abilities, use of intelligence, etc. I provide Exum's most important conclusions and link to Noe's 6 page critique, published at Mideastwire.com and publish a response by Exum.
Here are some of Exum's conclusions:
The most significant aspects of Hizballah’s organization are the high degree of autonomy given to junior leaders and the lack of any significant logistical train.
The July War will forever be the war of the antitank missile. Antitank missiles—bought from Russia by Syria with Iranian money—were used by Hizballah fighters against all types of targets. Hizballah used them against tanks, personnel, houses, shelters, and any vehicles Israel used in its attack. The AT-3 Sagger was used in this way and remained the most commonly used antitank missile. Among the new entrants onto the battlefield, however, was the AT-14 Kornet-E, which Hizballah used to great effect on IDF tanks and vehicles. Also new to the battlefield, of course, was the C-802 anti-shipping missile, which Hizballah used to kill several Israeli sailors and damage one Israeli ship off the coast of Lebanon.
Hizballah deserves to be taken seriously as a fighting force independent of any outside sponsor. Whether the decision to kidnap the two Israeli soldiers on July 12 originated in either Beirut or Tehran is still unclear, but most observers of Hizballah believe the most likely scenario is that although Iran (and Syria) were informed of the operation, all major decisions concerning both the kidnapping and the operations that followed originated in the Dahye. Hizballah trained on, maintained, and used all of its weapons systems in a skilled and disciplined manner.
As far as training is concerned, some IDF officers maintain that Hizballah is completely trained by Iran with regard to both its weapons skills and its tactics. This is not, however, entirely the case. To be sure, Hizballah receives a great deal of training and support from Iran, especially with regard to the newer and more complicated weapons systems, such as the medium-range rockets and antitank missiles. Nevertheless, the fighters of Hizballah have infinitely more combat experience and acquired tactical knowhow than their Iranian sponsors, leading one independent observer to wryly note that Hizballah trains Iran, not the other way around.
Following the kidnapping, however, Hizballah was caught off guard by the ferocity and ruthlessness of the Israeli counterattack.
But if Israel succeeded in surprising Hizballah by its strategic response to the attack, it did not succeed in surprising Hizballah tactically when the fight moved to the south. As one Israeli general admitted, Hizballah had good tactical intelligence: it knew the IDF’s commanders, the likely routes of advance through Lebanon, and, most important, the IDF’s tactics.
Hizballah’s tenacity in the villages was, to this observer, the biggest surprise of the war. As has been mentioned already, the vast majority of the fighters who defended villages such as Ayta ash Shab, Bint Jbeil, and Maroun al-Ras were not, in fact, regular Hizballah fighters and in some cases were not even members of Hizballah. But they were men, in the words of one Lebanese observer, who were “defending their country in the most tangible sense—their shops, their homes, even their trees.”
All the same, the performance of the village units was exceptional. Their job—to slow and to bleed the IDF as much as possible—was carried out with both determination and skill. Hizballah dictated the rules of how the war was to be fought. Or as one observer put it, “This was a very good lesson in asymmetric warfare. This was not Israel imposing its battle on Hizballah but Hizballah imposing its battle on Israel.”
There was no question of [Hizb] units retreating or moving forward to support another unit because the Israeli Air Force had successfully isolated the villages and fortifications from which they were fighting.
The question of who, exactly, trained these village fighters is one of the enduring mysteries of the war. It is unlikely that any of them received training in Iran—or even by the Iranians in Lebanon. More likely is that they were former militia—or perhaps even former Hizballah—fighters who carried with them knowledge and experience from prior conflicts that Hizballah was able to use in the summer war.
The Anti-Tank battle:
Eleven IDF tanks were hit by Hizballah antitank missiles, while eight crewmen and four other soldiers were killed. The casualties made up over a tenth of all IDF casualties in the July War.
Hizballah’s rocket attacks against Israel in the July War were at once a tactical success and a strategic failure. Hizballah’s rockets did not have their desired effect of breaking the will of the people of northern Israel and instead—as is often the case with aerial bombardments—stiffened the resolve of the population under fire. Although Hizballah enjoyed great success launching its short-range rockets into Israel, its medium-range rockets were almost entirely destroyed by the IAF.
The early air assault on the second day of the war, for example, “knocked out fifty-nine permanent launchers of the intermediate Fajr missiles and Zelzal missiles in thirtyfour minutes.” Because the katyusha attacks really have only a psychological effect, the fact that Hizballah was not able to launch many of its longer-range weapons toward targets deep in Israel’s interior should be cause for concern in both the Dahye and Tehran, given that so much time and energy was expended acquiring them and training Hizballah in their use.
In the end, the best way to view Hizballah’s performance in the July War is by comparing it to the performance of other Arab armies that have fought against the IDF since 1948 and noting where Hizballah’s performance differs. Three differences stand out with Hizballah: its ability to maneuver tactically against the IDF, the autonomy given to its small units and the initiative taken by the small-unit leaders, and the skill Hizballah displayed with its weapons systems.
Hizballah’s display on the battlefield should worry U.S. policymakers and military planners as well. Enemies of the United States will likely seek to emulate Hizballah’s perceived successes in southern Lebanon, and the lessons learned by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan may or may not apply to such a fight.
Andrew Exum is a Soref fellow in The Washington Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the American University of Beirut, he served in the U.S. Army from 2000 until 2004.
Nicholas Noe, has written a 6-page Critique of: Andrew Exum's “Hizbollah at War: A Military Assessment.” Nicholas Noe is the founder of Mideastwire.com, a Beirut-based translation service covering the Arabic and Persian media. His forthcoming book, Voice of Hizbullah: The Statements of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, will be published by Verso in February 2007.
Response from Andrew Exum to Nicholas Noe provided to Syria Comment January 2, 2007.
Anything written about this past summer’s war between the IDF and Hizbollah is bound to make some people unhappy. One of the things I noticed in my first visit back to Lebanon and Israel since the war is how high emotions are running and how much attitudes have hardened. In studying the war from an exclusively military perspective, though – working hard to steer clear of political and moral judgments – I felt sure that I could write an analysis that wouldn’t offend anyone. Foolish me.
Nicholas Noe’s critique of my piece has some good criticisms, most of which get lost amidst the vitriol and emotion of his argument. He is right to highlight that I was not able to speak to any Hizbollah ground commanders. I tried to, repeatedly filling out interview requests with the organization’s public affairs section, but for some reason they weren’t anxious to speak with a former U.S. military officer about their tactics. Nicholas also highlights the fact that I did not mention the reports of Hizbollah’s ability to jam/intercept IDF communications. Nicholas is right – I should have, though these reports were not corroborated by anyone I spoke to in the IDF. (And it’s worth noting here that the IDF officers with whom I spoke were all fairly eager to speak about their short-comings and failures in the summer’s war.) Finally, Nicholas highlights the fact that I chose not to identify by name many of the people with whom I spoke. The reason I did this was because I was trying to protect the people who spoke to me, but on further review I should have included at least some sort of generic title (e.g. “senior Israeli defense official”) in the footnotes.
Most of the rest is easy enough to answer. Nicholas notes, for example, that Nabatiyya is a large city in the south of Lebanon – but that I wrote that the only large city in southern Lebanon is Tyre. This is true. But I confined “southern Lebanon” in my paper to the area currently under UNIFIL jurisdiction as this was the area contested in the bulk of the ground fighting. Nicholas also takes me to task for ignoring the report prepared for the Asia Times on the war. This is also true. I had read the report and enjoyed the political analysis. But I had some issues with the paper’s military analysis, so I chose not to reference it in my own work.
The above are just two examples (I am not going to issue a point-by-point response here), but what they have in common is a conscious decision-making process to include or omit certain things. Nicholas contends I carelessly omitted things in specific cases, but I’ve read most of what’s been written in the English language on this last war (and quite a lot of what’s been written in French and Arabic too), so when I left something out, it was usually because I disagreed with it or found it lacking in value.
The biggest substantive problem between Nicholas and me is that Nicholas doesn’t understand what a tactical analysis is. This is highly understandable, and I’m not attempting to insult his intelligence here. Most people without military experience (including some Middle East political experts) are unable to distinguish between tactics and strategy, and although Nicholas at one point mentions that I am a recent graduate school product (true), it’s important to note that my formal study of the Middle East began after a military career in which I led combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t claim to be the world’s leading expert on Hizbollah, but, on the mechanics of infantry combat, I know more than the average AUB graduate.
To explain briefly: if you decide to attack a house, and you decide to attack it by going in the back door as opposed to the front, that’s a tactical decision. These decisions are made by small unit leaders. The decision to go to war in Iraq, the decision to go to war in Iraq with a small invasion force, the decision to disband the Iraqi Army – these are strategic decisions. These decisions are made by generals and politicians.
By the same token, this paper is concerned with Hizbollah’s tactics – how their small unit leaders performed, how their anti-tank missile teams performed, etc. Anyone reading this paper expecting a political analysis or strategic advice to the National Security Council on what to do about Hizbollah would leave it like Nicholas: angry and disappointed.
Finally, a word on civility. I realize that a former U.S. Army officer writing an analysis from Washington, DC (in the employment of The Washington Institute no less!) is – as far as Beirut-based Middle East specialists are concerned – a bit like waving a red flag at a bull. I understand that people with a bit of expertise in something (as Nicholas has with Hizbollah) can be a bit territorial about that expertise. And I understand that frustration and anger about U.S. Middle East policy is high – I’ve lived, after all, in Beirut and Cairo for the past few years. But there is no reason why we can’t debate most subjects with something approaching respect and civility. Nicholas’s response to my piece reminds me of everything I don’t like about 90% of the blogs on the region: all vitriol, marked by an antipathy toward admitting the other guy might have something worth saying. That said, I welcome any and all comments on the paper.
[End of Debate]
Here is a Russian analysis of the war's results which is interesting: War in Lebanon won by Syria and Iran, and lost by the U.S.
Walid Jumblatt has raised the level of attack against Hizbullah. The heated exchange between the Druze and Hizbullah leaders mirrors the anxiety over what Jumblatt calls Hizbullah's attempt to carry out a "coup" to gain more power within the Lebanese government. Jumblatt did well in the last parliamentary elections because he formed an alliance with Hizbullah, which supported pro-Jumblatt candidates in the Shuff. When new elections are carried out, Jumblatt's supporters stand to suffer a number of defeats and his coalition will be smaller. Here are some excerpts from the Jumblatt – HIzbullah exchange.
Hizbullah flays Jumblatt as a fickle friend
By Hani M. Bathish
Saturday, December 30, 2006
BEIRUT: Hizbullah accused leading March 14 Forces member Walid Jumblatt on Friday of discarding allies when it suits him and embracing new ones on a whim, adding that the MP now has a "new master" in the form of the United States….
In his interview with Al-Arabiyya, Jumblatt accused Hizbullah and its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, of being behind "some, if not all" of the assassinations in Lebanon, accusing them of obtaining weapons from Israel in exchange for the release of Western hostages in what was known as the "Iran-Contra" affair.
Referring to earlier statements made by Jumblatt that he would rather be a trash collector in New York than a political leader in Lebanon, Hassan said that "if Jumblatt's imagination convinces him he would rather be a 'trash collector' in New York, he is free to do so, but to link [Hizbullah] with Israel … I do not know how he can do that.
Jumblatt said there is no possibility to work with Hizbullah as it represents the "culture of death," stressing that there will be no resolving matters with the Syrian regime either.
"We tell them that this boy (Assad), who is controlling people's necks in Damascus and killing free people in Lebanon, there will inevitably be a Nawwaf from Beirut, Dahiyeh, the Chouf or the Bekaa, he might also be from Damascus or Aleppo," he said during the funeral of Salman Siour, Jumblat's personal security officer.
He was referring to Nawaf Ghazali, a Syrian [Druse] who assassinated ex-Syrian President Adib Shishakli in Brazil in 1964.
"If the tribunal is hindered, we will all be a Nawwaf," he said, in reference to the Special International Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in the murder of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes.
"No matter how long it takes, one of us will take revenge for the martyrs and the liberals, starting from (his slain father Kamal Jumblatt to (Industry Minister) Pierre Gemayel," he added.
Al-Akhbar editor explains why Jumblatt has accused Hizbullah of participating in the assassinations: (story translated by Mideastwire.com)
“The visit by Hezbollah’s delegation to Saudi Arabia aroused the anger ‘of the remaining neo conservatives’ in Riyadh and Beirut which resulted first in the infamous Junblatt (the media spokesman for the American-Arab moderation campaign) interview on the Al-Arabiya channel with which he wanted to move the confrontation to another level by giving an extra dose to the issue of the international tribunal by accusing Hezbollah of being involved in the assassinations. Junblatt’s live interview on a network funded by Saudi Arabia, and run by Bandar Bin Sultan’s group and his allies in the Jordanian intelligence services and the CIA, which came a few days after he called for the assassination of Bashar Al-Assad, is linked to Saudi Arabia’s attitude towards what is going on which has not been explained so far except in the context of the raging battles on the Arab scene with Junblatt being a direct member of the axis that supposes that getting rid of Syria and its allies in Lebanon is a prerequisite for guaranteeing the stability of the regime in Lebanon as well as in the other countries…”