WORLD / Middle East

Tactics having kept Israeli army at bay
By Nicholas Blanford, Daniel McGrory, Stephen Farrell (The Times)
Updated: 2006-08-10 09:05

FOR four weeks Hezbollah's fighters have defied the might of the Israeli military.
A guerrilla force that was supposed to be crushed in days has prevented Israeli troops capturing more than a handful of villages in southern Lebanon, killed more than 100 Israeli soldiers and civilians and is still raining missiles on northern Israel. In the eyes of Arabs and Muslims Hezbollah has already "won" the month-long war simply because it has not been defeated by the Middle East's most powerful army.

Hezbollah has made good use of the six years since Israel withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon. With help from Syria and Iran it has amassed large arsenals, laid traps, built an intricate system of bunkers and tunnels, studied Israeli military tactics and developed a well-trained force of highly motivated fighters.

Israeli soldiers have been shaken by the fighters' skill and commitment, describing them as an army, not a rabble. "Even I have been surprised at the tenacity of these groups fighting in the villages," Timur Goksel, who served with UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon from 1979 to 2003, said. "They have fought far beyond my expectations and they haven't even committed all their fully experienced troops yet."

Here are the keys to Hezbollah's success:


Small teams of trained fighters have used advanced missiles to knock out the formidable Merkava tank, and older versions to punch through the walls of houses sheltering Israeli soldiers.

Most are Saggers, an outdated Soviet wire-guided missile first used in the 1960s. In the late 1990s Hezbollah began firing more accurate wire-guided TOW anti-tank missiles. In this war, Hezbollah has for the first time used the Russian Metis-M, which has a range of a mile and can be fitted with an anti-armour warhead or a fuel-air explosive warhead to use against troops or bunkers. Hezbollah may also be using the laser-guided Kornet-E anti-tank missile, which has a range of about 3.5 miles.

Individual Hezbollah fighters carry the shoulder-fired RPG29, a more advanced version of the RPG7 beloved of guerrilla groups since the 1960s. It has a dual-purpose warhead. "The first punches through the armour and the second is aimed at the personnel," Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese general, said.

Hezbollah's ability to knock out Merkava tanks has frustrated the traditional Israeli military doctrine of rapid armoured thrusts deep into enemy territory.


Hezbollah is thought to have no more than 1,000 elite frontline fighters, with perhaps 3,000 in reserve. They will be drawn from the villages where they are fighting, using their intimate knowledge of the local terrain. They communicate by walkie-talkie, constantly changing the frequency and using a code that draws on their personal knowledge of each other and the surrounding area. Some reportedly used souped-up off-road motorbikes to launch hit-and-run attacks then escape along obscure tracks. Hezbollah also has drones to spy on Israeli movements.


From 2000, Hezbollah developed a secret military infrastructure in southern 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 at night in remote stretches of the border.

Israeli troops have talked of finding bunkers housing command-and-control centres and advanced eavesdropping and surveillance equipment and monitoring cameras. The Israelis speak of battle-hardened Hezbollah fighters constantly popping up from unknown hiding places, firing, and then vanishing again.


Israeli officers regard Hezbollah fighters, many trained in Iran, as highly motivated but not careless of their lives in the manner of Palestinian militants often intent on glory through death. Mr Goksel said: "Hezbollah is not afraid of the Israelis. After 18 years fighting Israeli troops, they see them as vulnerable human beings who make mistakes and are afraid like anyone else."


Hezbollah marksmen equipped with high-powered rifles lie undercover for days at a time, picking off Israeli soldiers when the opportunity arises. Their marksmanship is impressive. In July 2004 a Hezbollah sniper shot dead two Israeli soldiers from a range of 500 yards.


Israeli commanders claim to have destroyed many of Hezbollah¡¯s long-range rocket launchers, including the 600mm Zelzal that can reach Tel Aviv. But the standard 122mm Katyushas can be fired more easily by mobile teams without the need for launchers visible to spotter drones or surveillance planes. These rockets are generally fired from multibarrelled launchers on the back of flat-bed trucks, but they can also be fired singly, even from a simple mounting of crossed sticks that is all but invisible to Israeli drones when hidden inside an olive grove. Last week Israeli commandos staged a pre-dawn raid on an apartment block in Tyre housing Hezbollah militants who had been firing long-range rockets into Israel. Two Hezbollah militants were killed, but rockets were being fired from the same location hours later.


These killed more Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon in the 1990s than any other weapon, and the technology is now much more sophisticated. Early versions consisted of home-made claymore-style explosive charges that spray hundreds of ball bearings, and were detonated by a command wire or remote radio control.

Hezbollah bombs today include shaped-charge warheads that concentrate the blast in a single direction to punch through the walls of armoured vehicles. They are detonated by infra-red beam.

Military observers believe that Hezbollah long ago planted huge mines under all the roads crossing the border. Israeli tanks have therefore avoided the border roads.


Instead of stockpiling its munitions in a handful of arsenals, Hezbollah dispersed them in private homes, garages, basements, bunkers and caves, giving ready access to small Hezbollah units. The group is also thought to have night-vision goggles and a stash of Israeli military fatigues for ambushes.,,3-2306510_1,00.html

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