Recent reports about Hezbollah's tunnel construction capabilities have received a new twist. In addition to receiving support from Iran and Syria, Hezbollah is also believed to be benefiting from assistance provided by North Korean advisers, according to a July 29 report in al-Sharq al-Awsat.al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 29). The report also provides specifics on Iran's assistance to Hezbollah, such as Tehran's training of Hezbollah naval units, the construction of underground command and control centers, the construction of underground weapons depots and the training of three Hezbollah missile units consisting of 20 men each.The report quotes a high-ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer, who stated that North Korean advisers had assisted Hezbollah in building tunnel infrastructure, including a 25 kilometer underground tunnel. The officer explained that the North Koreans were filtered into Lebanon "in the guise of [domestic] servants by Iranian diplomats."And what, exactly, does this mean for the battle? Take the Korean construction, add Iranian weapons, supplied through Syria, and fuse them under insurgent tactics learned in Lebanon (and Iraq). From another article in the same issue:
Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers have described finding a network of concrete bunkers with modern communications equipment as deep as 40 meters along the border (Ynet News, July 23). The terrain is already well-suited for ambushes and hidden troop movements, consisting of mountains and woods in the east and scrub-covered hills to the west, all intersected by deep wadis (dry river beds). Broken rocks and numerous caves provide ample cover. Motorized infantry and armor can only cross the region with difficulty. Use of the few winding and unpaved roads invites mines and ambushes by Hezbollah's adaptable force of several thousand guerrillas (The Times [London], July 21).Hezbollah emerged in 1985 with more enthusiasm than tactical sense, relying on wasteful frontal assaults and more effective suicide attacks on Israeli troops. With training provided by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah's highly-motivated military wing developed into a highly effective guerrilla force. Iran continues to provide specialized training, funds and weapons to Hezbollah through the Revolutionary Guards organization. Various reports suggest Iranian volunteers are being recruited and sent to Lebanon to assist Hezbollah, but these reports remain unconfirmed (Alborz News Agency, July 18; Mehr News Agency, July 17).Hezbollah's military leadership has rethought much of the strategic and tactical doctrine that led to the repeated defeat of Arab regular forces by the IDF. The top-down command structure that inhibited initiative in junior ranks has been reversed. Hezbollah operates with a decentralized command structure that allows for rapid response to any situation by encouraging initiative and avoiding the need to consult with leaders in Beirut. The military wing nevertheless answers directly to Hezbollah's central council of clerics for direction.The fighters are armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, typically assembling in small teams to avoid concentrations that would draw Israeli attention. The preparation of well-disguised explosive devices has become a specialty of Hezbollah. The uncertainty created by such weapons takes a heavy psychological toll on patrolling soldiers.(cut)The guerrillas rigorously examine the success or failure of each operation after completion. Tactics change constantly and new uses are sought for existing weapons. The use of mortars (81mm and 120mm) has been honed to near perfection. Hezbollah fighters have developed efficient assault tactics for use against armor, with their main anti-tank weapons being AT-3 Saggers and AT-4 Spigot missiles. Four tanks were destroyed in two weeks in 1997 using U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles (these missiles traveled from Israel to Iran as part of the Iran-Contra affair before being supplied to Hezbollah).
(cut)Hezbollah leaders believe that their fighters have a perspective on conflict losses that gives them an inherent advantage; according to Naim Kassem, deputy leader of Hezbollah, "[The Israeli] perspective is preservation of life, while our point of departure is preservation of principle and sacrifice. What is the value of a life of humiliation?" (Haaretz, December 15, 1996). With no hope of overwhelming Israel's well-supplied military, Hezbollah fighters concentrate on inflicting Israeli casualties, believing that an inability or unwillingness to absorb steady losses is Israel's strategic weakness.Hezbollah has also mastered the field of information warfare, videotaping attacks on Israeli troops that are then shown in Israel and around the world, damaging public morale and degrading the myth of IDF invincibility.(cut)Hezbollah is unlikely to have used the most potent weapons in its arsenal. Hanging on to them provides both strategic and psychological advantage. It is typical Hezbollah strategy to view war as a progression, rather than to use everything it has in the early stages of a conflict. While Israel may have a timetable of several weeks for this campaign, Hezbollah is prepared for several years of fighting. Disengagement may prove more difficult for Israel than it assumes. At some point, however, Hezbollah may become short of weapons and supplies. Normal supply lines from Syria have already been cut and Hezbollah has no facilities capable of producing arms or ammunition.Israel has never been able to get the upper hand in the intelligence war with Hezbollah. Hezbollah's military wing is not easily penetrated by outsiders, but has had great success in intelligence operations against Israel. Nearly the entire Shiite population of south Lebanon acts as eyes and ears for the fighters, so it is little surprise that Israel initially concentrated on eliminating regional communications systems and forcing the local population from their homes in the border region.Israel's air strikes have revealed the limitations of conventional air power in coping with mobile forces with little in the way of fixed installations or strategic targets. The 18-year war against the Israeli occupation (1982-2000) has, on the other hand, given Hezbollah an intimate knowledge of Israeli tactics.
This is not going to be easy for Israel, nor is it going to be clean, and given the goals of the war it can't be done with "proportionate" (i.e., legal) military action. In fact, this style of fighting (asymmetric, hiding behind civilians) challenges much of the philosophical and legal underpinnings for the law of war.
It looks like an air force (again!) has overestimated what can be done with precision bombing. This could go on for weeks--including the long-range missile attacks--unless the Hezbollah weapons are cut off at the source. This would also explain why the Israelis have been somewhat surprised by their slow going. No matter how good your troops are, that kind of preparation takes time and effort to overcome.