This interesting study by the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute of the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel wars offers some important insights not only into that conflict, but why Hezbollah matters and how their actions can affect how future wars develop.
The study, first brought to public attention by the Haaretz newspaper,concludes that Hezbollah fought the war not as an “information age guerrillas,” but as a prototype of a new hybrid force that also relies on conventional tactics and structures.
The report also concludes Hezbollah fought better than any other Arab force to fight with Israel.
The report is worth reading because, whether one agrees or not with everything there, it is thought-provoking. It is particularly important given Hezbollah’s growing strength and reach in Latin America, because it shows that the movement has a disciplined, innovative military mind-set.
This discipline and ability to take the long view is why it is so difficult, to my thinking, to dismiss the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Latin America.
These state and nonstate groups operating in a coordinated fashion, are are exerting a great deal effort and a considerable sum of money in troubled economic times to pursue their agenda. It is hard to believe they would do that for no return, or without an expected strategic payoff.
This combination (state-nonstate) may be an important factor in understanding how Hezbollah as developed over time to look like a more conventional force. Without state support, that would likely not be possible.
As an aside, it also maintains strong ties with other militant groups, such as Hamas and the international Muslim Brotherhood, as this remarkable photograph from the Holy Land trial exhibits show, dug out by the NEFA Foundation.
In the picture, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrahhah is flanked by Hamas leader Khaled Mishal and chief Muslim Brotherhood theologian Yousef al-Qaradawi. That is Qaradawi, who raised funds for the HLF, according to U.S. government documents, and who has issued fatwas favoring the killing of Americans in Iraq; the beating of women and the conquest of the rest of the world in the pursuit of establishing an Islamist caliphate.
But back to the study. It makes the important point that most forces today are neither purely guerrilla nor purely conventional, and that Hezbollah in the 2006 campaign, was closer to the latter, while maintaining important elements of the former.
Hezbollah’s methods were thus somewhere between the popular conceptions of guerrilla and conventional warfare—but so are most military actors’, whether state or nonstate. Few real militaries have ever conformed perfectly to either the “conventional” or the “guerrilla” extreme. The commonplace tendency to see guerrilla and conventional methods as a stark dichotomy and to associate the former with nonstate actors and the latter with states is a mistake and has been so for at least a century.
In fact, there are profound elements of “guerrilla” methods in the military behavior of almost all state militaries in conventional warfare, from tactics all the way through strategy. And most nonstate guerrilla organizations have long used tactics and strategies that most observers tend to associate with state military behavior. In reality, there is a continuum of methods between the polar extremes of the Maginot Line and the Viet Cong, and most real-world cases have always fallen somewhere in between. The 2006 Lebanon campaign, too, fell somewhere in between. Its placement on this continuum, however, is much further from the Viet Cong end of the scale than many low-tech transformation advocates would expect for a nonstate actor—and, in fact, the biggest divergence between Hezbollah’s methods and those of modern Western militaries may well be Hezbollah’s imperfect proficiency of execution rather than the doctrine they were trying to execute.
The question then is, how should the U.S. military be restructuring its forces for the coming decades? The authors argue that too much change to deal with asymmetrical warfare would be counter-productive. We will likely be facing more of these hybrid organizations, just as we face growing hybrids between criminal and terrorist structures.
The Obama administration will have multiple short-term crises to deal with. But this is one of the longer-range ones that needs to be tackled consistently over time to get it right.