Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The July War Series, Part IV – Hezbollah’s Strategic Victory

The July War Series, Part IV – Hezbollah’s Strategic Victory

10/08/2009 By Yusuf Fernandez
August 10, 2009

“During the July war, Israel’s first goal was to destroy Hezbollah, and the second alternative one was to take away all its arms,” said Hussein Hajj Hassan, a Lebanese Hezbollah MP, to the McClatchy Newspapers network. “For us, victory was Hezbollah remaining and keeping our arms. And I swear to God, Hezbollah will remain and so will our arms. No one can destroy Hezbollah,” he said. “The Israelis faced their classic problem: They could not punish Hezbollah, which has no physical structure to destroy,” said Mustafa Alani, a military analyst with the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre, to Associated Press.

From the military point of view, the fierce and heroic resistance of some thousands of Hezbollah highly disciplined fighters, who were capable of forcing a fully-armed army of 30,000 men to withdrawal, electrified the Muslim world and horrified the Israeli political and military establishment, who had worked for decades to make the world believe that their army was “invincible”.

Israel, wary of getting sucked into a new disastrous occupation of south Lebanon, decided against a full-scale invasion, sticking with a strategy of air raids and limited ground attacks. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told troops during a visit to Hatzor air force base in southern Israel that “in every combat situation, the preference is to act from the air and not on the ground.” Actually, Israeli military commanders feared the power of Hezbollah fighters. Israel lost about 1,000 soldiers, many of them to Hezbollah attacks, in its 18-year occupation of south Lebanon after 1982.

The air campaign, however, failed to reduce Hezbollah rocket fire into northern Israel and was also incapable of pulling Hezbollah's fighters out of border areas. The bodies of the two Israeli prisoners, who served as pretext for the war, were not released either as a consequence of the Israeli assault. They returned to the Zionist entity only as a result of an exchange of prisoners, exactly as Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had proposed before the war.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that the further Israel’s army pushed into Lebanon, the more it would expose itself to guerrilla warfare. “It will give us a wider and bigger chance for direct confrontation and to bleed the forces of this enemy,” he said. Hezbollah fighters enjoyed a native knowledge of the territory, which allowed them to successfully elude and ambush the Israeli army. Many of them are local youths who know the terrain and, in ordinary times, work and live among the population.

Hezbollah used their weapons, especially anti-tank missiles, with lethal efficiency. Hezbollah apparently employed Russian Kornet and Metis and European Milan anti-tank missiles against Israeli armor. “They (Hezbollah guerrillas) have some of the most advanced anti-tank missiles in the world,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior Israeli military intelligence officer. Besides the anti-tank missiles, Hezbollah is also known to have a powerful Russian rocket-propelled grenade known as the RPG29.

According to some sources, more than 156 Israelis, including 117 soldiers, among them 35 Golani elite troopers, were killed. Most of them were targeted in their Merkava tanks, by Hezbollah’s gunfire and anti-tank missiles. The reports indicate that the injured have exceeded 400. Moreover, more than 100 Merkava tanks, 46 bulldozers and 34 armored vehicles were destroyed. Hezbollah also shot down at least four Apache helicopters and destroyed one warship -a fast-speed Super Dvora patrol- with a missile. As a result, Israel restricted its use of helicopters, particularly the Apache gun ships. The helicopters were used to hit coastal targets, but not in the inland valleys and hills for fear of Hezbollah anti-aircraft weapons. Meanwhile, Hezbollah continued firing scores of missiles on Israeli territory during all the conflict.

Hezbollah’s ability to regroup quickly in places that had been previously attacked also shocked Israelis. The Washington Post claimed that Hezbollah’s loose structure, with at least three regional commands in the South helped prevent Israel’s intensive bombing over the last two weeks from disrupting communications or lines of command and control. With guerrillas fighting in their home villages and arms cached in tunnels and underground shelters, there were few vital command lines to attack.

The most famous victory of Hezbollah in the war was the battle of Bint Jbeil, where Lebanese fighters who appeared from tunnels, bunkers and houses ambushed Israeli soldiers killing 18 of them. Israeli troops surrounded the town, but they were unable to capture it immediately. The Hezbollah ambush inside Bint Jbeil was at times so intense that Israeli soldiers were pinned down and could not return fire. The fight for Bint Jbail, according to political analysts, symbolized Israel's failure to force Hezbollah fighters retreat from the border, whether by air bombardment or ground battles.

“The Israelis took some bad losses,” said Mahmoud Qomati, a member of Hezbollah’s political bureau, adding that Israeli tanks penetrated Bint Jbeil but were quickly enveloped by Hezbollah fighters lying in ambush and armed with the antitank weapons. Qomati said that this battle proved that Hezbollah guerrillas could hold their own against Israeli soldiers on the ground. Even with Israeli control of the air, he said, the group had the munitions, equipment and morale to continue fighting “for months.”

The New York Times also said that the Israeli army was also incapable of taking over Kafr Kila although it brutally bombed the village, unleashed tank fire against it and launched phosphorus shells onto groves and orchards to burn the hill and force people out. Some residents stayed in Kafr Kila despite the destruction. Others preferred to left the village, which was held on by local fighters with Hezbollah and allied factions. Israeli attacks, some of them with tanks, failed. Israeli forces also attacked Taibe, located 4 kilometers from the border, where they encountered fierce resistance and, therefore, they were unable to enter. At least three Israeli Merkava tanks were knocked out by Hezbollah, killing several Israeli soldiers.

On August 9, 15 Israeli soldiers were killed and 25 were wounded in a series of firefights across the front in the southern Lebanon villages of Ayta al-Shaab and Debel, in the central sector. In the most serious incident, nine reserve paratroopers were killed and 11 wounded by antitank missiles fired on a house in the village of Debel. Four reservists from an armored brigade were killed in a tank explosion, apparently caused by antitank missiles, in the town of Ayta al-Shaab. An infantryman was killed late Wednesday when he was hit by a mortar in Marjayoun. On August 10, eight Israeli tanks were destroyed in different parts of southern Lebanon.

However, the Israeli army’s persistence to push deep into Southern Lebanon ended with more catastrophic consequences. In the midst of August, the humiliated Israeli army was determined to achieve “something on the ground”, which it had remarkably failed to achieve in the previous 31 days, for domestic consumption back at home. However, on August 12 it suffered the highest toll in a single day. Twenty-four Israeli soldiers were killed that day, including 5 soldiers killed in a helicopter shot down by Hezbollah. Several soldiers died they were hit by anti-tank missiles and others in fierce gunbattles with the Lebanese fighters.

Hezbollah fighters had a high motivation because they knew they were defending their homeland from a brutal aggression. "The most important element about this war is its moral dimension. Hezbollah has prepared itself for this war, its fighters have been indoctrinated to fight until victory," said Nizar Abdel Kader, a military analyst and retired Lebanese army general. Many Hezbollah fighters were leading a normal and peaceful life with their families but as soon as they heard of the Israeli onslaught on their homeland, they were quick to join the Lebanese resistance to fight the Israeli occupation forces. “I left my wife and son behind to take up arms to defend my homeland and dignity,” a Hezbollah fighter, who identified himself as Haidar, told IslamOnline.net in the Lebanese bastion of resistance Bint Jbail on August 18.

“Hezbollah has given a lesson to the whole world that our honor is not for sale and we are ready to sacrifice everything to defend it,” added Haidar. He was holed up in a position in the Bint Jbail town as the Israeli planes flew overhead while pounding the southern Lebanese villages to make a space for Israeli commando operations against the resistance fighters. But the Israeli tactics always hit a dead end due to steadfastness of the Lebanese resistance fighters. “They (Israelis) sought to terrify us by pounding the southern villages,” Haider said. “But once their troops are on the battle ground, their true nature is revealed. Once we meet them face to face, they run in panic and implore air support,” he said.

Haidar said he joined the Lebanese resistance in 1996 when he was still a student. “I was brought up in the occupied south Lebanon where we were evacuated by Israel,” he said. “The Israelis used to kill our families and kill our brothers in the south and used the proxy southern Lebanese army (SLA) to horribly torture us,” he added. “These Israeli practices left us with no option but to join the resistance.”

Hezbollah achieved an important strategic victory. Firstly, it kept the control of Lebanese border areas and prevented the Israeli army to take them over. It also kept its arsenal and forces intact. Secondly, it broke the long-established conventional deterrence of Israel. This fact was a critical part of the conflict and had a profound effect on the outcome. The July war exposed the Israeli army’s weaknesses despite all US support. The best proof of the Israeli failure was in the indiscriminate destruction scattered on the ground. In the Lebanon war the Israeli army destroyed dozens of buildings and killed hundreds of civilians but achieved nothing of strategic importance. The Hezbollah rockets continued to fall on Haifa and Israelis were helpless to stop them. The Hezbollah resistance showed that the Israeli army could be defeated and real damage could be inflicted on its soldiers and hardware, including its sophisticated tanks, helicopters and ships.

Thirdly and in contrast to US and Israeli plans, the continuing Israeli bombing of south Lebanon and south Beirut strengthened the Hezbollah and the leadership of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. The plan of Israel to strangle Lebanon by bombing its infrastructures and blocking it from land, sea and air and to turn Christians and Sunnis against Hezbollah was a failure. Hezbollah managed to resist the Israel assault and Lebanese people remained united against the invaders. A survey by the Center for Research and Information in Beirut showed that 87% of all Lebanese supported Hezbollah’s resistance against Israel, including 80% of Christians, 80% of Druze and 89% of Sunnis.

The IPS journalist Dahr Jamail pointed out that “Hezbollah has over the years gained a strong following in Lebanon primarily on the back of its engagement in social services, taking on infrastructure projects, and looking after its followers. The Israeli assault is giving Hezbollah scope to gain more such power. Hezbollah now controls, for example, several schools in Beirut that have been converted into refugee shelters.” Jamail added that “support for the Hezbollah appears to be stronger among younger people. And some Christians too are speaking in support of Hezbollah. Ramzi Semaan, a 21-year-old Christian, told IPS that “Hezbollah is defending this country, and the Israeli offensive was planned months in advance.” Moreover, the widespread destruction of infrastructure has been decisive in turning popular anger against Israel, rather than Hezbollah.

Hezbollah won over the hearts and minds of Arabs, Muslims and other people from all over the world. Throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, Hezbollah is now highly regarded as a legitimate resistance movement since it was set up in 1982 to fight against Israeli invasion of Lebanon. People recall that Hassan Nasrallah and his party achieved a historical victory over Israel on May 25, 2000, forcing the Israelis to withdraw from southern Lebanon.

“Israel is responsible for this war. It is constantly attacks and occupies Arab territories. Hezbollah are heroes and should be supported by all Arabs,” Mohammed Abdullah, a bread vendor in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, told Associated Press in a comment that was typical in those days in the streets of any Arab or Muslim country. Therefore, the contrast with the attitude of Arab governments was clear on the street, pushing the peoples of some Arab and Islamic countries further away from their dictatorial and unrepresentative regimes.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah fighters had achieved a “strategic, historic victory” against Israel - a declaration that prompted celebratory gunfire across the Lebanese capital, Beirut. “We came out victorious in a war in which big Arab armies were defeated (before),” he said. He pointed out that it was not the time to debate the disarmament of his guerrilla fighters. “Who will defend Lebanon in case of a new Israeli offensive?” Nasrallah asked. “The Lebanese army and international troops are incapable of protecting Lebanon.” He added that the massive destruction inflicted by Israel was an expression of its “failure and impotency.” And he promised Hezbollah would help the Lebanese people rebuild.

“The goal of Hezbollah was to make the Israeli assault fail and protect Lebanon’s national interests, sovereignty and independence. Our real and basic motto is dignity…. the buildings were destroyed and they will be rebuilt and the infrastructure was hit and it will be reconstructed,” stated Sayyed Nasrallah. “Our destiny is to stand with all nationalists and honest people to face this (Zionist) project in Lebanon.”

After the war, many fighters became workers. Hanady Salman, an editor at Assafir, one of the country’s major newspapers, told The Washington Times that Hezbollah had encouraged many Lebanese to work in the reconstruction. “Hezbollah is doing a great job paying compensation,” he said. “Also, they have lots of people volunteering - architects, civil engineers or people who just go there and offer to move the rubble. People who have trucks are helping move the rubble and paying for their own petrol. We are witnessing something we had never witnessed before, this whole atmosphere in which university students, housewives, Christian and Muslims donate and volunteer.”

The July War Series, Part I - The US Involvement in the Israeli Aggression

No comments: