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Monday, August 07, 2006

They are not Hamas

James Hill for The New York Times
Hezbollah soldiers paraded in southern Lebanon in 2002.

A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons

Published: August 7, 2006

JERUSALEM, Aug. 6 — On Dec. 26, 2003, a powerful earthquake leveled most of Bam, in southeastern Iran, killing 35,000 people. Transport planes carrying aid poured in from everywhere, including Syria.

According to Israeli military intelligence, the planes returned to Syria carrying sophisticated weapons, including long-range Zelzal missiles, which the Syrians passed on to Hezbollah, the Shiite militia group in southern Lebanon that Iran created and sponsors.

According to Israeli military intelligence, the planes returned to Syria carrying sophisticated weapons, including long-range Zelzal missiles, which the Syrians passed on to Hezbollah, the Shiite militia group in southern Lebanon that Iran created and sponsors.

As the Israeli Army struggles for a fourth week to defeat Hezbollah before a cease-fire, the shipments are just one indication of how — with the help of its main sponsors, Iran and Syria — the militia has sharply improved its arsenal and strategies in the six years since Israel abruptly ended its occupation of southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah is a militia trained like an army and equipped like a state, and its fighters “are nothing like Hamas or the Palestinians,” said a soldier who just returned from Lebanon. “They are trained and highly qualified,” he said, equipped with flak jackets, night-vision goggles, good communications and sometimes Israeli uniforms and ammunition. “All of us were kind of surprised.”

Much attention has been focused on Hezbollah’s astonishing stockpile of Syrian- and Iranian-made missiles, some 3,000 of which have already fallen on Israel. More than 48 Israelis have been killed in the attacks — including 12 reservist soldiers killed Sunday, who were gathered at a kibbutz at Kfar Giladi, in northern Israel, when rockets packed with antipersonnel ball bearings exploded among them, and 3 killed Sunday evening in another rocket barrage on Haifa.

But Iran and Syria also used those six years to provide satellite communications and some of the world’s best infantry weapons, including modern, Russian-made antitank weapons and Semtex plastic explosives, as well as the training required to use them effectively against Israeli armor.

It is Hezbollah’s skillful use of those weapons — in particular, wire-guided and laser-guided antitank missiles, with double, phased explosive warheads and a range of about two miles — that has caused most of the casualties to Israeli forces.

Hezbollah’s Russian-made antitank missiles, designed to penetrate armor, have damaged or destroyed Israeli vehicles, including its most modern tank, the Merkava, on about 20 percent of their hits, Israeli tank commanders at the front said.

Hezbollah has also used antitank missiles, including the less modern Sagger, to fire from a distance into houses in which Israeli troops are sheltered, with a first explosion cracking the typical concrete block wall and the second going off inside.

“They use them like artillery to hit houses,” said Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, until recently the Israeli Army’s director of intelligence analysis. “They can use them accurately up to even three kilometers, and they go through a wall like through the armor of a tank.”

Hezbollah fighters use tunnels to quickly emerge from the ground, fire a shoulder-held antitank missile, and then disappear again, much the way Chechen rebels used the sewer system of Grozny to attack Russian armored columns.

“We know what they have and how they work,” General Kuperwasser said. “But we don’t know where all the tunnels are. So they can achieve tactical surprise.”

The antitank missiles are the “main fear” for Israeli troops, said David Ben-Nun, 24, an enlisted man in the Nahal brigade who just returned from a week in Lebanon. The troops do not linger long in any house because of hidden missile crews. “You can’t even see them,” he said.

With modern communications and a network of tunnels, storage rooms, barracks and booby traps laid under the hilly landscape, Hezbollah’s training, tactics and modern weaponry explain, the Israelis say, why they are moving with caution.

When your enemy has tactical surprise, you have problems.

posted by Steve @ 1:53:00 AM

1:53:00 AM

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