“A Paradigm Shift: How Hizbollah Won the War” Alam

Butterfly "If the Hizbollah can extend these advantages, if it can add shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to its arsenal and bring down a few Israeli helicopters and jets, Israel could quickly lose its unchallenged control over Lebanese skies. Israel’s daily and wanton violations of Lebanese airspace would also come to an end.

The Hizbollah offers Israel a new kind of asymmetric warfare: it combines low-tech guerilla tactics with sophisticated missile and communications technology. Understandably, the Israelis find these Hizbollah achievements hard to digest. What the world witnessed in Lebanon in July 2006 were events that contain the potential for shifting the balance of power in the Middle East. Earlier, the Iraqi insurgents had demonstrated that they can make an occupation – even by the world’s greatest power – very costly. Now, the Hizbollah had shown that a disciplined guerilla force, with access to advanced missiles, can repel the most powerful invading army. "  Alam


See my talk at the Miller Center on September 11, 2006.  I would differ with Professor Alam only in his description of the force that fought the Israelis in 2006 as "a guerrilla army."  A "guerrilla army" employs guerrilla tactics, that is, it fights a war of the "ants against the elephant."  It seeks to inflict long term physical and spiritual attrition on a conventional enemy through ambush, raiding and similar operations.  It nearly always seeks to avoid becoming decisively engaged.

Hizbullah, as it was in Lebanon in 2006, was not a "guerrilla army."  It was an army in the process of metamorphosis.  pl


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35 Responses to “A Paradigm Shift: How Hizbollah Won the War” Alam

  1. Mark Pyruz says:

    During the 2nd Lebanon War, I was keen to compare the Hezbollah defense with the stand made by the Hitler Jugend Div. at Caen in 1944. Both units were paramilitary formations on defense, tackling an offensive force vastly superior in firepower. Rather than characterize Hezbollah as a “guerilla army”, perhaps a paramilitary formation such as the Waffen SS is a more applicable description. However, such a comparison lends itself to popular misconception, corrupted by suggestions of moral parallelism.
    Yes, the Israeli air advantage is being scrutinized for a technical or tactical solution by Iran and Hezbollah. But one should not expect potential solutions to be exhibited carelessly. Attempted solutions will be apparent should there be another conflict with Israel.

  2. Marcello says:

    “Israel’s daily and wanton violations of Lebanese airspace would also come to an end.”
    Nonsense. MANPADS can make low altitude attacks riskier but that’s it. If the enemy decides to drop guided bombs on you from 30000 feet there is absolutely nothing you can do with man portable missiles.
    Your troops may be a bit safer (and only to a degree) but your civilian population and infrastructure remain completely vulnerable to the enemy air onslaught.

  3. VietnamVet says:

    I have only a lowly enlisted man’s knowledge of military affairs compared to your expertise. But, since Americans have such a hard time placing themselves in other cultures boots; in an alternative universe, if Longstreet, Jackson, Mosby and Bradford Forrest had fought a defensive war based on trenches, superior firepower and mobility on the flanks the South would have fought a war not too different from Hezbollah. But Robert E Lee was too much of Cavalier. In addition Southerners still considered themselves as Christians and Virginians….; not a separate culture and religion facing annihilation from a foreign invader.
    The American and Israeli neo-conservative leadership can not recognize that their conventional armies and air forces have been defeated. The only weapons left to them are nuclear bombs. As long as George W Bush and the Likud consider Iran and Syria as the existential enemies and refuse to negotiate, nuclear war is not too far away.

  4. JohnH says:

    Imagine Hizbollah getting a few rockets containing cluster bombs, as a reward/deterrence to Israel for what it did to Southern Lebanon. The prospect of having the Galilee sown with cluster bombs should be terrifying to any thinking Israeli and to Israel’s prospects for long term survival. It boggles my mind why they refuse to sit down and talk with their enemies.

  5. Will says:

    i quickly turned to abu muqwama to see his take on this, but alas he was talking about diane rehm’s interview of doug feith, yechh. that was also his take.
    listen to this tidbit.
    “Let’s hope Feith doesn’t find out she’s Arab or things could get violent.”

    deja vu all over again. makes one recall his interview of our patron, where he was munching a sandwich and Feith, then No. 3 at the Pentagon dismissed notre colonel because he spoke Arabic and had a knowledge of the region- he said “too bad.”
    But what is this stuff about Diane Rhem?
    The wiki says:
    “Rehm was born to a Turkish Eastern Orthodox father[1] and a Christian Egyptian mother.”
    I have verified thru a California cousin that the late Navy Seal Michael Mansour who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor last week was a Christian Lebanese American. Sent to fight a war against a country that neither threatened us nor desired war w/ us. A five year long war that has largely resulted in wiping out the Iraki Christian community, one of the oldest on earth.
    You reckon that’s what brought a tear to Bush II’s eye?
    Tying this to the Lebanese Hezbollah, they are allied to the most popular Xtian Lebanese leader, Michel Aoun.

  6. Mad Dogs says:

    And Colonel, as you well know, offensive capabilities almost always trump defensive capabilities.
    The noose around Israel’s neck grows tighter. Their options continue to disappear at an alarming rate like the evaporation of a puddle in the desert.
    When one is hunched down in a foxhole, surrounded and running out of ammo, desperation results.
    I’m reminded of real-life stories from the frontiers of our own American West.
    A constant rejoinder then was to “save the last bullet for yourself.”

  7. b says:

    Nive piece by Alam and I mostly agree with it.
    But Hizb’ullah fought a defensive war, or soemething German doctrine would qualify as “Verzögerung”, i.e. delay.
    So they can hold territory if the population is with them and as long as they are grounded in the population.
    That is some very different quality than to attack, aquire territory and to “pacify” the injuns.
    So what is not to like about Hizb?
    If you want to be a colonial power and get that territory under your control you have a problem with these folks.
    If you believe that people should choose their own destiny and should have the rights to the property they aquired in ancient times why would you ever challenge them?
    Deal with them. Produce what they can not produce, buy what they produce better than you and everyone is happy.

  8. Walter Lang says:

    1- I have never seen anyone write before that the low number designated formations of the Waffen SS were “paramilitary units.” The reference was to 12th SS Panzer Division. I suppose you can argue that they were paramilitary activities of the NSDAP even though they were governmenr sponsored and supplied. Nevertheless, the divisions; Adolf Hitler, Das Reich, Totenkopf, Polizei, Wiking, etc. up to Hitler Jugend and Bittrich’s two divisions were very competent and heavily armed formations. Someone will want to comment on that.
    2.The Defensive form of combat is usually stronger than the offensive although the offensive is normally more decisive. The exception would clearly be in a case in which the enemy destroys himself attacking you. Someone will find the right quote in “On War” for that.
    3. I believe the argument that holds that the South should have adopted a Fabian strategy is of long standing. The argument is probably correct, but I don’t think that the reason Lee was so offensive minded on a strategic basis has much to do with his culture as a “cavalier.” It has more to do with with his minimal education in stragey at USMA and his obsession like most of his professional peers with Napoleon (who always sought decisive battle). After all, the Yankees were not cavaliers and many of them thought exactly the same way. pl

  9. Walter Lang says:

    Israel can not afford to do close air support in another version of ’06 with smart weapons dropped from 30,000 feet. pl

  10. A personal remark. At twelve in 1974 I watched Israeli jets bomb the camp of Ain el Helweh. (South Lebanon, outskirst of Sidon) It seemed a terrible injustice to me then that innocent people were dying to pay for the actions of the terrorists at Ma’alot. It also seemed outrageous to me that the Lebanese government did nothing to deter such attacks.
    My Lebanese villager relatives did not appreciate Palestinian irregulars setting up anti-aircraft in our orchards to shoot at Israeli planes. And those anti-aircraft were never very effective anyway. Had the Lebanese government done what a gov’t ought to do, protect its sovereign soil, we would not have Palestinian terrorists, the Israeli invasions of 78, 82, incursions of 96 and the destruction of 2006; and Hizbullah would be an interest group, not a military power.
    It’s too damned bad that Hizbullah had to take it upon itself to protect LEbanese territory. I called for them to disarm for years – from 2000 when the Israelis left, until July 2006. THen after July 2006 the Hizbullah argument of self-protection shut me up.
    Now when I read about Hizbullah giving Israel a bit of resistance, I can only commend them for their grit. It’s just too darned bad that the Lebanese military never had the political or tactical support to take on this task.
    Re: saving the last bullet for yourself, in regards to the Israelis, well, just read Martin Van Creveld, the Israeli military historian. He thinks the Israelis are going to take everybody down with them.

  11. Marcello says:

    Israel can not afford to do close air support in another version of ’06 with smart weapons dropped from 30,000 feet. pl”
    Maybe you can’t use helicopters and some types of low level air attacks (strafing with guns etc.) but accurate bombing on call is still possible well outside of the MANPADS engagement envelope. With modern guided bombs there is much less need to get close to the target. It is still a limitation (gun strafing may still be preferable in some cases) but not as big as it used to be.

  12. G Hazeltine says:

    Isn’t this really the problem with Iran? Not nuclear weapons, but the ability to place sophisticated, mobile, and lethal anti-armor, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles in the hands of Hizbullah, and others. And the command and control technology to use them effectively. And the training and financial backing for all of it.
    What for example could a few dozen Noor missiles do in the hands of Hizbullah?

  13. Walter Lang says:

    I am inclined to think that in a close fought general ground action the level of needed CAS would be such that the Israelis would be hard pressed to do it that way even with our money and not theirs. pl

  14. Homer says:

    When reading about Hizbollah, it can be hard to resist its close connection to the Iraqi political party al-Dawa.
    5 Warships in Gulf Convoy. LAT, Oct 1, 1987.
    Three pro-Iranian Shia Muslim organizations in Lebanon warned Tunisia against executing seven fundamentalists convicted earlier this week of trying to overthrow the government of President Habib Bourguiba.
    The groups-Hezbollah (Party of God), the umbrella organization for those holding Western hostages in Lebanon; the Daawa Party, a Hezbollah ally, and the Islamic Coalition-warned of a confrontation and a “sweeping storm” if the “unjust death sentences” are carried out.
    THE IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR: AN UNSOLVED CASE. The Washington Post. 09-06-1987 [snip]
    The reference was to 17 Shiite extremists held in Kuwait in connection with 1983 bombings of the American and French embassies that killed six and injured 80.
    Most of the 17 belonged to Dawa, an Iranian-backed fundamentalist group.
    From the time the first American hostage was seized in Beirut in 1984, the Hezbollah in Lebanon had repeatedly insisted on the Shiites’ release as a condition for freeing Americans.
    Some of the 17 are reportedly relatives of some of the kidnapers in Beirut.

  15. Curious says:

    I am pretty sure after the 2006 invasion hezbollah learns a great deal about Israel standard tank maneuvers and infantry logistic. Next battle will be about that. Air bombing is useless.
    I tend to think by now, hezbollah will win against Israel infantry if they are not supported by tank.
    1. cheap night vision google.
    Iran should be able to manufacture it on their own by buying technology from china. (hell, they can just buy it from any sporting good stores all over the world.)
    2. Low tech Anti Tank weapons are very effective against infantry. Next round, Israel will need massive amount of armor to protect their infantry.
    The logistic will be much more complex than busing/march.
    3. cheap plastic explosive.
    With these alone, hezbollah should be able to win inside Lebanon.
    At home turf, Hezbollah nighttime mobility will be unmatched. I don’t think a repeat of 2006 invasion will be as easy when Israel tries it again in the near future.

  16. Eliot says:

    The presence of MANPADS would require a more conservative use of air power. Israeli air elements would become less effective as a consequence.
    How much does Israel rely on helicopters for transport and emergency evacuation?

  17. Tyler says:

    My own personal belief is that Hezbollah is the world’s finest light infantry at this time, and that without the benefit of CAS, Isreal’s troops would be decimated in any open engagement.
    The first time an Isreali battalion has to surrender the colors, you know the game is up.

  18. zanzibar says:

    In reality how powerful is HA in Lebanon today?
    After their exploits in 2006 against the IDF air and ground attack it seemed they were on a roll. Nasrallah was the most popular person in the Middle East. Their disciplined defense and surprising strength against the substantially better funded and armed IDF caused many heads to roll in Tel Aviv. Their victory rally was humongous and they got money and aid out quickly to their devastated villages.
    Since then they don’t seem to have got very far with the Hariri-Saudi group. Siniora is still the Prime Minister. All they seem to have achieved politically is a stalemate without having the levers of power in Beirut. And if they have to fight a two front battle – with Israel and Hariri militias at the same time can they survive the squeeze?
    Curious if anyone has any insight into the real state of affairs in Lebanon today?

  19. Mark Pyruz says:

    Contemporary elements of the German Heer chauvinistically regarded Waffen SS units as “paramilitary” formations. As you know, Waffen SS units represented the military wing of the SS, the political elite of the NSDAP, and were conceived as something of a counterbalance to the German Heer.
    Nations such as Lebanon and Iran feature elite “paramilitary” military formations such as Hezbollah, Quds and the Pasdaran. As in the German historical case, these ME military formations have developed into highly efficient organizations, and offer something of a political counterbalance to their respective nation’s traditional army institutions.
    In the case of Hezbollah during the 2nd Lebanon War, its success in battle actually exceeded that of 12th SS against the British and Canadians before Caen. Hezbollah’s fortified line stood firm, and its organization retained a sense of battlefield integrity.
    But again, I caution against making too direct a comparison, and refrain from any suggestion of moral parallelism.

  20. Montag says:

    Here’s a web page dealing with WWII atrocities in the West, many of which were perpetrated by the Waffen SS. They didn’t wear a Death’s Head on their caps as a mere fashion statement, you know. When German author Gunter Grass was a conscript in the Waffen SS toward the end of the war he was wandering around in confusion after a battle. He met a regular Army soldier who advised him to get rid of his uniform jacket, as the Russians were pretty ruthless with captured Waffen SS soldiers. After Malmedy our G.I.s were on the same page with them.

  21. Andy says:

    Overall I tend to agree with the gist of M. Shahid Alam’s article even though he does get a few technical issues wrong (no fault of his – rather his sourcing).
    With respect to the MANPAD threat, much depends on precisely what type of missile might be proliferated to Hezbollah and the capability of Israeli aircraft defensive systems, two factors that are hard to make definitive judgments on.
    Mr. Alam’s points on technology are quite interesting from a technology proliferation perspective. For example, consider the French Exocet missile, first made famous in the Falklands campaign and later in the USS Stark attack. The Chinese reverse-engineered the missile and created a variety of derivatives, most commonly known as the C-802. Iran purchased a few of these systems and reportedly made further modifications with North Korean assistance to create a more advanced variant called the Noor missile. It’s believed that either an Iranian C-802 or a Noor was what struck and damaged INS Hanit during the 2006 war. Two missiles were actually fired at the ship – one hit and the other missed and instead struck and sunk an Egyptian freighter, an event not widely reported.
    The example of the exocet goes to show what can be achieved by building and improving on existing technology as well as the advantages of foreign sponsorship for weapons acquisition. Hezbollah’s effectiveness was certainly enhanced by the advanced weaponry given it by Iran and Syria. It’s curious that advanced anti-ship and anti-tank technology was given to Hezbollah but apparently not advanced anti-air technology in the form of MANPAD’s. One would think such weapons would have been provided to counter Israel’s strength in the air.

  22. arbogast says:

    The temptation on the part of Cheney and his Likud handlers to use tactical nuclear weapons must be enormous.
    And, guess what, it is just the distraction needed to divert attention from the disgusting theft practiced by the “financial industry” since the 70’s.
    Yes, the “financial industry” desperately needs a distraction. Desperately. Only a major escalation in the ME can provide it for them.
    Soldiers in uniform testifying on policy before Congress? C’mon.

  23. Marcello says:

    “I am inclined to think that in a close fought general ground action the level of needed CAS would be such that the Israelis would be hard pressed to do it that way even with our money and not theirs. pl”
    Pricetag for JDAM kits is in the 20K $ range, give or take. That’s small potatoes by US military budgets standards. Production was about 3000 units per month last time I checked and there were talks to expand it to 5000. It is really quite a cheap weapon by american standards. The israelis got a few thousands but more could be delivered if necessary.

  24. kao-hsien-chih says:

    One thing I wonder is… if shooting starts in South Lebanon, will Siniora et al in Beirut do anything against HA? Do they even dare? I mean, they may be subsidized by us, but I wonder if they can afford to be seen so obviously as our puppets.

  25. eaken says:

    Do you think there is enough political capital for Hariri to attack HA on its own, let alone at the same time there might be a confrontation with Israel taking place?
    We must not forget that with the UN presence, it is even more difficult for Israel to confront HA at this time.

  26. Mark Pyruz says:

    In the Journal of Strategic Studies, there is an article titled The Israel defense forces in the Second Lebanon War: Why the poor performance? by Avi Kober. It is a fascinating read. Relevant to this discussion is the following passage:
    “Of particular concern was Hizballah’s success in playing on the technological playground against Israeli electronic warfare. The organization was eavesdropping on Israeli communications networks and mobile telephones, including Israeli soldiers’ conversations from inside Lebanon. According to the CSIS report, American electronic warfare (EW) experts came to Israel to find out how Hizballah’s Iranian systems neutralized Israeli EW. They were interested in: (1) The Israeli EW systems’ failure to block Hizballah’s command and communications and the links between the Lebanese command and the Syria-based Iranian headquarters; (2) How Iranian technicians helped Hizballah eavesdrop on Israel’s communications networks and mobile telephones; and (3) How Iranian EW installed in Lebanese Army coastal radar stations blocked the Barak anti-missile system aboard Israeli warships, allowing Hizballah to hit the Israeli corvette Hanith.”
    The entire article is available at:

  27. Jose says:

    If we attack Iran, things should be really interesting for all involved.
    One thing the Jacobins do not understand is that your enemy is just as intelligent and adaptive as Israel and America.
    Only a matter of time before Hizzbollah or Hamas figures out a way around Israel military advantage like the Mongol’s attack on China.
    Col., thank you for acknowledging that Longstreet was a better General than Lee.
    Virginian usually go ape**** when we have discussed the matter.

  28. Charles I says:

    W/r/t Lebanon, I find Tony Bey’s blog Beirut Across the Bay to be quite informative, seems an informed commentator. The political is analysis quite detailed and I get a lot of insight there. I can’t say the insights accurately portray the real state of affairs, but Bey certainly keeps up with them in, so you might start there.

  29. Walter Lang says:

    Longstreet may well have been a better soldier.
    Lee was never a very good strategist. His tactical skills became steadily better until the North Anna when his heart really quit on him. He might actually have crippled Grant there if he had not become ill. After that his opportunities were largely gone. He was a great leader. The men revered him. That is unusual. pl

  30. Pan says:

    Not to nitpick, the Totenkopf predates the Nazis and the SS. Other militaries around the world uses similar versions of the skull and crossbones.
    As far as the Waffen SS goes, the 12 SS “Hitler Jugend” Division was the last “serious” outfit.
    The 13th “Handschar Kroatische” (Bosnian Muslim outfit) was a comic opera division that didn’t do much than strut around in their fezes and avoided fights with Tito’s partisans.

  31. DeLudendwarf says:

    Col. Lang:
    Two questions about Professor Alam’s Article:
    1.Is there a lot of good antitank and anti-air stuff out there for sale today? And how about the future?
    2.How hard would it be to teach a conventionally-oriented third-world army the defense-in-depth tactics demonstrated by Hez, after they were weaned from their T60s and rusting personnel carriers?
    Parenthetically, 1 point:
    1.I became a great fan of James Longstreet, after walking the field at Gettysburg 35 or so years ago.
    You have a great blog going here, colonel.
    Thanks for sharing the knowledge.

  32. Andy says:

    Unfortunately my information service does not provide the latest editions of the journal you cite, so I’m unable to read the entirety. However, one portion of what’s quoted is wrong – specifically the attack on the INS Hanit. Hezbollah did not jam the barak system – the system was in standby mode along with the EW suite and phalanx system. Secondly the claim that “Iranian EW installed in Lebanese Army coastal radar stations blocked the Barak anti-missile system aboard Israeli warships” is patently false because it ignores the inherent capabilities and limitations of coastal radars, the C-802 system, INS Hanit’s systems as well as basic electromagnetic theory. It sounds to me like the authors have bought into Hezbollah propaganda in this case.
    In general don’t like to make “appeal to authority” arguments, but in this case I do have an naval EW background from my time in the US Navy and I can say with a high degree of confidence that what is alleged not possible.

  33. Homer says:

    Mark Pyruz: Nations such as Lebanon and Iran feature elite “paramilitary” military formations such as Hezbollah, Quds and the Pasdaran
    For the record and for the sake of completeness, in Iraq, there is also the Badr Corp which is intimately connected to extremist elements in Iran.
    As some may or may not know, the Badr Corp belongs to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (now Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council).
    The Badr Corp was founded in Iran in 1982 at the behest of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
    The Badr Corp is still receiving funding from Iran according to “Shiite Politics in Iraq: The Role of the Supreme Council, Middle East Report”.
    For more, see:
    Iraq: Bush’s Islamic Republic
    By Peter W. Galbraith NYRB, Volume 52, Number 13 · August 11, 2005 [snip]
    Real power in Shiite Iraq rests, however, with two religious parties: Abdel Aziz al-Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the (“Call,” in English) of Iraq’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. Of the two, SCIRI is the more pro-Iranian.
    SCIRI and Dawa want Iraq to be an Islamic state. They propose to make Islam the principal source of law, which most immediately would affect the status of women. For Muslim women, religious law—rather than Iraq’s relatively progressive civil code—would govern personal status, including matters relating to marriage, divorce, property, and child custody. A Dawa draft for the Iraqi constitution would limit religious freedom for non-Muslims, and apparently deny such freedom altogether to peoples not “of the book,” such as the Yezidis (a significant minority in Kurdistan), Zoroastrians, and Bahais.
    This program is not just theoretical. Since Saddam’s fall, Shiite religious parties have had de facto control over Iraq’s southern cities. There Iranian-style religious police enforce a conservative Islamic code, including dress codes and bans on alcohol and other non-Islamic behavior. In most cases, the religious authorities govern—and legislate—without authority from Baghdad, and certainly without any reference to the freedoms incorporated in Iraq’s American-written interim constitution—the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL).
    [Keywords: 9/11, President George W. Bush, Iraq, Islamic fundamentalists, Islamic fundamentalism, Shiite fundamentalists, Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, Al Dawa, Death Squads]

  34. eakens says:

    as a whole, what the IDF lacks in courage they seek to make up with technology and the inverse is true of HA.
    Unfortunately for Israel, when your technology is either matched or its effect neutralized, you’re only left with a bunch of reserve soldiers who are afraid to fight.

  35. Maybe I missed something. The shovel or its modern equivalent is the weapon of the future. Defensive yes and no. In WWI and WWII waffen SS or whatever, the soldiers of the Allies were always happy to be able to utilize a German trench or firing position–well made often concrete lined and yes deeper. Viet Nam–Tunnel complexity at the level of genius. The whole world but US gets it now. Dig, dig, dig! Make sure you are deep deep down when those artillery and airstrikes arrive because guess what–logistics alone dictates that they WILL end at some point. The US military-industrial-academic complex does NOT get it. You have to dig to stay alive and be lucky also. None of the current participants in that complex even dig gardens anymore. That is up to illegals. The SWEDES are experts and so are the Swiss. Of course CPE reduces liklihood of bunker complexes surviving but only if known and properly targeted with NUKES. Not a chance of that because all the targeters long ago retired from US military, as well as their “tactical” NUKES. And of course now the career path in intelligence is the Washington cocktail party, not locating bunker complexes. Maybe its the best uniformed career path also? Washington cocktail parties to the fore, not development of bunker location and analysis expertise, much less construction. We are on our merry way to underground cities when everyone in the world has benefited from proliferation of nuclear weapons.

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