Sunday, July 30, 2006

Summary: New enemy gains on the Pentagon

By Thom Shanker The New York Times, July 30, 2006

WASHINGTON - Pound for pound and pounding for pounding, the Israeli military is one of the world's finest. But Hezbollah, with the discipline and ferocity of its fighters and its ability to field advanced weaponry, has taken Israel by surprise. Now that surprise has rocketed back to Washington and across the U.S. military.

U.S. officials worry that they are not prepared, either, for Hezbollah's style of warfare - a kind that pits finders against hiders and favors the hiders. Certain that other terrorists are learning from Hezbollah's successes, the United States is studying the conflict closely for lessons to apply to its own wars.

Military planners suggest that the Pentagon take a page out of Hezbollah's book about small-unit, agile operations as U.S. forces battle insurgents and cells in Iraq and Afghanistan, and plan for countering more cells and their state sponsors across the Middle East and in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

The United States and Israel have each fought conventional armies of nation-states and shadowy terror organizations. But Hezbollah, with the sophistication of a national army (it almost sank an Israeli warship with a cruise missile) and the lethal invisibility of a guerrilla army, is a hybrid. Old labels, and old planning, do not apply. Certainly its style of 21st-century combat is known - on paper.

The style even has its own labels, including network warfare, or net war, and fourth-generation warfare, although many in the military do not care for such titles.

"We are now into the first great war between nations and networks," said John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, and a leading analyst of net warfare. "This proves the growing strength of networks as a threat to American national security."

These network forces are not ignorant. They are computer-literate, propaganda- and Internet-savvy, and capable of firing complicated weapons to great effect.Hezbollah spent the past six years dispersing about 12,000 rockets across southern Lebanon in a vast web of hidden caches, all divided into local zones with independent command.

"They dug tunnels. They dug bunkers, they established communications systems - cellphones, radios, even runners to carry messages that aren't susceptible to eavesdropping," said one military officer with experience in the Middle East. "They divided southern Lebanon into military zones with many small units that operate independently, without the need for central control."

To attack Israel, Hezbollah dispersed its fighters. They access the weapons only at the moment of attack, and then disappear. This makes preventing the attack all but impossible. It is a significant modernization of classic guerrilla hit-and-run tactics. Hezbollah fired more than 100 rockets a day at the start of this conflict; it is still firing more than 100 a day, despite Israeli bombardment.

Hezbollah still possesses the most dangerous aspects of a shadowy terror network. It abides by no laws of war as it attacks civilians indiscriminately. Attacks on its positions carry a high risk of killing innocents. At the same time, it has attained military capabilities and other significant attributes of a nation- state. It holds territory and seats in the Lebanese government. It fields high- tech weapons and possesses the firepower to threaten the entire population of a regional superpower, or at least those in the northern half of Israel.

No solution has been written. But it would include military force along with diplomacy, economic assistance, intelligence and information campaigns.

"Most critically, we have to get better at - it's such a cliché - winning hearts and minds," said a military officer working on counterinsurgency issues. "That is influencing neutral populations toward supporting us and not supporting our terrorist and insurgent enemies."

photo: - Hezbollah determination

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