Center for Strategic and International Studies

Center for Strategic and International Studies
Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy
1800 K Street, N.W. • Suite 400 • Washington, DC 20006
Phone: 1 (202) 775-3270 • Fax: 1 (202) 457-8746
Preliminary “Lessons” of the
Israeli-Hezbollah War
Anthony H. Cordesman
Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy
[email protected]
Working Draft for Outside Comment,
Revised: August 17, 2006
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page ii
INTRODUCTION………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 3
Medium- and Long-Range Rockets and Missiles (45-220 kilometer range)………………………………….. 4
Short-Range Rockets (up to 40 kilometer range)………………………………………………………………………. 4
Hezbollah Weapons ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 5
Hezbollah Forces, Facilities, and Forward Defenses………………………………………………………………… 5
TO LEAVE…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 6
HEZBOLLAH AS A STATE WITHIN A STATE…………………………………………………………………………………….. 7
THE ONGOING IMPACT OF THE FIGHTING ……………………………………………………………………………………… 8
Civilians as the First Line of Defense ……………………………………………………………………………………. 10
The Unavoidable Limits of Intelligence, Targeting, and Battle Damage Assessment…………………… 11
Rethinking Force Transformation…………………………………………………………………………………………. 11
DIMENSION OF WAR………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 12
EXAMINING AND DEFINING “PROPORTIONALITY” ………………………………………………………………………… 13
PREPARE FOR CONFLICT TERMINATION………………………………………………………………………………………. 15
IRAN, SYRIA, AND THE HEZBOLLAH………………………………………………………………………………………….. 15
MILITARY ASPECTS OF THE WAR………………………………………………………………………………………. 16
HIGH TECHNOLOGY ASYMMETRIC WARFARE……………………………………………………………………………… 16
Hezbollah Rocket and Missile Forces……………………………………………………………………………………. 17
Anti-Ship Missiles ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 17
Anti-Armor Systems ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 18
Anti-Aircraft………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 18
Low Signature; Asymmetric Stealth………………………………………………………………………………………. 19
Technological Surprise ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 19
Cost………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 20
Reevaluating the Level of Tactical and Technological Risk in the Forces of Asymmetric and NonState Actors……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 20
KEEPING THE ROLE OF AIRPOWER IN PROPORTION ………………………………………………………………………. 21
DON’T FIGHT ENEMY ON ITS OWN TERMS …………………………………………………………………………………. 23
READINESS AND PREPARATION …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 23
MISSILE-ROCKET-CRUISE MISSILE DEFENSE ………………………………………………………………………………. 24
ACTIVE ANTI-ARMOR ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 24
Instant military history is always dangerous and inaccurate. This is particularly true when
one goes from an effort to describe the fighting to trying to draw lessons from uncertain
and contradictory information. The following analysis is based largely on media
reporting, data provided by Israeli and Arab think tanks, and a visit to Israel sponsored by
Project Interchange of the American Jewish Committee. This visit made it possible to
visit the front and talk with a number of senior Israeli officers and experts, but Israeli
officers and experts were among the first to note that the facts were unclear and that it
might take weeks or months to establish what had happened.
This analysis is, however, limited by the fact that no matching visit was made to Lebanon
and to the Hezbollah. Such a visit was not practical at this time, but it does mean the
lessons advanced analysis cannot be based on a close view of what Liddle Hart called the
“other side of the hill.”
Lessons from What the War Has and Has Not
Accomplished for Israel
One key lesson is a familiar one: limited wars tend to have far more limited results and
uncertain consequences than their planners realize at the time that they initiate and
conduct them. It is difficult to know how many goals Israel achieved by the fighting to
date or can keep in the future, but both Israel and Hezbollah face major uncertainties in
claiming any form of meaningful victory.
Israeli decision makers have not provided a consistent picture of what the goals for the
war were, or what they expected to accomplish within a given amount of time. A top
Israeli official did, however, seem to sum up the views of these decision makers when he
stated that Israel had five objectives in going to war:
• Destroy the “Iranian Western Command” before Iran could go nuclear.
• Restore the credibility of Israeli deterrence after the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000
and Gaza in 2005, and countering the image that Israel was weak and forced to leave.
• Force Lebanon to become and act as an accountable state, and end the status of Hezbollah as a
state within a state.
• Damage or cripple Hezbollah, with the understanding that it could not be destroyed as a military
force and would continue to be a major political actor in Lebanon.
• Bring the two soldiers the Hezbollah had captured back alive without major trades in prisoners
held by Israel—not the thousands demanded by Nasrallah and the Hezbollah.
If one examines each of these goals in turn, the war seems to have produced the
following results.
Destroy the “Iranian Western Command” before Iran could
go nuclear
Israel did not destroy the Hezbollah, but it may have created the conditions that ensure
the combination of an international peacekeeping force and the Lebanese Army prevent
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 4
the reemergence of a major missile and rocket threat Iran could use to launch CBRN
Medium- and Long-Range Rockets and Missiles (45-220 kilometer range)
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) probably did destroy most Iranian medium and long-range
rocket and missile launchers during the first two days of the war, and it seems to have
systematically destroyed most remaining Iranian and Syrian medium- and long-range
missile launchers that fired missiles during the weeks that followed.
Israeli experts feel few medium- and long-range launchers remain. However, the size of
Syrian deliveries of medium-range 220mm and 302mm rocket deliveries came as a major
surprise, and it is unclear that there is an accurate count of launchers or that their count of
rockets and missiles is as good. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) seems to have destroyed
the rocket and missile command and control center Iran helped set up for the Hezbollah,
but this seems easy to replace with laptop and commercial communications technology.
Israeli experts provided different estimates of the longest-range Iranian systems, the
Zelzal 1, 2, and 3. These experts noted that other more modern systems like the Fatah
110, with ranges up to 220 kilometers might be deployed. They described the longest
range versions of such systems as able to hit Tel Aviv and “any target in Israel.” They
estimated that some 18 out of 19-21 launchers had been hit during the first wave of IAF
attacks, but noted that Hezbollah might have more systems and held them back under
Iranian pressure or to ride out this wave of Israeli attacks.
The Zelzal 1 and 2 were described as artillery rockets, and the Zelzal 3 as a ballistic
missile with considerable accuracy. Maximum ranges were uncertain and payload
dependent, but put at 115-220 kilometers. The Zelzal 2 can reach targets south of
Askhelon. The Zelzal 3 can reach targets south of Tel Aviv.
More seriously, senior Israeli officers and officials admitted that Iran might well be able
to infiltrate in small numbers of much longer-range ballistic missiles with precision
guidance systems. Such systems could be deployed north of the area of Lebanese Army
and international peacekeeping force operations, and could be potentially armed with
CBRN weapons. Alternatively, Iran or Syria could wait out the present crisis and try to
infiltrate such weapons into Lebanon in the years to come. One key limit of any war is
that it can only deal with present threats. It cannot control the future.
Short-Range Rockets (up to 40 kilometer range)
There is no agreement as to the number of short-range rockets the Hezbollah had when
the war began, or how many survive. Israeli officials offered pre-conflict estimates of
more than 10,000 to 16,000 regular and extended range Katyushas, with a nominal total
of 13,000. Errors of 5,000 rockets are easily possible, compounded by the ongoing supply
just before the war and the discovery that Syria had supplied more such rockets than
Israel initially estimated.
According to senior Israeli intelligence officers, the IDF estimated that Hezbollah had
fired 3,000 Katyushas as of Saturday, August 11, destroyed some 1,600, and the
Hezbollah had some 7,000 left. Both Israeli intelligence and the IAF admitted, however,
that it was almost impossible to estimate such numbers, target such small systems, or do
meaningful battle damage estimates. They also felt that they had prevented most Iranian
and Syrian resupply of such rockets and other weapons, in spite of major Iranian and
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 5
Syrian efforts during the war, but noted that they could not be certain. In any case, Israel
does not claim any significant victory in directly reducing this threat.
Hezbollah Weapons
No one claimed to have any inventory of Hezbollah mortars, anti-tank weapons (AT-3
Mk II, Kornet, Metis M, and RPG-29), or anti-aircraft and short-range surface-to-air
missiles (Sa-7, SA-14, SA-16, SA-18?, and SA-8?), or any estimate of the number and
percentages damaged. IDF intelligence experts said that they could only guess, but felt
the Hezbollah kept at least several hundred thousand rifles and automatic weapons and
from several to six million rounds of ammunition.
No data were provided on the number of C-802 anti-ship missiles remaining, but one
expert said that there were several. They are easy to conceal in trucks and standard
shipping containers. The same expert estimated that 24-30 Iranian-supplied unmanned
“Ababil” aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying 40-50 kilograms of explosives, with
450-kilometer ranges, and with GPS guidance, remained in Hezbollah hands.
Hezbollah Forces, Facilities, and Forward Defenses
As for Hezbollah forces, Israel has claimed up to 500-600 killed, but Israeli officers made
it clear that Israel sharply underestimated the number of trained and combat capable
cadres that existed when the war started, the quality of their forward defenses, and their
ability to take shelter, hide, and disperse. Israeli officials also admit that there is no way
to really estimate the number of killed and wounded. The IDF does feel a significant part
of the key leaders and cadres have been killed or captured but has given no details.
Hezbollah deliberately never reports total forces or casualties.
Given the fact that estimates of core Hezbollah forces ranged from 2,000 to 3,000 before
the fighting started, and that Hezbollah reserves range from several thousand to more
than 10,000, the most that can be said is that substantial numbers of Hezbollah survive,
and losses in killed, wounded, and captured probably range from 15-25% of the initial
force. These numerical losses may well be offset by wartime recruiting of less
experienced personnel.
The IDF probably did destroy most fixed Hezbollah facilities both in the rear and forward
areas. Unless these held large amounts of munitions, however, this is probably of little
value. Hezbollah facilities are not filled with high technology or valuable equipment, and
the IAF and artillery strikes that hit such facilities in populated areas created substantial
problems in terms of perceived attacks on civilians and collateral damage. Unless the IDF
shows that the Hezbollah lost a major amount of weaponry in such attacks, the attacks
may have done Israel as much harm in terms of future hostility as good in terms of
immediate tactical benefits.
The IDF estimates that the Hezbollah had only one major set of fixed defenses and that
these were in the areas near the border where the ground war was active after the first few
days of the conflict. These defenses included shelters, storage areas, command posts, etc.
Many were probably damaged or destroyed. It is not clear, however, that this will really
have any lasting effect. Instead, the air-land battle may well have shown the Hezbollah
that it really does not need such facilities and that simply taking advantage of normal
civilian buildings and built up areas provides the same cover and facility capability, is
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 6
much harder to target and predict, provides more ride out capability for concealed troops,
and allows the Hezbollah to disperse, maneuver, and adopt a defense in depth tactic.
Once again a combination of the international force and Lebanese Army may be able to
control the Hezbollah and disarm it in these areas, but the IDF did not achieve its goals.
One key lesson here is much the same as the lesson the US should have learned from
Vietnam and Iraq. The only way to actually defeat such an enemy is to clear the area and
hold it indefinitely, sealing off possible exit and dispersal routes, and conducting a
constant rear area security effort. “Clear, hold, and build,” however, tends to be a
remarkably vacuous tactic in practice. It simply requires too many men for too long at too
much cost with too much vulnerability, plus a scale of civic action and civil-military
efforts that are easy to call for, but almost impossible to implement.
Restore the credibility of Israeli deterrence after the unilateral
withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, and
counter the image that Israel was weak and forced to leave
Deterrence is a matter of perceptions, not reality. Israel retains its conventional
superiority or edge against the regular military forces of its Arab neighbors, and
particularly against the only meaningful threat on its borders: Syria. It has made massive
improvements in its forces since 1982, adapting the most modern technology and tactics
available to the US to its own technology and tactics, and retaining a nuclear monopoly.
For all of its problems in the Israeli-Hezbollah War, its casualties were probably around
1/8th those of the Hezbollah, it was inhibited more by its own strategic and tactical
decisions than the quality of Hezbollah fighters, and it may still prove to have won if the
international force and Lebanese Army do actually carry out all of the terms of the
The problem, however, is Hezbollah, regional, and global perceptions. Some serving
Israeli officials and officers claimed Israel had succeeded in this goal, and that the
deterrent impact would grow as Arab states and peoples saw the true scale of damage and
refused to allow the Hezbollah and other non-state actors to operate on their soil because
of the cost and risk. In contrast, Israeli experts outside of government felt that the fighting
did weaken deterrence and did show Israel was vulnerable.
In general, both serving and non-serving Israelis seemed to underestimate the anger
Israel’s strikes might generate, and the fact that the level of damage inflicted might create
many more volunteers, make Arab populations far more actively hostile to Israel,
strengthen the Iranian and Syrian regimes, and weaken moderate and pro-peace regimes
like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
As discussed later, official Israeli reactions regarding the Lebanese government seemed
to assume the end result of the war would be to create a Lebanese political structure that
would be so afraid of future damage that it would rein in the Hezbollah. This is possible,
but Israeli estimates tended to minimize the risks that Lebanon would become more
actively hostile to Israel.
The Israelis interviewed tended to discount the potential impact in terms of the war’s
effect in stimulating new attacks from Gaza, the West Bank, and the sea—although
experts in the Gaza area felt that Hamas and the PIJ had already acquired more advanced
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 7
rockets than the crude, home-made Qassams used to date, and Israeli naval experts
recognized that more advanced rockets and missiles might be sea-based.
The other side of the coin was the deep Israeli concern with security barriers and
unilateral withdrawals. Israelis felt that defense in depth and an active IDF presence was
needed in front of security barriers; that major new security efforts and barriers would be
required to deal with longer-range Palestinian weapons; that even more separation of the
two peoples would be needed; and that Israeli Arabs might become more of a threat. This
is scarcely a sign of improved deterrence.
Finally, Israel will scarcely reinforce deterrence when it conducts a detailed examination
of its real and potential mistakes during the war, and/or its government falls over its
weaknesses or failures.
Force Lebanon to become and act as an accountable state,
and end the status of Hezbollah as a state within a state.
This goal is uncertain. The UN resolution only charges the international force to act
within the limits of its capabilities. Hezbollah retains a great deal of capability and may
remain an active military. Iranian and Syrian willingness to intervene has probably been
Much will depend on whether the Hezbollah can capitalize on its claims of victory and on
fighting the Arab fight or whether the Lebanese people—including the Shi’ites—react by
blaming the Hezbollah for the damage, casualties, and humanitarian crisis during the war.
Lebanese politics will be critical, and it is at least possible that the end result will be to
further polarize the country on confessional lines, raising Shi’ite power and
consciousness, but leaving a weak and divided state.
Damage or cripple Hezbollah, with the understanding that it
could not be destroyed as a military force and would continue
to be a major political actor in Lebanon.
For all of the reasons discussed earlier, the IDF has not provided convincing evidence to
date that it did enough damage to the Hezbollah to achieve this end, or has created an
environment where it will not be able to get better weapons, including long-range
missiles, in the future.
Israel may also have simply employed the wrong battle plan. It may have sharply
exaggerated what airpower could do early in the war and sharply underestimated
Hezbollah ability to survive and fight a ground battle. The IDF then fought a long and
protracted battle for the Hezbollah’s forward defenses to deny them a line of sight into
Israel where the Hezbollah repeatedly attacked towns and small cities that they could lose
and then reinfiltrate. By the time the IDF drove towards the Litani on August 11th
, it was
too late to win a meaningful victory against a dispersed Hezbollah force, and the IDF had
to advance along predictable lines of advance for terrain reasons that allowed the
Hezbollah to score significant “victories” of its own.
If the Hezbollah is crippled as a military force, it will be because of US and French
diplomacy in creating an international peacekeeping force and helping the Lebanese
Army move south with some effectiveness. It will not be because of IDF military action.
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 8
Bring the two soldiers the Hezbollah had captured back alive
without major trades in prisoners held by Israel—not the
thousands demanded by Nasrallah and the Hezbollah.
This is a key feature of the UN resolution and the ceasefire. However, what actually
happens is yet to be seen. The Israeli emphasis on such kidnappings and casualties also
communicates a dangerous sense of Israeli weakness at a military and diplomatic level. It
reinforces the message since Oslo that any extremist movement can halt negotiations and
peace efforts by triggering a new round of terrorist attacks.
The message seems to be that any extremist movement can lever Israel into action by a
token attack. Furthermore, there has been so much discussion in Israel of the Israeli
leadership and IDF’s reluctance to carry out a major land offensive in Lebanon because
of the casualties it took from 1982-2000, and would face in doing so now, that the end
result further highlights the image of Israeli vulnerability.
The Ongoing Impact of the Fighting
It is far from clear that the Israeli-Hezbollah War is over, and all sides may adapt their
goals, strategy, and tactics as time goes by. The present UN resolution depends on
extraordinary cooperation from the Hezbollah, Israel, and the Lebanese government and
army. It assumes that clashes between Israel and Hezbollah will not escalate to new
major rounds of fighting; that Iran and Syria will not succeed in major resupply of new
and provocative weapons; and that an international peacemaking force can be truly
The present ceasefire efforts assume that what began as a pause can be turned into a real
and lasting set of security arrangements. Both Israel and the Hezbollah are likely to see
the ceasefire and security arrangements as presenting both a risk and opportunity—as a
peace process that may turn into a war process at any time and which each must be ready
to defend against and try to exploit. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) begins
with a long history of serious tension and conflict with Israel, and 1982 showed how hard
it is for even the best intentioned peace making forces to operate and be seen as friendly
or neutral. The end result is that this may only be another round in the Israel-Lebanon
War that began in 1948, and that began to take on its current form in 1982.
There is a very real prospect that even if the Israeli-Hezbollah War does not rekindle, it
has generated forces in the Arab world that will thrust Israel into a broader, four-cornered
struggle with radical Arab elements as well as pose growing political problems for
moderate Arab states. The Hezbollah’s performance may well lead its hard-liners and the
growing neo-Salafi Sunni extremist elements in Lebanon to keep up a steady pace of
terrorist attacks. The Hamas and PIJ forces in Gaza will learn and adapt, and Israel may
face a new level of conflict, or “front,” on the West Bank as the same anti-Israeli forces
step up their activity there. The Israeli-Hezbollah War has shown all forms of hostile
state and non-state actors that Israel and Israelis are vulnerable. Syria and Iran have
strong incentives to keep up covert pressure. Both Sunni and Shi’ite transnational
movements have a new incentive to attack Israeli targets inside and outside of Israel.
That said, reality does not wait for history, and the US needs to draw what lessons it can
as quickly as it can. There is also a clear need for as many perspectives as possible. A
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 9
rush to judgment is inevitable. A rush to judgments may at least show that there is no
single view of events and what the world should learn from them.
Major Lessons Regarding Strategy and the Conduct of
the War
There are several major lessons regarding strategy and the conduct of the war that the US
may need to learn from both the fighting and the broader strategic context in which it has
taken place.
Strategy and the Conduct of War: The Lesson of
Accountability and Responsibility
One key lesson that the US badly needs to learn from Israel is the Israeli rush towards
accountability. Israeli experts inside and outside of government did not agree on the
extent to which the government and the IDF mismanaged the war, but none claimed that
it had gone smoothly or well. Most experts outside of government felt that the problems
were serious enough to force a new commission or set of commissions to examine what
had gone wrong and to establish the facts.
The main disagreements over who should be held responsible for Israel’s conduct of the
war focused on the following issues:
• Whether the Israeli government’s lack of military and foreign policy experience crippled its ability
to plan and to criticize the weaknesses in the plans presented by the IDF, and whether these
failures were compounded by political opportunism and a focus on domestic politics reinforced by
a false impression that Israel was simply too strong to face a major challenge and that the
Lebanese government could easily be coerced into acting as a state and using the Army to take
control of a rapidly defeated Hezbollah.
• Whether the IDF’s top leadership had too many Air Force officers that promised airpower could
achieve rapid and decisive results, and which ignored the need to prepare for a ground war
because a major land offensive was so unpopular after Israel’s withdrawal in 2000.
• Serious questions also arose over the lack of IDF preparation of the army for an offensive as a
major contingency, the lack of training of the active forces to deal with the insurgency they were
certain to face at least on the forward line, and the lack of preparation and training of the reserves.
• Whether both the political leadership and IDF failed to develop an effective concept for securing
enough of southern Lebanon from the Litani to the border that could suppress Hezbollah Kaytusha
attacks, avoid being bogged down by fighting the Hezbollah on its strong line of border defenses
and fortified villages, and ensure security in depth.
• Whether Israeli intelligence failed to characterize the threat in terms of Hezbollah reaction and
willingness to fight, the numbers and capabilities of Hezbollah forces, the quality of preparation of
its forward defensive line, and its holdings of missiles, rockets, and advanced lighter arms like
anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles. Whether Israeli intelligence failed to assess how
Hezbollah would react when the IDF launched a major air attack and struck at its border positions.
• More broadly, whether Israeli intelligence misjudged how the Lebanese government and army
would react when they were attacked in an effort to coerce them to move south, and how the Arab
and Muslim world would react when IDF forces were seen to be vulnerable.
• Whether the political leadership and the military and intelligence services failed to see that attacks
on the Hezbollah and Lebanon could weaken, not reinforce, Israel’s overall deterrence of the
Iranian, Arab, and non-state threat; weaken support for Israel in Europe and elsewhere; and
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 10
stimulate a new wave of Arab and Muslim support for fighting Israel. Key issues arise over the
ability to predict the impact of attacking Lebanese versus the Hezbollah, control of collateral
damage and attacks on civilians, and the overall handling of the political, perceptual, and media
sides of the war—which all Israelis outside of government characterized as bad to dismal.
• The lack of effective emergency planning in the north to deal with evacuations resulting from the
rocket attacks, key issues like firefighting, and other key defensive and civil defense measures.
It should be stressed that serving Israeli officials and officers rejected such criticisms or
provided a different picture of events. As the following analysis shows, Israel also had
many areas of clear success.
What is interesting about the Israeli approach, however, is the assumption by so many
Israeli experts that that major problems and reverses need immediate official examination
and that criticism begins from the top down. Patriotism and the pressures of war call for
every effort to be made to win, not for support of the political leadership and military
command until the war is over.
The US, in contrast, is usually slow to criticize and then tends to focus on the President
on a partisan basis. It does not have a tradition of independent commissions and total
transparency (all of the relevant cabinet and command meetings in Israel are videotaped).
Worse, the US military tends to investigate and punish from the bottom up. At least since
Pearl Harbor (where the search for scapegoats was as much a motive as the search for
truth), the US has not acted on the principle that top-level and senior officers and civilian
officials must be held accountable for all failures, and that the key lessons of war include
a ruthless and unbiased examination of grand strategy and policymaking.
Fighting in Civilian Areas and the Problem of Collateral
The Hezbollah did more than use more advanced technology. It used Lebanon’s people
and civilian areas as both defensive and offensive weapons. Israel certainly saw this risk
from the start. While the Hezbollah did attack Lebanese civilian targets early in the war,
these were generally limited. It did establish procedures for screening strike requirements
and intelligence review of possible civilian casualties and collateral damage.
The problem for Israel—as for the US and its allies in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan—is
that good intensions and careful procedures and rules of engagement are not enough. A
non-state actor is virtually forced to use human shields as a means of countering its
conventional weakness, and Islamist extremist movements do so as an ideological goal,
seeking to push populations into the war on their side.
Civilians as the First Line of Defense
Hezbollah built its facilities in towns and populated areas, used civilian facilities and
homes to store weapons and carry out its activities, and embedded its defenses and
weapons in built-up areas. It learned to move and ship in ways that mirrored normal
civilian life. We were shown extensive imagery showing how the Hezbollah deployed its
rockets and mortars into towns and homes, rushing into private houses to fire rockets and
rushing out.
Civilians are the natural equivalent of armor in asymmetric warfare, and the US must get
used to the fact that opponents will steadily improve their ability to use them to hide, to
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 11
deter attack, exploit the political impact of strikes, and exaggerate damage and killings.
The very laws of war become a weapon when they are misinterpreted to go from making
every effort to minimize civilian casualties to totally avoiding them. Civilians become
cultural, religious, and ideological weapons when the US is attacking different cultures.
The gap between the attacker and attacked is so great that no amount of explanation and
reparations can compensate.
The Unavoidable Limits of Intelligence, Targeting, and Battle Damage Assessment
The Israeli experience in Lebanese towns and small cities had many similarities with the
problems the US faces in Iraq. The US is forced to fight an enemy that is often
impossible to distinguish from civilians or is so embedded in their midst that there is no
way to separate them in terms of air strikes or land attacks. This is particularly true of the
fighting in populated areas and street by street combat.
UAVs and modern sensors can help. So can advanced training, use of armor, and focused
tactical intelligence, particularly when supported by HUMINT. The truth, however, is
that modern technology does not provide the kind of sensors, protection, and weapons
that can prevent a skilled urban force from forcing Israel or the US to fight it largely on
its own terms and to exploit civilians and collateral damage at the same time.
The Israeli imagery used in air strikes and in preparing for and conducting the land battle
only needs to cover a very small front by American standards and is close to, or superior,
to that available to US forces. This imagery technology is a tremendous advancement
over the past. But it falls far short of the ability to provide the kind of real time tactical
advantage to avoid having to react immediately and often in ways that kill civilians or
damage civil facilities.
The problem in close combat in urban areas is also only one of the issues involved. As in
Vietnam, there is no easy route to interdicting supply. Stopping resupply and
reinforcement means attacks on infrastructure, ranging from local to national. When
medium and long-range missiles are involved, “proportionality” also means limited or no
It the case of artillery and air strikes, it is sometimes possible to achieve a 10-meter
accuracy against a GPS coordinate. Like the US, Israel has found, however, that
significant numbers of weapons go astray, that modern sensors cannot tell the difference
between many types and uses of military and civilian vehicles in asymmetric war, and
that a civilian often looks exactly like an insurgent/terrorist.
Mapping all potential target areas for important political and religious points is difficult
to impossible, and real-time location of civilians is absolutely impossible. High intensity
operations cannot be designed to support humanitarian needs in many cases. Moreover,
battle damage technology methods and technology against anything other than military
weapons and vehicles, or active military facilities, remains too crude to clearly
distinguish how much collateral damage was done or how many civilians were hurt.
Rethinking Force Transformation
The key issues for the US are what can be done to change this situation to reduce civilian
casualties and collateral damage, and how can the US learn from the IDF’s experience as
well as its own. In all but existential conflicts, understanding these issues involves
learning how to fight in built-up and populated areas in ways than deprive the enemy as
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 12
much as possible of being able to force the US and its allies to fight at their level and on
their own terms.
The goal is also to learn what cannot be done, and to avoid setting goals for netcentric
warfare, intelligence, targeting, and battle damage assessments that are impossible, or
simply too costly and uncertain to deploy. No country does better in making use of
military technology than the US, but nor is any country also so incredibly wasteful,
unable to bring many projects to cost-effective deployment, and so prone to assume that
technology can solve every problem.
The US needs to approach these problems with ruthless realism at the political, tactical,
and technical level. It needs to change its whole set of priorities affecting tactics,
technology, targeting, and battle damage to give avoiding unnecessary civilian casualties
and collateral damage the same priority as directly destroying the enemy. This means
working with local allies and improving HUMINT to reduce damage and political
impacts. It also means developing real time capabilities to measure and communicate
what damage has actually been done. The US must use the information to defeat hostile
lies and exaggeration but also to improve performance in the future.
Rethinking Deterrence, Intimidation, and the Political,
Perceptual, Ideological, and Media Dimension of War
Like the US in Iraq, Israel went to war focused on its own values and perceptions, and
not those of its Hezbollah enemy, the Lebanese state it was seeking to influence, the Arab
states around it, or the broader perceptions of Europe and the outside world. Israel saw its
war as just, but made little effort to justify it to the outside world as a key element of
strategy, tactics, and the practical execution of battle.
The Israeli government and IDF—like their American counterparts—have always tended
to see this aspect of war more in terms of internal politics and perceptions than those of
other states, cultures, and religions. In Israel’s case, Israel also seems to have felt it could
deal with Hezbollah relatively simply, intimidate or persuade Lebanon with limited
leverage, and assume that its defeat of the Hezbollah would counter Arab and Islamic
anger and lead to only limited problems with outside states.
One of its stated goals was also to restore the credibility of Israeli deterrence after its
perceived erosion following the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza and years
of tolerating low-level attacks and harassment with limited response. The plan seems to
have been to show how well it could both defeat the Hezbollah and threaten an Arab
government that tolerated the presence of a non-state threat.
Israel, however, was dealing with both a non-state and a state actor that were not Western
and which operated with different values and goals. It immediately found that Hezbollah
could offset any immediate Israeli successes in striking against Hezbollah’s medium and
long-range missiles with determined attacks by shorter range missiles, and could and
would force the IDF to fight it on the ground. Israel found that the Lebanese government
did not respond by trying to control the Hezbollah but rather turned to the international
community and used efforts to intimidate it to launch political attacks on Israel. Israel
found that its unwillingness or inability to attack or intimidate Iran and Syria—the
Hezbollah’s main suppliers—encouraged them to support Hezbollah and provide
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 13
Israel also quickly found that it wasted its initial ability to get Egyptian, Jordanian, and
Saudi government support against the Hezbollah by over-escalating and being unable to
convince the world it was controlling collateral damage and civilian suffering. Israel
alienated the peoples of those governments that had reason to fear Hezbollah and Iran and
the governments as well. At the same time, the Israeli government’s and the IDF’s
tactical failures and indecisiveness sent a message of weakness and vulnerability to a mix
of nations more focused on revenge, anger, and religion than the cost-benefits of war
Israel does face prejudice and media bias in the political dimension of war, but—to put it
bluntly—this is as irrelevant to the conduct of war as similar perceptions of the US as a
crusader and occupier. It is as irrelevant as complaints that the enemy fights in civilian
areas, uses terror tactics, does not wear uniforms and engages in direct combat. Nations
fight in the real world, not in ones where they can set the rules for war or perceptual
Israel’s failure to understand this is just as serious and dangerous as America’s. So is
Israel’s focus on domestic politics and perceptions. Modern nations must learn to fight
regional, cultural, and global battles to shape the political, perceptual, ideological, and
media dimensions of war within the terms that other nations and cultures can understand,
or they risk losing every advantage their military victories gain.
Examining and Defining “Proportionality”
The US had not yet faced the same level of challenge regarding its military actions as
Israel. It is clear, however, that the scale of military action, the level of collateral damage,
and the nature of the causus belli are becoming critical issues for war planning and
In general, Israel seems to have made a consistent effort to keep its military actions
proportionate to the threat in legal terms if one looks beyond the narrow incident at
Sheeba Farms that triggered the fighting and considers six years of Hezbollah military
build up as a major threat that could target all of Israel with major Iranian and Syrian
support. Weakness and division is not a defense in international law and the laws of war,
and Lebanon’s failure to act as a state, implement resolution 1559, and disarm the
Hezbollah deprives it of any right as a non-belligerent.
The problem is, however, that the laws of war do not shape perceptions and current
international value judgments. Israel also pushed proportionality to its limits by attacking
civilian targets that were not related to the Hezbollah in an effort to force the Lebanese
government to act, and failed to explain the scale of the Hezbollah threat in defending its
The US must not repeat this mistake. It must develop clear plans and doctrine regarding
proportionality and be just as ready to explain and justify them as to show how it is acting
to limit civilian casualties and collateral damage. Above all, it must not fall into the trap
of trying either to avoid the laws of war or of being so bound by a strict interpretation that
it cannot fight.
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 14
Pursue a Decisive Strategy within the Planned Limits of the
It was never clear from discussions with Israeli officials exactly what the real original
battle plan was, how much the IAF did or did not exaggerate its capabilities, and how
much the IDF pressed for a decisive land campaign. It does seem clear that Israel always
planned for a limited war, but it also seems likely that it failed to pursue a decisive
strategy and battle plan within the limits it sought.
The initial air campaign against the medium and long-range missiles makes clear sense.
These were a serious threat, and the attack upon them seems to have been relatively well
executed—subject to the fact the IDF did not fully understand the threat because it did
not detect the scale of Syrian missile deliveries.
The ground campaign, however, makes far less sense. Fighting to take a narrow perimeter
in Lebanon of 2-5 kilometers overlooking Israel could never be a decisive campaign or
hope to halt even the Kaytusha threat. Unclassified wall maps in the Israeli MOD clearly
showed that many launch sites were to the rear of this perimeter, allowing the Hezbollah
to retreat with ease, and there was no prospect of holding the perimeter without constant
Hezbollah reinfiltration and attack. This essentially forced the IDF to fight the Hezbollah
on the Hezbollah’s terms in urban warfare.
Either the Israeli political leadership, the IDF top command, or both seem to have chosen
the worst of all possible worlds. They escalated beyond the air campaign in ways that
could not have a decisive strategic effect and dithered for weeks in a land battle that
seems to have been designed largely to minimize casualties and avoid creating a lasting
IDF presence in Lebanon. In the process, the IDF had to fight and refight for the same
villages and largely meaningless military objectives, given the Hezbollah’s ample time to
reorganize and prepare.
When the IDF finally did decide to go for the Litani, it signaled its advance for at least
two days, and had to advance along predictable routes of advance because of the terrain.
It did not conduct operations from the north to seal off the Hezbollah line of retreat and
had to fight in a rushed operation with no time to deploy enough forces to search out stay
behinds or securely occupy enough space to be sure of what levels of Hezbollah strength
did or did not remain.
At the same time, the air campaign continued to escalate against targets that often were
completely valid but that sometimes involved high levels of collateral damage and very
uncertain tactical and military effect. The end result was to give the impression Israel was
not providing a proportionate response—an impression compounded by ineffective (and
often unintelligible) efforts to explain IAF actions to the media. At times, it seemed the
strategy was one of escalating until the international community had to act on Israel’s
terms, rather than fighting the enemy. Such a strategy at best ignored the serious limits to
Israel’s ability to force any international force and the Lebanese government’s ability to
meet all its goals once a ceasefire was signed.
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 15
Prepare for Conflict Escalation, Alternative Outcomes, and
“Plan B”
Israeli officials differed significantly over how much they had planned and trained for
conflict escalation. Outside experts did not. They felt that the Israeli government rushed
into a major attack on the Hezbollah and Lebanon with little preparation and detailed
planning, that the battle plan put far too much faith in airpower, and that the government
was averse to examining another major land advance into Lebanon or broadening the
conflict to put pressure on Syria.
Only access to the historical record can determine the facts. There was, however, broad
criticism that the government and IDF did not properly prepare the active forces and
reserves for a major land attack or for the possibility of a major escalation that required
such an attack. The government and IDF were criticized for never examining “Plan B”—
what would happen if things went wrong or if a major escalation was required.
Prepare for Conflict Termination
A number of Israeli experts felt the Israeli government was too inexperienced to fully
address the impact of various scenarios on conflict termination. They felt the government
and senior leadership of the IDF had hopes for conflict termination but no clear plan.
Depending on the official, officer, or outside expert briefing on these issues, these hopes
seem to have been a mixture of hope that the Hezbollah would be easily defeated, that the
Lebanese government or army would act, that the Lebanese people and Arab world
would blame the Hezbollah, and/or that they could get UN resolutions and a UN
sponsored international peacemaking force that would support Israel’s efforts. As for
Israel’s broader image in the world, it seems to have hoped that victory would be its own
justification, to the extent that it focused on the issue at all.
By the time of our trip, some officials claimed that the war was always supposed to take
eight weeks and weaken the Hezbollah, not destroy it. Yet several Israeli experts claimed
that some of the same officials estimated at the start of the war that it would last no more
than two weeks and that Hezbollah would be destroyed as a military force.
Israel is notoriously better at defeating the enemy than at translating such defeats into
lasting strategic gains. But the same criticism can often be applied to the US. As a result,
the lesson the Israeli-Hezbollah War teaches about conflict termination is the same lesson
as the one the US should have learned from its victory in the Gulf War in 1991 and from
its defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003. A war plan without a clear and credible plan for
conflict termination can easily become a dangerous prelude to a failed peace.
Iran, Syria, and the Hezbollah
One key point that should be mentioned more in passing than as a lesson, although it
may be a warning about conspiracy theories, is that no serving Israeli official,
intelligence officer, or other military officer felt that the Hezbollah acted under the
direction of Iran or Syria.
It was clear that Iran and Syria conducted a massive build-up of the Hezbollah’s arms
over a period of more than half a decade, that Iranian 747s routinely offloaded arms in
Syrian airports, and that Syria provided trucks and shipped in arms and armed vehicles
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 16
through the north and across the Bekaa. Iran did have advisors—evidently from the Al
Quds force present with the Hezbollah—and some of their documents were captured,
although Syrian advisors evidently were not present.
The issue of who was using whom, however, was answered by saying all sides—the
Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria—were perfectly happy to use each other. Israelis felt
Nasrallah had initiated the Sheeba farms raid on his own and that Iran and Syria were
forced to support him once Israel massively escalated. Israeli officials did not endorse the
theory that Iran forced the Hezbollah to act to distract attention from its nuclear efforts.
This does not mean that Iran and Syria had no influence or control. Syria could certainly
have halted supply at any time. Iran set up a rocket and missile targeting and control
center for the Hezbollah and may well have retained control over the Zelzal in any effort
to preserve an eventual nuclear option or limited Israeli retaliation. The nature of
meetings between commanders and officials from all three sides was described as
uncertain, as was the exact role of the Hezbollah-Iranian-Syrian intelligence center that
began to operate in Damascus during the war.
Lessons and Insights into Various Tactical,
Technological, and Other Military Aspects of the War
Once again, it is important to stress that many key details of the tactics, technology, and
other aspects of the fighting are not yet clear. There are, however, several additional
lessons that do seem to emerge from the conflict.
High Technology Asymmetric Warfare
There is virtually no controversy over whether the fighting with the Hezbollah shows just
how well a non-State actor can do when it achieves advanced arms, and has strong
outside support from state actors like Iran and Syria. Top-level Israeli intelligence
personnel and officers stated that most aspects of the Hezbollah build-up did not surprise
them in the six years following Israel’s withdrawal in Lebanon.
Mosad officials stated that they had tracked the deployment of some 13,000 Katyushas,
far more sophisticated Iranian medium and long-range artillery rockets and guided
missiles (Zelzal 3), better surface-to-air missiles like the SA-14, SA-16, and possibly SA8 and SA-18, the CS-801 anti-ship missile, and several more capable anti-tank weapons
like the AT-3 Sagger Two and Kornet. They also identified the armed UAV the
Hezbollah used as either the Iranian Mirsad-1 or Ababil-3 Swallow.
Israeli intelligence officials also stated that they knew some 100 Iranian advisors were
working with the Hezbollah, and that they knew Iran not only maintained high volumes
of deliveries, but also had created a Hezbollah command center for targeting and
controlling missile fire with advanced C2 assets and links to UAVs. They noted that they
had warnings of better sniper rifles, night vision devices, and communications as well as
of technical improvements to the IEDs, bombs, and booby traps that the Hezbollah had
used before the Israeli withdrawal.
Israeli officials and officers were not consistent about the scale or nature of the
technology transfer to the Hezbollah or of how many weapons they had. In broad terms,
however, they agreed on several points.
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 17
Hezbollah Rocket and Missile Forces
Israel faced a serious local threat from some 10,000-16,000 shorter-range regular and
extended range versions of the Kaytusha. These are small artillery rockets with individual
manportable launchers. The rockets have small warheads and ranges of 19-28 kilometers
(12-18 miles) that can only strike about 11-19 kilometers (7-12 miles) into Israel unless
launched right at the border. They can easily be fired in large numbers from virtually any
position or building, and the Hezbollah had a limited capacity for ripple fire that partly
made up for the fact that such weapons were so inaccurate that they hit at random, could
only be aimed at town-sized targets, and had very small warheads. They were, however,
more than adequate to force substantial evacuations, paralyze local economic activity,
and drive the Israelis that remained to shelters.
Israeli officers and officials made it clear that Israel’s real reason for going to war,
however, was the steady deployment of medium and longer range systems, and the
potential creation of a major Iranian and Syrian proxy missile force that could hit targets
throughout Israel.
This force included Syrian 220mm rockets and systems like the Fajr 3, with ranges of 45-
75 kilometers, capable of striking targets as far south as Haifa and Naharia. The IAF was
able to destroy most of the Iranian Fajr 3 launchers the first night of the war, but the IDF
did not know the Syrian rockets were present.
The Fajr 3, or Ra’ad, has a range of 45 kilometers, a 45-kilogram warhead, a 240-mm
diameter, a 5.2-meter length, and a weight of 408 kilograms.
A total of some 24-30
launchers and launch vehicles, carrying up to 14 rockets each, seem to have been present.
The IAF feels it destroyed virtually all launchers that fired after the first few days, but
Israeli officers did not provide an estimate of how many actually survived.
They also included the Syrian 302-mm artillery rockets and Fajr 5, with ranges of 75 and
higher kilometers. The IAF again feels that it was able to destroy most of the Iranian Fajr
5 launchers the first night of the war, but the IDF again did not know the Syrian 302-mm
rockets were present.
The Fajr 5 is launched from a mobile platform with up to four rockets per launcher, and
has a maximum range of 75 kilometers, a 45-kilogram warhead, a 333-mm diameter, a
6.48-meter length, and a weight of 915 kilograms.
A total of some 24-30 launchers and
launch vehicles seem to have been present. Again, the IAF feels it destroyed virtually all
launchers that fired after the first few days, but Israeli officers did not provide an estimate
of how many actually survived.
The level of Hezbollah capabilities with the Zelzal 1, 2, and 3 and other possible systems
has been described earlier. These missiles have ranges of 115-220 kilometers. The Zelzal
2 is known to be in Hezbollah hands and illustrates the level of technology involved. It is
a derivative of the Russian FROG 7, and has a range in excess of 115 kilometers. It has a
610-mm diameter, a 8.46-meter length, and a weight of 3,545 kilograms.
It requires a
large TEL vehicle with a large target signature.
Anti-Ship Missiles
The Hezbollah C-802 missile that damaged an Israeli Sa’ar 5, one of Israel’s latest and
most capable ships, struck the ship when it was not using active countermeasures. It may
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 18
or may not have had support from the coastal radar operated by Lebanese military fires
destroyed by IAF forces the following day.
According to Global Security, the Yingji YJ-2 (C-802) is powered by a turbojet with
paraffin-based fuel. It is subsonic (0.9 Mach), weighs 715 kilograms, has a range 120
kilometers, and a 165 kilogram (363 lb.). It has a small radar cross section and skims
about five to seven meters above the sea surface when it attacks the target. It has good
anti-jamming capability.
Anti-Armor Systems
The IDF faced both older anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) threats like the AT-3 Sagger,
AT-4 Spigot, and AT-5 Spandrel—each of which is a wire-guided system but which
become progressively more effective and easier to operate as the model number
The IDF also faced far more advanced weapons like the Russian AT-13 MetisM which only requires the operator to track the target, and the AT-14 Kornet-E, a third
generation system, that can be used to attack tanks fitted with explosive reactive armor,
and bunkers, buildings, and entrenched troops. Many of these systems bore serial
numbers that showed they came directly from Syria, but others may have come from Iran.
The AT-14 is a particularly good example of the kind of high technology weapon the US
may face in future asymmetric wars. It can be fitted to vehicles or used as a crew-portable
It has thermal sights for night warfare and tracking heat signatures, and the
missile has semi-automatic command-to-line-of-sight laser beam-riding guidance. It flies
along the line of sight to engage the target head-on in a direct attack profile. It has a
nominal maximum range of 5 kilometers. It can be fitted with tandem shaped charge
HEAT warheads to defeat tanks fitted with reactive armor, or with high
explosive/incendiary warheads, for use against bunkers and fortifications. Maximum
penetration is claimed to be up to 1,200mm.
Other systems include a greatly improved version of the 105.2-mm rocket-propelled
grenade called the RPG-29 or Vampire. This is a much heavier system than most
previous designs. It is a two-man crew weapon with a 450-meter range, and with an
advanced 4.5-kilogram grenade that can be used to attack both armor and bunkers and
buildings. Some versions are equipped with night sights.
The IDF saw such weapons used with great tactical skill, and few technical errors,
reflecting the ease with which third generation ATGMs can be operated. They did serious
damage to buildings as well as armor. The Hezbollah also showed that it could use the
same “swarm” techniques to fire multiple rounds at the same target at the same time often
used in similar ambushes in Iraq. As of August 11th
, however, a total of 60 armored
vehicles of all types (reports these were all tanks are wrong) had been hit. Most continued
to operate or were rapidly repaired in the field and restored to service. Only 5-6 of all
types represented a lasting vehicle kill.
The IDF estimates that the Hezbollah at least have the SA-7 and SA-14 manportable
surface-to-air missile system, probably have the SA-16, and may have the SA-18. The
SA-14 and SA-16 are much more advanced than the SA-7, but still possible to counter
with considerable success. The SA-18 Grouse (Igla 9K38) is more problematic.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, it is an improved variant of the SA-
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 19
14 that uses a similar thermal battery/gas bottle, and the same 2 kilogram high-explosive
warhead fitted with a contact and grazing fuse. The missile, however, is a totally new
design and has much greater operational range and speed. It has a maximum range of
5200 meters and a maximum altitude of 3500 meters, and uses an IR guidance system
with proportional convergence logic, and much better protection against electro-optical
It is possible that it may have been given a few SA-8 Gecko (Russian 9K33 Osa) SAM
systems that are vehicle mounted, radar-guided systems with up to a 10-kilomter range,
and six missiles per vehicle.
The IDF is concerned that these systems would allow the Hezbollah to set up “ambushes”
of a few IAF aircraft without clear warning—a tactic where only a few SA-8s could
achieve a major propaganda victory. This concern, coupled to the risk of SA-16 and SA18 attacks, forced the IAF to actively use countermeasures to an unprecedented degree
during the fighting.
Low Signature; Asymmetric Stealth
One key aspect of the above list is that all of the systems that are not vehicle-mounted
are low signature weapons that very difficult to characterize and target and easy to bury
or conceal in civilian facilities. Stealth is normally thought of as high technology. It is
not. Conventional forces still have sensors geared largely to major military platforms and
operating in environments when any possible target becomes a real target. None of these
conditions applied to most Hezbollah weapons, and the problem was compounded by the
fact that a light weapon is often easier to move and place without detection in a built-up
area than a heavy one.
This signature issue applies to small rockets like the Qassam and Kaytusha that require
only a vestigial launcher that can be place in a house or covert area in seconds, and fired
with a timer. Israeli video showed numerous examples of Hezbollah rushing into a home,
setting up a system, and firing or leaving in a time in less than a minute.
It also applies to UAVs. Israel’s normal surveillance radars could not detect the Iranian
UAVs, and the IDF was forced to rush experiments to find one that could detect such a
small, low-flying platform. (This may be an artillery counterbattery radar but Israeli
sources would not confirm this.)
Technological Surprise
Israeli officers and experts did indicate that the IDF faced technological surprise and
uncertainty in some areas.
Syria evidently supplied nearly as many medium range artillery rockets—220 mm and
302 mm—as Iran, and a major portion of the Katyushas. The RPG-29 anti-tank weapon
and possible deployment of more advanced anti-tank guided weapons was not
anticipated. It was not possible to determine how advanced the surface-to-air missiles
going to Hezbollah forces were. It was not possible to determine the exact types and level
of capability for Iran’s long-range missile transfers because the three types of Zelzal are
so different in performance, and other Iranian systems (including ones with much better
guidance) are similar to what Israel calls the Zelzal 2 and 3.
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 20
The fact Israel faced some degree of technological surprise should not, however, be a
source of criticism unless there is evidence of negligence. If there is a lesson to be drawn
from such surprise, it is that it is almost unavoidable when deliveries are high and many
weapons are small and/or are delivered in trucks or containers and never seen used in
It is even more unavoidable when rapid transfer can occur in wartime, or new facilities
are created, such as the joint Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah intelligence (and advisory?) center
set up during the fighting in Damascus to give the Hezbollah technical and tactical
intelligence support. The lesson is rather that the war demonstrates a new level of
capability for non-state actors to use such weapons.
The US and Israel quote figures for the cost of these arms transfers that can reach the
billions, and talk about $100-$250 million in Iranian aid per year. The fact is that some
six years of build-up and arms transfers may have cost closer to $50-$100 million in all.
The bulk of the weapons involved were cheap, disposable or surplus, and transfers put no
strain of any kind on either Syria or Iran.
This is a critical point, not a quibble. Playing the spoiler role in arming non-state actors
even with relatively advanced weapons is cheap by comparison with other military
options. The US must be prepared for a sharp increase in such efforts as its enemies
realize just how cheap and easy this option can be.
Reevaluating the Level of Tactical and Technological Risk in the Forces of
Asymmetric and Non-State Actors
Experts like Sir Rupert Smith have already highlighted the risk posed to modern military
forces and states by opponents that fight below the threshold in which conventional
armies are most effective. Iraq has shown that even comparatively small transfers of
technology like motion sensors, crude shaped charges, and better triggering devices can
have a major impact in increasing the ability of insurgents and terrorists.
The Hezbollah have raised this to a whole new level, operating with effective sanctuary
in a state and with major outside suppliers—which Al Qa’ida has largely lacked. It is also
only the tip of the iceberg. It does not seem to have used the advanced SAMs listed
above, but the very threat forces IAF fighters and helicopters to constantly use
countermeasures. The use of ATGMs and RPG-29 not only inhibits the use of armor, but
sharply reduces the ability to enter buildings and requires dispersal and shelter.
The simple risk of long-range rocket attacks requires constant air and sensor coverage in
detail over the entire Hezbollah launch front to be sure of hitting launchers immediately.
The IDF’s task also could grow sharply if Iran/Syria sent the Hezbollah longer-range
rockets or missiles with precision guidance—allowing one missile to do serious damage
to a power plant, desalination plant, refinery/fuel storage facility with little or no warning.
The lesson here is not simply Hezbollah tactics to date. It is the need to survey all of the
weapons systems and technology that insurgents and terrorists could use in future strikes
and wars with the thesis that technology constraints are sharply weakening, and the US
and its allies face proliferation of a very different kind. It is to explore potential areas of
vulnerability in US forces and tactics non-state or asymmetric attackers can exploit,
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 21
carefully examine the holdings of state sponsors of such movements, and reexamine web
sites, training manuals, etc, to track the sharing or exploration of such technology.
Like Israel, the US and its other allies face long wars against enemies that have already
shown they are highly adaptive, and will constantly seek out weaknesses and the ability
to exploit the limits to conventional warfighting capabilities. The US must anticipate and
preempt when it can, and share countermeasure tactics and technologies with its allies.
Informal Networks and Asymmetric “Netcentric Warfare”
Like insurgent and terrorist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan—and in Arab states like
Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other states threatened by such groups—the Hezbollah
showed the ability of non-state actors to fight their own form of netcentric warfare. The
Hezbollah acted as a “distributed network” of small cells and units acting with
considerable independence, and capable of rapidly adapting to local conditions using
media reports on the, verbal communication, etc.
Rather than have to react faster than the IDF’s decision cycle, they could largely ignore it,
waiting out Israeli attacks, staying in positions, reinfiltrating or reemerging from cover,
and choosing the time to attack or ambush. Forward fighters could be left behind or
sacrificed, and “self-attrition” became a tactic substituting for speed of maneuver and the
ability to anticipated IDF movements.
Skilled cadres and leadership cadres could be hidden, sheltered, or dispersed. Rear areas
became partial sanctuaries in spite of the IDF. Aside from Nasrallah, who survived, no
given element of the leadership cadre was critical.
A strategy of attrition and slow response substituted for speed and efficiency in command
and control. The lack of a formal and hierarchical supply system meant that disperse
weapons and supplies—the equivalent of “feed forward logistics”—accumulated over six
years ensured the ability to keep operating in spite of IDF attacks on supply facilities and
The ability to fight on local religious, ideological, and sectarian grounds the IDF could
not match provided extensive cover and the equivalent of both depth and protection. As
noted earlier, civilians became a defensive weapon, the ability to exploit civilian
casualties and collateral damage became a weapon in political warfare, and the ability to
exploit virtually any built up area and familiar terrain as fortresses or ambush sites at
least partially compensated for IDF armor, air mobility, superior firepower, and sensors.
The value and capability of such asymmetric “netcentric” warfare, and comparatively
slow moving wars of attrition, should not be exaggerated. The IDF could win any clash,
and might have won decisively with different ground tactics. It also should not be
ignored. The kind of Western netcentric warfare that is so effective against conventional
forces has met a major challenge and one it must recognize.
Keeping the Role of Airpower in Proportion
A number of Israeli experts criticized the chief of staff of the IDF, the head of
intelligence, and head of the air force for being too narrowly air-oriented and for
presenting unrealistic estimates of what air power can accomplish. It is far from clear
that such critics had actual knowledge of the events involved, what the officers involved
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 22
actually said, their direction from Israel’s political leaders, or the other facts necessary to
draw such conclusions.
Any such judgments need to be based on a full examination of the record. This is
particularly true because other critics argue the Israeli land forces were deeply divided
between advocates of a sweeping envelopment of the Hezbollah from the north and
south isolating the area south of the Litani and others who argued the IDF land forces
would become bogged down in another occupation and war of attrition.
It should be noted that by August 10
, the IAF had flown some 8,000 fighter sorties and
1,600 attack helicopter sorties with no losses to combat, and with considerable
effectiveness – at least in missions supporting Israel’s land operations. IDF army officers
at the front noted that most such sorties were flown with delivery accuracies approaching
10 meters and close air support was extremely responsive. They also noted that in spite
of the shallow front, air and artillery operated closely together. The IDF evidently fired
well over 20,000 artillery rockets, targeting interchangeably with air strikes, and with
precision GPS locations allowing the same 10-meter accuracies for much of its artillery.
(These data are average accuracies; substantial error can take place in individual
The IAF reacted quickly to the fact that Israel sharply underestimated Syrian deliveries of
medium range rockets. It was able to create a 24/7 sensor and attack coverage over much
of southern Lebanon and attack and destroy almost all major Hezbollah missile launchers
within minutes after they fired. It helped improvise radar coverage to detect low signature
Hebollah UAVs and include them in its air defense activities.
It is less clear what the IAF accomplished in interdiction missions, and how well it
carried out missions like attacking Hezbollah supply routes, facilities, and hard targets.
Some preliminary reports indicate that it hit a large number of targets that were suspect
but not confirmed, and that Hezbollah dispersal and evacuations turned many into “empty
holes.” The IAF’s ability to attack the Hezbollah leadership seems to have been very
Discussions with IAF personnel also indicate that it has the same continuing problems
with making accurate battle damage assessments (BDA) during combat that have
characterized since its creation, and which were major problems in the 1967, 1973, and
1983 wars. These are problems, however, which still characterize US and other NATO
country air forces. The technical and analytic state of the art for both targeting and BDA
still have severe limitations, and air forces almost inevitably make exaggerated claims in
the heat of battle. These limitations are particularly clear in the record of postwar
examinations of the actual impact of past air attacks on rear area targets, whether they
are fixed enemy facilities, enemy supply routes and logistics, or leadership targets.
It has also been clear from Douhet to the present that the advocates of airpower tend to
sharply exaggerate its ability to influence or intimidate leaders and politicians, and act as
a weapons of political warfare. There certainly is little evidence to state that such IAF
strikes did more than make Lebanese leaders turn to the international community for
support in forcing Israel to accept a ceasefire, provoke Hezbollah leaders to even more
intense efforts, and produce a more hostile reaction in the Arab world. The advocates of
escalation to intimidate and force changes in behavior at the political level are sometimes
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 23
right; far more often, they are wrong. More often than not, such attacks provoke more
hostility and counterescalation.
All of these issues will need full study by whatever Commission or body the Israeli
government appoints. If there is a potential lesson that can be drawn about airpower on
the basis of the limited data now available, it is that war planning and execution by all
services and branches must be based on the best joint warfare solution possible, and a
ruthlessly objective examination of the strengths and limits of each military tool as
confirmed by battle damage assessment. This is already US doctrine, but the US too still
has single service and single branch “dinosaurs.” Some species that are not yet extinct
should be.
Don’t Fight Enemy on Its Own Terms
As has been touched upon earlier, all of the previous problems in asymmetric warfare are
compounded by strategic and tactical failures that engage an asymmetric enemy on its
own terms. This is often necessary in counterinsurgency warfare and stability operations,
but the IDF voluntarily chose a strategy of fighting the Hezbollah in its strongest forward
positions in close urban warfare where the IDF’s advantages in weapons and technology
were least effective. It also fought where it could not inhibit Hezbollah dispersal,
infiltration, and resupply by fighting in depth, and could not bypass and envelop
Hezbollah positions from the rear. It also gave the Hezbollah ample strategic and tactical
warning when it finally did decide to move north.
The Hezbollah probably is better trained and more ready than most guerrilla forces,
which may say a great deal about the quality of Iranian training and doctrine in this area.
The IDF, however, fought in ways that substantially increased its effectiveness. It also,
ironically, fought in ways that almost certainly increased total IDF and Israeli casualties.
In seeking to avoid becoming bogged down in Lebanon, it fought a long battle of attrition
with minimal maneuver.
Readiness and Preparation
The readiness of the IDF for the land battle was much more uncertain than many
observers anticipated. In some ways, this should be expected. No amount of training or
discipline can substitute for combat experience, and the IDF had only dealt with a poorly
armed and disorganized Palestinian resistance since 1982.
There may well, however, be a lesson in the fact that the IDF did not really prepare its
active land forces for the specific fighting they encountered in attacking into Lebanon,
and found its reserves needed at least a week of maneuver training to get ready for the
eventual thrust towards the Litani. The failure to plan for alternatives to the initial
reliance on air power seems to have extended to delays in proper preparation. More
seriously, Israel watched the Hezbollah build-up on its northern border for six years, and
its overall quality of readiness, training, and preparation for a possible war seems to have
been dictated by the fact that it did not want to fight another land war in Lebanon, rather
than the fact it might well have to fight such a war.
Military forces must prepare for the wars they may have to fight, not for the wars they
want to fight. They must also prepare knowing that nothing about the history of warfare
indicates that peacetime planners can count on predicting when a war takes place or how
it will unfold.
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 24
Missile-Rocket-Cruise Missile Defense
Israel has so far only confronted a threat using unguided artillery rockets with
conventional warheads, plus a small UAV with GPS guidance, a range of 450 kilometers,
and a 30-40 kilogram payload. The impact of such attacks is more psychological than
But there are no guarantees for the future. Iran and Syria can both supply much longerrange and more precise guided missiles with larger payloads. Rockets can be equipped
with crude to sophisticated chemical, radiological, and biological warheads—having a
major political impact even if their military impact is limited. A variety of systems exist
which could easily be launched from commercial ships from outside the Israeli Navy’s
normal patrol zone or smuggled into range in pieces.
Unlike major long-range missile systems, many of the kinds of weapon the Hezbollah
used in Lebanon are not high apogee systems suited for anti-missile missiles. Many have
very low signatures and little preparation time. Hezbollah made excellent use of scoot
and shoot tactics, often using towns and buildings as cover. Its one UAV attack was more
token than serious, but it was a warning that low-signature short-range cruise missiles
with precision guidance could have a very different effect.
At a crude level, the obvious lesson is that the US and its allies not only need missile
defenses, but defenses against cruise missiles, UAVs, artillery rockets, and short-range,
low apogee-flight time ballistic missiles. In practice, however, such defenses may simply
be impractical or too expensive, and at best seem to be only a partial solution. This is a
key issue that needs close examination when new calls come for immediate ATBM
deployments or funding various laser and energy weapons. It is remarkably easy to make
such concepts work on paper and have them soak up large amounts of development
money with little or no practical outcome. Active missile defense is a costly and
uncertain option, not a new form of religion.
The reality is that the only effective defense may be a mixture of measures where direct
missile/rocket/cruise missile defenses are only part of the effort. Such a broader effort
would mean denying state and non-state threats the ability to stockpile such weapons
where possible, and develop clear deterrent offensive threats where the enemy is
deterrable or targetable. It would be to develop the kind of quick-reaction strike
capability that the IAF created after the first few days of war by refocusing its sensors
and deploying a 24/7 air strike capability to at least hit major-high signature launchers
immediately after they first launch. It is also clear that capability is immediately needed
to provide the best possible detection and characterization of even the most limited
CBRN warhead, and identify exactly what systems have been used in attacks.
There is nothing wrong with creating active missile defenses, provided they can be made
cost-effective. This war, however, is another warning that they will never by themselves
be an effective method of defense against the full spectrum of possible threats.
Active Anti-Armor
A number of Israelis are arguing that the war shows the need for much more advanced
approaches to defending armor like the ability to detect and intercept incoming anti-tank
weapons and automatic countermeasures and fire. This may well prove true, but like
rushing out to find active rocket and missile defenses, everything depends on real world
Cordesman: Preliminary Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War 8/17/06 Page 25
cost-effectiveness. Regardless of how serious the problem may be, it is never proof of the
need for an untested and uncosted solution.
1 See David A. Fulghum and Douglas Barrie, “The Iranian Connection,” Aviation Week and Space
Technology, August 14, 2006, p. 20.
The mix of such systems is unclear and Israeli officers did not identify type or provided somewhat
conflicting information. For the details of the Sagger, see For the Spigot, see For the Spandrel, see
For more details, see
7 For more details, see
9 For more details, see

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