Monday, December 28, 2015

Hiz'B'Allah's Russian Combat Class


For the first time in its history, Hiz'B'Allah is conducting offensive maneuver warfare as part of its operations in Syria. The Russian intervention is only enhancing that experience, likely giving these intolerant rocket rich rejectionists important lessons for future conflicts.

Hezbollah has long followed a strategy of defense and attrition in hostilities against its main enemy, Israel -- an approach that many high-ranking officers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) liked to call "not losing."

Hezbollah displayed this defensive mindset during the 2006 war when it hid rockets and fighters in elaborate networks of underground fortifications and areas of dense vegetation that Israeli officers dubbed "nature reserves." The group believed that as long as it did not crumble, it could claim that it survived a war with the mighty IDF, which according to its narrative was actually a win.
Now HbA is hooked up hip and haunch with Russia in Syria

In Syria, Hezbollah has had to shift its main objectives to taking over territory and maintaining control over it, all while fighting quasi-conventional forces that use guerrilla tactics.

For Hezbollah's commanders and fighters, such experience can change their views on the most effective way to win a battle, and Russia's involvement means that they are learning such lessons from one of the best militaries in the world.

On the macro level, Hezbollah will be exposed to Russian military thought, which entails sophisticated operational concepts and advanced military planning skills. The Russian military has ample experience in conducting different types of operations, including counterinsurgency and conventional campaigns. Consider this scenario: a Russian commander sits with Hezbollah, Iranian, and Syrian commanders and lays out the military strategy for the Syria campaign. He talks about the objectives, the timeframe to achieve these objectives, and the priorities in the fight. He then emphasizes which assets can be instrumental in battle, and perhaps offers important lessons from past operations such as the counterinsurgency campaign in Chechnya. For Hezbollah, this will be the first time it will be able to watch how a first-tier military plans a fighting campaign.

On the strategic level, the group no longer seems married to its "not losing" mindset, instead focusing on ways to achieve perceived victories early in a given conflict. In 2011, for example, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah mentioned that his forces plan to infiltrate Israel's northern border during the next war in order to conquer settlements in the Galilee, and he has repeated this sentiment since then. This is a major departure from the group's traditional defensive paradigm, and conversations with Russian commanders could cement that shift and help the group further develop its offensive strategies.

On the tactical level, Hezbollah now has a front-row seat to watch the variety of weapons systems and equipment the Russians are bringing to bear in Syria, some of which it has never seen before. Thus, the group can learn how to use its existing weapons (some of which are Russian made) more effectively and examine systems it might want to procure in the future.

Recent history has also shown that whatever Hezbollah learns, its partners in crime will soon follow suit. Numerous terrorist organizations have studied and implemented the group's military tactics -- in some cases, Hezbollah even sent trainers to help certain proxies upgrade their capabilities. For example, Hezbollah-trained Shiite militias demonstrated such tactics against American soldiers in Iraq prior to the U.S. withdrawal (see PolicyWatch 2277, "Hezbollah in Iraq: A Little Help Can Go a Long Way"). High-ranking Hezbollah veterans also reportedly trained Houthi forces in Yemen, who are now showing significant capabilities in their fight against the Arab coalition. And in Gaza, terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have long implemented Hezbollah strategies in the political and the military realms.

Important to note that while Hezbollah is gaining valuable experience in Syria, the enemies they face there are far weaker than the IDF. Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State, and various rebel factions all have their strengths, but they do not present the same challenges as a war against a well-trained military with a highly capable air force, navy, and army, all of whom know Hezbollah very well.

Hiz'B'Allah will learn important lessons, but implementing them will be very challenging, especially when the rival is the IDF.