Hezbollah armed strength

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Hezbollah has the armed strength of a medium sized army.[1] Hezbollah is the most powerful non-state actor in the world[2][3] and is stronger than the Lebanese Army.[4][5][6][7] The fighting strength of Hezbollah has increased substantially since 2006.[1][8][9] The group maintains "robust conventional and unconventional military capabilities."[10]

In 2016, Hezbollah had 45,000 fighters, with 21,000 of them in regular service.[1][11] They are financed by Iran and trained by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.[2] Hezbollah's military budget is around one billion dollars.[11][12]

Hezbollah has limited amounts of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, as well thousands of anti-tank missiles, which they are skilled at using.[13] The group does not have any aircraft, tanks, or armored vehicles in Lebanon, instead relying upon technicals.[1][14][15] However, Hezbollah has armor in neighboring Syria, including T-55 and T-72 tanks.[16][17][18] The group has built a large number of weapons caches, tunnels, and bunkers.[19]

Hezbollah's military strength is based on the quantity and quality of the rockets they possess,[20] which they use against their primary antagonist, Israel. Estimates of Hezbollah's total missile count range from 120,000 to 150,000,[11][21][22] which is more than most countries.[23][24]

Hezbollah's tactical strengths are cover and concealment, direct fire, and preparation of fighting positions, while their weaknesses include maneuver warfare, indirect fire, and small arms marksmanship.[25] The group's strategy against Israel uses missiles and rockets as offensive weaponry combined with infantry and light anti-armor units to defend their firing positions in southern Lebanon.[25] Though Hezbollah squads are comparable to Israeli squads,[20][19] Hezbollah as a whole is "quantitatively and qualitatively" weaker than the Israel Defense Forces.[19]

Sources generally agree that Hezbollah's strength in conventional warfare is comparable or better than state militaries in the Arab world.[25][26] A 2009 review concluded that Hezbollah was "a well-trained, well-armed, highly motivated, and highly evolved war-fighting machine" and "the only Arab or Muslim entity to successfully face the Israelis in combat".[25]

Training[edit]

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and particularly the Quds Force, provide Hezbollah's training. The IRGC is reported to run training camps in Lebanon, with more advanced training taking place in Iran.[27] Hezbollah also runs a number of its own training camps. Fighters are reported to be well-trained in pre-sighting mortars, indirect fire,[25] and using ATGMs, particularly AT-3 Saggers.[28]

Sources describe Hezbollah in peacetime as "careful, patient, [and] attuned to gathering intelligence" who do staff work and long-term planning.[29]

Hezbollah has in turn trained Shia militias in Iraq during and after the American occupation and has reportedly trained Houthis, Syrians, and Iraqis in Lebanon and elsewhere.[30]

Supply[edit]

Iran provides the majority of Hezbollah's funding and weapons. Syria supplies some advanced weaponry, such as Scud missiles and MILAN anti-tank missiles, and permits Iran to use Damascus as a waypoint to supply the group.[31] Syria's support increased after the 2006 Lebanon War,[32] and Iran's support increased more[33].

All or almost of Iran's military aid to Hezbollah passes through Syria,[34] and if Syria were not cooperative Hezbollah's ability to acquire weaponry would decline dramatically.[27] "Rockets, small arms, money, and ammunition", comprising almost all of Hezbollah's materiel, all transit through Syria.[35]

Military[edit]

Hezbollah is stronger than the Lebanese Armed Forces due to Hezbollah's better discipline,[27] better experience,[36] and better weaponry,[37][38] which give Hezbollah better military and combat capacity than the LAF.[27] Hezbollah is also less hobbled by mistrust and political conflicts than the LAF.[39]

Infantry[edit]

Hezbollah's guerrilla forces were reckoned in 2006 "to be amongst the most dedicated, motivated and highly trained" in the world.[2] Voice of America reports that "Hezbollah fighters have been schooled from a young age to submit to strict military discipline and are nurtured in a culture of martyrdom, believing that God sanctions their struggles", adding that, "their military and ideological training is rigorous."[40] Hezbollah forces in 2006 were "well trained, well led and suitably equipped" and were able to conduct defense in depth.[25]

In 2006, Hezbollah fighters "often participated in extended direct firefights with the IDF."[25] Fighters are known to wear Hezbollah uniforms, civilian clothes, and even IDF uniforms in battle, which allows them to effectively blend in to the civilian population.[25] Hezbollah fighters were able to conduct close-range, direct firefights with the IDF, and were able to launch counterattacks with up to a platoon of men.[25] Brigadier General Gal Hirsch described house-to-house fighting with Hezbollah as “a full-contact operation. I mean direct fighting between our soldiers face to face.”[27]

Light anti-armor[edit]

Hezbollah's anti-armor capabilities consist of ATGM teams with 5 or 6 fighters.[13] They typically wait under cover for an Israeli vehicle to pass by, then attack from the rear, where the armor is weakest.[25] ATGM teams also target individual soldiers and occupied buildings with missiles.[41]

In 2006, Hezbollah was able to successfully integrate ATGM teams with indirect fire, which gave the group the ability to reposition their forces and conduct more efficient ambushes.[25] 20% of ATGM attacks on tanks caused casualties or penetrated armor.[42] Hezbollah was able to conduct ambushes that separated Israeli infantry from armor units and inflicted more casualties per Arab fighter than any of Israel's previous opponents. Hezbollah fought battles of maneuver and attacked fortified Israeli positions.[25]

Mechanized infantry[edit]

In 2015 or 2016, Hezbollah was given 75 T-55 and T-72 tanks by Syria to use in the country, as well as other armored vehicles.[16][17][18] Hezbollah has also operated T-54 and T-55 tanks on behalf of the SAA.[12] Hezbollah does not deploy armored vehicles in Lebanon against Israel, because the group cannot counter Israel's absolute air superiority in the region.[27]

Special operations forces[edit]

Hezbollah's special operations forces are secretive but regarded as "surprisingly professional and able".[27] According to Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Roni Amir, "when an Israeli SOF team encountered [Hezbollah SOF] on one occasion during a firefight, the Israeli team members thought at first that they had somehow become commingled with a separate detachment of Israeli SEALs."[27] Hezbollah's SOF include Unit 1800, which provides training to insurgents in the Palestinian territories, and Unit 3800, which supports Iraqi Shiite militant groups, particularly in constructing IEDs.[43]

Command structure[edit]

Hezbollah is "structured along classic military lines."[27] The group operates with centralized planning and decentralized execution.[25] Hezbollah's tactics are flexible and they do not have a large hierarchical command strucutre.[44] The group is composed of autonomous infantry cells with "considerable independence", including choosing when to attack.[25] At the same time, Hezbollah asserts "firm operational control" over its missile force.[25] The Hezbollah high command maintains direct control over long range missiles, with control of short and medium range missiles mostly devolved to regional commanders.[27] A 2009 review described Hezbollah in summary as "capable of tactical actions that are much more complex than a typical non-state belligerent. They show sophistication and the clear ability to conduct major combat operations."[25]

Infrastructure[edit]

Hezbollah cannot challenge Israeli air superiority over Lebanon.[45] To counter this, the group is highly decentralized, with no critical infrastructure or centers of gravity.[25] Hezbollah tries to reduce its weapon signatures and to build hardened defensive positions to resist Israeli airstrikes.[25]

Hezbollah is reported to have a central command center located under the Iranian embassy in Beirut.[25][46][27]

Launch sites[edit]

Hezbollah has hundreds of launch sites for its rockets throughout southern Lebanon.[25] Spare rockets and equipment are stored in civilian houses and bunkers.[47] Some rockets are hidden underground with pneumatic lifts to raise and fire them or launched from trucks.[25]

Nature reserves[edit]

"Nature reserves" are the name Israel gave to Hezbollah's network of underground bunkers, caches and firing positions. Hezbollah combat engineers built defensive firing positions and well-hidden strongpoints throughout southern Lebanon. The group had at least 500 weapons caches in 2006.[25] Hezbollah bunkers are well-defended, with concrete reinforcement and security cameras, and are deeply buried to stymie Israeli airstrikes.[25]

Israeli sources say that North Korean instructors traveled to Lebanon in 2004 and oversaw construction of Hezbollah's underground infrastructure.[25]

Communications[edit]

Hezbollah runs an "excellent, diverse, and hard-to-target"[25] military communications network, which Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called "the group's most important weapon" in 2008.[48] Government attempts to shut down this network were the cause of the 2008 Lebanon conflict.

Hezbollah's wired communications network originally spanned from Beirut through the Beqaa Valley to the Israel-Lebanon border, but now encompasses most of the country, except for some parts in north Lebanon. The network is composed mostly of fibre-optic cables run alongside existing civilian Lebanese telecommunications infrastructure, with some copper wires and standalone lines. "Almost every facility and building" owned by Hezbollah is connected to this network.[49]

Hezbollah also relies heavily on cell phones to conduct its operations, using both existing Lebanese carriers and operating its own cellular networks. Limited numbers of high-ranking or critical personnel are equipped with satellite phones as a redundant measure.[50]

In the 2006 war with Israel, the network was resistant to Israeli attempts to jam it,[51] and Hezbollah maintained communications throughout the conflict.[25]

Landmines[edit]

Hezbollah has a number of minefields, which are sometimes systemically integrated with firing positions to create ambushes and sometimes used as an area-denial weapon.[25] Hezbollah also uses mines heavily to protect strongpoints from Israeli raids.[52]

Airfields[edit]

The group operates a 2200-foot unpaved runway in the northern Bekaa Valley. The airstrip is too short and mountainous to use for airplanes, so it is likely used for drones.[53][54][55]

Weapons[edit]

Small arms[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
Browning Hi-Power Semi-automatic handgun Belgium
AKM Assault rifle USSR
Type 56 Assault rifle China Chinese AKM clone
M16 Assault rifle United States Used by Hezbollah's elite units
M4 Assault rifle United States Used by Hezbollah's elite units
AKS-74U Carbine assault rifle USSR
Škorpion vz. 61 Submachine gun Czechoslovakia
PK machine gun Machine gun USSR
Dragunov Sniper rifle USSR
Steyr SSG 69 Sniper rifle Austria
Steyr HS .50 Anti-material rifle Austria Iranian clone

Anti-tank[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
RPG-7 RPG various USSR includes Iranian clones[56]
RPG-29 RPG Syria USSR
9M14 Malyutka ATGM 500 Iran USSR
RAAD ATGM Iran USSR Iranian Malyutka clone
9K111 Fagot ATGM 50 Syria USSR delivered 1998, probably second-hand
9M113 Konkurs ATGM 50 Iran and Syria USSR delivered 2006
9K115-2 Metis-M ATGM 50 Syria USSR delivered 2006
9M133 Kornet ATGM 50 Syria Russia
BGM-71 TOW ATGM 10 unknown United States built in 1970s, "unstable", delivered 1999 by Iran
Toophan ATGM Iran Iran Iranian TOW clone
MILAN ATGM Syria France
M40 Recoilless rifle United States 30,000 rounds of ammunition in 2008
Saegre 2 ATGM Iran Iran Iranian M47 Dragon clone[57]
Towsan-1 ATGM Iran Iran Iranian AT-5A clone

[13][58][59][60][61][62][63][64]

Hezbollah has "thousands" of ATGMs in total. The group has also received many unreported weapons shipments from Iran and Syria.[60]

Air defense[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
SA-7 MANPADS 100 Iran USSR second-hand
SA-14 MANPADS dozens Iran USSR
SA-16 MANPADS Iran USSR
SA-18 MANPADS USSR [27]
FIM-92 Stinger MANPADS Iran United States from Afghanistan
QW-1 Vanguard MANPADS dozens Syria China
Misagh-1 MANPADS Iran Iran Iranian QW-1 clone[25]
SA-8 Surface-to-air missile system Syria USSR [65]
SA-17 Surface-to-air missile system Syria USSR
SA-22 Surface-to-air missile system Iran Russia possession disputed[66]
ZSU-23-4 Self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon 3+ Syria USSR

[60][67][68][69][70][71]

In 1994, Iran's IRGC purchased Stinger missiles from the Afghan mujahideen. These were transferred to a Hezbollah subsidiary in Lebanon, but they were defective, so they were likely returned to seller. Iran attempted to purchase 6-10 more Stingers from other Afghani outfits, including the Northern Alliance, but it is unknown whether they were successful.[72]

Rockets and missiles[edit]

Model Diameter (mm) Quantity Range (km) Warhead (kg) Notes
BM-21 Grad 122 40 21
BM-27 Uragan 220 40 100 supplied by Syria[25]
Fajr-3
Fajr-5 333 75 90
Zelzal-2 610 200 600
Fateh-110 250
Scud-D 880 10 700 985 supplied by Syria[60]
Khaibar-1 302 100 supplied by Syria[25]

[73][74][75]

The majority of Hezbollah's rockets are short range Katyusha rockets, but thousands are medium-range and hundreds are long-range.[1]

Hezbollah possesses the Zelzal-2 which has a range of 100 km.[76] The Iranian-manufactured missile could reach Tel Aviv from Lebanon. The missile can be fitted with a 600 kg high-explosive warhead and has a solid fuel system that allows it to be easily transported and prepared for firing. Although these are unguided missiles, they could cause serious damages if launched towards urban areas.

Vehicles[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
T-55 Main battle tank dozens Syria and South Lebanon Army USSR
T-62 Main battle tank Syria USSR operated in Syria
T-72 Main battle tank Syria USSR operated in Syria, 1 or more T72-AV variant
BMP-1 Infantry fighting vehicle Syria USSR operated in Syria
M113 Armored personnel carrier 3 or more disputed United States
BTR-152 Armored personnel carrier South Lebanon Army USSR captured
BTR-50 Armored personnel carrier South Lebanon Army USSR captured
BRDM-2 Armoured personnel carrier South Lebanon Army USSR captured
2S1 Gvozdika Self-propelled howitzer 3 or more Syria USSR operated in Syria
Safir Jeep dozens Iran Iran operated in Syria

Hezbollah captured unspecified armored vehicles from Israel following Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000,[77] and also captured additional materiel from the South Lebanon Army.

The origin of Hezbollah's M113 armored personnel carriers is disputed. Israel says they definitively came from the Lebanese Armed Forces, while the United States and Lebanon say they definitively did not. Most sources say they were captured from the South Lebanon Army in 2000. The M113s could also have been captured from the IDF, acquired from a number of defunct Lebanese militias, captured from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, donated from Iran, or acquired from private stocks. M113 armored personnel carriers are common in the region.[78]

Anti-ship[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
C-701 Anti-ship missile China
C-802 Anti-ship missile 5 Iran China Iranian clone, probably operated by Iranian forces[79]
Yakhont Anti-ship missile up to 12 Syria Russia delivered post-2006[1][80]

On 14 July 2006, Hezbollah forces fired a C-802 anti-ship missile at the Israeli corvette INS Hanit, killing four sailors and inflicting substantial damage. A second missile sunk a Cambodian vessel crewed by Egyptian sailors, although no deaths were reported.[81] Israel believes that Iranian advisers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were present at the launch during the attack.[82] Iran denied involvement in the incident.[83]

In 2006, Israel destroyed ten Lebanese Armed Forces radar stations along the coast, which may suggest that Hezbollah had managed to gain access to them to launch anti-ship missiles.[27]

Unmanned aerial vehicles[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
Mohajer-4 Unmanned aerial vehicle Iran Iran
Ababil-2 UAV more than 12 Iran Iran two or three shot down by Israel in 2006.[27]
Ababil-3 UAV Iran Iran [84]
Mirsad-1 UAV 30 Iran Iran [25]
Yasir UAV Iran Iran Iranian ScanEagle clone, possession unconfirmed[85]

Hezbollah has dozens of drones in total.[86] Hezbollah drones of disputed model flew into Israeli airspace in November 2004 and April 2005. The group also claims to have built their own UAVs, which is disputed. In any case, the designs are copies of Iranian models.[87]

Electronic warfare[edit]

Hezbollah has demonstrated a limited ability tap fibre optic cables, intercept data and hijack Internet and communication connections. In 2006, the group "reportedly had the assets in place to jam parts of Israel's radar and communications systems."[88]

Hezbollah's communication network continued to function even in the most battered strongholds in southern Lebanon in 2006. After four weeks of war, the network was still operating just 500 meters from the Israeli border.[89] The network was developed with the assistance of Iranian electronic warfare specialists, who supplied advanced Iranian equipment.[90] This included "eavesdropping devices, [and] computers and modern communications equipment".[91] Hezbollah has a department devoted to countering Israeli electronic warfare, particularly by discouraging use of non-secure equipment.[92]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

Hezbollah has been involved in Syria covertly since 2012 and openly since 2013. Up to 8,000 Hezbollah soldiers have been deployed to Syria,[93] which weakens Hezbollah somewhat in the short term, but may strengthen the group in the long term.[20] Hezbollah relies on Assad for weaponry and as a conduit for arms.

Although the group has suffered heavily from the war, with over a thousand deaths,[94] it has also served as a powerful recruiting drive among Shia youth and resulted in the preservation to date of the Assad government.[95] According to former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, Hezbollah’s combat experience in Syria “has made [them] a better fighting force and more adept in conventional military warfare.”[96] However, Hezbollah's intervention in Syria has also redirected resources away from Israel and reduced the group's standing among Lebanese Sunnis.[97] Sources note that Hezbollah fighters are substantially better than soldiers from the Syrian Arab Army,[98][99] with some saying that Hezbollah as a whole is stronger than the Syrian government.[100]

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  93. ^ http://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-foreign-legion-leads-battle-in-syrias-north-1455672481
  94. ^ http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2016/06/hezbollah-syria-gains-losses-160601093443171.html
  95. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/world/middleeast/syrian-fighting-gives-hezbollah-new-but-diffuse-purpose.html
  96. ^ http://www.thetower.org/4284-iranian-television-calls-hezbollah-instrumental-in-protecting-assad/
  97. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/world/middleeast/syrian-fighting-gives-hezbollah-new-but-diffuse-purpose.html
  98. ^ http://theweek.com/articles/601435/russia-teaching-hezbollah-some-terrifying-new-tricks
  99. ^ http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/01/11/russia-is-arming-hezbollah-say-two-of-the-group-s-field-commanders.html
  100. ^ http://www.newsweek.com/hezbollah-real-winner-battle-aleppo-539558