Hezbollah armed strength

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Hezbollah has the armed strength of a medium-sized army.[1] The most powerful non-state actor in the world,[2][3] Hezbollah is also stronger than the Lebanese Army.[4][5] A hybrid force, the group maintains "robust conventional and unconventional military capabilities."[6] Hezbollah's fighting strength has grown substantially since the 2006 Lebanon War.[6][7]

In 2016, Hezbollah had about 20,000 active duty troops and 25,000 reservists.[1] They are financed by Iran and trained by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Hezbollah's military budget runs about one billion dollars per year.[8]

Hezbollah's military strength is based on the quantity and quality of the rockets they possess,[9] which they use against their primary enemy, Israel. The group's strategy against Israel uses missiles and rockets as offensive weaponry combined with light infantry and anti-armor units to defend their firing positions in southern Lebanon.[10] Estimates of Hezbollah's total missile count range from 120,000 to 150,000,[11][12] considerably more than most countries.[13]

Hezbollah possesses limited amounts of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, as well thousands of anti-tank missiles, which they are skilled at using.[14] The group does not have any aircraft, tanks, or armored vehicles in Lebanon, as they cannot counter Israeli air supremacy.[1][15] However, Hezbollah maintains armor in neighboring Syria, including T-55 and T-72 tanks.[16] The group has built a large number of weapons caches, tunnels, and bunkers in southern Lebanon.

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.[10] Though Hezbollah squads compare with Israeli squads,[9][17] Hezbollah as a whole remains "quantitatively and qualitatively" weaker than the Israel Defense Forces.[17]

Sources generally agree that Hezbollah's strength in conventional warfare compares favorably to state militaries in the Arab world.[18] 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."[10]

Training[edit]

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, particularly the Quds Force, provides most of Hezbollah's training. The IRGC runs training camps in Lebanon with more advanced training in Iran.[19][20] Hezbollah also running many of its own camps, particularly for introductory training.[21] Since 2006, the group has had training camps in Lebanon focusing on urban warfare.[22] Experienced fighters rotate from the front lines to instructor roles in training camps.[21] Agents from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and the Syrian Arab Army train Hezbollah as well, with North Korean instructors possibly assisting in the 1980s and 1990s.[23] Top leaders, including Hassan Nasrallah, reportedly trained for several months in North Korea in the late 1980s.[24]

The group improved rapidly in the early 1990s, progressing from losing five fighters for every Israeli soldier killed in 1990 to 1.5 in 1993.[25] From 1994 to about 2006, Hezbollah trained covertly with tents and foxholes, but since 2008 the group has trained openly.[26] Training camps are located in remote parts of Lebanon under Hezbollah control and are protected by checkpoints staffed with uniformed guards.[26] Facilities generally include firing ranges, assault courses and urban warfare sites, and also sometimes driving tracks and IED ranges. The largest camp, located in the west Beqaa Valley, contains a mock-up Lebanese village and main street.[26] All members, including administrative clerics, have to graduate from a 45 day paramilitary course.[21]

Recruitment is a slow process taking two years, with recruiters looking for pious, conservative, and disciplined individuals.[27] Hezbollah's "internal security wing" cooperates with Iran's intelligence services to vet select recruits for more advanced training, with rigorous family background inspection.[21] Promotion within the ranks comes from patient talent spotting of trusted and gifted individuals.[21]

Fighters are reportedly well-trained in pre-sighting mortars, indirect fire,[10] and using ATGMs, particularly AT-3 Saggers.[28] In the 1990s, the IRGC trained Hezbollah in infiltration techniques, explosives, and intelligence operations to promote advanced guerrilla warfare.[21] Hezbollah's capabilities for sniping and light infantry are well-regarded,[22] with members "highly skilled at reconnaissance and intelligence gathering in the field."[21] Hezbollah trains with American and Israeli military manuals that emphasize tactics of attrition, mobility, intelligence gathering and night-time maneuvering.[29]

Sources describe Hezbollah in peacetime as "careful, patient, [and] attuned to gathering intelligence" who perform staff work and long-term planning.[30] In contrast to Hezbollah's active duty soldiers, who analysts frequently described as well-trained and disciplined,[19][31][32] the group's reservists are "relatively unskilled."[31] Hezbollah has trained Shia militias in Iraq during and after the American occupation and has reportedly trained Houthis, Syrians, and Iraqis in Lebanon and elsewhere.[33]

Supply[edit]

A Hezbollah RPG-7 made in Iran.

Iran provides the majority of Hezbollah's funding and weapons, flying them through Iraqi airspace to Syria.[34] Syria supplies some advanced weaponry and permits Iran to use Damascus as a waypoint to supply the group. [35] Iran flies most materiel into Damascus area airports and has it trucked overland to Hezbollah, with some material flown directly to Lebanese airports.[36] Both Iran and Syria's support increased after the 2006 Lebanon War,[6] with Iran's support increasing more.[37]

During his presidency, Hafez al-Assad allowed limited smuggling of small arms and anti-tank missiles to Hezbollah, with Bashar al-Assad gradually increasing the amount of weaponry after he took office in 2000.[34] Arms increased substantially after the 2006 war, with Syria viewing the conflict as a victory, seeing Hezbollah as withstanding Israeli forces and inflicting significant casualties.[38] Armaments increased again after Israel bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, with Assad transferring M-600 missiles to Hezbollah in response.[34] Finally, Syrian supply of Hezbollah increased again in response to the Syrian Civil War, with Syria transferring entire warehouses of weaponry to Lebanon to keep them out of rebel hands.[34]

All or almost of Iran's military aid to Hezbollah passes through Syria,[37] and if Syria did not cooperate Hezbollah's ability to acquire weaponry would decline dramatically.[19] As Iran and Syria are Hezbollah's main patrons, most of Hezbollah's rockets, small arms, money, and ammunition transit through Syria.[39] The only other efficient route for Iran to supply Hezbollah goes through Turkey, but Turkey is not aligned with Tehran and currently blocks Iranian trucks and planes from passing through its territory.[38][22] Sending supplies by sea from Bandar Abbas to Latakia has been used in the past,[34][22] but takes much longer and risks interdiction.[38]

Hezbollah obtains some weaponry from black markets and possibly from the Lebanese military.[31] Dual-use technology, including night vision goggles, laser rangefinders, GPS receivers, advanced aircraft-analysis and design software, stun guns, nitrogen laser cutters, naval equipment, and ultrasonic dog deterrents were purchased from private vendors in the United States and Canada in the early 2000s.[21]

Military[edit]

Hezbollah is stronger than the Lebanese Armed Forces due to Hezbollah's better discipline,[19] better experience,[40] and better weaponry,[37][40] which give Hezbollah "clearly"[41] better military and combat capacity than the LAF.[19] Additionally, the LAF suffers from mistrust and sectarian conflict, while Hezbollah does not.[37] The organization reportedly has access to the LAF's military intelligence in addition to their own.[41] In addition, the group remains more capable and dangerous than any Sunni extremist groups in Lebanon.[42] Hezbollah has not deployed suicide bombers against a military target since 1994, but may have been prepared to do so during the 2006 Lebanon War.[31]

Light infantry[edit]

Hezbollah guerrillas in 1998.

In 2006, Jane's assessed Hezbollah's guerrilla forces "to be amongst the most dedicated, motivated and highly trained" in the world.[29] 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."[43] Hezbollah forces in 2006 were "well trained, well led and suitably equipped" and conducted defense in depth.[10] Reconnaissance work, planning, and intelligence gathering meticulously underpin Hezbollah's combat missions.[21]

In 2006, Hezbollah fighters "often participated in extended direct firefights with the IDF."[10] Hezbollah would generally wait for Israel to enter a village before beginning combat, rather than engage in open territory.[31] Fighters wore Hezbollah uniforms, civilian clothes, and IDF uniforms in combat.[10] Hezbollah fighters conducted close-range, direct firefights with the IDF, and launched counterattacks with up to a platoon of men.[10] Soldiers displayed tenacity and planned and executed complex ambushes.[20] Close familiarity with their area of operations, widespread civilian support, and strong communication networks bolstered the fighters.[31] Fighters rely on "superior mobility, fighting morale, and popular support" to counter Israel's technological advancement.[36] Israeli 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."[19]

Some Hezbollah units attempted to make incursions into Israel in 2006, but Israel repulsed all of the attacks.[31] Many commentators expect Hezbollah to make a substantive effort to capture Israeli territory in a future war.[44]

Anti-armor[edit]

A Hezbollah Toophan ATGM in 2006.

Hezbollah's anti-armor capabilities consist of ATGM teams with 5 or 6 fighters.[14] They typically wait under cover for an Israeli vehicle to pass by, then attack from the rear, where the armor is weakest.[10] Fighters swarm Israeli tanks with dozens of cheap ATGMs to strip off reactive armor and active protection systems, then use a powerful missile like a Kornet, Toophan or RPG-29 to destroy the tank.[45][14] ATGM teams also target individual soldiers and occupied buildings with missiles.[30] They operate alongside infantry as part of combined arms.[31] To avoid airstrikes and counter-fire, the teams rely heavily on mobility.[31]

In 2006, about 12–15% of Hezbollah's forces were part of ATGM teams.[14] They successfully integrated ATGM teams with indirect fire, which gave the group the ability to reposition their forces and conduct more efficient ambushes.[10] ATGM teams could engage Israel at a range of several kilometers, giving Hezbollah standoff capability.[46] The New York Times reports that 20% of ATGM attacks on tanks caused casualties or penetrated armor,[30] but Israeli military reports suggest this number was higher, at 45%.[36] Hezbollah fought battles of maneuver and attacked fortified Israeli positions.[10] Hezbollah conducted ambushes that separated Israeli infantry from armor units and inflicted more casualties per Arab fighter than any of Israel's previous opponents.[10] However, ATGM teams had poor night-fighting capacity and were slow to regroup when retreating.[14]

Mechanized infantry[edit]

In 2015 or 2016, Syria gave Hezbollah 75 T-55 and T-72 tanks to use in the country, as well as other armored vehicles.[16][47][48] Hezbollah also operates T-55 tanks and artillery on behalf of the SAA.[8] Hezbollah does not deploy armored vehicles in Lebanon against Israel, because the group cannot counter Israel's absolute air superiority in the region.[19]

Special operations forces[edit]

Hezbollah's special operations forces are secretive but regarded as "surprisingly professional and able."[19] 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."[19] Hezbollah's SOF include Unit 1800, which provides training to insurgents in the Palestinian territories, Unit 910, which carries out foreign operations in Israel and abroad, and Unit 3800, which supports Iraqi Shiite militant groups, particularly in constructing IEDs.[49][22] Hezbollah SOF participated in the Battle of Bint Jbeil.[50]

Command structure[edit]

An aerial snapshot of northern Israel used in a Hezbollah command center to monitor IDF troop movement.

"Structured along classic military lines,"[19] Hezbollah has centralized planning and decentralized execution.[10] Hezbollah has flexible tactics and they do not have a large hierarchical command structure.[30] Autonomous infantry cells with "considerable independence," including choosing when to attack, comprise the organization.[10] At the same time, Hezbollah asserts "firm operational control" over its missile force.[10] The Hezbollah high command in Beirut maintains direct control over long range missiles, with control of short and medium range missiles mostly devolved to regional commanders.[19] In the Lebanon war, the Hezbollah high command had enough top down control to completely stop or start rocket attacks.[31] Their concept of operations centered around continued short-range rocket attacks against Israel.[31]

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."[10] Analysts widely consider the group an "exceptionally capable organization" and one of the world’s most innovative armed non-state actors.[25]

Infrastructure[edit]

Hezbollah has built "broad, advanced, [and] comprehensive military infrastructure within densely populated areas of Lebanon."[31] Because Hezbollah cannot challenge Israeli air superiority over Lebanon,[51] the group is highly decentralized, with no critical infrastructure or centers of gravity.[10] Hezbollah tries to reduce its weapon signatures and to build hardened defensive positions to resist Israeli airstrikes.[10]

An underground Hezbollah war room, now part of a museum.

Most of the group's training camps,[52] along with a logistics center, are located near the town of Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley.[31] North of the Litani River, the Nabatieh Heights store the group's long-range rockets and provide defensive depth. Finally, the group's operational core is located south of the Litani near the Israeli border, with large amounts of short range rockets, fighters, and fortifications.[31] This group, known as the Nasr unit, conducts most of its fighting from villages, with fighting also occurring in the mountainous countryside.[31] Israeli claims, which could not be independently verified, were that a village of 4,000 people contained about 400 Hezbollah sites and facilities.[53] Israel also says that in Shiite towns about one-third of houses contain Hezbollah military assets.[54] Hezbollah is strongest when defending its home territory of southern Lebanon.[31]

A Hezbollah border outpost in 2006. The group no longer maintains border outposts as they are too vulnerable to airstrikes.

In 2006, The IAF quickly destroyed all 17 of the group's border observation posts on the Blue Line.[19] Likewise, Israel demolished the group's well-guarded headquarters complex in southern Beirut, which included fifteen-story buildings, with airstrikes.[19] This complex oversaw administration, logistics, manpower, and intelligence work.[31] Consequently, Hezbollah has since grown more decentralized and moved more infrastructure underground.[19] The organization may have a central command center underneath the Iranian embassy in Beirut.[10][19][55]

A destroyed bunker near a UN outpost.

While Shiite villages in southern Lebanon are uniformly fortified with headquarters and bunkers, Hezbollah tends to operate on the outskirts of Christian and Druze villages due to lower civilian support.[31] Hezbollah owns large amounts of real estate in southern Lebanon and offers discounted rent in return for civilians storing weaponry in their homes.[56] They extensively use civilian homes and buildings as fighting locations, with the reasoning that "a house can be destroyed, the village can be destroyed, but not the homeland."[31] The group stores weapons in mosques, schools, hospitals, and other protected locations.[31] Hezbollah possesses the weaponry "of modern high-intensity warfare."[31]

The group operates a 2200-foot unpaved runway in the northern Bekaa Valley. Too short and mountainous to use for airplanes, the runway likely supports drones.[57]

Nature reserves[edit]

A Hezbollah bunker in southern Lebanon with a concrete block protecting the door.

Israel gave the name "nature reserves" to Hezbollah's vast network of underground bunkers, barracks, caches and firing positions. Hezbollah combat engineers have built defensive firing positions and well-hidden strongpoints throughout southern Lebanon since 2000. Hezbollah bunkers are well-defended, with blast doors and security cameras, and are deeply buried to stymie Israeli airstrikes.[10] These fortifications are also well camouflaged, with launch sites particularly challenging to locate.[19][31]

In exceptional cases, bunkers have been found buried hundreds of feet underground, with several feet of concrete protection and enough food and living space to last for weeks without resupply.[31] Some of Hezbollah's tunnels have been thousands of meters long. Israeli sources say that North Korean instructors traveled to Lebanon in 2004 and oversaw construction of Hezbollah's underground infrastructure.[10] In 2013, a United States federal court found that North Korea gave Hezbollah "advanced weapons, expert advice and construction assistance" in building "a massive network of underground military installations, tunnels, bunkers, depots and storage facilities in southern Lebanon."[58]

Because Hezbollah's fortified sites and underground facilities are resistant to airstrikes, they cannot be neutralized without a ground response.[31] In turn, Hezbollah can use its weapons caches and strongpoints to challenge Israeli ground forces. In 2006, distributed stockpiles of necessities gave fighters sufficient provisions to fight despite IAF interdiction of resupplies.[31][59] The group had about 500–600 weapons caches in 2006.[10][31]

Launch sites[edit]

An underground Katyusha rocket launcher in southern Lebanon, camouflaged by dense brush.

Hezbollah has hundreds of launch sites for its rockets throughout southern Lebanon,[10] an increase from 200 to 300 launch sites in 2006.[19] Spare rockets and equipment are stored in civilian houses and bunkers.[30] Most rockets are moved from storage to firing position by one team, prepared for launch by another, and fired by a third.[19]

Sappers have built large numbers of presurveyed and prepared launching positions for rockets to use in wartime.[19] A skeleton crew quickly moves rockets into position and fires them singly or in bulk with minimal logistical support.[31] Some rockets are hidden underground with pneumatic lifts to raise and fire them or launched from trucks.[10] Although Israel can target the launch sites within minutes of a launch, the IDF in 2006 could generally not destroy launch sites before use and therefore could not stop the rain of rocket attacks.[19][31][59]

Communications[edit]

Hezbollah runs an "excellent, diverse, and hard-to-target"[10] military communications network, which Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called "the group's most important weapon" in 2008.[60] Government attempts to shut down this network caused 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.[60] Composed mostly of fibre-optic cables run alongside existing civilian Lebanese telecommunications infrastructure, the network also contains some copper wires and standalone lines.[60] "Almost every facility and building" owned by Hezbollah connects to this network.[60] In the 2006 war with Israel, the network resisted to Israeli attempts to jam it,[60] and Hezbollah maintained communications throughout the conflict.[10]

Hezbollah relies heavily on cell phones to conduct its operations, both using existing Lebanese carriers and operating its own cellular networks. Limited numbers of high-ranking and critical personnel have with satellite phones as a redundant measure.[60]

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.[10] Hezbollah also uses mines heavily to protect strongpoints from Israeli raids.[61] Members apparently store spare mines in civilian homes and warehouses.[31] Hezbollah has mined most of the major roads in southern Lebanon in anticipation of an Israeli assault, while Israel tries to avoid these mines by taking backroads.[31] Sappers bury hundreds of kilos of explosives in large pits to take out Israeli tanks.[31]

Weapons[edit]

Small arms[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
AKM Assault rifle USSR
M16 Assault rifle United States [18]
M4 Assault rifle United States
AK-74 Carbine assault rifle USSR
PK machine gun General machine gun USSR

Anti-tank[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
RPG-7 RPG various USSR includes Iranian clones[62]
RPG-29 RPG Syria USSR [14][63]
RPG-30 RPG Syria Russia possession unconfirmed[64][65]
Saegre 2 ATGM Iran Iran Iranian M47 Dragon clone[62]
9M14 Malyutka ATGM 500+ Iran USSR [66][67][68][69]
RAAD ATGM Iran USSR Iranian Malyutka clone[67][69]
9K111 Fagot ATGM 50+ Syria USSR [66][67][68][69]
9M113 Konkurs ATGM 50+ Iran and Syria USSR [14][63][67][68][69]
Towsan-1 ATGM Iran Iran Iranian Konkurs clone[69]
9K115-2 Metis-M ATGM 50+ Syria USSR [14][63][67][68][69]
9M133 Kornet ATGM 50+ Syria Russia [14][63][67][68][69]
BGM-71 TOW ATGM 10+ unknown United States from Iran,[36] built in 1970s,[69] "unstable"[66][67]
Toophan ATGM Iran Iran Iranian TOW clone[67]
MILAN ATGM Syria France [66][67][69]
M40 Recoilless rifle United States 30,000 rounds of ammunition in 2008[70]

Hezbollah has thousands of ATGMs in total.[71] The group has received many unreported weapons shipments from Iran and Syria.[70]

Air defense[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
AZP S-60 Anti-aircraft gun 2 or more Lebanon USSR acquired 2002 or earlier[72]
ZSU-23-4 Self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon unclear USSR [73]
SA-7 MANPADS 100 Iran USSR [69][67][69][74][63][68]
SA-14 MANPADS dozens Iran USSR [67][69][74][63][68]
SA-16 MANPADS Iran USSR [67][74][63]
SA-18 MANPADS Syria USSR [19][67][74][68][70]
FIM-92 Stinger MANPADS Iran United States from Afghanistan[67][74]
QW-1 Vanguard MANPADS dozens Syria China [67][69][74][63][68]
Misagh-1 MANPADS Iran Iran Iranian QW-1 variant[10][67][63]
Misagh-2 MANPADS Iran Iran Improved Iranian QW-1 variant[52]
SA-8 Surface-to-air missile system Syria USSR [62][74]
SA-17 Surface-to-air missile system Syria USSR [74][70]
SA-22 Surface-to-air missile system Iran Russia possession disputed[75][70]
Sayyad-2 Surface-to-air missile system Iran Iran Iranian MIM-23 Hawk clone, disputed[52]

In 1994, Iran's IRGC purchased Stinger missiles from the Afghan mujahideen. Iran transferred these 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 Afghan outfits, including the Northern Alliance, but it is not known whether they were successful.[76]

Israel easily avoided Hezbollah's air defenses during the 2006 war. Drones and fighter-bombers flew at altitudes of 9,000 feet or above to keep out of range of Hezbollah's missiles, while rescue helicopters and close-air support avoided fire by flying nap-of-the-earth.[19] Hezbollah only shot down one CH-53 helicopter,[77] considered very light losses for the IDF.[19]

Rockets and missiles[edit]

Model Diameter (mm) Quantity Range (km) Warhead (kg) Notes
Type 63 107 dozens 8 includes Iranian Fadjr-1 clones[78][69]
BM-21 Grad 122 40 21 Katyushas from Iran, Russia and China[31][79]
BM-27 Uragan 220 40 100 supplied by Syria[10]
Fajr-3 240 hundreds 43 45 acquired from Iran pre-2006[80][79]
Falaq-1 240 9–10 50 from Iran[81][82]
Khaibar-1 302 unknown 100 175 possibly cluster munition, from Syria[10][83]
Falaq-2 303 11 120 from Iran[81][82]
Fajr-5 333 75 90 [79]
Naze'at 356 100–130 not used in 2006[81][31]
Zelzal-1 125–160 acquired 2003–2004, not used in 2006[81]
Zelzal-2 610 dozens-500 200–250 600 not used in 2006 due to airstrike damage[63][84][79]
Fateh-110 610 40-700 250 500–650 guided missile, from Syria[85][13]
Scud-D 880 10 700 500 North Korean Hwasong-7,[86] supplied by Syria in 2010,[70] delivery disputed[87][88]

Most of Hezbollah's rockets are short range Katyusha rockets,[89] but thousands are medium-range and hundreds are long-range.[1] The rocket force functions as a strategic deterrent to war – a weapon of last resort.[31] In 2009, Hezbollah could probably sustain heavy rocket fire onto Israel for at least two months.[90] Hezbollah's missile stock grew tenfold between 2006 and 2015.[53] In a future war with Israel, Israel expects Hezbollah to launch around 1,000 rockets per day, with a higher opening blow in the initial stages of the conflict.[91]

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 60 Syria USSR operated in Syria, 1 or more T72-AV variant[92]
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

The origin of Hezbollah's M113 armored personnel carriers is disputed. Israel claims they came from the Lebanese Armed Forces, while most sources say Hezbollah captured them from the South Lebanon Army in 2000. M113 armored personnel carriers are common in the region.[93] Hezbollah captured large amounts of material from the Southern Lebanon Army following Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and also captured unspecified armored vehicles from Israel as well.[94]

Hezbollah AT-3 Sagger missiles in a civilian car.

Hezbollah fighters and operatives use civilian vehicles systemically for day-to-day transport and combat.[31] Mercedes and Volvo non-commercial vehicles are preferred for people with Range Rover, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Toyota jeeps used for materiel. Hezbollah's logistics teams transport arms and ammunition in pickup trucks, while operatives extensively use dirt bikes for off-road travel.[31] Once arriving at a battlefield, Hezbollah fighters generally discard their vehicles and fight on foot.[31] Hezbollah relies heavily on civilian gas stations to refuel, vetting gas station owners and providing gas coupons to facilitate the process.[31] Similarly, the group relies on public roads and private companies for much of its logistics, like electricity, water, medicine, and food.[31] Israel has accused Hezbollah of using ambulances and Red Cross vehicles to move weaponry.[31]

Anti-ship[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
C-701 Anti-ship missile Iran China
C-802 Anti-ship missile 8+ Iran Iran Possibly Iranian Noor clone,[36] probably operated by Iranian forces[69]
Yakhont Anti-ship missile up to 12 Syria Russia delivered 2013[1][95][96]

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 merchant vessel crewed by Egyptian sailors.[97] Israel believes advisers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were present at the launch.[98] Iran denied involvement in the incident.[99] The same year, Israel destroyed ten Lebanese Armed Forces radar stations along the coast, possibly because Hezbollah gained access to them to launch anti-ship missiles.[19]

Unmanned aerial vehicles[edit]

Model Type Quantity Acquired Origin Notes
Mohajer-4 Unmanned aerial vehicle 8 Iran Iran [69]
Ababil-2 UAV more than 12 Iran Iran two or three shot down by Israel in 2006.[19]
Ababil-3 UAV Iran Iran [100]
Yasir UAV Iran Iran Iranian ScanEagle clone, possession unconfirmed[101]

Hezbollah has dozens of drones in total.[100] Hezbollah drones of disputed model, known as the Mirsad-1, flew into Israeli airspace in November 2004 and April 2005. The group claims to build their own UAVs, which is disputed, but in any case the designs are copies of Iranian models.[102]

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."[60]

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 still operated just 500 meters from the Israeli border.[55] Iranian electronic warfare specialists assisted in the development of the network and supplied advanced Iranian equipment.[55] This included "eavesdropping devices, computers and modern communications equipment."[55] Hezbollah has a department responsible for countering Israeli electronic warfare, particularly by discouraging the use of non-secure equipment.[55] An Israeli source says that in 2006, "Hezbollah's commanders were keenly mindful of Israeli SIGINT capabilities and were scrupulously careful to maintain their own high level of communications security and encryption," which significantly challenged IDF intelligence.[19] At the same time, Hezbollah "almost surely" did not tap into encrypted Israeli radio networks, as they claim.[19]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

Weeks after the first protests in early 2011, Hezbollah declared their support for Assad's government in Syria.[22] Hezbollah operatives were present in the country even before protests turned violent.[22] The group been involved in Syria covertly since 2012 and openly since 2013, largely but not entirely in an advisory capacity.[22] Around 8,000 Hezbollah soldiers have been deployed to Syria on short deployments,[103] which represents a meaningful component of Hezbollah's total manpower.[104] Although Hezbollah has deployed as line infantry on several occasions, most of their involvement is as front-line advisors providing specialized military assistance like communications support, sniper fire, and special forces.[22] Hezbollah's involvement in Syria may weaken the group somewhat in the short term, but strengthen the group in the long term.[9] Hezbollah relies on Assad for weaponry and as a conduit for arms, and would be threatened by the presence of radical Sunni militant groups on the Lebanese border.

In Syria, Hezbollah conducts offensive and counter-insurgency operations, and fights side-by-side with Russian soldiers,[105][40] including Spetsnaz.[106] Hezbollah has specifically improved in command and control, working with other military organizations, and fighting in dense urban environments.[107] The organization has improved its ability to operate with other Axis of Resistance forces and bettered its ability to conduct sustained operations outside of Lebanon in varied terrain.[22] Many sources note that the enemies Hezbollah faces in the war are very dissimilar to the IDF,[107] and that some of the equipment and knowledge Hezbollah gains may not be usable against Israel.[40]

Although Hezbollah performed well in planning and leading the battle of al-Qusayr,[22] the group took heavier than expected casualties in the Battle of Aleppo, and Iran largely replaced it with the Badr Organization.[108] Despite this, Hezbollah remains the most capable and trusted Iranian-aligned group in Syria, and generally maintains control of most Shiite militias in Syria and Afghan and Pakistani foreign fighters.[108] At the same time, some Hezbollah members see the war effort as mercenary work.[108]

Although the group has suffered heavily from the war, with over two thousand deaths,[109] it has also served as a powerful recruiting drive among Shia youth and resulted in the preservation to date of the Assad government.[110] 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."[111] Although Hezbollah's intervention in Syria has "strengthened and battle-hardened" the group,[45][103] it has also redirected resources away from Israel and reduced the group's standing among Lebanese Sunnis.[110]

Hezbollah fighters are substantially better than soldiers from the Syrian Arab Army,[28][33] with one rebel commander describing Hezbollah as "the number one [regime] fighters in Syria."[112] Newsweek writes that Hezbollah as a whole is stronger than the Syrian government.[18] A report from the Institute for the Study of War finds that Hezbollah soldiers are "often far better trained, disciplined, and experienced than their Syrian or Iraqi counterparts" and have substantially better morale.[22]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Hezbollah: Not a terror group but a midsized army". Haaretz. 
  2. ^ "Hezbollah: In Syria for the Long Haul". Middle East Institute. 
  3. ^ "Paintballing with Hezbollah - VICE". Vice Magazine. 
  4. ^ Barnard, Anne (May 20, 2013). "Hezbollah's Role in Syria War Shakes the Lebanese". New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Hezbollah Upsets The Balance in Lebanon". VOA. June 14, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c Congressional Research Service, Hezbollah: Background and Issues for Congress
  7. ^ "UN: Hezbollah has increased military strength since 2006 war". Haaretz. October 25, 2007. Retrieved September 5, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Special Report: Hezbollah gambles all in Syria". 26 September 2016 – via Reuters. 
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