Saturday, December 18, 2010

The war college the SAF will never get to attend

If only Hezbollah warfighters ran their own staff college, then the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would be able to study a new model of deterrence.

Reformed and rearmed, Hezbollah's Lebanese fighters have won grudging respect from Israeli defence planners, one of whom conceded this week that "Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah" (please see article below).

It is likely that Hezbollah's battle strategy is being closely scrutinised not just by Israeli defence planners, but by armed forces professionals who face an Israel Defense Force (IDF) type threat.

Regardless of one's political leanings, one should recognise that Hezbollah's ability to absorb an IDF assault and resist vigorously is noteworthy.

As has been widely reported by staff journals, Hezbollah engaged the IDF in the summer 2006 war with the IDF commanding air and naval supremacy, and an overwhelming advantage in armour and tube artillery. The IDF's order of battle occupies several pages in military balance tables while that of Hezbollah is but a paltry footnote.

All these counted for nought against Hezbollah.

Indeed, defence professionals from countries who have served with United Nations peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon are likely to have returned with firsthand lessons and impressions of the Hezbollah versus IDF battle.

The impact on conventional armed forces is not likely to be seen till several years downstream. This is because it will take time to revise doctrines and concept of operations that armed services are trained to adopt. It will also take time to change mindsets and overcome longstanding unit traditions and loyalties to craft a new paradigm that guides the use of war machines in the battlespace.

For example, a conventional army may resist suggestions to strip away its Armour battalions in favour of raising rocket artillery units with a TO&E unlike any other conventional artillery unit.

Furthermore, the idea that a defending army should allow an aggressor's manoeuvre forces to penetrate one's homeland is unlikely to go down well with commanders who demand that every inch of homeground must be defended. The temptation, both politically and militarily, to demonstrate the defending army's resolve by placing its main line of resistance too close to the border must be tempered by the realisation that an invader will be more vulnerable once its forces have been sucked into one's home ground.

Air force commanders who suggest that long-range strike aircraft should be moved away from a hotspot to serve as a force-in-being during a period of tension may also be chided for cowardice.

Hezbollah's robustness must be seen beyond the tactical, operational art and strategic level of war.

Hezbollah understands how to engage and hurt the National Service-based IDF, which hails from a casualty-averse society which has banked on using plasma to keep its foes at bay.

If Hezbollah could fend off the IDF in 2006, so too can Hezbollah's mimics against an IDF mimic.

Israel can't defeat Hezbollah: Israeli expert
16 Dec 2010, 7:40 am ET

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel cannot defeat Hezbollah in a direct engagement and the Lebanese guerrilla group would inflict heavy damage on the Israeli home front if war broke out, a former Israeli national security adviser said Thursday.

Though outnumbered and outgunned, Hezbollah held off Israel's advanced armed forces in a 2006 war and fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israeli territory. The group has a domestic political base and has since bolstered an arsenal that Israel describes as a strategic threat.

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah's Iranian and Syrian backers have stoked expectations of renewed violence in Lebanon.

"Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah," said Giora Eiland, an army ex-general who served as national security adviser to former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

"Therefore a war waged only as Israel-versus-Hezbollah might yield better damage on Hezbollah, but Hezbollah would inflict far worse damage on the Israeli homefront than it did 4-1/2 years ago," he told Israel Radio.

Echoing serving Israeli officials, Eiland said:"Our only way of preventing the next war, and of winning if it happens anyway, is for it to be clear to everyone ... that another war between us and Hezbollah will be a war between Israel and the state of Lebanon and will wreak destruction on the state of Lebanon.

"And as no one -- including Hezbollah, the Syrians or the Iranians -- is interested in this, this is the best way of creating effective deterrence."

Except for a deadly August skirmish between Israeli forces and the regular Lebanese army, the border has been mostly quiet.

But Israelis have been watching for signs that Hezbollah, should it be named in an impending U.N. indictment over the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, will push back by consolidating power in Beirut.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has argued that Hezbollah's role in governing Lebanon would make the country fair game in any future war involving the Shiite militia.

Eiland said such a scenario would have "the entire world crying out for a ceasefire within two days," which would be more in the Israeli interest "than having to deal directly with every one of (Hezbollah's estimated) 40,000 rockets."

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Michael Roddy)


Anonymous said...

Anthony said...
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HaveAHacks said...

Before that, there were the Vietnamese too. Now that Vietnam is within ASEAN, there are many things we should learn from them about resisting apparently superior forces.

The main lesson to learn from the Lebanese and the Palestinians is that relying on superpowers for protection is useless. The only way to secure your freedom from foreign invaders is to take up arms yourself.

Anonymous said...

The Vietnamese had practice fighting the French. The Party of God had practice during the Lebanese Civil War and currently still faces down the various sectarian militia factions of Lebanon. Both successfully disaggregated themselves from the state they operated in; the organs and apparatus of the Lebanese government are not coextensive with Hezbollah, so the IDF really had very little of value to hit.

By contrast, in a war with a conventional state, there are targeting options aplenty. The belligerent is coextensive with the state: its governmental apparatus, infrastructure, political organs, civil institutions, industrial base, and nodes of production will bruise considerably when hit -- it's centres of gravity are out in the open, giving us some measure of political leverage (how will their royalty react, for example?). Unlike the Viet Cong (Ho Chi Minh trail; resupply lines trailing to China; Sino-Soviet bloc as state sponsors) and Party of God (Iran via Syria), the logistical hinterland of our neighbours oop north appear to be fairly limited assuming the sea lanes are interdicted and the Smiling Kingdom stays neutral.

In wars in which both belligerents have something to lose (as opposed to wars in which one belligerent has very little of value to lose), the calculus becomes: who can inflict the most pain. (And thereby force a favourable detente in the shortest time possible.) The more prosperous and economically 'ripe' potential belligerents are, the greater the strategic value of deterrence and the higher the likelihood of a conventional war. It's hard to fight a peasant's insurgency when your social-political classes and civilian stakeholders are pressuring you to do otherwise.

Anonymous said...

(That's not to say that the above prognostication should guide planning, policy (apart from the prosper thy neighbour part), or our drawer plans obviously. We still ought to plan for the worse and the unthinkable.)

David Boey said...

Hi Anonymous at 9:31 AM,
In my view, the Summer 2006 war in Lebanon is a game changer because it showed how the IDF can be resisted with the core of one's political-military network left largely intact at the cessation of hostilities.

If a conventional military force mimics Hezbollah's tactics to face off an IDF mimic, the following could result:
Period of Tension (POT): The Hezbollah mimic may be less prepared to back down because it reasons that it has the means to cause untold damage to the aggressor's manoeuvre forces and ergo, the aggressor will be the first to back down. When things get hot, this sort of stubborness may cause tensions to escalate.

During hostilities: The Hezbollah mimic may be given full freedom of action to cause maximum damage, regardless of damage to the home country's infrastructure, reasoning that the IDF mimic cannot sustain full force potential mobilisation beyond a certain number of days.

The implications for the IDF mimic are serious. Deterrence is blunted if Hezbollah wannabees reason that every additional day holding out brings them closer to victory as the IDF mimic cannot sustain the pace of mobilisation economically and the aggressor's homefront cannot take the rising casualty count (as the IDF discovered in 2006).

For an IDF mimic faced with a Hezbollah-type response, its defence planners must decide whether to launch-on-warning or launch-on-impact when rockets start to fall, during which time its mobilising forces will be caught at their most vulnerable phase.

Note that for the IDF mimic, launch-on-warning would involve warplanes - which one can recall at any time should the opponent see the storm birds gathering and back down immediately.

For the Hezbollah mimic, launch-on-warning means the rockets fly, in effect triggering hostilities.

At present, the dearth of open literature on such scenarios condemns planners on both sides of the border to the risk of miscalculation, especially if their respective armed forces are primed to face off one another.

The price to pay is high. Flash points must thus be mitigated as best we can.


Anonymous said...

If they ran a staff college? I think it is highly likely that Hezbollah DOES run a staff college, simply that only a (very) limited number of state agencies are eligible to attend. What is released via the internet is also likely to be useful, although the language and ideological barriers are likely to be high.

Anonymous said...

I think also that there are significant differences between the July War and any war which may be fought between 'mimics' such as the Memetically Adaptive Force and the Status-quo Ante Force.

For one, there was limited ground incursion in the July War -- the battle of Bint Jubayl was fought less than 10 km from the border. See

This may have been due to an Israeli reliance on air power, as described in which basically says that while air power was useful, it was not a panacea. Perhaps this was institutional memory of the 1982 invasion at work, where the IDF pushed all the way to Beirut (less than 40km away from the border). In any case, it is arguable whether the IDF could have captured sufficient depth to obviate rocket artillery.

In contrast, in a battle between 'mimics', I would expect that a 'heavy' mimic would not stop incursion until it had reached a sufficiently defensible terrain feature perhaps approximately 179km away from a border. That might reduce the ability of a 'light' mimic to resupply any rocket artillery force. Of course, nothing stops a 'light' mimic from pre-positioning stockpiles.

However, I note that unlike the terrain fought over in the July War, which was hilly and comparatively arid, a 'light' mimic may be faced with less accomodative terrain, both for pre-positioning resources and for finding suitable grounds to launch artillery. Against that, of course, the 'light' mimic may have sufficient neutral terrain to embark on prolonged guerilla warfare.

Additionally, unlike a non-state actor, a 'light' mimic which is a state actor has a more clearly defined hierarchy and hence greater potential for decapitation. While the Israelis have of course tried such actions with varying degrees of success, it is not clear that a similar decapitation effort against a state actor would meet with less success. Without decentralisation of political responsibility, it is less easy to control a war if the key political players are gone. Of course, the same blade cuts both ways for a 'heavy' mimic.

None of this takes away from your analysis, particularly the concerns about launch-on-warning vs launch-on-impact. However, I simply wish to note that undiscerning examination of a past war may lead to very different failures in a future war.