Analysis: Hezbollah's recovery timetable

By JOSHUA BRILLIANT, UPI Israel Correspondent   |   Sept. 7, 2006 at 10:10 AM   |   0 comments

JERUSALEM, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Hezbollah needs "at least two years" to rebuild the capabilities it lost in the war with Israel which is why it is holding fire now, according to a leading intelligence expert.

In skirmishes following the cease-fire, Israeli soldiers killed more than 20 Hezbollah guerrillas. In the past such incidents could have led to a flare-up, but this time "they don't want to renew the fire... mainly because they understand the situation on the ground," Maj. Gen. in the reserves Yaakov Amidror told foreign diplomats at a Wednesday briefing organized by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Amidror held very senior positions in Israeli military intelligence, was a top aide to the defense minister and left the army after heading the National Defense College. He then emerged as a very articulate and sought after advocate of hardline policies, and now maintains the war enhanced Israel's deterrence.

For more than 10 years that deterrence slackened, he indicated. Hezbollah kidnapped three soldiers in 2000; terrorists who crossed the border from Lebanon killed Israeli civilians; and Palestinians kept firing Qassam rockets from Gaza. But Israel always restrained itself. That attitude changed on July 12 when Hezbollah kidnapped two soldiers and fired at Israeli communities.

The decision to launch the war, to continue fighting despite the barrage of some 4,000 Hezbollah rockets hitting northern Israel "made everyone around us... understand that there are some red lines that if (they) will be crossed, by the Syrians, or the Palestinians or the Lebanese, the retaliation... will be (dis)proportional in purpose. We're not looking for proportional retaliation.

"As a little country fighting terrorists, guerrilla organizations and other states we cannot allow ourselves to react proportionally and that is a very important message to the people around us. They understand it. We know they understand it," Amidror stressed.

Israelis realized they had erred by not reacting to Hezbollah provocations since May 2000 when it unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon. That is not going to happen again, he predicted.

"'Pre-emptive attack' is no longer a curse in Hebrew. We might use it in the future if it will be needed," Amidror said.

The month-long war was unique in the sense that Israel did not fight a state or a terrorist organization, but "a semi-military organization, or an advanced guerrilla organization" equipped with anti-ship missiles and computer-based sophisticated command and control systems that allowed for connections between Beirut and the border.

Israel failed to kill Hezbollah's top members, and the organization continued to function throughout the war.

But Hezbollah lost more than 500 men, even though it confirmed only some 60-odd killed. Israel identified 440 dead guerrillas by name and address, and experience shows that Israeli figures are half to two-thirds of the enemy's real casualties. Therefore, Amidror estimated, Hezbollah's death toll might be as high as 700.

Hezbollah had an array of long-range Iranian Zelzal missiles, 220mm and 302 mm Syrian-made rockets and Fajr 4 and Fajr 5 missiles all with ranges of over 30 miles.

But Hezbollah failed to strike deeply into Israel because the air force knocked out more than 150 launchers. Many were knocked out in a pre-emptive strike, some on the first night, and others when Israel hunted them down. It developed a system of spotting launchings and destroying the launchers within less than five minutes.

It failed to stop the Katyusha rockets, with a range of six to 24 miles. Ninety-five percent of the rockets that hit Israel were 122mm Katyushas. Almost half hit the northern Israeli towns of Naharia and Kiryat Shmona.

Eventually ground forces entered southern Lebanon and forced the rocket launchers to be on the move, so attacks were less accurate. Fewer than half the launchings hit "real targets," but on the whole the fact Hezbollah kept firing as many as 240 rockets day was "a great success for Hezbollah, a great failure for us," Amidror said.

Hezbollah also launched three unmanned drones, each carrying 45 kilos of TNT. Their range was enough to reach Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, and they are "very precise." But one crashed into the sea because of a technical failure and the air force downed the two others, he said.

Israel also had the upper hand in battles on the ground, he maintained. "There is not one example where Hezbollah succeeded in stopping the ground forces," providing the Israeli troops had clear missions. There were, however, many instances in which the missions were "blurred," he said, tacitly criticizing the military command.

Hezbollah made extensive use of anti-tank rockets, firing more than 1,000 at Israeli tanks and infantrymen.

Amidror said those rockets hit fewer than 50 tanks, penetrated fewer than half. In each tank that was penetrated one soldier was killed. It upset many Israelis, but militarily was "nothing to write home about."

The Rafael armaments development authority has built a system that dissolves incoming rockets and can reduce by 50 percent to 90 percent the chances tanks would be hit. But prior to the war the army did not buy the system because it was very expensive, Amidror said.

He maintained the war "exposed clearly" the relationship between Hezbollah, which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization, and Iran and Syria.

Iran invested some $1 billion to $2 billion in training, financing and arming Hezbollah, and from Tehran's perspective the war was "a great failure." Eighty percent of the rockets that hit Israel came from Syria, and that included the most sophisticated Russian-made anti-tank rockets.

"We told the Russians, 'Don't sell it to the Syrians, it will move to Hezbollah,'" Amidror said. The Russians said, 'Don't worry' and the rockets did reach Hezbollah.

"We found the serial numbers and we showed the Russians," he said.

During the war Tehran just "talked" and Damascus did "almost nothing" to help Hezbollah, although it did try to smuggle a few weapons systems to the organization.

That was in stark contrast to the U.S. aid to Israel. When Israel faced difficulties, the United States provided it with bombs, Amidror noted.

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