Israeli army trains hard to fight old foe

TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Israel is swirling with speculation about a possible war with Iran, a new kind of conflict in which its cities and towns face an unprecedented missile blitz that could last for months.

But the Israeli army's training hard to do battle with an old enemy right on its doorstep: Hezbollah in Lebanon.


The Iranian-backed movement has a vast arsenal and thousands of diehard Islamic fighters who battled with Jewish state's ground forces to an inconclusive standstill in a 34-day war in 2006.

The war left Israel feeling dangerously vulnerable. But Maj. Gen. Sami Turjeman, the current ground forces commander, is pushing his troops to be ready.

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"On a tactical level we'll see an attempt to wear us down with urban warfare, which is characteristic of the fronts we face today," the Moroccan-born tank veteran said during an exercise in the occupied Golan Heights.


"There will be a close battle between ground forces."

On a more strategic level, he says he's preparing for the possibility the next conflict with Hezbollah will also lead to a war with Syria.

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When Hezbollah was formed following Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, it was little more than a group of hit-and-run Islamic fundamentalist militants.

But, aided by Iran and Syria, it soon developed into a deadly enemy that launched a campaign of suicide attacks that had the Israelis reeling.

In May 2000, after years of an unrelenting Hezbollah guerrilla war, the Israelis finally abandoned their "security zone" in south Lebanon.

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Six years later, Hezbollah, had the trappings of a conventional army, with a brigade structure.

It didn't have tanks and helicopters, but it had vast numbers of missiles, high-tech communications, an elaborate network of defense bunkers and launch sites, and a highly rated intelligence organization.

In the 2006 war, Hezbollah operated as what military experts call a "hybrid force" employing irregular and conventional weapons and tactics.

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This is seen in military circles as the warfare of the future.

"The conflict … that intrigues me most … and speaks more toward what we can expect in the decades ahead, is the one that happened in Lebanon in the summer of 2006," Gen. George Casey said in 2009 when he was the U.S. army chief of staff.


In 2006 Hezbollah showed Israel the future. It hammered Israeli civilian targets, mostly in the northern Galilee region, with some 4,000 missiles and rockets in the most sustained barrage the Jewish state has ever experienced.

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Equipped with Iranian weapons, including deadly anti-tank and anti-ship missiles, and electronic intelligence systems, Hezbollah's veterans held off the might of the Israeli army, the first time Arab forces had ever done that.

Israel's northern border has been quiet since the war. But both sides know there's unfinished business here.

Hezbollah, pushed by Iran, is now believed to have 50,000 missiles and rockets, some capable of reaching anywhere in Israel. That's three times more than Hezbollah had in July 2006.

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Israeli analysts say Hezbollah could sustain a bombardment of 100-200 missiles a day for several weeks, a nightmare scenario that would likely produce Israeli civilian casualties on a hitherto unknown scale.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Oct. 21 that next time his forces will first attack the heavily populated center of Israel, not the less strategic north.

That region includes the large urban sprawl around Tel Aviv, Israel's financial hub, and the country's industrial heartland.

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Hezbollah has also indicated it plans to push ground forces into the Arab-populated Galilee in the event of hostilities.


That would be another first in the annals of Arab-Israeli warfare that has raged since 1948.

No Arab force have ever invaded the Jewish state since it was founded, although in the 1973 war, Syrian and Egyptian forces briefly recaptured swathes of Arab land conquered by Israel in 1967.

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The Israelis learned some harsh lessons in 2006, particularly how decades of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza had dulled their war-fighting capabilities and diluted their offense-oriented military doctrine.

"The next war will be completely different," said Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, until July head of Israel's Northern Command. "Hezbollah will be better prepared. So will we."

Eizenkot's blueprint for hammering Hezbollah is simple. It's known as the "Dahiyeh Doctrine," after the Shiite stronghold in south Beirut that was flattened by the Israeli air force in 2006.

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