Hizballah's Lack Of Structure Is Its Strength
PRAGUE, August 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- As
Hizballah resists almost four weeks of Israeli air and ground operations, many
analysts are calling it the most effective Arab force the Israeli army has yet
The militia has stockpiles
of missiles and light arms and, perhaps most importantly, a highly mobile
command structure that allows it to conduct a classic hit-and-run guerrilla war
RFE/RL correspondents Charles Recknagel and Dominik
Breithaupt spoke with Timur Goksel, the former spokesman of the UN monitoring
force in southern Lebanon, to learn more about Hizballah's organization and
tactics. Goksel now teaches at the American University in
RFE/RL: Looking at the number of about 2,000 to 4,000
soldiers that fight for the Hizballah against 10,000 Israeli soldiers, it seems
unlikely that the militia could keep up an effective resistance for long. What
makes it so difficult for the Israeli army to defeat the Hizballah
Timur Goksel: These people have been fighting the
Israelis for 18 years in south Lebanon. People forget that. They already know
the Israelis. And they fought them when they occupied Lebanon [Israel invaded
Lebanon in 1982 and maintained a buffer zone in southern Lebanon until 2000] and
since then they have been preparing for a guerilla war again.
are a very experienced, very well-equipped guerilla army and they also believe
in what they are doing. And they have the local support of the population and
they are local people themselves, they feel like they are defending their own
villages. So when you put this together you get a very strong army -- a
guerrilla army, at least.
Lack Of Hierarchy
RFE/RL: A common strategy in wartime is to disrupt
the command-and-control capability of the enemy. But Hizballah seems to have
survived almost a month of heavy Israeli bombing. How does the militia remain
effective on the battlefield?
Goksel: They don't work in military
hierarchies or military command levels. They don't have anything like that.
There is one leader in Beirut and all the other units in the field that are
autonomous, they know what they are doing [by themselves]. They don't need
communications, they don't report everything, they don't ask for orders, they
know what they are doing.
There are small units of not more than 20 men
and most are local people. They operate on their own, they don't need supplies.
They are very independent. That makes it very difficult to catch them, of
RFE/RL: The organizational structure you describe is
common to a secret guerilla movement. Yet Hizballah has been a highly public
presence in Lebanon for over two decades, including now being part of the
government. Could you describe the group's structure in more
Goksel: Hizballah's political and social arm is very
public [but] Hizballah's military is a very secretive organization. Even most
other Hizballah people will not know who they [military members] are. They are
extremely security-conscious -- extremely -- to the point of paranoia. Most
people don't know who these people are because they never display themselves,
they don't have uniforms, they don't have any bases, they don't work out of
bases, they don't have supply depots. Therefore, it is a very secretive arm [and
that is] because they have a very healthy respect for Israeli intelligence,
which is always trying to track them down.
RFE/RL: How directly does Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah,
the spiritual leader of Hizballah, control its military
Goksel: Their structure is that only Sheikh
Nasrallah is the supreme commander and there is nobody else between him and the
field leaders. They removed all those [intermediate levels] years ago, because
they felt like when you are organized as a military unit then it is very easy
for Israel to detect you, because when you are [such a formal] organization you
make noise when you move. So they removed all organization and they are working
with a secret cell system, actually.
RFE/RL: But doesn't a secret
cell system also present some disadvantages when it comes to launching
coordinated operations on the battlefield? Is there no central
Goksel: There are also predetermined operations. They
have a lot of local autonomy but they will not launch an operation unless it is
all part of a plan. There is local leader, there is a regional leader system,
but they don't report to [any military headquarters in] Beirut. It is not
cumbersome, there are no levels like in a normal army, [such as] companies,
battalions, regiments, nothing like that. It is a very flat sort of
organization, not a pyramid sort of organization.
RFE/RL: Do we
know where Sheikh Nasrallah is now?
Goksel: I wouldn't know where
he is and certainly they [Hizballah] are not advertising it. But I know one
thing about that man: he never abandons his people. He is famous for that. The
reason he became Sheikh Nasrallah [the leader of Hizballah] is because of his
reputation for never leaving the fighters.
So, I can safely assume that
he is with his own people. He never abandons them, that is not his style. That's
why he became so famous and so adored within the whole of Hizballah, because he
never leaves his people alone.
RFE/RL: There are reports that the
Israeli army is trying to assassinate Nasrallah by targeting Hizballah compounds
in southern Beirut and elsewhere. Would Hizballah fall apart if he were
Goksel: If Sheikh Nasrallah goes, that organization is
likely to come apart. Because, especially at a time like this, no [other] leader
can emerge to keep this whole massive organization of social, economic,
political, and military things together. Nobody can do that.
are some [competing] currents in Hizballah that Sheikh Nasrallah is keeping
together. In my understanding, some of these groups might become more
independent in their actions. And when you have people with guns and rockets
[taking] independent action, then you are looking for trouble because you never
know which way they will go. Because he is providing the central discipline and
the central command.
Cutting Off Hizballah, Or
RFE/RL: The Israeli army says it is bombing Lebanese
infrastructure such as highways in order to cut supply routes from Syria -- and
ultimately Iran -- which are suspected of rearming Hizballah. But is it possible
to stop supplies from reaching the militia?
Goksel: More than
[being] a strategy, that is a way of destroying the Lebanese infrastructure.
That is not a strategy, that is an excuse to inflict maximum pain on this
country. Because they [the Israelis] couldn't do it [stop Hizballah], they want
the [Lebanese] people to stop Hizballah. And certainly [if the bombing is] to
prevent the supply [of arms to Hizballah], it cannot do that. There are 300
kilometers of open borders. Are they going to watch every border crossing 24
hours a day? That is a "no go," but it is a good excuse to keep
Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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