Accusations Fly after the Pierre Gemayel Assassination

Andrew McGregor

December 8, 2006

In the aftermath of the war with Israel, Hezbollah and its allies (the Shiite Amal Party and Christian leader General Michel Aoun) are struggling to depose the Lebanese government of Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his March 14 coalition of anti-Syrian Sunni, Druze and Maronite politicians. On November 21, a team of assassins murdered Lebanese Minister of Industry Pierre Amine Gemayel in the streets of a northern Beirut suburb. The latest in a series of assassinations in Lebanon, the murder of the Maronite Christian leader seemed designed to inflame tensions as Lebanon’s political crisis threatens to plunge the country into civil war. It was the attempted assassination of Gemayel’s grandfather and namesake, Sheikh Pierre Gemayel, which sparked Lebanon’s long civil war in 1975.

Gemayal 1Pierre Amine Gemayel

Gemayel’s death by gunfire was highly unusual in Lebanon, where the preferred method of assassination is the car bomb. A Range Rover or similar vehicle rammed the car Gemayel was driving before a number of gunmen jumped out and began firing handguns equipped with silencers through the driver’s side window, killing Gemayel and a bodyguard. A second bodyguard was seriously wounded. Suspicion for the attack fell on Syria, whose alleged intention was to disrupt the Lebanese government to prevent an investigation by a UN international tribunal into the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005. Rafiq’s son, Sa’ad al-Hariri (leader of the al-Mustaqbal Party), quickly identified Syria as the culprit in the Gemayel killing (al-Mustaqbal, November 22). Later al-Hariri denounced Syria and Israel for wanting civil war in Lebanon and predicted that he and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt were the next targets for assassination (al-Ahram, November 28). Hezbollah’s military wing also claimed the killing was designed to instigate civil war in Lebanon (, November 19).

Radical factions in Lebanon’s minority Sunni population saw the murder as part of an attempt by the Shiite Hezbollah organization to destroy Sunni political influence in Lebanon. A Sunni group known as the “Mujahideen in Lebanon” claimed that the murder was the work of five Hezbollah members. In a novel view of Lebanon’s political situation, the group accused the Shiites of engineering the insertion of UNIFIL to act as “a buffer” between Lebanese Sunnis and their Palestinian brethren, as well as acting in alliance with “the Crusaders” and Iranian-organized death squads to eliminate the Sunnis in Lebanon (al-Muhajirun, November 16). The group also threatened attacks on the predominantly Shiite southern suburb of Beirut, which it describes as a “pit of unbelief.” A leading Sunni sheikh, Sa’id Harmush, accused Hezbollah of abusing the Sunnis with “acts of robbery, slaughter, humiliation, and expulsion, much more than the Jews have done anywhere” (al-Mustaqbal, November 20). Other radical Sunni websites have urged the “liquidation” of Shiite leaders.

Hezbollah refutes claims that their opposition to the government is religiously inspired. According to Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Na’im Qasim, “we do not demand the prime minister to resign because he is Sunni, but because he represents a political line which we believe makes the country adopt the U.S. position, something which the Sunnis themselves reject” (Asharq al-Awsat, November 22). Amal’s representative in Tehran also asserts that the dispute with the Sunnis over the government is “political and not religious” (Fars News Agency, November 22).

There are signs that al-Qaeda may attempt to exploit the political turmoil to create a violent rift between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite populations. A statement originating in the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp declared that a group calling itself “Al-Qaeda in Lebanon” was prepared to “destroy this corrupt [Lebanese] government that takes its orders from the U.S. administration” (al-Nahar, November 13). The Mujahideen in Lebanon later claimed that the “al-Qaeda” statement was a fake. The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, denounced Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah as a “charlatan agent of the anti-Christ” in a statement released by the Ministry of Information of the Islamic State of Iraq. Abu Hamza accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of conspiring with Iran and Hezbollah to recreate “the old Persian Empire.”

Gemayal 2Walid Jumblatt

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accuses Syria of sending hundreds of al-Qaeda members to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps, raising the possibility of Iraq-style sectarian violence and a continuing campaign of political assassinations (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, November 22). Reports from anti-Syrian factions claim that Syrian President al-Assad sent 200 terrorists to Lebanon from Fatah-Intifada, a Syrian-backed Palestinian group led by Abu Musa, a long-time dissident Palestinian leader. Working out of the camps, the Palestinians are alleged to be preparing the assassination of 36 Lebanese leaders (al-Mustaqbal, November 29; Naharnet/AFP, November 29).

The “Fighters for the Unity and Freedom of al-Sham” claimed responsibility for the assassination in a statement that described Gemayel as an agent working for foreign interests. The statement added that other “agents” would soon “be paid their due” (al-Nahar, November 22). The group (which many Lebanese see as a front for Syrian intelligence) claimed responsibility for the assassinations of anti-Syrian journalists Samir Kassir and Jibran al-Tueni in 2005 (al-Nahar, November 22). Both men were killed by car bombs rather than by gunmen.

Hezbollah and Amal leaders have hinted at a U.S. role in the Gemayel murder, making reference to a parcel addressed to the U.S. embassy in Lebanon that was intercepted by Lebanese Customs at Beirut Airport on February 3. The parcel contained silencers and other high-tech military equipment suitable for a sniper (al-Akhbar, February 3). Prior to Gemayel’s murder, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah asked in a Lebanese TV interview, “Why does the U.S. Embassy need silencers? Is this meant to protect the U.S. Embassy or the Americans who are traveling or residing in Lebanon? Or is this meant to carry out assassinations, which the Americans are speaking about and expecting and which the Israelis are speaking about and expecting?” (al-Manar TV, October 31). U.S. officials denied any knowledge of the shipment, which was sent through the normal post rather than sealed diplomatic bags. The incident suggests premeditation on the part of some group that desired to implicate the United States in coming assassinations.

Unfortunately, Lebanon has become a showcase for covert activities, false-flag operations, provocations and disinformation campaigns. Attempting to pin responsibility for a specific operation is to wade deeply into the dark waters of international intrigue and manipulation. It is perhaps instructive to note that both sides in the struggle for dominance in Lebanon claim that the assassination of Pierre Gemayel benefited the opposing party.

It is difficult to see the advantage for Syria of killing a Lebanese cabinet minister from a U.S.-friendly faction just as Washington and London are moving toward opening a dialogue with Syria over Iraq and other regional issues. At the moment, the U.S. State Department and Pentagon are engaged in an internal struggle over Middle East policy. Syria’s ambassador to the United States pointed to “enemies” of Syria as the responsible parties for the assassination, suggesting their intention was to derail the Syrian-American rapprochement (CNN, November 22). Killing Gemayel would be to risk an opportunity to sweep the al-Hariri tribunal under the carpet and leverage Syria’s support on Iraq into concessions from Israel in the Golan Heights. It is also hard to see how al-Qaeda can successfully insert itself into the complicated Lebanese political structure. The notion of creating an Islamic regime exclusively from Lebanon’s minority Sunni community would be immediately dismissed by most Lebanese Sunnis.

Despite incredible internal and external pressures, Lebanon has not yet burst into sectarian violence. This indicates a maturing of the political process in Lebanon and a general reluctance to rejoin the horrors of civil war, although the crisis could tip over into violence at any moment.


This article first appeared in the December 8, 2006 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Hezbollah Denounces Alleged Attempt to Turn Lebanon into a ‘New Iraq’

Andrew McGregor

November 15, 2006

Three months after the end of the Israeli/Hezbollah war, there is growing tension between Hezbollah and the “March 14” anti-Syrian political coalition that dominates the Lebanese government. In an October 31 interview with al-Manar TV and al-Nur Radio (Hezbollah-owned media sources), Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah offered his perspective on the current political and security situations.

NasrallahHezbollah Leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah

According to Nasrallah, the United States intends to make Israel the dominant country in the Middle East. Nasrallah goes on to suggest that speeches from the U.S. administration on human rights, democracy and freedom are mere deception, designed to disguise its true intention—to seize control of regional resources. This plan is currently “in a state of collapse and a state of decline,” while U.S. efforts in Iraq represent “a clear military failure,” a view no doubt reinforced since by the result of U.S. mid-term elections and the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Iraqi resistance to the United States and its coalition is “legitimate and correct,” but the Hezbollah leader refutes the extremism practiced by certain factions (without naming them); Hezbollah makes “a distinction between military actions that target the occupation forces and the criminal actions that target innocent people and Iraqis and that shed blood citing illegitimate justifications.” Drawing on the examples of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000, Nasrallah warns collaborators of the fate suffered by the South Vietnamese and South Lebanese Army when they found themselves abandoned by their patrons: “They will leave them to face their fate, as they did with all those who wagered on them in the world and throughout history.”

Nasrallah notes the inactivity of the Lebanese Army in disarming Hezbollah. The army is what the sheikh describes as a “national [wataniyah] institution…Consequently, the Lebanese Army moves only in the area indicated by the army commander…the area of consensual national will.” The comments suggest that the Hezbollah leadership is satisfied with the army’s restraint on disarmament in defiance of the wishes of the Lebanese government. Nasrallah even claims it was Hezbollah and Shiite political party Amal (led by Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri) that requested the presence of the Lebanese Army and a beefed-up United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in southern Lebanon.

Throughout the interview, Nasrallah accuses the March 14 coalition of seeking a multinational military deployment in Lebanon acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Chapter VII asserts the right of the UN Security Council to invite the armed forces of member states to intervene militarily “to maintain or restore international security” (Article 42). The coalition’s alleged intention was to permit a multinational force (“I do not want to call them by their real name, the NATO forces”) under U.S. or French command (outside of UN control) to enter Lebanon. The multinational force would deploy along all the borders and throughout the country, effectively acting as an occupation force in the interests of Israel, the United States and Lebanon’s March 14 coalition. Nasrallah claims that when the conflict began on July 12, the Lebanese government contacted Hezbollah to inform them that meeting three conditions was the only way to avoid a war that would severely damage Lebanon and ultimately destroy the Shiite movement. The first condition was to allow a Chapter VII deployment; second, to disarm the Islamic Resistance (the armed wing of Hezbollah); third, to hand over the Israeli prisoners unconditionally. In Nasrallah’s view, it is only the willingness to fight displayed by the Islamic Resistance that has allowed Lebanon to avoid a humiliating post-colonial occupation of the country. The sheikh warns that a Chapter VII deployment would turn Lebanon into “a new Iraq.”

Despite warnings from UNIFIL’s French commander that French forces might fire on Israeli overflights of Lebanon made in violation of the cease-fire agreement, the Israeli Air Force continues to fly unopposed over Lebanon. According to Deputy Minister of Defense Efraim Sneh, Israel’s “reconnaissance flights” will continue until the two Israeli soldiers are released and Israel receives confirmation that arms shipments from Syria have ceased (, November 2). There is no doubt that the sonic booms of Israeli warplanes over Beirut are meant to provide a political message to Lebanon’s leaders as well as intelligence for Israel’s military.

Throughout the interview, Sheikh Nasrallah stressed the role of Hezbollah as a nationalist rather than a sectarian movement, capitalizing on the inter-faith solidarity that developed in some (but not all) quarters during the weeks of Israeli air and ground attacks. “What difference is there between me and the Sunnis in order to raise the issue of sectarianism? How do I, as a Muslim, differ from the Christian who cares for the oppressed people and for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the same way as [a Muslim] cares for the al-Aqsa Mosque? He also wants Lebanon to be strong, independent, master of itself and free.” Nasrallah’s suggestion that the March 14 alliance is still trying to transform UNIFIL to a non-UN multinational occupation force usefully places Hezbollah at the forefront of the Lebanese struggle for independence and self-determination. Hezbollah’s armed wing is described as “a resistance, not a militia,” in other words, a national element serving the defense of Lebanon from external aggression. While the Lebanese Army has the courage and will to resist aggression, “it does not have the required facilities, the required tanks and the needed anti-armor missiles, nor does it have anti-aircraft missiles.” Aside from tanks, Hezbollah has all these weapons in abundance.

Nasrallah’s opponents in the March 14 alliance continue to assert that Hezbollah is nothing but a tool of Syrian regional ambitions. Nasrallah, of course, has no desire to see any kind of international military force deploy along the Syrian-Lebanese border, where Syrian and Iranian military supplies continue to flow to Hezbollah with little hindrance from the Lebanese Army. At present, there are no signs that UNIFIL or the Lebanese Army will attempt to disarm Hezbollah under the conditions of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Sheikh Nasrallah refutes claims that Hezbollah and its Amal and Christian allies seek to mount a coup against the present regime: “In matters of blood, we are at the forefront. In matters of power, we do not seek authority.” Greater representation for the Shiites in the Lebanon government is nevertheless inevitable, given their military strength, growing numbers and organizational skills.

This article first appeared in the November 15, 2006 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus.


Chechen Troops Accompany Russian Soldiers in Lebanon

Andrew McGregor
October 26, 2006

In a surprise move, the Russian Defense Ministry assigned security responsibility for its team of military engineers in Lebanon to two detachments of Chechen troops, despite the outcry from human rights activists who cite the units for incidents of kidnapping, torture and murder. In Lebanon, the Chechens will be operating in a land once ruled by Circassian Mamlukes from the North Caucasus. Neither the United Nations nor Israel was given advance warning of the Chechen deployment.

chechnya - kakievZapad Battalion Commander Said-Magomed Kakiev (right) with former Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov (assassinated 2004)


The engineers will build temporary bridges to repair what Russia’s Defense Minister described as Israel’s “barbaric bombing attacks” (Interfax, October 4). Press reports suggest that the idea of sending Russian Muslims as peacekeepers to Lebanon was broached in Moscow by a delegation of Saudi and Lebanese diplomats (Kommersant, October 4)

According to President Putin, the Chechens, as Muslims, will find it easier to “establish contacts with the local population” (Interfax, October 10). Alu Alkhanov, president of Chechnya’s pro-Russian administration, observed: “Importantly, all of these men strictly observe the Muslim rites which will play a role in Lebanon” (Interfax, October 4). Televised footage from Lebanon of Muslim troops of the Russian Army in prayer are a departure for the Russian Army, which has close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church and has historically been a hostile environment for religiously observant Russian Muslims. In announcing that Muslim servicemen would be allowed to pray and observe the Ramadan fast, Lieutenant-General Tsygankov (commander of the Russian task force) did not appear particularly enthused with the changes; “If they are religious to the extent that they need to serve religious ceremonies in a close-to-combat environment, they are free to do so” (Interfax, October 4).

Russian Aims in Lebanon

The Russian security detachment consists of two platoons of Chechens, one each from the Zapad (West) and Vostok (East) battalions of the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division, permanently stationed in Chechnya. The East and West battalions of Chechen troops are controlled by Russian military intelligence (GRU) and do not report directly to the Chechen government. The North and South battalions controlled by the Interior Ministry (MVD) are not involved in the operation. The Russian field camp is self-sufficient, with larger security concerns handled by the Lebanese Army. Supplies are brought direct from Russia in Il-76 transport aircraft.

The Russian task force (300 engineers, 54 security men and 1 platoon of bomb disposal sappers) is stationed in the Saida region of Lebanon, near the Mediterranean coast. The Russian group intends to build six temporary bridges north of the Litani River by December. UNIFIL operates only in the region south of the river and north of the border with Israel. The Russian presence exists completely outside of UNIFIL command, based on a separate agreement between Beirut and Moscow. In Israel, Russia is suspected of covert support for Hezbollah.

The Vostok and Zapad Battalions

Despite coming under the same command, the two Chechen units have many differences, reflected in their contrasting commanders. The Zapad Battalion is led by Said-Magomed Kakiev, a career military man who began his association with the GRU as a member of the Soviet Red Army in Karabakh during the dying days of the communist state. Missing an eye and an arm from a grenade blast, Kakiev is now a GRU Major, his loyalty to the Russian Federation displayed in a tunic full of Russia’s highest military decorations. A native of the northwest region of Chechnya, a place with deep historical ties to Russia, Kakiev fought with the pro-Russian Chechen militias against Dudaev’s separatists in the first Chechen-Russian war. Following the war, Kakiev and many of his men were forced to withdraw to Moscow, but rejoined federal troops during the siege of Grozny in 2000. Shortly afterward, Kakiev’s pro-Russian militia was in the front line during the encirclement and eventual slaughter of Ruslan Gelaev’s column at Komsomolskoye.

chechnya - sulim yamadayevVostok Battalion Commander Sulim Yamadaev

All of Zapad’s men are drawn from the northwest region of Chechnya, where Sufism prevails and the alleged “Wahhabism” of the resistance is strongly condemned. Unlike Vostok and the MVD units, Zapad maintains its reputation for tight security by refusing to accept amnestied former members of the resistance under any circumstance. Kakiev’s battalion appears to have already been entrusted with covert operations in the neighboring republics of the Russian North Caucasus and even in the mountainous border regions of Georgia (Moskovsky komsomolets, April 6)

The dependable Kakiev’s counterpart as commander of the Vostok battalion is long-time warlord Sulim Yamadaev, an ex-rebel and notorious kidnapper who sees the Vostok formation as existing mainly to serve the interests of the powerful Yamadaev family. A one-time ally of Ramzan Kadyrov, Yamadaev is now a bitter opponent of the prime minister. Sulim’s brother Ruslan is a State Duma deputy representing the pro-Putin United Russia party in Chechnya. An explosion in 2003, blamed on either the resistance or the Kadyrovs, killed another brother, military commander Dzhabrail Yamadaev.

Though allegiances are fluid in Chechnya, both GRU units generally support Chechen President Alu Alkhanov in his disputes with Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Disputes between Yamadaev’s group and Ramzan Kadyrov’s men are common and frequently violent. Kakiev’s men regard Yamadaev’s group as thoroughly penetrated by double agents and sympathizers with the resistance.

Vostok has developed a reputation for indiscipline and brutality. In June 2005, members of the battalion broke away from a planned operation to undertake a revenge raid on civilians in the ethnic Avar village of Borozdinovskaya. The village was founded in the 1950s by Avar emigrants from neighboring Dagestan and used to maintain its own militia to protect it from predatory Chechen gangs, including one led by Sulim Yamadaev (Moscow Times, June 23). The raid left one dead and eleven still missing after their detention. Most of the village’s 1,000 residents fled to Dagestan and could only be persuaded to return with great difficulty. President Putin’s representative in the North Caucasus, Dmitry Kozak, denounced the operation as “direct sabotage” against Russia (RIA Novosti, June 24, 2005). An investigation resulted in a Vostok officer receiving a three-year suspended sentence.

On September 15, Vostok members made a surprise appearance in St. Petersburg to intervene in a real estate dispute between two Chechens. The dispute revolved around a meat-packing plant owner who refused to sell his land to another Chechen who was assembling real estate for a housing development worth $1 billion. The plant’s offices were occupied in a military style operation and the reluctant seller was allegedly beaten. He resigned the following day (Kommersant, September 19; Chechnya Weekly, September 21). The meat plant raid clearly showed that the Vostok battalion was in need of work, since it apparently had enough time to become involved in property disputes in St. Petersburg. The apparently independent movement of a unit of 20-40 armed Chechens to St. Petersburg was an embarrassing reminder of the undetected arrival of Movsar Barayev’s Chechen terrorist group in Moscow four years ago. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov noted that the Chechen deployment to Lebanon was “a reasonable step because as of recently, these servicemen do not have much work to do in the territory of Chechnya” (Itar-Tass, October 4).


The Israeli government has said nothing publicly about the Chechen mission, but there is no doubt some alarm in security circles regarding the fact that the Russian security force is composed of military intelligence elements operating without UN supervision. Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was recently in Moscow seeking guarantees that Russian arms to Syria would stop ending up in Hezbollah hands. Russia’s privately negotiated peace mission to Lebanon continues a Russian Federation tradition of unilateral operations, as seen in Kosovo and post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The Chechen stay in Lebanon is likely to be a quiet one. On their best behavior, these selected representatives of Zapad and Vostok are unlikely to meet any opposition to their bridge-building mission. With the Chechen war in a low-intensity phase, the Kremlin has found a useful task for its restless Chechen militias, presenting Russia’s Muslim face to the Middle East as part of a wide-ranging initiative to improve relations in the region. The Chechen deployment is also intended as a public demonstration of Chechen loyalty to the Federation; as pro-Russian Chechen Premier Ramzan Kadyrov put it, “Serving the Russian flag and enjoying the trust of their fellow citizens, what can be more important than that?” (Itar-Tass, October 4).

This article originally appeared in the October 26, 2006 issue of Chechnya Weekly.

Hezbollah’s Rocket Strategy

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor, August 11, 2006

Rockets are not new weapons, nor are they strangers to Middle East warfare. Size, range and destructive power are all factors in the development of rocket-based strategies, the ultimate of which was the “Mutually Assured Destruction” of the Cold War. The rockets used by Hezbollah in the ongoing conflict with Israel are much smaller and are usually integrated elsewhere within the tactics of the battlefield. Hezbollah is known for innovation, however, and has developed new strategic uses for their unguided rockets, employing them as political, economic and psychological weapons. As stated by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres on August 6, “Nobody understands why they started to attack, what the purpose of the attack was and why they are using so many rockets and missiles.”

Hezbollah RS 1Hezbollah Fighters with Katyusha Rocket Emplacement (AP)

“Little Kate” (The Katyusha)

The chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee described why Hezbollah has been able to keep the rockets flying despite extreme military pressure from Israel: “Hezbollah separated its leadership command-and-control system from its field organization. It created a network of tiny cells in each village that had no operational mission except to wait for the moment when they should activate the Katyusha rocket launchers hidden in local houses, using coordinates programmed long ago” (San Francisco Chronicle, July 21).

The 122mm Katyusha (range: 20-25 kilometers) is the mainstay of Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal. “Katyusha” is somewhat of a generic term today, covering a wide variety of small, unguided, solid-fuel rockets produced by a number of countries, including Iran. The Katyushas all have a common origin in the Soviet BM-8 and BM-13 truck-mounted rocket launchers that were used against the German army in 1941. Fired in short-range volleys of as many as 48 rockets at a time, they had an immediate military and psychological impact on German troops.

Hezbollah usually fires their version of the Katyusha one at a time from improvised launching facilities. Some Katyusha-type multiple-rocket launching systems were specifically designed to be dismantled into single units for guerrilla use. In 2001, the first truck-mounted launching systems were reported in Hezbollah’s arsenal, making more effective volley-launches possible. There are some recent instances of volley-firing, such as the attacks on the Israeli town of Acre on August 3.

Once in the air, the cheaply-made Katyushas are remarkably difficult to stop. A few years ago, Israel and the United States cooperated in a joint project to develop a “Tactical High Energy Laser” (THEL) to bring down such rockets by igniting the warhead in mid-air through the use of a high-energy chemical laser. In tests the system successfully destroyed several Katyusha rockets, but mobility difficulties and technical concerns related to the chemical fuel led to a cut in funding for the project in 2004. Research is underway on a more-portable version with an electrically powered laser, but production of this costly system is still years away.

The unguided Katyusha is not intended to strike a specific target. Rather, it is designed to be fired with 16 or more of its kind in a salvo that rains destruction upon a certain area, preferably a troop concentration, massed armor or fortified emplacements. By firing Katyusha-type rockets singly (often into sparsely occupied parts of Israel) Hezbollah has forgone the tactical use of this weapon for strategic purposes. Here Hezbollah signals its mastery of media warfare; the media covers wars like a sporting event, with the scorecard being the most important element in determining who is winning. Besides the daily updates of the number of troops killed, the number of civilians killed and the number of air-raids launched, the media also dutifully records the daily tally of rockets fired. Despite causing insignificant physical damage, each rocket arrives like a message of defiance, a signal to the Arab world that Israel is not invincible. Hezbollah routinely looks for new uses for existing weapons in its arsenal, and in this case they have transformed a battlefield weapon into a means of political warfare.

Bringing Tel Aviv in Range

The introduction of longer-range Iranian-made Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets (also known as the Ra’ad, or by the Hezbollah name “Khaibar”) has given the conflict a new dimension, with Hezbollah no longer restricted to hitting the thinly populated Israeli north. The 240mm Fajr-3 has a range of 45 kilometers and carries a 45 kilogram warhead, while the 333mm Fajr-5 has a range of 70-75 kilometers and carries a 90 kilogram warhead. Both systems are usually truck-mounted. The Fajr-5 was first used in the July 28 attack on the Israeli town of Afula, then again in an attack on the West Bank town of Jenin on August 3. At the extreme limits of their range, the Fajr-type rockets are accurate only to within a one kilometer radius.

Hezbollah RS 2An Iranian official recently confirmed that Zelzal-2 rockets, with a stated range of 200 kilometers (although this figure may be significantly exaggerated), had been provided to Hezbollah by Iran for use “in defense of Lebanon” (Haaretz, August 5). The 610mm Zelzal-2 is a 3,500 kilogram rocket with a 600 kilogram high-explosive warhead, first delivered to Revolutionary Guard units in Lebanon in 2002. Israeli intelligence believes the missile is capable of reaching the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv. Although the rocket is unguided and difficult to use, the threat from the Zelzal-2 is taken seriously, with U.S.-made Patriot anti-missile systems deploying near Netanya to guard Tel Aviv. The Patriot system is useful only against larger, longer-range rockets, with no effectiveness against the smaller Katyusha types.

On August 3, Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah made a televised offer to Israel to stop firing Hezbollah rockets in exchange for an end to Israeli air strikes in Lebanon. The Shiite leader warned, however, that Hezbollah would fire its rockets at Tel Aviv if the Israeli Air Force attacked Beirut (al-Manar TV, August 3). It is possible that Hezbollah requires Iran’s permission to attack Tel Aviv. The largest weapons in Hezbollah’s missile arsenal are likely to be at least partially manned by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Grapes of Wrath Revisited

The current Israeli operation bears a great similarity to Israel’s 1996 “Grapes of Wrath” operation: a massive military response to Hezbollah’s launching of Katyusha rockets into northern Israel despite the occupation of the Israeli “security zone” in southern Lebanon. Proclamations that it was time to end the “Katyusha menace” came to nothing as the offensive had little effect on Hezbollah’s rocket capabilities and took few Hezbollah lives at a great cost to Lebanese civilians. Hezbollah rocket launches were carefully tallied by the Lebanese public as a measure of the movement’s success on the battlefield. The Shiite movement was strengthened politically through armed resistance to Israel, while the Israeli government of Shimon Peres lost the next election.

Following the 2000 evacuation of the south Lebanese security zone, Israel refrained from responding directly to Hezbollah provocations along the border in mid-2001 and spring 2002. The Israeli government was aware that targeting Hezbollah would bring a flurry of rockets across the border, followed by an inevitable escalation and probable re-occupation of a region that Israel had just evacuated. For a time, at least, renewed war in south Lebanon carried too high a political price.


Hezbollah’s rocket strategy has successfully disrupted all activities in northern Israel, forcing 300,000 Israelis into shelters or refugee camps, and impressing upon Israelis that building a wall around their country is not enough to ensure permanent security. Israel’s war is incredibly expensive, and the deployment of the reserves creates an economic drain that is difficult for a small state like Israel to sustain. As long as Hezbollah can continue to send rockets across the border, it strikes an economic blow on its enemy. Continuing to fire the rockets also goads Israeli ground forces into military confrontation with the guerrillas on ground that Hezbollah has prepared for six years.

The size of Israel’s proposed security barrier keeps changing with the realization that even an occupation up to the Litani River (a zone 28-35 kilometers deep) will keep only Hezbollah’s short-range Katyushas from reaching Israel. A measure of this reality (and the importance of the “scorecard”) was reflected in the August 1 televised remarks of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “I believe one can say today…that there is no way to measure this war according to the number or range of the rockets being fired at us. From the very first day, neither I, nor the defense minister, nor the Israeli government, nor the military leadership—and this is to its credit—ever promised for even one moment that when the fighting ended, there would be absolutely no rockets within firing range of the State of Israel. No one can make such a promise” (Israel TV Channel 1, August 6).

The resistance of Hezbollah fighters, the severity of the Israeli bombing campaign and the inability of Israel to halt the rockets has resulted in unusually broad popular support for Hezbollah both in Lebanon and a politically frustrated Arab world. When ceasefire negotiations begin, it will now be difficult for the Arab regimes that opposed Hezbollah at the beginning of the conflict (particularly Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) to ignore Hezbollah’s calls for at least diplomatic support from the Arab states. In the meantime, Hezbollah’s rocket campaign continues to destroy little militarily while it accomplishes much politically, economically and psychologically.

This article first appeared in the August 11, 2006 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Hezbollah’s Tactics and Capabilities in Southern Lebanon

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Focus, August 1, 2006

With its attack on Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, Israel is fighting on terrain that has been prepared by the Shiite movement for six years since the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers have described finding a network of concrete bunkers with modern communications equipment as deep as 40 meters along the border (Ynet News, July 23). The terrain is already well-suited for ambushes and hidden troop movements, consisting of mountains and woods in the east and scrub-covered hills to the west, all intersected by deep wadi-s (dry river beds). Broken rocks and numerous caves provide ample cover. Motorized infantry and armor can only cross the region with difficulty. Use of the few winding and unpaved roads invites mines and ambushes by Hezbollah’s adaptable force of several thousand guerrillas (The Times [London], July 21).

Hezbollah Tactics 1Israeli Merkava Tank – A victim of Hezbollah missiles

Hezbollah emerged in 1985 with more enthusiasm than tactical sense, relying on wasteful frontal assaults and more effective suicide attacks on Israeli troops. With training provided by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah’s highly-motivated military wing developed into a highly effective guerrilla force. Iran continues to provide specialized training, funds and weapons to Hezbollah through the Revolutionary Guards organization. Various reports suggest Iranian volunteers are being recruited and sent to Lebanon to assist Hezbollah, but these reports remain unconfirmed (Alborz News Agency, July 18; Mehr News Agency, July 17).

Hezbollah’s military leadership has rethought much of the strategic and tactical doctrine that led to the repeated defeat of Arab regular forces by the IDF. The top-down command structure that inhibited initiative in junior ranks has been reversed. Hezbollah operates with a decentralized command structure that allows for rapid response to any situation by encouraging initiative and avoiding the need to consult with leaders in Beirut. The military wing nevertheless answers directly to Hezbollah’s central council of clerics for direction.

The fighters are armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, typically assembling in small teams to avoid concentrations that would draw Israeli attention. The preparation of well-disguised explosive devices has become a specialty of Hezbollah. The uncertainty created by such weapons takes a heavy psychological toll on patrolling soldiers.

Hezbollah has improved its night-vision capabilities, although they do not compare with Israel’s state-of-the-art equipment, which includes UAVs, helicopters and jet-fighters equipped for night warfare. Hezbollah fighters are well-trained in the use of complex weapons systems. Air defense units use SA-7 missiles and ZU-23 anti-aircraft guns on flatbed trucks.

The guerrillas rigorously examine the success or failure of each operation after completion. Tactics change constantly and new uses are sought for existing weapons. The use of mortars (81mm and 120mm) has been honed to near perfection. Hezbollah fighters have developed efficient assault tactics for use against armor, with their main anti-tank weapons being AT-3 Saggers and AT-4 Spigot missiles. Four tanks were destroyed in two weeks in 1997 using U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles (these missiles traveled from Israel to Iran as part of the Iran-Contra affair before being supplied to Hezbollah).

Hezbollah Tactics 2Israeli Troops with Captured Hezbollah Flag

Hezbollah leaders believe that their fighters have a perspective on conflict losses that gives them an inherent advantage; according to Naim Kassem, deputy leader of Hezbollah, “[The Israeli] perspective is preservation of life, while our point of departure is preservation of principle and sacrifice. What is the value of a life of humiliation?” (Haaretz, December 15, 1996). With no hope of overwhelming Israel’s well-supplied military, Hezbollah fighters concentrate on inflicting Israeli casualties, believing that an inability or unwillingness to absorb steady losses is Israel’s strategic weakness.

Hezbollah has also mastered the field of information warfare, videotaping attacks on Israeli troops that are then shown in Israel and around the world, damaging public morale and degrading the myth of IDF invincibility.

Hezbollah is believed to have as many as 10,000, unguided 122mm Katyusha rockets (range 22 km) (Arutz Sheva, August 1). The Second World War-style Katyushas are easily obtained on the international arms market and inflict greater economic and psychological damage than physical damage. Their chief advantage is their portability; launchers can be easily mounted on a truck that can dash into position, fire its rockets and take off to a prepared refuge before a retaliatory strike can be launched. Sometimes automatic timers are used on the launchers, allowing the crew to escape well in advance.

The weapon used in an attack against an Israeli warship that killed four commandos was identified by the Israeli military as an Iranian-made C802 Noor radar-guided land-to-sea missile (range 95 km). Most other missiles used by Hezbollah are Iranian-made, including the Raad 2 and 3 models (used against Haifa), the Fajr-3 and 5 and, allegedly, the Zelzal-2, with a range of 200 km.

Hezbollah is unlikely to have used the most potent weapons in its arsenal. Hanging on to them provides both strategic and psychological advantage. It is typical Hezbollah strategy to view war as a progression, rather than to use everything it has in the early stages of a conflict. While Israel may have a timetable of several weeks for this campaign, Hezbollah is prepared for several years of fighting. Disengagement may prove more difficult for Israel than it assumes. At some point, however, Hezbollah may become short of weapons and supplies. Normal supply lines from Syria have already been cut and Hezbollah has no facilities capable of producing arms or ammunition.

Israel has never been able to get the upper hand in the intelligence war with Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s military wing is not easily penetrated by outsiders, but has had great success in intelligence operations against Israel. Nearly the entire Shiite population of south Lebanon acts as eyes and ears for the fighters, so it is little surprise that Israel initially concentrated on eliminating regional communications systems and forcing the local population from their homes in the border region.

Israel’s air strikes have revealed the limitations of conventional air power in coping with mobile forces with little in the way of fixed installations or strategic targets. The 18-year war against the Israeli occupation (1982-2000) has, on the other hand, given Hezbollah an intimate knowledge of Israeli tactics. While some 3,000-4,000 Israeli Air Force air-raids in the last few weeks have killed hundreds of civilians, Hezbollah admits to only a few dozen of its own fighters killed (although Israel claims it has killed 300 Hezbollah fighters).

According to Ali Fayyad, a member of Hezbollah’s Central Council, the movement’s strategy is “not to reveal all its cards, to impose its own pace in fighting the war and to prepare for a long war” (Bloomberg, July 27).

This article first appeared in the August 1, 2006 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Hezbollah’s Creative Tactical Use of Anti-Tank Weaponry

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Focus, August 15, 2006

As the world waits to see if the UN-brokered ceasefire in Lebanon holds, the Israeli army will begin assessing its disappointing performance against Hezbollah guerrillas. Among the many aspects to be investigated is the vulnerability of Israel’s powerful armored corps to small, hand-held, wire-guided anti-tank weapons. Indeed, Hezbollah’s innovative use of anti-tank missiles was the cause of most Israeli casualties and has given the small but powerful weapons a new importance in battlefield tactics.

Hezbollah Anti Tank 1Israel’s Merkava Main Battle Tank

In a recent statement, Hezbollah’s armed wing, al-Moqawama al-Islamia (Islamic Resistance), described Israel’s main battle-tank as “a toy for the rockets of the resistance” (al-Manar TV, August 11). Hezbollah’s anti-tank weapons consist of a variety of wire-guided missiles (usually of Russian design and manufactured and/or supplied by Iran and Syria) and rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPGs). The missiles include the European-made Milan, the Russian-designed Metis-M, Sagger AT-3, Spigot AT-4 and the Russian-made Kornet AT-14. The latter is a Syrian supplied missile capable of targeting low-flying helicopters. Iraqi Fedayeen irregulars used the Kornet against U.S. forces in 2003. The most portable versions of these weapons are carried in a fiberglass case with a launching rail attached to the lid.

On July 30, the Israeli army published photos of various anti-tank missiles they claim to have found in a Hezbollah bunker (see: The weapons include Saggers and TOW missiles. The TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missile is a formidable weapon first produced by the United States in the 1970s. These missiles were of interest as their packing crates were marked 2001, suggesting that these were relatively new additions to Hezbollah’s arsenal and not part of the shipment of TOW missiles from Israel to Iran that was part of the Iran-Contra scandal of 1986 (the shelf-life of the TOW is roughly 20 years). On August 6, Israeli Major-General Benny Gantz showed film of BGM-71 TOW and Sagger AT-3 missiles he reported were captured at one of Hezbollah’s field headquarters (Haaretz, August 6).

The primary target of Hezbollah’s battlefield missiles is the Israeli-made Merkava tank. The Merkava was designed for the maximum protection of its crews, with heavy armor and a rear escape hatch. The emphasis on crew survival is not simply a humanitarian gesture; the small country of Israel cannot provide an endless number of trained, combat-ready tank crews if casualties begin to mount. The tank is also designed to be easily and quickly repaired, a specialty of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The modular armor plating can be easily replaced if damaged, or replaced entirely with upgraded materials when available. The first generation of Merkavas was built in the 1970s and was soon deployed in Lebanon in 1982. The much-improved Merkava Mk 4 has been Israel’s main battle-tank since its introduction in 2004.

Hezbollah Anti Tank 2AT-3 Sagger Missile System

Current battlefield reports suggest that Hezbollah fighters are well-trained in aiming at the Merkava’s most vulnerable points, resulting in as many as one-quarter of their missiles successfully piercing the armor (Yediot Aharonot, August 10). Hezbollah attacks on Merkava tanks during the November 2005 raid on the border town of Ghajar were videotaped and closely examined to find points where the armor was susceptible to missile attack. While some of their missiles have impressive ranges (up to three kilometers), the guerrillas prefer to fire from close range to maximize their chances of hitting weak points on the Merkava. Operating in two- or three-man teams, the insurgents typically try to gain the high ground in the hilly terrain before selecting targets, using well-concealed missile stockpiles that allow them to operate behind Israeli lines (Jerusalem Post, August 3).

Without artillery, Hezbollah has adapted its use of anti-tank missiles for mobile fire support against Israeli troops taking cover in buildings. There are numerous reports of such use, the most devastating being on August 9, when an anti-tank missile collapsed an entire building, claiming the lives of nine Israeli reservists (Y-net, August 10). Four soldiers from Israel’s Egoz (an elite reconnaissance unit) were killed in a Bint Jbail house when it was struck by a Sagger missile (Haaretz, August 6). TOW missiles were used effectively in 2000 against IDF outposts in south Lebanon before the Israeli withdrawal. There are also recent instances of anti-tank weapons being used against Israeli infantry in the field, a costly means of warfare but one that meets two important Hezbollah criteria: the creation of Israeli casualties and the preservation of highly-outnumbered Hezbollah guerrillas who can fire the weapons from a relatively safe distance.

It was suggested that the IDF helicopter brought down by Hezbollah fire on August 12 was hit by an anti-tank missile. Hezbollah claimed to have used a new missile called the Wa’ad (Promise), although the organization occasionally renames existing missiles (Jerusalem Post, August 12). At least one of Israel’s ubiquitous armored bulldozers has also fallen prey to Hezbollah’s missiles.

The Syrian-made RPG-29 was previously used with some success against Israeli tanks in Gaza. Hezbollah also uses this weapon, with a dual-warhead that allows it to penetrate armor. On August 6, the Israeli press reported that IDF intelligence sources claimed that an improved Russian-made version of the RPG-29 was being sold to Syria before transfer to the Islamic Resistance (Haaretz, August 6). In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied any involvement in supplying anti-tank weapons to Hezbollah (RIA Novosti, August 10). The IDF reports that anti-tank missiles and rockets continue to cross the border into Lebanon from Syria, despite the destruction of roads and bridges in the area (Haaretz, August 13).

The Merkava tank has assumed an important role as a symbol of Israeli military might. Their destruction in combat has an important symbolic value for Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s tactical innovations and reliance on anti-tank missiles over more traditional infantry weapons will undoubtedly prompt serious introspection on the part of the IDF in anticipation of renewed conflict along the border.

This article first appeared in the August 15, 2006 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus