U.S. report: Hezbollah fought Israel better than any Arab army

A new report from the U.S. Army War College warns that the American military must learn the lessons of the Second Lebanon War, in which Hezbollah operated more like a conventional army than a guerrilla organization.

The report, “The 2006 Lebanon Campaign and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy,” warns against placing too heavy an emphasis on classic guerrilla warfare, and raises the possibility of further non-state actors following the Lebanese militant group’s example.

“Hezbollah’s 2006 campaign in southern Lebanon has been receiving increasing attention as a prominent recent example of a non-state actor fighting a Westernized state,” the authors of the report state. “In particular, critics of irregular-warfare transformation often cite the 2006 case as evidence that non-state actors can nevertheless wage conventional warfare in state-like ways.” The authors of the report, Dr. Stephen D. Biddle and Jeffrey A. Friedman, state that changes made by the U.S. Army in conducting urban warfare against guerrilla fighters in Iraq could compromise the military’s ability to deal with other enemies in the future.

The authors give a high grade to Hezbollah’s performance in the 2006 war, describing it as more effective than that of any Arab army that confronted Israel in the Jewish state’s history, and that Hezbollah militants wounded more Israelis per fighter than any previous Arab effort.

Unlike a traditional guerrilla force, however, Hezbollah emphasized holding territory and digging in to bunkers, instead of the usual tactic of hiding among civilian populations. Likewise, the militant organization’s discipline and coordination highly resembled those of conventional armies.

This combination of conventional and guerrilla tactics, the report claims, places new challenges before the U.S. Army. It calls for preparing the military for asymmetrical urban warfare, while at the same time working closely with civilian populations. It also calls for reducing military activity likely to harm the image of the U.S.

The report indicates that no army can be ideally prepared to deal with both kinds of enemy, conventional and guerrilla, simultaneously, and that in light of the discrepancies between the lessons of the Second Lebanon War and the current U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, serious challenges confront military planners.

While fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan demands the ability to defeat guerrilla forces, the example of Lebanon may inspire enemies of the U.S. to adopt more conventional methods.