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ICG Risk Blog - [ Hezbollah is something not seen for hundreds of years: a Muslim army that can fight ]

Hezbollah is something not seen for hundreds of years: a Muslim army that can fight


Hezbollah is something that the West has not seen in a few hundred years - a Muslim army, Persian trained, that can fight, that can acquire and employ sophisticated weaponry (albeit some systems are most likely under direct Iranian control) and employ combat operations appropriate to its condition and environment. (I would have said Arab army but Iranians, although mostly Muslim, are Persians.) I submit that Hezbollah presents a threat greater than al Qaeda if and when it elects to strike out beyond Palestine at the US and EU. In that, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's statements are not boast but fact. (The only benefit is that, unlike al Qaeda, there will be a nation state homeland to counterattack. Unfortunately, that is Iran.)

Israeli Armed Forces effectives returning from the Lebanon’s front, say they are facing an intelligent, well prepared and ruthless guerrilla. The soldiers describe Hezbollah guerrillas hide between civilians and in underground bunkers that are two or three stories deep, evidence that this has been prepared for years. They are hard to beat and show no fear of dying, expressed an Israeli soldier.

These Israeli soldiers [tell] stories of Hezbollah fighting from buildings with AK 47s and grenade launchers in an orderly fashion. The soldier’s commentaries make clear the enormous challenges Israel faces trying to neutralize Hezbollah. "They have good knowledge of who we are, where we are and what type armament we are using"…

[Israel is] not facing the militia of tobacco share croppers. They are facing a highly professional military force, perhaps the most professional in the region aside from Israel's own. The Israeli military is rapidly scaling back its military goals, since the ones initially announced with such confidence (pushing Hizbullah back 35 miles and completely destroying its missile arsenal) are obviously pie in the sky. The Israelis are stumbling around so badly that yesterday they lost a helicopter and killed 6 of their own men (it could have been much worse).

In point of fact, Israel is losing in its conflict with Hezbollah, yet it will not have a better chance given that Hezbollah miscalculated with its POW grab and was surprised by the level of Israeli response. If Hezbollah survives with its weapons reasonably intact, Israel loses and is shown to be vulnerable as never before in its history. It is now unlikely that Israel will be able to push Hezbollah far enough away to prevent it sending missiles into Israel at will.

Unlike the close of the 1967 Six Day War, El Al Airlines is not taking out ads in the New York Times inviting tourists to "Visit Israel and see the Pyramids," nor are there jokes about Arab (Egyptian) weapons for sale, "never fired, dropped only once" or Egyptian deserters who abandoned their units to stand and fight. While "Arab Unity" is a contradiction in terms, especially so across a Sunni-Shia divide, Arabs are so thirsty for selfesteem that they can rally around Hezbollah's accomplishments. This is all the more remarkable when Lebanese whose state is being sundered in the conflict support Hezbollah's state within a state resistance against Israel.

Combine Hezbollah's prowess with what I call the "glide slope to the desktop" of any technology to "get to anyone's desktop, anywhere and for any purpose" (where the angle of descent indicates the cost and complexity threshold of acquisition over time), and we are witnessing the emergence of near-state class paramilitaries that are able to fight against established nation states under asymmetrical conditions.

The implication here is that the West is seeing a shift of an uncontrolled dominance that has held sway throughout the European colonial conquest. And what is the "West" but the reassembled colonial empires drawn together to contest the Sino-Soviet empires. Writing in Putting bin Laden into the perspective of Islam, Part I, May 2004:

When living in the Middle East in the 1960s I would tell colleagues that, "The Arabs live in a past glory for which the West gives them no credit," that the Islamic world, Arabs included, have an extraordinarily rich tradition that rose parallel to Rome and saw Islam supporting knowledge, discovery, and learning while Europe plunged into the Dark Ages. Dismissing them as "rag heads," hijacking their nationalism, first on behalf of British Petroleum and then the Seven Sisters, and treating them as serfs in their own country, was not a path to popularity. It was not a popular opinion then, and besides I was told that we strong ally governments in Tehran and Riyadh…

It is hard to express the unhappiness of even centrist Islamists to what they perceive as the dominance, even hegemony, of the West over the Third World in which Western civilization -- based on a Judeo-Christian ethic -- is promoted as "the universal civilization." Pan-Arab hopes for a cultural and political revival upon the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and later upon the discovery of oil were each dashed in turn. It is doubly damning for Islamists to admit their dismal political and economic failure, a failure that fell so low in their view as to permit the establishment of a Jewish state in their midst and on sacred ground.

Steeped in far too much Kipling as a child, I will use the language of empire to catalog the shift. Hilaire Belloc "punctured imperial triumphalism in 1898 with a brilliant parody of jingoistic verse" in The Modern Traveller. (Orwell does a lovely job of positioning these English satirists.) Here Belloc satirizes colonial native denigration with this stanza "supposed to have been uttered by a fictitious U. S.-born, blackskinned Liberian Lord Chief Justice":

In dealing wid de native scum
Yo' cannot pick an' choose:
Yo' hab to promise um a sum
Ob wages paid in cloth and rum,
But Lordy! dat's a ruse!
Yo' get yo' well on de adventure,
And change de wages to Indenture.

Here Belloc's hero, Captain Blood, watches the mutinous natives, Hottentots (derogatory Dutch for the native Khoikhoi people, extended by the English as "one of inferior culture and intellect"), who vastly outnumber Anglo-Dutch troops in the Boer War:

Blood thought he knew the native mind;
He said you must be firm, but kind.
A mutiny resulted.
I shall never forget the way
That Blood stood upon this awful day
Preserved us all from death.
He stood upon a little mound
Cast his lethargic eyes around,
And said beneath his breath:
'Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim Gun, and they have not.'

Hiram Maxim's recoil operated machine gun is the metaphor for Western superiority over colonial dominated regions from the 18th century forward, a subjugation that led to a European assumption of ideological and intellectual superiority that suffused into the Western view of less developed states and tribal regions. Heavy and bulky, the Maxim fired only 500 rounds per minute but that was 100 times better than the best bolt action rifles of the day; its "extreme lethality was employed to devastating effect against obsolete charging tactics."

Without substantial force multipliers, how could England have withstood and bested larger armies such as the Zulu attack that overran Isandlwana, killing 1200:

King Shaka inducted every Zulu into the army, from early manhood to old age. They served throughout their life in regiments identified by markings in their cowhide shields: black for the young unmarried men, white for the mature warriors. The regiments were based on age groups and owed no allegiance to families or clans. As a result, they afforded Shaka a powerful tool for centralising power in his hands and developing in his subjects a strong sense of national pride. He allowed no man to marry until he had washed his spear in the blood of enemies…

Before Shaka, war among the Zulus had been a light, inconsequential affair, where insults were shouted and spears were thrown… Shaka changed all that. He armed his men with strong stabbing assegais with a tapering blade some 18-inches long and one-and-a-half-inch wide. To use these weapons one had to get close to the enemy, thrust one's blade into his flesh and be soaked in his blood. The Zulus called these spears ikwla, from the sucking sound they made when withdrawn from a victim's body.

Shaka also devised a battle formation known as impondo zankomo - the horns of the buffalo. The stronger, seasoned warriors formed the main body of the army, the chest. As the chest hurled itself at the enemy, the younger, faster men comprising the horns ran to encircle them on each side and cut off their retreat. The reserve, the loins, waited behind the chest. Sometimes they sat with their backs to the battle, so that the sight of blood would not excite them…

The Zulus were tall, strong, fierce warriors, who knew neither fear nor mercy. They went into battle naked, except for loin coverings, and barefoot… Their weapons were stabbing assegais and shields, throwing spears, knobkerries and a few fire arms, ranging from muskets to modern rifles. They charged their British opponents at an effortless pace, half trot, half jog, banging their assegais against their shields, hissing between their teeth and shouting [King of the Zulu] Cetewayo's war cry: 'Usutu! Usutu! Usutu!'…

The Zulus did not fight to gain psychological advantage. Their war leaders, the izinduna, knew nothing about guerrilla warfare, attrition or retreat. Their only manoeuvre was the headlong charge, exhilarating and deadly; their only strategy, annihilation and the scorched earth. The Zulus fought to wipe out the enemy, to 'eat them up'. Those who opposed them were destroyed.

In a single engagement of the 1893 Matabele War, 50 soldiers with four Maxim guns stood off 5,000 Zulu warriors. Farther north in the Sudan at Omdurman, Kitchener's Maxims killed 11,000 in retribution for the Mahdi's massacre of Chinese Lord Gordon at Khartoum. Ellis wryly noted in The Social History of the Machine Gun that, "In Africa, automatic weapons were used to support the seizure of millions of square miles of land and to discipline those unfortunates who wished to eschew the benefits of European civilization." African and third world warriors, "no matter how brave, were unable to cope, so that at Omdurman [the] ratio of casualties was 28 British and 20 of their allies to 11,000 Dervish dead. In the Iraq invasion of 2003, the ratio of military personnel casualties was some 150 US-British dead to unknown thousands of Iraqi soldiers, probably somewhere between 10-20,000, so the ratio was somewhat lower than at Omdurman, but still staggeringly unbalanced" in favor of core industrialized nations.

Military advantage went far beyond machine guns. Borne of 18th century fear of European cavalry assault that could quickly press from any quadrant, the British Square was the apogee of infantry's ability to "draw up in a square with men on each side facing outwards [so that any cavalry attack] would be met by a hail of fire." The English infantry were so rigidly disciplined that they could quickly form and reform the square. Formed two tiers deep, armed with breech loading repeating rifles, the trained British Square often overcame far larger forces across Africa and Asia.

The 1885 Battle of Abu Klea saw a British camel corps with 1800 infantry fight off 10,000 dervishes even after the Mahdi's forces broke the square causing the British to reform while fighting the Sudanese inside and outside the square. Until Abu Klea, "a fully-formed British square had never been broken by assault." (See 19th century diagram of the sophisticated multiflank attack upon the square. The Fuzzy-Wuzzies had clearly gone to school of the resilience of the square.) William McGonagall's The Battle of Abu Klea enshrined the moment:

But General Stewart ordered his men forward in square,
All of them on foot, ready to die and to dare;
And he forced the enemy to engage in the fray,
But in a short time they were glad to run away.

But not before they penetrated through the British square,
Which was a critical Moment to the British, I declare,
Owing to the great number of the Arabs,
Who rushed against their bayonets and received fearful stabs…

By eight o'clock the enemy was of considerable strength,
With their banners waving beautifully and of great length,
And creeping steadily up the grassy road direct to the wells,
But the British soon checked their advance by shot and shells.

At ten o'clock brave General Stewart made a counter-attack,
Resolved to turn the enemy on a different track;
And he ordered his men to form a hollow square,
Placing the Guards in the front, and telling them to prepare…

Even the redoubtable square could not have held without light field artillery. Take Kipling's ode to the screw-guns ("tiny little cannon made in two pieces, that are screwed together when the time comes to use them. They are taken up mountains, anywhere that a mule can find a road, and they are very useful for fighting in rocky country"):

Smokin' my pipe on the mountings, sniffin' the mornin' cool,
I walks in my old brown gaiters along o' my old brown mule,
With seventy gunners be'ind me, an' never a beggar forgets
It's only the pick of the Army
that handles the dear little pets
'Tss! 'Tss!
For you all love the screw-guns
the screw-guns they all love you!
So when we call round with a few guns,
o' course you will know what to do
hoo! hoo!
Jest send in your Chief an' surrender

it's worse if you fights or you runs:
You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees,
but you don't get away from the guns!

Without the guns things could quickly turn disastrous for colonial troops as noted in Henry Newbolt's 1897 Vitai Lampada ("They Pass On The Torch of Life"). In a case of logistical or training failure, the Gatling guns likely jammed "due to the use of ordinary service rifle cartridges" instead of the "solid-drawn cartridge cases, recommended for Gatling Gun use":

The sand of the desert is sodden red, --
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; --
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'

By the time that Kipling wrote the first series of the Barrack-Room Ballads in 1892, the British no longer dismissed native tribesmen. One can only imagine combat outcomes if the Fuzzy-Wuzzy (from the butter-matted hair of the Hadendoa, one of the Beja tribes supporting the Mahdi in the Sudan) had access to modern weaponry and training at the Battle of Abu Klea:

We've fought with many men acrost the seas,
An' some of 'em was brave an' some was not:
The Paythan an' the Zulu an' Burmese;
But the Fuzzy was the finest o' the lot.
We never got a ha'porth's change of 'im:
'E squatted in the scrub an' 'ocked our 'orses,
'E cut our sentries up at Suakim,
An' 'e played the cat an' banjo with our forces.
So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
We gives you your certificate, an' if you want it signed
We'll come an' 'ave a romp with you whenever you're inclined...

'E rushes at the smoke when we let drive,
An', before we know, 'e's 'ackin' at our 'ead;
'E's all 'ot sand an' ginger when alive,
An' 'e's generally shammin' when 'e's dead.
'E's a daisy, 'e's a ducky, 'e's a lamb!
'E's a injia-rubber idiot on the spree,
'E's the on'y thing that doesn't give a damn
For a Regiment o' British Infantree!
So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
An' 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your 'ayrick 'ead of 'air

You big black boundin' beggar—for you broke a British square!

Tide of Arab Opinion Turns to Support for Hezbollah
New York Times
July 28, 2006

Israel Finding a Difficult Foe in Hezbollah
New York Times
July 26, 2006

A new Middle East, or Rice's fantasy ride?
By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star
July 24, 2006

Saudi Arabia Asks U.S. to Intervene in Lebanon
Humanitarian Situation Is Among Ally's Concerns; Rice to Discuss Crisis With Israel Today
By Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright
Washington Post
July 24, 2006

Damascus Moves Back into the Center as Lebanon is Turned into a Failed State
Joshua M. Landis
Syria Comment
July 24, 2006

Hezbollah’s tenacity surprises Israeli Soldiers
Dominican Today
July 24, 2006

Hezbollah's Apocalypse Now
By Amal Saad-Ghorayeb
Washington Post
July 23, 2006

Can Israel Win? Not the way it's fighting
Ralph Peters
New York Post
July 22, 2006

Across the Middle East, Sermons Critical of the U.S.
New York Times
July 22, 2006

Israel's Hezbollah Fight Bolsters Syria's Assad
Ties to Militants Increase President's Popularity, Cast Him as Wartime Leader
Wall Street Journal
July 21, 2006

Amid Ties to Iran, Hezbollah Builds Its Own Identity
Shiite Group's Leader Vows Defiance After Israeli Hit; A Gift for Propaganda
'Frighteningly Professional'
By JAY SOLOMON in Beirut, Lebanon, and KARBY LEGGETT in Jerusalem
Wall Street Journal
July 21, 2006

Hostage to Hezbollah
Wall Street Journal
July 21, 2006

How Far Will the War be Broadened? Will the Lebanese Side with HA
Joshua M. Landis
Syria Comment
July 21, 2006

Editorials Continue to Back Wide Air War Against Lebanon
By E&P Staff
Published: July 20, 2006 1:40 PM ET

An Embodiment of Iran’s Long Shadow: Missiles for Hezbollah
New York Times
July 19, 2006

With Israeli Use of Force, Debate Over Proportion
New York Times
July 19, 2006

Few Editorials Find Fault with the Bombing of Beirut
It's one thing to endorse Israel's right to defend itself and retaliate. It's another to remain silent on the crime of causing mass destruction and civilian deaths in neutral areas of Lebanon.
By Greg Mitchell
July 18, 2006

Tradegy of Errors
Ralph Peters
New York Post
July 16, 2006

When the Shiites Rise
By Vali Nasr
Foreign Affairs,
July/August 2006

Will Syria Get Respect?
Joshua M. Landis
Syria Comment
July 15, 2006

Syria and Hizbullah on the Attack
Joshua M. Landis
Syria Comment
July 13, 2006

Out of Africa
Eduardo Zinna

Hizbullah’s New Face
In search of a Muslim democracy
Helena Cobban
Boston Review April/May 2005

A quiet joke at your expense
The Economist print edition
Dec 16th 1999

The Social History of the Machine Gun
John Ellis
Johns Hopkins; Reprint edition (August 1, 1986)
ISBN: 0801833582

The Gatling Gun
Paul Wahl and Donald R. Toppel
New York: ARCO, 1965
Out of print, data extracted here

Funny, but not Vulgar
George Orwell
Leader, 28 July 1945

"Rudyard Kipling"
by George Orwell
first published February 1942 in 'Horizon'

"De Native Scum. . . "
Feb. 2, 1931

The Modern Traveller
by Hilaire Belloc
Kessinger Publishing (January 2005)
ISBN: 1417954787
Originally published by Edward Arnold, 1898, and illustrated by B.T.B. (Lord Basil Blackwood.)

Rudyard Kipling
Barrack-Room Ballads
First Series (1892)

Rudyard Kipling
Barrack-Room Ballads
First Series (1892)

Gordon Housworth

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