April 17, 2008

Blanford's Latest on Hizbollah

Nick Blanford's latest excellent report on Hizbollah's military preparations is getting a lot of notice on both sides of the Blue Line. Check it out. Abu Muqawama's analysis follows this passage:

Kfar Shuba, Lebanon - In south Lebanon, where the 2006 summertime war between Israel and militant Shiite Hizbullah was played out, villages are abuzz with talk of another devastating conflict between the two archfoes.

Over the past few weeks, military activity on both sides of the border has contributed to war jitters as both Israel and Hizbullah are seemingly poised to strike.

The Israeli military just wrapped up a nationwide war drill it dubbed "Turning Point 2," and Hizbullah appears to have devised new battle plans that include cross-border raids into Israel and has mounted a sweeping recruitment and training drive, even marshaling non-Shiites and former Israeli-allied militiamen into new reservist units.

"The holy fighters are completely focused on the next war, even ignoring families and friends. They are just waiting for the next war," says Jawad, a Hizbullah fighter.

Still, many diplomats and analysts in Beirut say that neither side has an interest in coming to blows again, despite the buildup.

"The elements of conflict are still there, and it is possible that something small can get out of hand with neither side wanting it," says Timur Goksel, a university lecturer in Beirut and veteran observer of the Hizbullah-Israeli conflict. But, he adds, the heightened activity is "mainly posturing."

First off, some of this blog's readers accuse Nick of harboring pro-March 14th political biases, but if there is a better journalist out there writing about the security situation in southern Lebanon in any language, Abu Muqawama wants to know about him (or her). Second, two things jump out from this article:

1. How open Hizbollah is about their preparations. This is so very different from the preparations that preceded the conflict in 2006, no?

2. How conventional the preparations are. "New tactics are being taught, including how to "seize and hold" positions, a requirement that Hizbullah's guerrilla fighters – traditionally schooled in hit-and-run methods – never needed before." Excuse us, but isn't Hizbollah the world's finest guerrilla army? What's going on here? (Theo Farrell's work on the Irish Army in the inter-war period jumps to mind, but it probably goes beyond the influence of world military culture.) Leave your pet theories in the comments section...

Update: Nick Blanford writes in... "Before the 2006 war, getting Hizbullah fighters to talk was notoriously difficult. But the scale and pace of recruitment and training since 2006 has cast the net wide open and it is possible now to find some Hizbullah fighters who will chat off-the-record. It's possible to go to Shiite villages in the south or Bekaa and in Dahiyeh and get to hear about such and such a person who's gone off to Iran to do his training. They don't tell me details of their battle plans, but they sometimes let slip revealing info. Also the saraya recruits do not generally share the traditional tight-lipped discipline of the Hizbullah fighter and they are other sources of info. ... I don't think this is an indication that Hizbullah's internal security is slipping, but it is an indication of the sense of urgency it feels in readying itself for what it believes is an inevitable fresh encounter with Israel. ... As for the Shiite village, it's not a conspiracy theory, or a secret. It's quite open and well known locally. It's being built on what was a barren hillside between the Litani river and Kawkaba. Last year, the locals were calling it Ahmadiyeh. Now it seems to be called Borghoz Jdeed, after the small Druze farmstead of Borghoz nearby. It's being populated by Shiites from the qada of Tyre and from Sohmor and Yohmor villages in the western Bekaa. It's been written about before by myself and others."