Lebanon and the Territories / No Resemblance

During the past two weeks, a reservist, a medic in the Paratrooper Brigade has been based in a camp near the northern border. Each time there is a report of injuries in Lebanon, he is rushed along with a team to the relevant gate to receive the wounded before they are dispatched to hospital. The reservist calls the young soldiers "heros. They are dealing with things that are much more difficult than what I experienced. I was in ambushes in Lebanon, in the first and second Intifada, and nothing is like what they are experiencing in there."

How are the injured when they come out?

"They are in shock. They are youths and some of the injuries are really bad. They have been trained, like I was, in the importance of victory and on striving for contact with the enemy. And then they find out that real war was sitting in a fortified position, in a home in Aita Shaab for 24 hours and then getting slammed by an anti-tank missile, without really knowing where it had come from."

In conversatio ns with officers and soldiers returning to Israel for a brief respite from the fighting, there seems to be no resemblance between the fighting the IDF has grown accustomed to in the territories and what goes on in Lebanon. The conclusion: "Hezbollah is not the Palestinians."

"In the past six years, we used to say that the fighting in the territories is the best preparation in the world for total war," said an officer involved in training in the IDF. "Now, at least we managed to shake that off. It turns out that the territories prepare the units to arrest a militant inside a house, not to fight in a village full of anti-tank armed Hezbollah fighters."

Dozens of anti-tank missiles are fired against the IDF forces in the Gaza Strip, but the damage they cause is entirely different. Since the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit on 12 June, the IDF raided the Gaza Strip dozens of times, losing one soldier in a friendly-fire incident. The RPGs the Palestinians fire against IDF armor do not penetrate, but the Sagger missiles the Hezbollah uses hit homes occupied by IDF soldiers, and four were killed in Aita Shaab last week. The advanced Russian-made Metis anti-tank missiles, Hezbollah received from Syria, are capable of serious damage, even against the Merkava, considered to be the best protected tank in the world.

Of all the forces operating in Lebanon, those in tanks are the most vulnerable. Perhaps it has to do with the limited training they received during the intifada years, where they were normally used as infantry. But the real difficulty lies in the limited room for maneuvering because of the booby-trapped roadways. In the absence of mobility, the tanks are sitting ducks.

What do we know about the enemy? According to IDF estimates, Hezbollah has several thousand fight ers south of the Litani River. In each village there are five to eight teams of fighter, mini-squads, comprising four men. They received their military training from members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards who run camps for that purpose. The Hezbollah recruits undergo basic training and the Iranians offer advanced training courses for greater expertise.

Brigadier General (res.) Shimon Shapira, author of "Hezbollah Between Iran and Lebanon," says that "Hezbollah fighters are equiped by Iran from their shoe laces to their helmets."

He says that their training involves use of mortars, artillery, assault against fortified positions, anti-tank missiles and long-range rockets. Some of their elite units undergo specialized training: a sort of naval commando tha t specializes in booby-trapped boats, as well as anti-tank missile teams, specialists for anti-aircraft weapons, mines and unmanned aerial vehicles. Command courses are offered in Iran, for all ranks.

Fighters rarely surrender and often they risk themselves to extricate their wounded comrades or their corpses.

Nonetheless, the balance of power between the two sides is clear. When the IDF brings to bear sufficient firepower and technological means to back up trained troops, in a direct confrontation with Hezbollah, it emerges victorious. During the last week, when the IDF employed ground forces in every part of the front, Hezbollah found it hard to concentrate forces and subsequently suffered greater losses. The IDF estimates 400 fighters have been killed, but armies fighting guerrilla forces tend to exaggerate the fatalities of the enemy. It also appears that lessons are quickly adapted, and repetition of mistakes is avoided.

One of the most effective means is the use of commando forces behind enemy lines. Operations such as the one carried out by the naval commando in Tyre have tremendous psychological impact and are often a greater deterrent than a bombing raid by an F-16.