Are Hezbollah’s Attack Tunnels the Future of Warfare?: Michael Peck, National Interest, Jan. 20, 2019 — Israel has faced many threats during its tumultuous seventy-five-year existence: ballistic missiles, tanks, hang-gliding terrorists, suicide bombers.
How Did Israel’s Enemies Become Experts in Tunnel Warfare?: Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2018— In April 2017, a lumbering MC-130 with its four whirring propellers flew over a mountainous area in eastern Afghanistan.
A League of Their Own, as Few Arab Leaders Attend Summit: Vivian Yee, New York Times, Jan. 20, 2019— The eyes of the world were nowhere near Beirut, where the kings and presidents of the Arab world had been ceremoniously summoned to a summit of the Arab League over the weekend and had, in all but two cases, ceremoniously declined.
What is the U.S. Policy Towards Lebanon?: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, Dec. 24, 2018— According to the Israeli media, during his meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels last Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for the U.S. to impose an economic embargo on Lebanon.
On Topic Links
Hillel Neuer Visits Hezbollah Terror Tunnels Ahead of UNSC Meeting: Breaking Israel News, Dec. 19, 2018
Ex-Government Agent Discusses Using AI to Battle Hezbollah Rockets: Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2018
Israeli Official Briefs Italian MPs on Hezbollah, Iran: Eldad Beck, Israel Hayom, Dec. 20, 2018
What Real Border Security Looks Like: Bret Stephens, New York Times, Jan. 10, 2019
ARE HEZBOLLAH’S ATTACK TUNNELS THE FUTURE OF WARFARE?
National Interest, Jan. 20, 2019
Israel has faced many threats during its tumultuous seventy-five-year existence: ballistic missiles, tanks, hang-gliding terrorists, suicide bombers. But now Israel faces a new threat that doesn’t go through Israeli defenses, but under them.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militant group, has dug tunnels under the border between Lebanon and the Galilee region of northern Israel. Israel says the tunnels have a deadly purpose: to allow Hezbollah fighters to enter Israel in a surprise attack to capture Israeli border communities, a feat that Arab armies have not been able to accomplish since 1948. “The plan entails fighters from Hezbollah’s elite Radwan unit infiltrating Israel from Lebanon, entrenching themselves in Israeli communities near the border while taking hostages and using Israeli citizens as human shields,” according to Israel’s Ynet News. The tunnels were sophisticated, with electricity and ventilation systems.
This is not the first time that Israel has faced tunnels. Hamas tunneled from Gaza into southern Israel, most famously emerging to capture Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, who was held captive for five years until exchanged for Hamas prisoners in 2011. This has spurred the Israel Defense Forces to develop new technology and techniques for detecting tunnels.
The work seems to have paid off. Last month, Israeli troops began destroying the Hezbollah tunnels. So far, Israel has destroyed five tunnels, though given the nature of subterranean warfare, there may very well be more. Which raises the question: Are Hezbollah’s tunnels a template for the future of warfare? It’s not that tunnels are a new weapon. The Viet Cong used them to hide from and ambush American soldiers, while North Korea is famous for building numerous tunnels under the DMZ as invasion routes into South Korea, with some wide enough for tanks to cross. Hezbollah cannot be under any illusions that it could hold the Galilee against Israeli firepower (though such firepower would kill Israeli hostages). Hezbollah “conquering” the Galilee would not be conquest in the conventional sense. It would be more like terrorists or bank robbers taking hostages.
But if Israel’s estimation is correct, then permanent conquest doesn’t matter. Hezbollah would use these tunnels to capture enemy territory in a surprise attack, to seize territory, humiliate the enemy and demonstrate their impotence before the world. Hezbollah has always displayed a keen sense of public relations, like almost destroying an Israeli warship with a missile on live television. Capturing a few Israeli towns would be even more impressive, reminiscent of the Tet Offensive, which sought to demonstrate the powerlessness of the Saigon government and its American backers by mounting a nationwide offensive across South Vietnam.
So is Hezbollah’s tunnel strategy the future of warfare? It could be—if certain conditions are met. For starters, you would need a non-state organization that’s actually more powerful than the army of the state it resides in (such as Lebanon.) That actor would be so powerful because of generous military and financial assistance from a foreign nation (such as Iran), including access to advanced weapons such as ballistic missiles.
That organization would also need to control a border territory (such as southern Lebanon), so that it would be free to build tunnels with minimal interference from a cowed central government or UN peacekeepers too weak and timid to interfere. It would also help to face an enemy such as Israel, which is sensitive to losing the lives of its citizens. If these conditions exist, then any guerrilla or militia organization could do what Hezbollah does. The problem is finding places where these conditions apply. Syria or Yemen are not conflicts where the lives of hostages seem to matter much. Muslim rebels in the Philippines don’t have ballistic missiles. The Iraqi government wouldn’t give political cover to ISIS if it dug attack tunnels into Iran. In other words, Hezbollah’s tunnels are a clever idea because of the unique conditions along the Israel-Lebanon border. Which doesn’t mean they would work anywhere else.
HOW DID ISRAEL’S ENEMIES BECOME EXPERTS IN TUNNEL WARFARE?
Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2018
In April 2017, a lumbering MC-130 with its four whirring propellers flew over a mountainous area in eastern Afghanistan. Just before eight in the evening, the plane dropped a 9,797 kilogram bomb, known as a GBU-43, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used, on a tunnel network used by Islamic State in Afghanistan.
Thirty-six ISIS members were killed in the massive explosion that followed, according to US estimates. The ISIS tunnel network was more complex than the one that Hezbollah has built in southern Lebanon, but just as the US has had to contend with terrorist tunnels, Israel and all countries facing terrorism are increasingly forced to fight an underground war.
The complexity of caves and tunnels is one of many used by terrorist groups in Afghanistan. ISIS, like many terror groups, have become experts in tunnels. They didn’t invent this on their own. They graduated from what other terror groups have used, and used tunnels that have existed in places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan for decades. Some of these are bunker complexes that various regimes built, improved upon by terrorists, or they may be terror tunnels built by other groups such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In Douma in Syria, the Syrian rebels built a massive complex of tunnels. BBC called it “quite a work of engineering.” It was excavated from solid clay and stones, and was big enough to “drive a vehicle down.” One reporter who went down into the tunnels in Douma called it was a “subterranean life.”
Hezbollah’s tunnels into Israel have now been revealed in a recent video after Israel began operation Northern Shield. So far, the tunnels under the border have not consisted of such massive complexity and are not equipped with places for vehicles. To understand their origin and the kinds of difficulty in confronting this issue, we must look back at the Second Lebanon War of 2006.
Hezbollah spent decades improving its terror infrastructure in southern Lebanon. After Israel withdrew in 2000 from Lebanon the leaders of Hezbollah planned an extensive network of what were labeled “nature reserves” by Israel, complex tunnels and bunkers designed to conceal the growing arsenal of the group. They attempted to make them not only difficult to find but also difficult to bomb, according to a 2016 article by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. According to the report, they built fortified areas in 200 villages. In an article published by the US Army Combined Arms Center in 2008, the authors looked at Hezbollah’s tunnel expertise.
According to this study, which quoted an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer, Hezbollah had “North Korean advisors [who] had assisted Hezbollah in building tunnel infrastructure.” One tunnel was supposedly 25 kilometers long. This extraordinary claim, printed in Asharq Al-Awsat, may not be accurate. One IDF soldier remarked that after the 2006 war, he found a bunker near Maroun al-Ras. It was 25 feet deep, linked several rooms, and had a camera that Hezbollah used to monitor outside movement.
The US army report suggests that Hezbollah – which was born in the 1980s – might have been inspired by the Viet Cong who used tunnels to confront the US military in Vietnam in the 1960s. The Viet Cong dug massive tunnel systems. One at Cu Chi was 250 kilometers long. Hezbollah might have sought to copy the Vietnamese, but it also wanted to exploit modern technology. Tunnels that were found in 2006 included some with hydraulic steel doors.
Considering Hezbollah’s close relationship with Iran and also the Syrian regime it should be expected that Hezbollah’s expertise in tunneling has more similarities with the kind of network a state might be able to create, and not just a terrorist organization. This means that tunnels have levels of technology, depth and ability to go through difficult terrain. However, as has been shown in the Syrian civil war context, any group that has even limited resources and devotion, can build impressive tunnels.
Confronting tunnels is a complex task. Militaries and law enforcement agencies, such as those dealing with drug trafficking and smuggling, have to monitor tunnels. In Gaza, the tunnels built under the border with Egypt were used to smuggle people, infrastructure and weapons. Militaries can bomb tunnel networks, like the US did in Afghanistan, but only if they aren’t located in civilian areas. ISIS, for instance, festooned civilian areas with tunnels so that its fighters could pass unnoticed under houses and roads. They were able to hold out against a 70-nation Coalition and the Iraqi army in Mosul for 9 months by using these tunnels.
Armies don’t like to send men down into tunnels because naturally the enemy has advantage in its own tunnel system and can neutralize a modern army’s technological advantage. In 2016, The New Yorker noted that Israel had developed a kind of “underground Iron Dome” to confront tunnels. But Brig.-Gen. (res) Danny Gold, who helped pioneer the above ground Iron Dome and said that “since the Vietnam War it [tunnel threats] hasn’t been solved. Between Mexico and the United States it isn’t solved. Sometimes it’s even harder than finding oil in the ground.” An Israeli system, according to this report, cost hundreds of millions of dollars, some of which the US supposed was to “field some four hundred different ideas for the detection and destruction of tunnels.”
But for countries fighting tunnels, detection is only one issue. Armies can listen for the tunnel or postulate on where it might be, but don’t want any threats or find any surprises when trying to unearth it. This may not be such an easy challenge to confront in an environment with civilians around. Once detected the goal would be to stop the tunnel if it is a threat. But a country might want to monitor what the enemy is doing before interdicting the tunnel. Also a means to dig a counter-tunnel has to be developed and used without alerting the adversary that the counter-tunnel is moving toward the original. Different countries have employed different means. Egypt flooded the tunnels along the border. The most important aspect of confronting tunnels may also be mapping their point of origin to know what threats may be lurking where they begin. Tunnels in warfare have not only been used to hide men and material, but sometimes to store explosives. Israel, by necessity, has become proficient at confronting tunnels. Hezbollah, like other terror groups and like its allied regimes, has also likely increased its skills. The subterranean war will continue to be a layer of the modern battlefield.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, AS FEW ARAB LEADERS ATTEND SUMMIT
New York Times, Jan. 20, 2019
The eyes of the world were nowhere near Beirut, where the kings and presidents of the Arab world had been ceremoniously summoned to a summit of the Arab League over the weekend and had, in all but two cases, ceremoniously declined. Government jets disgorged only underlings and minor ministers onto the red carpet rolled out for them at the airport.
Libya was boycotting, and just about everyone was in a fight over whether to invite Syria at all. Nonetheless, the city puffed out its chest, put its downtown on lockdown and hoisted the flags of the 22 member states under a mercifully rainless sky. The fourth economic and social summit of the Arab League — or most of it, anyway — was hereby called to order. “We wished for this summit to be an occasion to bring together all the Arabs, leaving no vacant seats,” the host, President Michel Aoun of Lebanon, lamented in a speech that kicked off Sunday’s gathering. “Yet the hurdles were unfortunately stronger.”
As if on cue, the TV cameras panned to an empty dais on which a small Libyan flag was wilting, and an eloquent gap between the Egyptian delegation and the Lebanese one. Members of a Lebanese political party had threatened to physically block the Libyans from leaving the airport if they showed up. Syria’s empty seat was just across the vast hall, a bone of contention in the form of a large wooden desk — and a reminder that, with a few member states reopening embassies in Damascus in recent months, Syria’s pariah government appeared to be progressing toward rejoining the league.
That, of course, might first require unearthing some kind of Arab League consensus. Formed at the suggestion of the British during World War II, the league was supposed to strengthen ties among Arab countries from Morocco to Oman, with the Palestinian cause their most important shared mission. It united its members in shaking off colonialism and confronting Israel, helped broker an end to Lebanon’s 15-year civil war and developed a significant Israel-Palestine peace plan.
But by now, enfeebled by regional rivalries and disagreements, the league has acquired an all-too-mockable reputation for dysfunction. Its aged leaders have been known to fall asleep during meetings. In one recent year, one leader mused that the only thing the members had in common was the Arabic language. In 2016, the league hit what was perhaps a modern low point when Morocco announced that it would not be bothering to host the annual leaders’ summit. It dismissed it as “just another occasion” to “pronounce speeches that give a false impression of unity.” When Mauritania stepped up to host instead, only seven leaders attended.
“It’s constitutionally incapable of addressing the real problems that are facing the Middle East,” said James Gelvin, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California, Los Angeles. “That’s everything from bad governance and political violence to climate change, population growth, bad health care and bad educational systems.”
Matters have not improved much since 2016. “Half these countries are fighting each other in wars or undermining each other,” said Rami G. Khouri, a Beirut-based political columnist who has covered several Arab League summits. It is only a slight exaggeration. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia and its partners in the United Arab Emirates are mired in a war against the Houthis, a rebel group, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and thrust millions to the edge of famine. (Representatives of Yemen’s Saudi-backed government attended the summit, but the league took no action to address the humanitarian crisis.)
There are hostilities between the Saudis and Emiratis and the Qataris, whom the Saudis and Emiratis have tried to ostracize politically and isolate economically, and between the Saudis and anyone linked to Iran. There is bad blood between Lebanon and Libya. No one has entirely forgotten that Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, a move seen as such a historic betrayal of the bloc that Egypt was voted out for a decade.
And when it comes to Syria and the several countries that have funded rebel groups taking on President Bashar al-Assad’s government, water is only just beginning to trickle under the bridge. Soon after the Syrian war broke out, the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership, and it later welcomed representatives from the Syrian opposition. Almost eight years later, Mr. Assad has all but re-clinched control of the country. The league’s membership has had to wrestle with questions about how to rebuild Syria’s shattered infrastructure and economy — an undertaking that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars — and what to do about the more than five million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
Those questions were always going to be extra-fraught at a summit meeting in Lebanon, where the three major political and religious camps — Christian, Shiite Muslim and Sunni Muslim — have been so deadlocked, in part over Lebanese-Syrian relations, that they have failed to form a government for eight months and counting. Mr. Assad’s government enjoys the support of Shiite-dominated factions in Lebanon and beyond, and in the weeks before the summit, Lebanon’s Parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, a Shiite, called for the whole event to be postponed until Syria was invited. What was the point of discussing Syrian reconstruction and refugees, Mr. Berri asked, if Syria was absent? He earned nothing but irritated shushings from Lebanon’s Christian president and Sunni prime minister, who were anxious to present the host country in a good light…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
WHAT IS THE U.S. POLICY TOWARDS LEBANON?
Breaking Israel News, Dec. 24, 2018
According to the Israeli media, during his meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels last Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for the U.S. to impose an economic embargo on Lebanon. Pompeo reportedly rejected Netanyahu’s request. The meeting between the two men took place on the eve of Israel’s initiation of Operation Northern Shield last Tuesday. The operation is a military effort geared towards sealing Hezbollah’s offensive subterranean attack tunnels. It follows Israel’s stunning revelation that it had discovered the locations of Hezbollah’s attack tunnels, perhaps Hezbollah’s most secret undertaking.
According to Netanyahu, Hezbollah launched its offensive tunnel project in 2014. The existence of the tunnel program was known to almost no one in the organization. Hezbollah’s tunnels traverse the border between Lebanon and Israel. Hezbollah reportedly intended to have the tunnels serve as a means to invade Israeli territory rapidly and undetected. It is the declared goal of Hezbollah to conquer northern Israel in its next war against the Jewish state.
The Trump administration’s rejection of Israel’s request to impose economic sanctions on Lebanon signals that it supports Israel’s efforts to neutralize the threat that Hezbollah poses, with its powerful army and massive arsenal of short and long range missiles. But — like the Bush and Obama administrations before it — it rejects Israel’s interpretation of the relations between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government and armed forces.
The disparity between the U.S. and Israeli positions on the nature of Hezbollah’s relationship with the Lebanese government and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) emerged during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. At that time, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded that Israel not attack Lebanese government targets. This despite the government’s open support for Hezbollah and the LAF’s assistance to Hezbollah during the war, particularly through the provision of targeting data for Hezbollah missile crews.
In the aftermath of the war, acting on the basis of its assertion that the LAF is an independent institution, the U.S. began massively arming and training the LAF. This policy, adopted by the Bush administration, was expanded substantially under the Obama administration. That owed in part to then-President Barack Obama’s desire to present Iran and its Hezbollah proxy as responsible regional actors in light of their opposition to the so-called Islamic State in Syria.
Throughout the years, Israel has maintained that the Lebanese government and the LAF are effectively controlled by Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy force. Its position is backed up by facts. The first relevant fact is that the LAF is controlled by the Lebanese government. And the Lebanese government has been effectively controlled by Hezbollah since 2008.
Buoyed by its domestic popularity after its war against Israel, in 2008, Hezbollah staged an effective coup against the government. Its forces took over Western Beirut from government-controlled forces, laid siege to government offices, and shut down government-sponsored media outlets. Hezbollah acted after the Lebanese government sought to end Hezbollah’s effective control over the Beirut International Airport. In light of their cooperation with with Hezbollah in its war against Israel in 2006, it wasn’t surprising that in 2008, the LAF refused to defend the government from Hezbollah. The government was forced to back down…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
On Topic Links
Hillel Neuer Visits Hezbollah Terror Tunnels Ahead of UNSC Meeting: Breaking Israel News, Dec. 19, 2018—UN Watch’s Director Hillel Neuer visits Hezbollah terror tunnels crossing over the Israel-Lebanon border.
Ex-Government Agent Discusses Using AI to Battle Hezbollah Rockets: Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 20, 2018—Amit Meltzer is not only a former chief technology officer for a key Israeli government agency and a top cyber security consultant, he is also a master strategist.
Israeli Official Briefs Italian MPs on Hezbollah, Iran: Eldad Beck, Israel Hayom, Dec. 20, 2018—Head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs tells Italian parliament session on Middle East that Hezbollah is helping Iran export the Islamic revolution across the region, disputing Italian MPs’ claim that Hezbollah operatives are not terrorists.
What Real Border Security Looks Like: Bret Stephens, New York Times, Jan. 10, 2019—What I saw on Wednesday while traveling along the Blue Line was … a fence. A fence studded with sensors, to be sure, but by no means an imposing one. As the accompanying photos show, here is what a long stretch of the border between two sworn enemies looks like.