Archive for the ‘Lebanon’ Category

Adam Elkus has a piece out entitled The Hezbollah Myth and Asymmetric Warfare, in which he criticises what he sees as a tendency to over-rate the power of guerrillas in the light of the 2006 war. Having read it, I think the real question here is about expectations and goals. Hezbollah didn’t defeat the Israelis and hold a victory parade in Tel Aviv, but then nobody least of all them expected or aimed for that. The outcome of 2006 can only be understood in the light of a realistic assessment of the conflict parties’ capabilities, interests, and priorities. A score draw is a much better result for Stoke City against Manchester United than it is for Manchester United against Barcelona.

For Hezbollah, the first and overriding goal was surely survival – as it is for everyone, it’s even the title of the IISS Journal – followed closely by survival as a force in Lebanese politics, survival of their capability to maintain their self-declared insecurity zone in northern Israel, and finally, inflicting casualties and costs on the Israelis in order to create a deterrent effect. In that light, the result of 2006 was surely just as good from their point of view as they made out – they came away still in the field, still firing rockets, and with their status in Lebanese politics enhanced.

For Israel, well, perhaps one day they’ll work out what their strategic aims were.

Elkus argues that the tactical situation at the point when the UN ceasefire went into effect was favourable for Israel, and that had the war gone on they might have done better. This is possible. However, it’s also very common for wars to end like this. The Israelis’ campaign in 1967 was designed, once they got the upper hand, to get to the Canal and onto the Golan before the UN blew the whistle – one of Ariel Sharon’s frequent blind-eye manoeuvres in 1973 was also intended to complete the encirclement of the Egyptian 3rd Army before the UN ceasefire went into effect. The Indian plan for the 1971 war was explicitly intended to take Dhaka before a ceasefire was imposed. More recently, the Russian operation in Georgia was subject to a similar deadline. International intervention is part of the environment, and only fools wouldn’t take it into account as a planning assumption.

An interesting sidelight on this, also from Elkus, came up in a parallel blog debate about “network-centric warfare” – he pointed to this gung-ho but good piece about the action in northern Iraq in which John Simpson was blown up. What struck me about it, however, was more that it was an example of this kind of thing – which should certainly make you think about 2006, especially in the light of this.

Tangentially, Sean Lawson’s essay on the history of “network centric warfare” is well worth reading, especially for the way so many US officials in 2001-2006 seem to have been competing to see who could validate all the most extreme stereotypes of themselves the fastest, and more broadly on the way a basically sensible idea can become a sort of gateway drug to really insane strategic fantasies.

Cebrowski talked of a “booming export market for…security” and warned those who would resist, “If you are fighting globalization, if you reject the rules, if you reject connectivity, you are probably going to be of interest to the United States Department of Defense” (Cebrowski, 2003c).

Measured against the sort of capabilities the NCW thinkers knew they had, and the kind of goals they dreamed on the basis of them, what possible results wouldn’t look like failure? Compared with the enormous arrogance of this vision – they really did want everyone who thinks the CIA wants them dead, dead – what resistance wouldn’t look like success?


Peter Beaumont goes for a Holt’s battlefield tour of southern Lebanon:

Cruising through the serene green wadis that connect south Lebanon to the Litani river to the north, the commander explains what happened at the end of the last war. “We knocked out three of their tanks on the first day, as they tried to enter,” he explained at a turn-off by the village of al-Qantara. “But after they entered the wadi, we knew they were going for the river and had to be stopped. So we called out to all the special forces anti-tank teams in the area. And they all swarmed the wadi. Boys would set up and wait for the tanks, fire off their rounds and then pull back. Then they would pull back a kilometre or so down the wadi and wait for them again.”

According to Israeli military reports, after the first and last tanks were hit by rocket fire or mines, killing the company commander, the 24 tanks were essentially trapped inside a valley, surrounded on all sides and pinned down by mortars, rockets and mines. Eleven tanks were destroyed and the rest partially damaged and Israel lost at least 12 soldiers.

Go read the rest; there’s a fair amount of speculation of the informed sort, and an appearance from Andrew Exum opining that the reinforced UNIFIL has succeeded in moving Hezbollah away from the border, rather as it was meant to. Actually, the reinforced UNIFIL should surely be counted as one of the unexpected successes of the last few years – especially if you remember all the yelling at the time.

However, this may be less important than it appears, especially if the Hezbollah guy’s account of their tactics in 2006 is representative – there’s no reason why they couldn’t keep doing that every kilometre, and indeed that’s what the original idea of a screen of small groups of men with guided anti-tank weapons was meant to do in front of the main NATO armies in Germany (remember this post and Stephen Biddle’s analysis?)

Further, the whole concept of a buffer force assumes that both sides would rather not fight, but that neither is willing to make the first move – that a classic security dilemma is operating. If one or both parties are determined to initiate more violence, though, this breaks down. And it’s worrying to see how a lot of Israeli commentary about 2006 has changed over time – in the first 18 months or so, there was a lot of frankness around. The war had clearly been a failure, and Hezbollah had surprised everyone by defending southern Lebanon effectively. Roughly since Gaza, there’s been a denialist phase – a bit like David Lloyd’s crack that “we flippin’ murdered them” after the England cricket team ran out of time trying to beat Zimbabwe. A lot of stuff was blown up in Beirut, and if it wasn’t for those pathetic politicians, we’d have won. You know the pattern.

More information is becoming available about the Christopher Hitchens brawl. It appears to have been a telling moment in Decency. The crucial detail is that Hitchens didn’t just deface any old SSNP artefact – he scrawled on the monument to the first shots fired in resistance to the Israeli occupation of 1982. Now, I’m sure the Syrian Social Nationalist Party – funny name, funny guys – are far from ideal. Funny swastikoid logoware, want to annex Cyprus, you get the picture.

But it’s hugely telling that Hitchens’ squiffy decision to take The Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Times outside resulted in him doing three things – thinking he was fighting fascists, while in reality he was taking the side of Ariel Sharon, with the upshot that he got a kicking about which he could moan in a publicity-generating manner.

This is, after all, precisely the pattern of his career since the neoconservative turn in about 1998; protesting bitterly that he is on the Left, while mocking and demonising anyone who didn’t agree with the most aggressive hard-right US Republicans and Likudniks, and using the outrage and betrayal that resulted to prove his commitment to his new mates. Up on the Hill, they think I’m OK…they just don’t say, and it is in the nature of being the pet defector that you’ve always got to go further than the others to maintain your position. Hence things like his bizarre appearance on Newsnight to claim that the victims of Hurricane Katrina weren’t Americans.

Down at the tactical level of debate, it’s notable that he spent so much time between 1998-2005 strawmanning the opinions of various deranged groupuscules onto the great majority of British voters; someone like the SSNP, or George Galloway, has always been necessary for successful Decency.

The unconscious speaks. Considering the whole affair as a weird kind of liberal-hawk psychodrama, it’s significant that Hitchens took his stew of unresolved inner conflicts to Beirut, city of unresolved conflicts par excellence and a taste for high living. Both the SSNP brawl, and his self-administered waterboarding, can possibly be seen as a sort of ritual self purification through which he hopes to return to the Left (a Lacanian would call it the Father’s Law), now that gonzo-reporting CPAC has become something for the mainstream rather than a move reserved for Sadly, No!.

The U.S. Army’s top historian has a paper out on the war between Israel and Hezbollah (and most of Lebanon) in 2006. It was worth reading when I read it before Christmas, and it’s even more so now.

Specifically, Dr Biddle’s view of Hezbollah strategy is interesting; in his opinion, they adapted to the fact that really long-range rockets would be easy for the Israelis to spot from the air by changing their tactics so as to keep the smaller and more mobile rockets in range of northern Israel, while not over-committing the core army they needed to remain a power in Lebanese politics. In practice, this meant moving from a guerrilla war to a mobile defence in depth, rolling with the punches rather than getting out of the way.

This is roughly what this blog said at the time about NATO reconnaissance screen tactics, the self-declared insecurity zone, and the fleet-in-being inside Lebanon. There’s a lot of interesting stuff about their surprisingly good command and control, the use of anti-tank missiles, and much else. I’m slightly surprised that Biddle thinks that the incident where Hezbollah fired a volley of 13 guided missiles at a group of 15 Israeli tanks and destroyed three of them was a failure, but then, this is an American way of seeing. Targets, probabilities, and the like.

In today’s context, it’s clear that many of the same points apply to Hamas. Their top priorities are to stay in charge in Gaza, which is achievable with a thin layer of supporters with access to aid and rifles, and to maintain their insecurity zone, which they are able to do with very primitive rockets that can probably be made under occupation conditions. Sten guns were made in thousands in clandestine workshops in occupied Europe in the second world war, and those had quite precise mechanical workings.

Well, I asked for details of that Hezbollah converged telecoms network, and some appeared via the comments at Abu Muqawama. First of all, there’s a map. My first reaction on seeing this was that it looked a lot like a rather underdeveloped, dated official backbone network – there’s not much redundancy anywhere, and there’s only one path between Beirut and the Beka’a, or between either place and the South, which goes far too close to the southern border for comfort. The long lines follow precisely two routes, each of them along the highway right-of-way; there’s more redundancy down south, but it doesn’t look like you’d need more than three cuts to thoroughly partition the whole thing. However, breaking up useful comms within the southern area itself would be considerably more difficult; and this does seem to fit with their tactics.

And here’s an interesting point – there appear to be some very critical nodes in the upper Litani valley, not far at all from the main Israeli incursion in 2006, and for that matter from where the UNTSO post was destroyed. It’s also clear that they have put in several loops right along this sector, close to the border, which should come as no surprise. But the backbone goes that way, too.

Of course, it’s far from obvious that the map is honest, accurate, or comprehensive, or that there aren’t radio links that thicken it up but aren’t shown on the map. “Salem” provides the answer, which is that this network at least is the old official one before Oger took over running it, and Hezbollah took it over. This doesn’t mean, however, its capabilities are necessarily the same or even remotely similar.

The single biggest cost in a telco deployment is always the rights-of-way, cell sites, and digging the holes. Essentially, it’s Baumol’s cost disease, seen from the opposite end – rather than some labour-intensive goods becoming relatively more expensive than capital-intensive ones because they are excluded from technological progress, it’s more that the inputs with the greatest manufactured content – switches, routers, Node-Bs – get cheaper due to Moore’s law and economies of scale, while the civil engineering doesn’t display any such trend. Further, the electronic kit goes obsolete quickly, the bearer – fibre or copper – not for 20 years at least. And the holes in the ground don’t – ever.

Pat Lang posted an article of his from the 1970s at the time of the 2006 war entitled “The Best Defense is…” As I recall, there was quite an emphasis on wired comms in that, too. This sort of investment implies a strategy based on the control of land, and an intention to command the informational terrain as well as they do the physical and human sort.

OK, so I was wanting to know about that Hezbollah WiMAX net. The original source of the story appears to be this Time report:

Although Hizballah is known for its massive Iran-funded social welfare system that provides everything from soup to education, construction materials and matchmaking services for Lebanon’s Shi’ite underclass, cell-phone service is not part of the package — except for those who join its guerrilla army.

Hell, there’s a cracking affinity-marketed MVNO opportunity in there.

One of the world’s most technically advanced and resourceful guerrilla organizations, Hizballah had some time ago installed its own, in-house dedicated fiber-optic telephone network, connecting its headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut to its offices, military posts and cadres as far south as the Israeli border. During the summer 2006 war, Israel had jammed cellphone signals throughout south Lebanon and monitored the Lebanese telephone system, but Hizballah’s internal communications channels had survived thanks to its private fiber-optic system. Since the war, however, Hizballah has expanded the network to cover its new military frontline north of the United Nations–patrolled southern border district, and into the Bekaa Valley to the east. Part of the system incorporates a WiMAX network allowing long-distance wireless access for the Internet and cell phones.

More recently, Hizballah has dug trenches for fiber-optic cables in the mainly Christian and Druze Mount Lebanon district and in north Lebanon, according to Marwan Hamade, the Lebanese minister of telecommunications. “It was confined to one or two small areas before and we overlooked it as part of their internal communications. But now it’s spread all over Lebanon,” Hamade told TIME.

We’ll have to get used to this stuff; with the falling price of fancy technology, the days when sophisticated networking was confined to the rich are gone. After all, Hezbollah isn’t the only army that’s deploying WiMAX. South Korea maintains formidable armed forces for reasons that should be obvious, and they are planning to build their entire command-and-control structure on the technology – which has plenty to do with the fact that Samsung developed most of what the world knows as IEEE802.16e Mobile WiMAX, before it was called that. The US Army bought a large quantity of WiMAX gear for evaluation. I have in the past suggested that the British Army check it out as well; we’d be fools not to, as Airspan‘s test deployment is in Stratford.

And so did Israel. If encrypting your data before hurling it over the air is good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for Hezbollah; and WiMAX is suited to a mesh network topology, where each participating node is a router, therefore simplifying the problem of deployment and increasing the system’s resilience. The basic nodes are cheap, too, considerably more so than full size GSM or UMTS base stations.

The Complex Terrain Lab reminds us that the Hezbollah TV station stayed on the air in 2006, despite the Israelis bombing it; a broadcast TV station is in radio terms the biggest target there is. It just sits there, yelling with multiple kilowatts of power in all directions, and by definition it has to be obvious to work; but they couldn’t catch it. I always wondered about that. Their satellite transponder would surely be part of the answer, but uplinking is also a noisy radio activity; one use for a secure, redundant, and private fibre loop or four would be to support a gaggle of mobile satellite TV uplinks.

So we had the world’s first military coup motivated by a 3G network licence, in Thailand; we had the shootout between the Chalabi Boys and Orascom security men in Baghdad. Now, there’s the Hezbollah/Amal coup de force (or de folie as Robert Fisk preferred), motivated in part by the Lebanese government’s desire to control their secret telecoms network, including a CCTV system they installed at the airport to monitor the comings and goings.

Curiously, I’ve yet to hear any actual details of the system, except that it provides 99,000 “lines” (an increasingly meaningless metric, but one that implies it has a softswitch architecture rather than straight IP) and uses buried fibre. But there are also tales of WiMAX and other things radio. Apparently, the leader of Hezbollah has claimed that their signals were their most important weapon back in 2006. Perhaps – you’ve got to know when to move your ATGW team back over the reverse slope, I suppose. Some doubt this on the grounds that a fixed net doesn’t seem that useful, but then, all mobile networks are fixed at some point, and if the fibre is dual SONET it needs a minimum of four independent cuts to partition the system. The Lebanese Army has now said that

it would handle the issue of the communications network in a way “that would not harm public interest and the security of the resistance”. It also said it was reinstating the head of airport security [CCTV Guy].

Which, I think, means they’re going to let it slide, if they don’t actually hook it up to their own signals network. This is of course one of the least obvious features of the whole crisis; all the territory Hezbollah and Amal took was immediately handed over to the official Lebanese military, an increasingly powerful force in politics.

Arguably, this suggests that some of the ideas floated in 2006 about incorporating Hezbollah in the Lebanese military as some sort of reserve/militia/national guard/territorial army/jagers/greenjackets/cossacks/whatever else you call those crazy bastards on the border, as long as they don’t bother you and keep the roads open, are being put in effect de facto. Perhaps the military have a deal, under which the Shia will support their commander in chief for president (and they do), and in return they will have a free hand to create their not-state in the south? It’s a solution to the problem of a bunch of dangerous and independent-minded borderers that has a long pedigree indeed.

You could call it the Haganah-isation of Hezbollah; it’s changing not just from a guerrilla force to an army, but also from a political party to an unstate with a shadow administration, an economy, and its own infrastructure, just as the Israeli founding generation built a mixed economy, a trade union movement, a shadow civil service, and a highly capable semiguerrilla army/intelligence service long before the state became a formal reality. I’m only surprised they didn’t start a commercial GSM network as cover for their own command-and-control system; perhaps they will.

Meanwhile, again, this is an example of the democratisation of technology. You don’t have to invoke a secret Dr Evil to explain how they built this; annoyingly, I see some people are yelling about Huawei and how it’s all teh secret Chinese-Iranian plot. Perhaps. But they’ll sell to anyone. And if there is WiMAX gear in there, it’s cheap; the base stations are already under $10,000, and the biggest expense in a fibre build is always at Layer Zero, that is to say the business of going and digging the holes and renting the transmitter sites. I suspect right-of-way is less expensive in southern Lebanon than it is in Surrey, armies are rarely short of people if they need to dig a hole, and Hezbollah presumably doesn’t have much trouble with NIMBYs. (See also.)

Was this a civil war? Perhaps the idea is wrong; it seems to me more like one of Gwyn Prins’ “diplomatic-military operations” in one country, perhaps something an unstate like Hezbollah – or the Sadr movement – is uniquely suited to, as this superb article of Spencer Ackerman’s argues.

Last week: Two-thirds of Israelis want talks with Hamas. Not just that, but former secret-service chiefs were in the press arguing for it. Here’s Efraim Halevy talking to old-school TYR ally Laura Rozen. And here’s the data: ;not only did 64 per cent of Israelis support direct talks, and a majority of Labour and Kadima voters, but a plurality of Likud voters did as well.

Now; first, an air raid in fabulous Khan Yunis that kills five people including a couple of Hamas leaders. The inevitable retaliation; rockets hit Ashkelon and its various network-industrial nodes (oil terminal, power station, etc). A truly impressive amount of linguistic escalation. And a bloody punishment expedition.

Talks, even with the PA, are off. And this is worrying, even though the source is low credibility with a capital S. The whole thing has a kind of Lebanese feel; a mixture of extreme violence with a very low commitment to its actual aims. Consider the US Navy surface-action group that is annoying the Lebanese government; it’s not by any means a credible threat of effective intervention, so what is it doing there? (There is only one US aircraft carrier away from home; and she’s in the Arabian Gulf, not the Med.)

It also has a nasty echo of the incident back in 2002 that led Alistair Crooke to be blown as the SIS station chief in Tel Aviv; you may recall that he had secured Hamas agreement to a truce when, after some days of calm, an Israeli air raid intended to kill a Hamas man destroyed a block of flats and some children. A major suicide bombing instantly followed; shortly after, Ma’ariv was leaked Crooke’s identity and likeness and he was forced to quit.

What’s interesting here is that the war doesn’t seem to matter to the respective leaderships any more; it’s a second-order issue. (Amusingly, I remember that back in tha day Laura was asking for advice on how to buy euro-denominated bonds just after Bush’s re-election; more recently, this post. Turns out she didn’t.)

A sinister tale from Iraq. But does anyone else find the scariest bit that the mystery voice who threatened her identified itself as the “Kata’eb al-Jihad”? Yes, that’s Kata’eb as in the Lebanese Phalange’s Arabic name. Not that the originals would have had any truck with jihad, but it strikes me that it’s a great name to adopt if you want to terrify anyone in the Middle East, and also that the environment of Iraq is an excellent one for the growth of good old-fashioned fascism.

And then I remembered that a plane that flew a huge quantity of cash out of Iraq to Beirut turned out to have a Lebanese Forces MP aboard, a plane owned by something called Flying Carpet in Beirut owned by one Mazen Bsat.

Or perhaps, it’s our own side’s supersmart electronic warfare? I ask only having read this report about Coalition electronic/information warfare in Iraq. Yes, they really are flying EC-130s around fiddling with the GSM network when they could just hook in to the SS7 switch’s lawful intercept function. But what amused me was the special “network exploitation system” that allows you to become the sysadmin…errr…so long as it doesn’t attack one of your own radio nets.

Wouldn’t it just be less stupid to teach some people Arabic?

The new map of the Middle East crazed wingnut Ralph Peters came up with needs a bit more battering, I think. Specifically, as well as the fact that even though in the text of the article he accepts that the Israelis ought to go back to the Green Line, and on the map he blithely confiscates Saudi Arabia’s oilfields and gives them to a new Shia state including southern Iraq, he can’t bring himself to mention the word “Palestine” (it’s given as “West Bank – status undetermined”), his worldview is truly bizarre and it shows through.

Iran is expected to surrender its Arab bit and coastal strip to the new Shia state, some land to the Kurds, and the northern bit around Tabriz to Azerbaijan – rather like Stalin did in 1945 – and for some reason it’s marked as Iran (Persia). Really. What is it with right-wing Americans and restorationist fantasies? Peters probably considers China to be China (Taiwan Mainland) or something. Meanwhile, a straight line is drawn across Iraq right through the centre of Baghdad between “Sunni Iraq” and the new Shia state. That’s what I call a dead straight line, even though Baghdad is marked as a “city state” in a desperate afterthought. The Sunnis miss out on the oil except perhaps for the East Baghdad field, but there is no mention of their control of the Shias’ water supply (perhaps Peters doesn’t realise you need water).

As well as being mulcted of their oil, the Saudis are asked to hand over a huge tract of land to Yemen (why?), Mecca and Medina, plus more land, to a new “sacred state”, and accept being downgraded from a Kingdom to the “Independent Saudi Homeland Territories”. Christ. Territories and a homeland in one name. Still, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of hypocritical, corrupt medieval torturers. Jordan also gets some Saudi territory – why, I’ve no idea, except that it ends up looking rather like a rhinoceros rotated through 25 degrees from the horizontal.

Oman, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait are entirely unchanged, presumably because he doesn’t know where they are except that they are rich. Going for the big finish, he also gives the entire Syrian coast to Lebanon, incidentally putting his (presumably) friends and allies there in the permanent minority, on the grounds that it would be a “new Greater Phoenicia.”