Hezbollah, a formidable hybrid military force

Since October 8, the day after Hamas' attack on Israeli communities, a low-intensity war has been taking place on the Lebanese-Israeli border between Hezbollah and the Israeli army. Hassan Nasrallah's party has far superior military capabilities to those of the Palestinian Islamist group, which has been largely inspired by its Lebanese ally.

Fighters from Hezbollah's elite al-Radwan unit during military drills in southern Lebanon last May. © Paul Khalifeh / RFI

By: Paul Khalifeh Follow


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From our correspondent in Beirut,

In parallel with the war raging in Gaza, intense diplomatic activity is being deployed by the capitals concerned by the crisis to prevent a large-scale explosion on the Lebanese-Israeli border, the scene since 8 October of daily clashes that have already left more than 90 Hezbollah ranks dead.

European and American envoys insist on the need to implement UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), which prohibits any unlawful armed presence south of the Litani River (40 kilometres from the border) and an end to Israeli land, sea and air violations of Lebanese sovereignty. These two conditions are clearly not met at the moment.

These envoys, including Bernard Émié, head of France's Directorate General for External Security, do not hide their concern about a serious deterioration of the situation at the border. Some envoys warned their Lebanese interlocutors that "Israel is beginning to lose patience with Hezbollah's murderous war of attrition."

Netanyahu threatens to 'turn Beirut into Gaza


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened on Thursday, during a visit to the northern command in charge of the front with Lebanon, to "turn Beirut and southern Lebanon into Gaza and Khan Younis if Hezbollah starts an all-out war."

Lebanese, Arab and Western experts agree that an open war between Lebanon and Israel would be more violent and deadly than the one taking place in Gaza because of Hezbollah's military capabilities, far superior to those available to Hamas.

The Palestinian organization has also been largely inspired by its Lebanese ally, particularly in terms of the secrecy surrounding military matters.

The secret is almost a Hezbollah cult. A very small number of people are aware of its real capabilities in terms of manpower and armament. There is, of course, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and some of the seven members of the Shura Council, the highest governing body.

The links between the military apparatus, led by the "Jihad Council" (whose head is the de facto member of the Shura Council), and the political institutions are limited, which makes it possible to establish an almost hermetic separation between the two levels and, consequently, to better protect secrecy.

The figures circulating about Hizbullah's military strength and detailed inventories of its arsenals, even those published by reputable research centers or recognized experts, are, therefore, suppositions, speculations, or analytical deductions drawn from intelligence notes, field observations, or compiled information.

Hezbollah rarely communicates on military matters. Usually, he only reveals a weapon after using it on the battlefield, as was the case with the Russian Kornet anti-tank guided missile (in its various versions), with which he destroyed about 2006 Israeli Merkava tanks in 701. Or the Iranian Kowsar version of the Chinese C 14 anti-ship missile, with which he damaged, on July 2006, 5, the Israeli Saar 20-class corvette Hanit, while cruising <> km off the coast of Beirut. Four sailors were killed in the attack.

One hundred thousand men trained for battle

The only "official" indication of Hezbollah's numbers was given in November 2021 by Hassan Nasrallah, who claimed that his party could mobilize up to 100,000 fighters. While many experts consider this figure to be excessive, other experts who know Hezbollah well consider it realistic if it includes all men who have undergone military training and are likely to be mobilized.

Hezbollah has 40,000 experienced fighters who have participated in the war in Syria, including 4,000 to 7,000 members of the elite al-Radwan force, now deployed in southern Lebanon. It can also mobilize up to 60,000 men, bearing in mind that the al-Mahdi scouts, which provide basic military training, have more than 70,000 members.

In terms of armaments, various sources claim that the Lebanese Shiite party has 150,000 missiles of various calibers. The Israelis believe that 70% of this arsenal is made up of rockets with a range of less than 15 kilometers.

Hassan Nasrallah confirmed reports that his party possessed high-precision missiles "capable of reaching any point" in Israel.

A large part of the rockets are Katyusha and Grad rockets of various calibers (107 mm, 122 mm, 303 mm) and with a range of up to 40 km.

During the ongoing clashes on the border, al-Burkane ("Volcano") missiles with a range of 10 to 12 km equipped with explosive charges of 300 to 500 kg were fired several times. Two of these projectiles (developed and produced by Hezbollah) caused extensive damage to the Pranit barracks housing the headquarters of Israel's Division 91, known as the Galilee Division.

Hizbullah's arsenals also include thousands of Fajr 3 and Fajr 5 missiles capable of striking targets 45 and 75 km away, respectively. The Raad missile, used in 2006, can reach targets 60 to 70 km away.

Over the past decade, Hezbollah has incorporated the Zelzals (1, 2 and 3) into its units, which are an improved Iranian version of the Soviet Frog-7 with a range of 125 to 200 km and explosive warheads that can weigh 600 kg.

Qualitative development has been the acquisition in recent years of Fateh-110 guided missiles of the 4th and 5th generation, with a range of 250 and 300 km and an accuracy of 10 and 5 meters.

In addition to China's C 701 surface-to-sea missile, Hezbollah has C 801 and C 802. A video posted online by Hezbollah last June shows surface-to-sea missiles, stamped with the party's emblem, in an unidentified location.

On November 17, the American website Essanews confirmed that the Shiite party possessed Russian supersonic P-800 Oniks anti-ship missiles known as Yakhont. A weapon that poses a threat to the US fleet deployed in the eastern Mediterranean since the beginning of the Gaza war to deter Iran and its allies from lending a hand to Hamas.

The infantry units are equipped with Kornet, Fagot 9M111 (120 mm, range 2 km), Konkours 9M113 (wire-guided anti-tank), RPG-7, RPG-29 (Tandem) multifunction missiles.

The air defence system is equipped with a wide range of portable and portable Sam missiles fired from mobile ramps and 23 mm cannons.

Guerrilla warfare and classical warfare

In the current fighting, Hezbollah has deployed reconnaissance drones, several of which have been shot down by Israeli air defenses, and kamikaze drones that have been filmed departing and arriving as they hit their targets.

Sources estimate that the party has a fleet of several thousand reconnaissance and attack drones. He is said to have set up runways in the Anti-Lebanon chain for the launch of aircraft with a long range.

Beyond manpower and weaponry, Hezbollah has developed a unique military doctrine, built on forty years of experience, including more than a decade spent fighting in Syria in urban areas, mountainous regions and the desert.

Today, it is a hybrid force that combines guerrilla and conventional warfare tactics and masters the techniques of insurgent warfare and the latest modern technology (drones, electronic warfare, etc.).

The versatile skills acquired during its multiple confrontations with Israel and improved on the Syrian battlefield (where it lost more than 2,000 men) have made Hezbollah both a guerrilla movement and a conventional army.

All these assets make him a tough enemy for Israel.

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