Academic journal article Military Review

Laboratory of Asymmetry: The 2006 Lebanon War and the Evolution of Iranian Ground Tactics

Academic journal article Military Review

Laboratory of Asymmetry: The 2006 Lebanon War and the Evolution of Iranian Ground Tactics

Article excerpt


The main objective of this exercise is to adopt new tactics and use new equipment able to cope with possible threats.... [Iran has] been vigilant to what has happened in the world ... and we have invested in both modern tactics and equipment.

--Brigadier General Kiyumars Heidari, Islamic Republic of Iran, a spokesman for the Zolfaqar's Blow military maneuvers, August 2006. (1)

THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC of Iran is no stranger to asymmetric warfare. Ever since the regime faced a technologically superior adversary during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Iran has attempted to leverage its human assets to overcome its weaknesses in a conventional military conflict. In the Iran-Iraq War, Iran threw waves of human bodies at better armored and better equipped Iraqi forces. The losses were staggering: by some reports upwards of 1,000,000 Iranian casualties, compared to an estimated 375,000 Iraqi casualties. (2) In the wake of that conflict, Iran has consistently sought more efficient ways of employing its significant manpower in military operations. Its exportation of Iranian military training to other countries in the Middle East has given the country a window into the successful refinement of its tactical doctrine. In effect, the 2006 Lebanon War offered an opportunity for Hezbollah to experiment with the asymmetric ground tactics that Iran had developed. As their own professional journals and war games make clear, Iranian military leaders have paid close attention to the lessons learned in this conflict. (3) In the absence of recent, overt military action on the part of Iran, it is useful to hold up a mirror to the 2006 Lebanon War so that we may discern the reflection of Iranian training and tactics. (4) The United States must remain cognizant of developments in Iranian tactical doctrine, even as Iran makes strides toward the development of nuclear weaponry. To facilitate a diplomatic solution to this threat, the U.S. military should work to ensure that there is a feasible military alternative in place: who desires peace, let him prepare for war. (5)

Iran in Lebanon

The Shi'ite paramilitary organization known as Hezbollah first emerged as a militia in opposition to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Although Iran was engaged in the Iran-Iraq War at the time of the Israeli occupation, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) took the lead in organizing, training, and equipping Hezbollah. (6) To this end, Syria allowed 2,500 members of the IRGC to enter Lebanon and set up training camps among the Shi'ite population in the Beqa'a Valley, an important farming region in eastern Lebanon. Training at the IRGC camps became a prerequisite for membership in Hezbollah. (7) In 1985, Hezbollah publicly acknowledged its reliance on Iran: "We view the Iranian regime as the vanguard and new nucleus of the leading Islamic State in the world. We abide by the orders of one single wise and just leadership, represented by 'Wali Faqih' [rule of the jurisprudent] and personified by Khomeini." (8)

Given the group's equipment and logistical constraints, Hezbollah-with the guidance of Iranian advisors-adopted a doctrine of guerrilla warfare against the Israeli occupation. This doctrine, a useful if primitive template for future asymmetric operations in the region, revolved around 13 principles:

1. Avoid the strong, attack the weak--attack and withdraw.

2. Protecting our fighters is more important than causing enemy casualties.

3. Strike only when success is assured.

4. Surprise is essential to success. If you are spotted, you have failed.

5. Don't get into a set-piece battle. Slip away like smoke, before the enemy can drive home his advantage.

6. Attaining the goal demands patience in order to discover the enemy's weak points.

7. Keep moving; avoid formation of a front line.

8. Keep the enemy on constant alert, at the front and in the rear. …

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