The events of September 2001 disproved the assumption that only a state could make war on another state. Now Hezbollah’s confrontation with Israel has provided further education about how the world is changing. Hezbollah’s campaign is a clear sign of how the democratization of missile technology – cruise missile technology, in particular – is reshaping global realities.
Assumptions about the Israeli Defense Force’s military superiority have enjoyed axiomatic status, especially among laypeople. In fact, the IDF were – and perhaps still are – a good citizen-soldier militia, with a small number of units of excellent professional soldiers, and a highly capable general staff. According to a famous, and probably apocryphal story, when asked the secret of Israel’s military successes, an Israeli commander succinctly summarized the IDF’s method: “Always fight Arab armies.”
However, as Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, has explained: “We are not a regular army and we do not use the way of a regular army.” Hezbollah has displayed a combination of a guerrilla force’s decentralized flexibility and a national military’s sophistication, fielding weapons like the C-802 Noor radar-guided anti-ship missile (an Iranian-made knockoff of the Chinese “Silkworm” C-802) that struck an Israeli warship on July 14. In sum, Hezbullah’s arsenal includes the following missiles:
· 122mm Katyushas: range 13 miles, warhead 6 kg
· 122mm improved Katyushas: range 19 miles, warhead, 6 kg
· 220mm Syrian rockets: range 43 miles, warhead 40 kg
· 240mm rockets: range 6 miles, warhead 18kg
· 240mm Iranian Fajr 3: range 26 miles, warhead 50 kg
· 333mm Iranian Fajr 5: range 46 miles, warhead 90 kg
· 302mm Iranian Khaibar-1: range 100 miles, warhead 100 kg
· 610mm Iranian ZelZal-2: range 130 miles, warhead 400 kg
Significantly, according to claims by both Hezbollah and Israel, Hezbollah has held in reserve all of its 200-odd Zelzal-2 missiles, which have a range of up to 200 kilometers – capable of reaching Tel Aviv. The Zelzal missiles are road-mobile, solid-propellant systems, about which little is known. They are most likely unguided or use a rudimentary inertial system; when properly launched, such rockets would be accurate to within several kilometers of their target, enough to hit a city like Tel Aviv.
Given all that, it’s a reasonable supposition that Sheikh Nasrullah and Hezbollah were ordered by their Iranian backers to keep in reserve the Zelzals, as well as a significant number of the Iranian Fajr-5 missiles (of which the Khaibar-1 is believed by many analysts to be a modified variant).
Hezbollah’s Katyushas are the furthest thing from the latest designs. Predating venerable weapon systems such as the AK-47 assault rifle and B-52 bomber, these generic short-range rockets were given their name by the Soviet troops who first fired them at German forces during World War II.
For all the Katyusha’s vintage provenance, however, it has defeated futuristic attempts at missile defense like the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), a U.S.-Israeli attempt to create a high-energy chemical laser that could detonate the missiles in midflight. In fact, it’s indicative of the difficulties of short-range missile defense that the THEL prototype was approximately the size of six city buses; according to Subrata Ghoshroy, a military analyst at MIT who studied the project in 1996, not only would the system have been “a sitting duck” on a battlefield, but also any fractures of its fuel tanks would have released potentially deadly gas over its crew and bystanders. Although in 2000 the THEL was able to shoot down two Katyushas simultaneously during tests when no cloud cover impeded it, Katyusha rockets were designed to be fired from truck-mounted launchers in barrages of up to 50. Given the THEL’s general impracticality, the U.S. Army ceased funding it in late 2004.