Russian Influence on Hezbollah Raises Red Flag in Israel
By: Barbara Opall-Rome, November 6, 2016
TEL AVIV — When the Lebanese militant organization, Hezbollah, joined the
fight on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad pretty much from the
beginning of the Syrian civil war, the professional military assessment from
Israel was essentially: Have at it. Let them bleed.
“Hezbollah is an enemy that is improving its capabilities in Syria, but any
changes in their combat capacity … shouldn’t warrant, for the foreseeable
future, any adjustments to our operational concept,” Brig. Gen. Shmuel
Olanski, then-Israel’s chief armored officer, told Defense News in November
2014, more than two years into the now 6-and-a-half-year-old, increasingly
“I wish they will come and confront us directly. That’s when we’ll be able
to most effectively harness our superiority,” he added.
But then the unforeseeable happened.
Russian President Vladimir Putin entered the war, lending air power, sea
power, electronic warfare and special forces to the axis of Hezbollah and
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard all fighting from the same war rooms to save
Even now, more than a year after Moscow joined the fight — with Assad
fortified and a resurgent Russian footprint across the Middle East — Israeli
officers still publicly flag the toll such battles have taken on the Shiite
organization, which has lost some 10 percent of its force on Syrian soil.
Publicly, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers still speak about the
healthy, professional, friction-preventing ties built up between the two
militaries. “I got the feeling that they really see us as a friendly entity;
as someone they can work with,” Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, IDF deputy chief of
staff, told foreign correspondents here last April.
But a new study, soon to be published by the research division of Israel’s
National Security Council, raises a series of red flags regarding Russian
influence on Israel’s Iranian-sponsored arch-enemy from the north.
Written by Dima Adamsky, an associate professor at Israel’s
Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and a research fellow at the IDF’s
National Security College, the 96-page Hebrew-language report highlights
Russian-inspired conceptual, operational and technical lessons that
Hezbollah may apply in its next war with Israel.
In “Russian Involvement in Syria: Strategic Significance and Operational
Lessons,” Adamsky primarily draws on professional Russian literature to flag
potential drivers that may help Hezbollah evolve from a well-armed guerilla
movement to a more creative, “learning organization” steeped “more than ever
before” in the technologies, tactics and procedures of advanced, combined
Hezbollah’s close proximity over a protracted period to manifestations of
Russian “operational art” — from planning and designing operations to
learning and adapting while fighting – may challenge and possibly erode
Israeli superiority, he writes.
Specifically, Adamsky warns of Russian influence with regard to information,
cyber and electronic warfare and the use of special forces – a combination
of capabilities that could impact the ongoing balance of deterrence even
before Israel and Hezbollah get into kinetic confrontations.
Will Russian aggression ramp up Army focus on electronic warfare needs?
With respect to the former, Adamsky documents Russian inroads in harnessing
electronic information warfare at the tactical level to interfere, repress,
and sabotage enemy forces and the decision-making process of the opposing
side. He also cites claims by Russian experts of Moscow’s ability to exploit
the electromagnetic spectrum to its benefit for defensive and offensive
“Efforts to erode IDF capabilities in the electro-magnetic domain through
techno-operational practices learned from the schools of Russian electronic
warfare experts are liable to interfere with the IDF ability to wage
sensor-to-shooter strike operations,” he writes.
According to Adamsky, even if Hezbollah manages in small measure to
interfere with the IDF’s digital command and control network, the impact on
Israel’s maneuvering capabilities could represent “a new reality” for
Israeli war planners.
“Electronic warfare, when combined with cyber and kinetic capabilities and
proficiency in [Russian operational concepts,] has the potential to create
for the IDF ‘blindness’ and ‘deafness’ in certain operations,” he warns.
As for use of special forces, Adamsky devotes a full section on
organizational and operational changes in Russia that have played out in
recent operations in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria; and the predominant
role of Moscow’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in combat operations.
Given Russia’s practice of integrating local, elite forces on the ground, it
is “reasonable,” Adamsky writes, to expect that Hezbollah’s Radwan special
forces battalion has internalized the doctrine and practical lessons of
joint commando operations. More than that, he writes that Hezbollah’s
battle-hardened special forces will serve as “knowledge agents” capable of
training even more elite forces for future war with Israel.
But beyond actual combat, he suggests that Russian influence may be driving
a paradigm shift in Hezbollah’s “theory of victory” vis-à-vis Israel.
Instead of its low-signature strategy of staying in the fight against Israel
as long as it can without losing, Russian influence could be expediting
Hezbollah’s long-expected transition to higher-signature, initiative
operations into Israeli territory.
“Until now, the Radwan force was employed as a type of advanced infantry.
But following joint operational experiences [in Syria], it can turn into a
type of commando force not only for supporting the overall war effort, but
for creating meaningful operational effects [against Israel],” he writes.
The more Hezbollah is capable of using its special forces for cross-border
raids or to seize Israeli territory — if only for a short while — it will
deny the IDF the ability to deliver the so-called victory picture that is
demanded by Israeli leaders.
And even when waging defensive operations, lessons from Russian special
forces, particularly in nighttime operations, could make it more difficult
for the IDF to maneuver deep into Lebanese territory.
“Massive training in the techniques of Spetsnaz (Russian special forces)
could considerably improve the general readiness of Hizbolloah and its
ability to deal with Israeli special units that penetrate into different
theaters,” he writes, using an alternative spelling of the Lebanese militant
Amos Yadlin, a retired IDF major general and former director of Israeli
military intelligence, said he had not yet read Adamsky’s report. He noted,
however, that Hezbollah is learning not just from the Russians but from
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Syrian regime and other sources over many
Yadlin acknowledged Hezbollah may be gaining significant insights from
serving as Moscow’s “foot soldiers on the ground” and from sitting in the
same war rooms commanded by Russian officers. However, he cautioned against
drawing extreme conclusions from the past year of joint combat in Syria.
“Sometimes there’s what we call negative learning, meaning lessons that are
wrongly applied or applied mistakenly to irrelevant or inappropriate
scenarios,” said Yadlin, now the director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute
for National Security Studies.
“We all know that Hezbollah, unfortunately, is much stronger than it was
since last 2006 Lebanon War. It has much more capable rockets and missiles
in unbelievable quantities, it has a spectrum of Iranian UAVs, Yakhont
shore-to-ship sea-skimming missiles and even Scuds,” he said.
“So in my eyes, the Russian influences are not necessarily operational or
tactical game changers. Rather, they are strategic game changers since Putin
has strengthened the gravest enemies of Israel.”