You think irregular fighters don't realize the force multiplier effect of a secure communications network? An interesting article in todays Wall Street Journal details Hezbollah's victory in Lebanon. I found the bit about Hezbollah's comms network, and the lengths they went to wire the country with fiber optic, fascinating. After the fighting in 2006, it was obvious command and control was one of Hezbollah's strong points. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah apparently calls the network the group's "No. 1 weapon."
The catalyst for Lebanon's recent spasm was the government's discovery several months ago that Hezbollah was secretly expanding a network that could provide secure communications in times of battle. The network, the fight it sparked and Wednesday's resolution provide a dramatic illustration of Hezbollah's surging power in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Siniora ordered the network dismantled in early May. He also ordered the dismissal of an airport official his government labeled an ally of Hezbollah. After Hezbollah's violent response -- it seized neighborhoods, then handed them over to the neutral army -- the government was forced to rescind both orders last week.
The drama began developing late last year when engineers working for Lebanon's telecommunications minister got an odd tip: Someone was mysteriously burying spools of fiber-optic cable near a village in southern Lebanon.
Then came a call from the mayor of Choueifat, an eastern suburb of the capital. "There are strange works, unknown to the municipality...on public and private lands," he said, according to Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, who spoke in an interview before the government backed down on May 14.
He sent engineers to investigate, and soon determined that Hezbollah had a network stretching for more than 200 miles -- in a nation only about 140 miles long. It had wireless transmitters, Mr. Hamadeh said, and redundancies so communications could continue even if part of it was damaged. The government reported the network to the United Nations, saying it consisted of "wired and wireless links to the telephone network of our neighbor, the Syrian Arab Republic" -- which dominated Lebanon for years before agreeing to a pullout in 2005.
The government long knew Hezbollah had a network of some sort, but thought it was limited and of little threat to central authority. But after the 2006 war, the government told the U.N., Hezbollah secretly expanded it under the guise of postwar reconstruction, burying cables beneath newly paved roads.
The work, the government added, was done with the "participation in the field" of the Iranian Headquarters for the Reconstruction of Lebanon, an Iranian agency that has claimed credit for hundreds of rebuilding projects since the 2006 war. It wasn't reachable for comment.
The telecom minister said some of the equipment was imported from "the West," declining to be specific. Lebanese officials also believe Iran supplied some.
For government officials critical of Hezbollah, the system was a clear sign of Hezbollah's worrisome ambitions. "This," declared Mr. Hamadeh, pointing to a hand-drawn map of the network, "is the takeover of Lebanon."