"We are in a world today where we have a non-state actor using all the tools of weaponry... That’s what this new 21st-century warfare is going to look like. We have now entered an era where non-states or quasi-states do a lot better militarily than states do." Peter Singer (Brookings, author of "Corporate Warriors") in reference to Hezbollah's performance against the Israeli military. From a NYTimes article by Thom Shanker.
Although Peter Singer's statement is likely unsupported, he does stumble onto a conclusion that captures the essence of the moment. Hezbollah's performance in a set-piece battle with the Israeli military (arguably once, a top notch conventional military) is an excellent example of how non-state groups have radically improved their ability to conduct tactical and strategic operations. To wit, the continued success of its efforts has put the Israelis on the horns of a dilemma: either request a ceasefire that locks in military defeat - or - push for a full invasion of southern Lebanon (each are fraught with disastrous consequences).
The central secret to Hezbollah's success is that it trained its (global) guerrillas to make decisions autonomously (classic 4GW), at the small group level. In every area -- from firing rockets to defending prepared positions to media routing around jamming/disruption -- we have examples of Hezbollah teams deciding, adapting, innovating, and collaborating without reference to any central authority. The result of this decentralization is that Hezbollah's aggregate decision cycles are faster and qualitatively better than those of their Israeli counterparts.
Ancillary to the improvements in organizational design (unlikely to be replicated at the state level), Hezbollah also demonstrated its ability to supercharge antiquated conventional weaponry/tactics with off-the-shelf technology to create weapons systems and hybrid tactics attuned to defeating Israeli military systems. We can expect to see this behavior accelerate among non-state groups as readily available commercial technology continues its pace of radical improvement.
Extracting an Economic Toll
Hezbollah's success against Israel codifies two strategic methods that we will see global guerrillas emulate. The first is the value of strategic coercion through economic attrition. Ongoing disruption of the Israeli economy through rocket attacks attaches a quantifiable strategic cost to the conflict. This offensive decisively couples what was previously separate: ground/air offensives by the Israeli military against non-state groups in the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon -- and -- domestic economic/social activity in Israel (business as usual). If Hezbollah remains intact, nothing will be the same. With the economic clock ticking (to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a day), Israel has been forced into an aggressive air campaign to accelerate progress on the ground against missile launch sites and interdict resupply of new missiles from Syria. This air campaign has backfired due to the asymmetry of targets, in that Israeli air strikes have alienated the Lebanese government and increased the moral cohesion of its foes.
Leveraging force protection and an aversion to casualties
A second strategic method is to trade territory (something a non-state organization is easily able to ante up) for the blood of professional soldiers and delay. The intent is demonstrated by Hezbollah's dispersal of units across a wide geographic area in small autonomous units (defense in depth, rather than concentrating its defenses along the border). This deployment clearly shows Hezbollah's willingness to trade ground for the lives of Israeli soldiers and time. It succeeds by leveraging the aversion to casualties and dedication to force protection found in modern Western militaries (these men are professionally educated and therefore considered too valuable for use as cannon fodder). An aversion to casualties ensures that assaults by conventional militaries will bog down if faced with stiff opposition, until intense applications of firepower to clear the path (which is made much less effective due to Hezbollah's high level of dispersion and fortifications). Time is a factor that clearly works particularly in the favor of Hezbollah (due to the potential of a widening conflict) and more generally in favor of any non-state group fighting a state.