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The Wedge as Tactical Tool: What is Hezbollah Doing and What is the US Strategy?

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The Wedge as a Tactical Tool
By John E. Carey

Iran's strategy for international relations can be summed up in these three simple words: wedge, isolate and destroy. Iran chose this strategy to deal with the most heinous place and people it can imagine on earth: Israel and the Jews. Iran uses this strategy in its dealing with the UN. And we see this strategy applied to relations with "the Great Satan," the United States.

Often nations use the wedge as a tactic to divide allies arrayed against them in hopes that this divided counter-force will make the principal enemy subject to isolation and destruction. How Iran and Hezbollah plan to isolate and destroy Israel, especially given the strong and historic support from the United States, remains to be seen. But we are seeing evidence of the use of wedge tactics in Hezbollah and Iranian actions as well as the US response.

Much of this Iranian strategy springs from the experience of Iran in its war with Iraq. Both nations started the war, in 1979, as virtually isolated combatants. But both sides saw the value in allies. Third parties aligned with one or the other in hopes of influencing the outcome. Iran's principal ally was Syria. Syrian President Hafez Assad shut down a key Iraqi pipeline to the Mediterranean, starving Saddam of income. He also occasionally moved troops around to divert Saddam's forces from Iran.

China, North Korea and Libya, all sent weapons to Iran. This was the start of the China to North Korea to Iran "reverse pipeline" of missiles and missile technology in exchange for money and oil.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Israel tentatively aligned with Iran. Iran has been under decades of western influence fostered by the Shah. So Israel thought Iran didn't have the militant flavor of Saddam Hussein, who the Israelis viewed as the primary threat. Israel subscribed to the Middle East dictum, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Additionally, Iran contained a large number of Jews and Israel hoped to buy their safety while secret and semi-secret and operations attempted to get Iranian Jews out of the country.

The allies Saddam assembled for Iraq included Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, France, and the Soviet Union. Slowly, the U.S. gave some supplies, intelligence and encouragement to Saddam.

Without giving a complete history thesis on Iran and the Middle East, let's just say this: with the experience of the 1980s and 1990s, Iran decided to become a missile-muscled nuclear power. China and North Korea maintain the reverse pipeline of technology and nuclear material and ideas. Iranian scientists even witnessed North Korea's 4th of July missile extravaganza.

But more importantly, Iran learned in the eighties and nineties the value of the "wedge."

In 1975, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian radicals disrupted Lebanon and caused a civil war. Fighting continued over the next 15 years. Arafat became the wedge between the democratically leaning though weak movement trying to reform the government of Lebanon. Arafat aligned with Syria and Libya. He also negated the best intentions of likely US regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia; who were forced to choose secretly to work with Arafat, Syria and the anti-Israeli group or with the US and the pro-Israeli group. In some cases, both nations played ball on both sides of the street.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia found themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Both relied upon the US for arms and trade. Yet both had large segments of their populations vehemently allied to the anti-Israeli radicals.

U.S. May Now Employ Wedge

Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger wrote in The New York Times on July 23, in an article titled "U.S. Plan Seeks to Wedge Syria From Iran,"

"Officials said this week that they were at the beginning stages of a plan to encourage Saudi Arabia and Egypt to make the case to the Syrians that they must turn against Hezbollah. With the crisis at such a pivotal stage, officials who are involved in the delicate negotiations to end it agreed to speak about their expectations only if they were not quoted by name."

"'We think that the Syrians will listen to their Arab neighbors on this rather than us,' a senior official said, 'so it's all a question of how well that can be orchestrated.'"

Wedge Used in other Diplomatic, International Applications

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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