The Wedge as Tactical Tool: What is Hezbollah Doing and What is the US Strategy? We are seeing evidence of the use of wedge tactics in Hezbollah and Iranian actions as well as the US response.
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
The tactic of dividing allies by any number of means is not new or novel in the arena of international affairs. It occurred to us on the 4th of July that North Korea's missile launches, perceived by Japan, South Korea and the United States as a blatant act of provocation, might not elicit the same response from China and Russia.
As it turned out, both China and Russia resisted the government of Japan's UN proposal to sanction North Korea. While Japan and others fear a Communist and unpredictable North Korea armed with longer-range missiles and perhaps nuclear weapons, China and Russia fear more a strategic shift in Asia should North Korea collapse, leading to a united and democratic Korean peninsula.
Japan's proposed sanctions against North Korea were rejected, though the UN Security Council did ultimately issue a strongly worded admonition to North Korea.
What is Hezbollah? Is it a Different Animal From Other Terrorist Organizations and Groups?
Today, after years of cooperation in undermining Lebanon and dividing possible US and Israeli allies, Hezbollah --the Lebanese Shi'ite militia --and Iran have formed an alliance to destroy Israel. They vocally proclaim their intentions in ugly language we will not republish here.
Many Americans view Hezbollah as a "terrorist group," which is what it is. But Hezbollah is, in many ways, more like a small but sovereign and very dangerous regional power, than it is like the 9-11 terrorists.
Hezbollah is not a street gang camping out in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah owns southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah controls its own media (newspapers, radio and TV), operates a thriving economy in southern Lebanon, and manages "government affairs" out of a downtown office building the locals call "the Embassy." Hezbollah's embassy is, in fact, larger than Beirut's.
Iran and Middle East expert Amir Taheri wrote this in the London Times on Sunday, July 23:
"Hezbollah is a state within the Lebanese state. It controls some 25% of the national territory. Almost 400,000 of Lebanon's estimated 4m inhabitants live under its control. It collects its own taxes with a 20% levy, known as "khoms", on all incomes. It runs its own schools, where a syllabus produced in Iran is taught at all levels. It also runs clinics, hospitals, social welfare networks and centres for orphans and widows."
Hezbollah has already launched about 1,000 small Katyusha rockets in to Israel. Armed with explosive warheads surrounded by ball bearings, these missiles are designed to produce a flesh-tearing fragmentation grenade when they reach their targets. The Katyusha family of rockets are of Soviet design and most are old and relatively small and short range. They are unguided and often unpredictable. But they have apparently been modified and are reaching further into Israel than ever before. These Katyusha's are being referred to as "Katyusha's on steroids." Katyusha's are still killing Israelis and causing some fear and terror among people near the Lebanon border.
But as a missile expert, what caused me more concern this last few weeks was one particular missile. On July 14, a Chinese designed C-802 "Silkworm" anti-ship missile slammed into an Israeli warship, damaging the vessel and killing one sailor. This one missile caused some to pause, because no intelligence source had warned that Hezbollah might have such a sophisticated, modern weapon. No terrorist group ever used such a weapon before. The action was totally unprecedented.
The use of the C-802 missile might be another indicator that Hezbollah is not your father's terrorist group.
So Hezbollah (the party of God), is something altogether new and more dangerous than previously known terrorist groups. And they are supported and armed by Iran, which we know has long-range ballistic missiles, a deep hatred of Israel, a nuclear weapon program, and a total disregard for the mandates of the UN and the US.
Hezbollah and Iran make for a formidable, dangerous alliance.
When Hezbollah was created in Lebanon, it committed itself to "creation of an Islamic republic in Lebanon." It looks to many that they have accomplished just that. How do Hezbollah and Iran view Israel? Without re-telling the obnoxious, hateful, anti-Israeli language routinely used by Iran's Mullahs and government leaders, we quote Ann Leslie of London's "Daily Mail" newspaper.
Ann wrote an article on July 18 which said, "When I last went to Friday prayers in the Iranian capital Tehran, a sleek, fat, deeply corrupt ayatollah, swathed in a white turban and wielding a Kalashnikov, gave the sermon. He was the mullah whom the West had fooled itself into thinking was 'pragmatic' and 'moderate'. And what did he preach? It was the usual bloodthirsty rant: 'Death to Israel!' 'Death to America!' 'Death to Britain!' (To the Iranian regime, America is the 'Great Satan'; Britain is the 'Little Satan'.)"
Iran and Hezbollah share a unifying objective: the complete elimination of the State of Israel. Both know they are incapable of achieving this goal in the near-term and using conventional means. No direct, prolonged confrontation with Israel and its big ally, the US, could be successful. So they have chosen a long term strategy that would make the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, proud.
The Long-Term Approach
Sun Tzu's The Art of War is an ancient handbook of philosophy and war studied in war colleges and business schools alike. Sun Tzu espouses the long-term approach and frequently favors going around and outsmarting one's enemy rather than relying upon direct confrontation.
"A general that fights a hundred battles and wins a hundred battles in not a great general. The great general is one who finds a way to win without fighting a single battle," Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War.
"What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy; Next best is to disrupt his alliances; The next best is to attack his army. The worst policy is to attack cities. Attack cities only when there is no alternative."
During July, Hezbollah seems to have deviated from the long term strategy. Or maybe they just provoked Israel into a confrontation they didn't predict. Shooting rockets into cities is not going to destroy Israel and it can even cause the wedges built over years to show signs of deterioration as Hezbollah and Iran's allies witness more innocent civilian deaths.
So now Hezbollah, facing an incursion into its territory by a superior conventional force, the army of Israel, plus the staggering impact of theIsraeli Air Force, Hezbollah must fall back, re-group and return to its long-term wedge tactic and its ultimate Sun Tzuian strategy in hopes it can ultimately isolate and destroy its enemy.
In any event, Hezbollah and Iran have shown, over the last few years, that they know how to keep to their Sun Tzu-like script of a long-term effort. They have become adept at getting wedges between allies, but it is unclear to me how they can possibly destroy Israel, especially given the long historic alliance with the US.
For Hezbollah, Survival May be a Win
Previous Israeli occupations of Southern Lebanon did not destroy Hezbollah. If Hezbollah can survive the current Israeli incursion, and reconstitute itself in southern Lebanon without inciting the world to eliminate it entirely, Hezbollah can live to fight another day.
Undoubtedly, if they survive, Hezbollah will return to its long range wedge tactics.
People like me became intensely interested students of the Middle East, the Persian Gulf region and Iran and Iraq in particular. Like many others, I first went to the region in service aboard a U.S. Navy warship before the Iran-Iraq war erupted (1978). But I went back frequently, including before, during, and after the Hostage Crisis (1979), the "Tanker War"(1984-1987), "Desert Shield," "Desert Storm" (1991), and "Iraqi Freedom" (2003 to present). A generation or more of U.S. Naval Officers are familiar with the waters and politics of Iran and Iraq, and now a generation or more of U.S. Army and Marine Corps men and women are learning more than they ever wanted to know about Iran and Hezbollah.
John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.