Sunday, July 23, 2006

Wedge Tactics, Missile Tactics, Hezbollah and What's Next

By John E. Carey

The Wedge as a Tactical Tool

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.

There is already something of a wedge in place on the issue of Israel vs Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia, interestingly, blames Lebanon for not properly securing the area within its national boundaries. Some blame the UN, which put peacekeepers on the border between Israel and Lebanon 28 years ago to secure the peace. They failed. Others blame the US, some Syria, you name it.

Hezbollah is certainly hoping that the greater Islamic community will support Hezbollah.

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.’”

The "9-11 Commission" also famously suggested the US use the wedge tactic to neutralize the radical Islamic terrorists, stating:

"The Commission emphasized that the vast majority of Muslims worldwide are moderates who do not agree with violence. In contrast, the Commission stated that the Islamist terrorists hate America and all that it stands for, and violence and terror are their weapons against the United States. The Commission asserted that the United States, through public diplomacy, can find a way to drive a wedge between the two groups."

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.

Another example of the wedge being used by Iran appeared last winter, as the UN Security Council sought to limit Iran's nuclear program.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi of the Asia Times wrote on February 22, 2006, that "Iran is actively pushing .... its European diplomacy, hoping to drive a wedge between the US and the EU."

Perhaps the most memorable use of the wedge as a tactic occurred in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. With Saddam Hussein being attacked from all sides, he did the unexpected: he fired SCUD ballistic missiles into Israel. Israel, of course, was not a participating combatant in that war, and the US did not want Israel to enter the conflict.

Saddam believed he could fragment George H.W. Bush's carefully crafted coalition. If Israel decided to enter the conflict, other Arab nations like Saudi Arabia may have withdrawn from the coalition.

To end a tough situation, the US rushed Patriot missile defense batteries into Israel, to provide some limited missile defense. The net result was that Saddam's wedge failed. Israel sat out the war and the coalition stayed together.

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.” It is located in a Beirut neighborhood that is guarded by Hezbollah and separated from the greater community.

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's existance as a semi-autonomous or semi-soveriegn entity within the boundaries of Lebanon is analagous to the existance of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines. The MILF claims to control 26 southern "territories;" the government of the Philippines admits that they have taken charge in only ten.

What makes Hezbollah very different from other terror organizations is its alliance with Iran and its access to very sophisticated missiles and other weapons.

Hezbollah has already launched about 1,000 small Katyusha-type 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.

Because of Hezbollah's close alliance with Iran, one might expect Iran to send ballistic missiles into the region to threaten Israel. But this might be seen as an extreme provocation and elicit a very strong military response.

Missile Tactics

There are several important issues involved in Hezbollah's possession of and use of rockets and missiles. First, Israel has virtually no defense against these shorter range missiles.

Even though Israel possesses one of the most advanced missile defense capabilities after that of the US, the missiles now in the hands of Hezbollah are too short in range to allow intercepts by Israel's systems.

Secondly, Hezbollah is launching these missiles from populated areas in the cities. This means, once Israel locates a launch point, a decision has to be made whether to attack the launcher or not. If Israeli aircraft don't attack, the launchers can "shoot and scoot," go back to a staging area (perhaps inside a mosque or gymnasium, even a grocery store) and reload. If Israel attacks a launcher inside the city, innocent civilians can easily be killed: offering Hezbollah the opportunity to escort CNN camera crews to the scene for an unfortunate "look what the evil Israeli's are doing" story.

Launching an attack on the enemy from inside a civilian city is possibly a violation of the laws of war and may lead to sanctions.

Each side might be violating international restrictions on "wanton destruction of cities not justified by military necessity."

Finally, the use of these unguided missiles against populated areas inside Israel may well be a war crime. These missiles are unpredictable. They are really "pointed" and not aimed. The area where they land is a "circular area probable" of some medium to large size so they are rather indiscriminate.


So Hezbollah (the party of God), is something altogether new and more dangerous than previously known terrorist groups. 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'.)”


This term refers to the notion that the response from an entity attacked should be roughly propotional to the extend and severity of the initial attack itself. As a student of history, and reality, this concept seems to be both irrational and foolish. There is no rule of law or other precedent for this concept. In fact, there are many examples of "scorched earth" responses to relatively normal incursions. One is reminded of General William Tecumseh Sherman's dictum: "All war is hell." His troops burned Atlanta. He also famously created a "scorched earth" "March to the Sea" through Georgia during the American Civil War. He believed that the key to bringing the enemy to terms was to create more pain for the enemy than he could possibly endure.

If General Sherman could join our discussiion today, I can say with some confidence that he would remind us diplomatically that the goal of war is to attain one's desired objective (ie "we want to win"). Sherman might say, the methods to achieve that victory don't matter at all after you enemy has been eliminated. My sense is that Iran, Hezbollah and the State of Isreal would all agree with Sherman on this point.

But, we live in the 21st Century and many quarters are even now criticizing Isreal for for using "disproportionate force." President Chirac of France apparently said, “I find honestly—as all Europeans do—that the current reactions are totally disproportionate.”

A short statement on proportionality follows this essay.

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. And they are using allies, proxies and wedge tactics to push forward toward their objectives.

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 the Israeli 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.

Hezbollah will probably elect to move its people back from the border and away from the Israeli army. By doing this, Hezbollah will lose weapon stockpiles and bunkers to the Israelis, but the fighters can return to fight another day. And Iran will ship in new supplies of arms over time via Syria, unless the strategic situation is changed.

This last statement, "unless the strategic situation is changed," is vitally important. Israel is currently resisting calls for a cease-fire because there is no evidence that their incursion has done anything to change the strategic balance. Hezbollah still exists, Lebanon still has no control over the territory occupied by Hezbollah, and if the shooting stops today, there is no guarantee that the State of Israel will be any safer than it was in June.

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 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.

If Israel gets bogged down in a occupation in souther Lebon, it becomes vulnerable to road side bombs, IEDs and other terror tacts which will cause casualties and could erode support from the Israeli civilian population. We anticipae Israel ending the current incursion quickly and withdrawing back to Israel when a proper international peacekeeping force is in place.

Israel has already publically stated that it would accept NATO peacekeepers. The ineffective UN peacekeeping force that has been on the border for 28 years is considered to be useless by most Israeli military officers.

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 (1977-78). 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.

For a Q&A from Newsweek, with Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni; covering who started the conflict, why Israel doesn't think a cease fire would be appropriate, Israel's reaction to Iran's role, and other topics, see:


The Fallacy of Proportionality
By Daren Bakst
July 20, 2006

As Israel defends itself from terrorists intent on the country’s destruction, many foreign leaders have had the audacity to criticize Israel for using disproportionate force. The United States had to veto a United Nations draft resolution sponsored by Qatar, which, among other things, restated the proportionality test that seems to apply only to Israel.

Specifically, the resolution “[c]alls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to halt its military operations and its disproportionate use of force that endanger the Palestinian civilian population and to withdraw its forces to their original positions outside the Gaza Strip.”

President Chirac echoed this same concern. “I find honestly—as all Europeans do—that the current reactions are totally disproportionate.”

The notion of proportionality sounds reasonable on its face, but after a second’s worth of thought, it crumbles quickly. The “disproportional” critics imply that Israel should act in a manner that is equal to, but doesn’t exceed the Hezbollah attack in its degree of force.

These critics also imply that Israel’s actions should be at the level necessary to punish Hezbollah—a criminal justice type of reaction, such as an eye for an eye.

When the United States was attacked on 9/11, the appropriate response was not to define what an equivalent act would be or to think of a just punishment. The response was to do whatever it took to defend the country and ensure that future attacks didn’t occur.

Israel isn’t reacting, nor should it, based on a one-to-one response to Hezbollah’s actions. Instead, it is identifying the means by which future—not past—attacks will cease. It is hard to imagine any other country being so roundly criticized for such reasonable self-defense.

If “disproportional force” were used in its proper context, there wouldn’t be any criticism of Israel. Certainly, a country can fairly be criticized for acting disproportional to a provocation if it is going beyond what is necessary to defend itself. For Israel, it must meet a much tougher standard—a standard that has nothing to do with self-defense.

Even France, if it had rockets pointed at it directly across from its northern border, likely would take immediate action to diffuse the threat. This was an action that Israel chose not to do, even though it certainly would’ve been well within its rights.

If some of those same rockets were fired into France and two French soldiers kidnapped, the French would take immediate action. Proportionality never would enter into their discussions.

The current fighting will not desist unless Israel can feel comfortable that border security is stabilized—so rockets aren’t pointing at innocent Israelis. The destruction of Hezbollah certainly remains the goal, but as has been recently indicated by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel is seeking more obtainable short-term solutions.

As reported, if the two soldiers are freed, rocket attacks stopped, and the Lebanese secure the border, Israel will stop using force within Lebanon. This is a major concession by Israel. For many countries, the attacks wouldn’t stop until Hezbollah were completely squashed within Lebanon.

There should be no illusion that Israel’s solutions can be quickly achieved. Even if the soldiers are returned and rocket attacks stopped, it seems unlikely that Lebanon’s military could secure the border without Hezbollah “voluntarily” choosing to give up the border (likely from external pressures). At best, border security would be short-lived, until Hezbollah repositioned itself there again to attack Israel.

If there is a cessation of violence but attacks from the North ultimately resume, let’s be clear that a proportional reaction would be for Israel to act like any other sovereign nation. It should do what is necessary to protect itself and its citizens. Instead of being caught by surprise, the United States and its allies should get on the same page now and acknowledge that self-defense is never a disproportional use of force.

Daren Bakst, J.D., LL.M. is the Legal & Regulatory Analyst for the John Locke Foundation.

Hezbollah's Apocalypse Now

By Amal Saad-Ghorayeb
Sunday, July 23, 2006; Page B04
The Washington Post
In The Post's Outlook Section

Power failures are creating problems across much of the city, cellphones are unpredictable, and the regular bombing makes my neighbors cautious about going out, leaving most people here alone with the question that has plagued them for almost two weeks: What on earth was Hezbollah up to when it abducted two Israeli soldiers and provoked a punishing response that is creating orphans and bringing down buildings all around us?

As a scholar who has devoted much of my career to following Hezbollah, I have a simple answer. I'm sure that Hezbollah had envisaged, though perhaps not expected, a response of this kind. By provoking its southern neighbor, Hezbollah knew it would present Israel with a ghastly choice. Hezbollah is a popular social movement, and it is well aware that it can be destroyed only if the Israeli army is prepared to commit mass murder, genocide, ethnic cleansing -- use whatever unpalatable term you will -- against the entire Shiite community.

Israel won't win without wiping out a religious group. However angry the Israelis are, there must be many who won't be able to stomach that possibility, with its hideous historic implications. That's what Hezbollah was counting on 11 days ago when its fighters took Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser captive near the Lebanese border.

Without wanting to alarm my neighbors who are adjusting to the nightly barrage of Israeli missiles, I cannot help but cast the current conflict in apocalyptic terms. What began as a surgical military operation staged by a relatively small organization has metamorphosed into an existential showdown with the potential to transform the political landscape of the Middle East. And it has put Hezbollah in its favorite spot -- center stage, with the international community looking on.

I've been reading this script for 11 years now, interviewing political, media and security officials from Hezbollah. And they have given me insights into the party's motives that go well beyond the prisoner exchange that it publicly claims. True, Hezbollah had dubbed 2006 "the year of retrieving the prisoners" and had warned of its intent to kidnap Israelis to secure the release of three Lebanese held in Israel. But the seizure of these two soldiers also reflects Hezbollah's broader goals -- both its domestic political agenda and its regional, strategic one.

Domestically, Hezbollah has succeeded in integrating itself into the Lebanese political system, with its two government ministers and 14 MPs. But the party has also been keen to convince others of the importance of its resistance and of its unrivaled efficacy as a deterrent to the threat posed by Israel.

And Israel's current onslaught has unwittingly provided Hezbollah with the opportunity to demonstrate both -- that Israel remains Lebanon's gravest enemy, and that Hezbollah is the only force capable of confronting it. The Lebanese government's ineptitude in handling the crisis, coupled with the army's sitting-duck status, only underscores that point.

Hezbollah has succeeded in elevating its regional importance, positioning itself alongside Iran, Syria and Hamas -- the axis of terrorism in Israel's lexicon. In this light, Hezbollah's face-off with Israel is not only a defensive war of survival (in response to the declared Israeli and U.S. objective of eliminating the organization), but also an attempt to shatter the myth of Israeli invincibility (which explains why Israel also views this conflict in existential terms).

Most of all, though, Hezbollah hopes to set a new precedent in the Arab world, as its leader Hasan Nasrallah revealed in his latest televised speech: He characterized his movement as a "spearhead of the [Islamic] umma" and declared the conflict as "surpassing Lebanon . . . it is the conflict of the umma," whose success or failure will reverberate in the entire region. In other words, Hezbollah is to serve as an inspiration, as an exemplar of bold action against Israel and, by extension, against Arab regimes that have allied themselves with the United States and Israel.

With so much at stake, it is likely that Hezbollah foresaw Israel's overreaction and laid out contingency plans. Its daily displays of its long-range missiles are more than empty exercises in psychological warfare. Echoing in my mind are the words of a Hezbollah official. He told me that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ongoing anti-Zionism, along with Iranian supreme religious leader Ali Khamenei's affirmation that Hezbollah will never disarm, has given the movement confidence that it can "fight for months."

Hezbollah is launching missiles deeper into Israeli territory than it ever has before. It is bringing the war to Israelis' doorsteps in the hope that they will pressure their government to call for an unconditional cease-fire. And it wants to demoralize the Israeli army, one Hezbollah official told me.

It is hard to gauge public opinion here today. From the snippets of conversation I pick up, people remain polarized, as they were before the war: On one end are those (mainly non-Shiites) who lay the blame for Israel's destruction of Lebanon squarely on Hezbollah for having picked the fight; and on the other are those (overwhelmingly Shiite) who believe, as one man told me, that "we should fight to the death." But there are also many in between whose initial anger at Hezbollah is being replaced by rage at Israel. Those sentiments remind me of 1982, when Israel's invasion of Lebanon gave birth to Hezbollah.

Given its current position of strength, Hezbollah is in no mood to settle for anything less than its original demand for a prisoner exchange, as Nasrallah asserted in a recent interview on al-Jazeera. Why would Hezbollah agree to any of the diplomatic proposals being floated? The idea of deploying the Lebanese army to the south to serve as a buffer between Israel and Hezbollah would be tantamount to the party's military neutralization. And the notion of stationing multinational troops there is even more far-fetched, given that Hezbollah and the Shiite community would view them as occupiers.

Leaving Israel to significantly weaken Hezbollah's military infrastructure would have equally perilous consequences. If there is anything more dangerous than a strong Hezbollah, it is a weak Hezbollah. One can only imagine what would happen if the organization were left bereft of leadership, clinging to its remaining weapons and operating underground, while the Shiite community is seething with resentment at Israel, the United States and the government that it perceives as its betrayer. As one Hezbollah member said, "All hell would be let loose."
Which is a reminder that although this past week has been bad, we haven't seen hell yet.

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb teaches at the Lebanese American University in Beirut and is the author of "Hizbu'llah: Politics and Religion" (Pluto Press).

God's army has plans to run the whole Middle East

God's army has plans to run the whole Middle East
By Amir Taheri
The Times (London)
Sunday, July 23, 2006

Hezbollah, the group at the heart of the Lebanese conflict, is the spearhead of Iran’s ambitions to be a superpower, says Iranian commentator Amir Taheri ‘You are the sun of Islam, shining on the universe!” This is how Muhammad Khatami, the mullah who was president of Iran until last year, described Hezbollah last week. It would be no exaggeration to describe Hezbollah — the Lebanese Shi’ite militia — as Tehran’s regional trump card. Each time Tehran has played it, it has won. As war rages between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Tehran policymakers think that this time, too, they can win.

“I invite the faithful to wait for good news,” Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last Tuesday. “We shall soon witness the elimination of the Zionist stain of shame.”

What are the links between Hezbollah and Iran? In 1982 Iran had almost no influence in Lebanon. The Lebanese Shi’ite bourgeoisie that had had close ties with Iran when it was ruled by the Shah was horrified by the advent of the clerics who created an Islamic republic.

Seeking a bridgehead in Lebanon, Iran asked its ambassador to Damascus, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a radical mullah, to create one. Mohtashamipour decided to open a branch in Lebanon of the Iranian Hezbollah (the party of God).

After many meetings in Lebanon Mohtashamipour succeeded: in its founding statement it committed itself to the “creation of an Islamic republic in Lebanon”. To this end hundreds of Iranian mullahs, political “educators” and Islamic Revolutionary Guards were dispatched to Beirut.

Within two years several radical Shi’ite groups in Lebanon, including some with Marxist backgrounds, had united under the Hezbollah name and became the main force resisting the Israeli occupation of Lebanon after the expulsion of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1983.

Terror has been its principal weapon. Throughout the 1980s Hezbollah kidnapped more than 200 foreign nationals in Lebanon, most of them Americans or western Europeans (including Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy). It organised the hijacking of civilian aircraft and more or less pioneered the idea of suicide bombings against American and French targets, killing almost 1,000 people, including 241 US marines in Beirut and 58 French paratroopers.

The campaign produced results. After Hezbollah’s attacks, France reduced its support for Saddam Hussein. America went further by supplying Iran with TOW anti-tank missiles, shipped via Israel, which helped to tip the Iran-Iraq war in favour of Iran. In exchange Iran ordered Hezbollah to release French and American hostages.

Once the Iran-Iraq war was over, Tehran found other uses for its Lebanese asset. It purged and then reshaped Hezbollah to influence the broader course of regional politics while using it to wage a low-intensity war against Israel.

In 2000, when the Israelis evacuated the strip they controlled in southern Lebanon, Tehran presented the event as the “first victory of Islam over the Zionist crusader camp” and Hezbollah was lauded across the Arab world. Hezbollah taunted the Israelis with billboards on the border reading, “If you return, we return”.

To prop up that myth, Tehran invested in a propaganda campaign that included television “documentaries”, feature films and books and magazine articles. The message was simple: while secular ideologies — from pan-Arabism to Arab socialism — had failed to liberate an inch of Arab territory, Islamism, in its Iranian Khomeinist version working through Hezbollah, had achieved “total victory” over Israel in Lebanon.

Since 1984 Iran has created branches of Hezbollah in more than 20 countries. None has equalled the success of the Lebanese branch, which until recently enjoyed something akin to cult status among Arabs, including non-Muslims, because of the way it stood up to Israel.

It has not even cost Iran very much. Hezbollah was launched with just £13m. After that, according to best estimates, Iran spent £32m to £54m a year on its Lebanese assets. Even if we add the cost of training Hezbollah fighters and equipping them with hardware, Hezbollah (the strongest fighting force in the Middle East after Iran and Israel) has not cost Iran more than £1.3 billion over two decades.

According to Naim Kassem, Hezbollah’s number two, the party has an annual budget of £279m, much of which comes from businesses set up by the movement. These include a bank, a mortgage co-operative, an insurance company, a travel agency specialising in pilgrimages to Muslim holy places, several hotels, a chain of supermarkets and a number of urban bus and taxi companies.

In its power base in southern Lebanon, particularly south Beirut and the Bekaa valley, it is possible for a visitor to spend a whole week without stepping outside a Hezbollah business unit: the hotel he checks into, the restaurant he eats in, the taxi that takes him around, the guide who shows him the sights and the shop where he buys souvenirs all belong to the party.

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.

The party controls the elected municipal councils and appoints local officials, who in theory should be selected by the central government in Beirut. To complete its status as a virtual state, the party maintains a number of unofficial “embassies”: the one in Tehran is bigger and has a larger number of staff than that of Lebanon itself.

Hezbollah also has its own media including a satellite television channel, Al-Manar (the lighthouse), which is watched all over the Arab world, four radio stations, newspapers and magazines plus a book publishing venture. The party has its own system of justice based on sharia and operates its own police force, courts and prisons. Hezbollah runs youth clubs, several football teams and a number of matrimonial agencies.

Its relationship with the rest of Lebanon is complex; it occupies 14 seats in the 128-seat national assembly and holds two portfolios in the council of ministers. But it still describes itself as “a people-based movement fighting on behalf of the Muslim world”.

The backbone of all that is Hezbollah’s militia, a fighting force of about 8,000 men, trained and armed with the latest weapons by Iran and Syria. Of these about 2,000 men represent an elite force under the direct command of the party’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, a former pupil of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who founded Iran’s Islamic republic. But the party also claims more than 30,000 reservists.

Arab and western experts concur that Hezbollah’s militia is a stronger fighting force than the Lebanese army that is supposed to disarm it under United Nations resolution 1559. Also, most soldiers in the official Lebanese army are Shi’ites who would balk at fighting their own.

Accounts concerning Hezbollah’s arsenal of weapons vary. The militia is said to be armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and an Iranian rapid-fire gun initially modelled on the Israeli Uzi. The party’s crown jewels, however, are an estimated 14,000 rockets and missiles shipped in from Iran over the past six years. Most of these are modified versions of the Soviet-designed Katyusha. The party also has some Chinese-made Silkworm missiles for special use in naval warfare.

“The Israelis would be foolish to think they are dealing with nothing but a bunch of mad fanatics,” says a former Iranian diplomat now in exile. “Hezbollah in Lebanon is a state in all but name: it has its territory, army, civil service and economic and educational systems.”

A few minutes’ drive south from central Beirut takes you into what appears to be a different country. Beirut itself has European-style architecture, shops, hotels and cafes with men and women mostly wearing western clothes.

Once you enter Hezbollah land, the scene changes. You feel as if you are in Qom, the Iranian holy city, with men sporting bushy beards and women covered by mandatory hijab, milling around in noisy narrow streets fronted by nondescript shops. Billboards that advertise global bands in Beirut are used in Hezbollah land for pasting giant portraits of Khomeini and the Iranian “supreme guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Not surprisingly Hezbollah describes its territory as “Dar al-Iman” (House of Faith).

When it took over southern Lebanon, Hezbollah found a territory devastated by years of domination by the Palestinian al-Fatah (the area had once been called Fatahland) and the Israeli invasion of 1982. There were almost no schools, no hospitals, few jobs and certainly no security.

Hezbollah provided all that. At the same time the movement imposed a strict religious code that gave the poor Shi’ites a sense of moral superiority over other Lebanese who aspired after western lifestyles. A generation of Shi’ites in southern Lebanon has grown up in a world shaped by Hezbollah’s radical ideology.

Over the years the Lebanese branch has been woven into Iran’s body politic. Many Hezbollah militants and officials have married into Iranian religious families, often connected to influential ayatollahs. Dozens of Lebanese Shi’ites have worked and continue to work in the Iranian administration, especially in the ministries of security, information and culture. Since the mid-1980s, most of the Lebanese Shi’ite clerics have undertaken training in Iran.

In exchange, thousands of Iranian security officers and members of the Revolutionary Guards have lived and worked in Lebanon. As Ali Yunesi, Iran’s former intelligence minister, said: “Iran is Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Iran.”

Support for Hezbollah cuts across the political divides within the Iranian ruling establishment. Whether “reformist” or “hardliner”, Iran’s ruling mullahs and their political associates look to Hezbollah as a reflection of their own revolutionary youth. Last week parliamentary members of the Islamic Majlis in Tehran set aside their disputes to unite in their demand to go and fight alongside Hezbollah in Lebanon if Sheikh Nasrallah called them.

Why has Tehran decided to play its Lebanese card now? Part of the answer lies in Washington’s decision last May to reverse its policy towards Iran by offering large concessions on its nuclear programme. Tehran interpreted that as a sign of weakness. Ahmadinejad believes that his strategy to drive the “infidel” out of the Islamic heartland cannot succeed unless Arabs accept Iran’s leadership.

The problem is that since the Iranian regime is Shi’ite it would not be easy to sell it to most Arabs, who are Sunni. To overcome that hurdle, it is necessary to persuade the Arabs that only Iran is sincere in its desire and capacity to wipe Israel off the map. Once that claim is sold to the Arabs, so Ahmadinejad hopes, they would rally behind his vision of the Middle East instead of the “American vision”.

That strategy pushed Israel to the top of Tehran’s agenda. This is why, in May, Tehran became the first country to grant the Hamas government in the occupied territories an emergency grant of £27m to cope with a freeze imposed by European Union aid and other international donations. As moderate Arab countries have distanced themselves from Hamas, Iran along with Syria has stepped in.

The pincer war launched by Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel is also related to domestic politics. In the occupied territories, Hamas needs to marginalise Mahmoud Abbas’s PLO and establish itself as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In Lebanon, Hezbollah wants to prevent the consolidation of power in the hands of a new pro-American coalition government led by Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, and Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader.

(Shi’ites make up about 40% of the population, Christians 39% and Sunnis, Druze and others the remainder.) If the pincer war against Israel is won, Iran would be able to expand its zone of influence, already taking shape in Iraq and assured in Syria, to take in Lebanon and Gaza. This would be the first time since the 7th century that Persian power has extended so far to the west.
The strategy is high risk. If the Israelis manage to crush Hamas and destroy Hezbollah’s military machine, Iran’s influence will diminish massively. Defeat could revive an internal Hezbollah debate between those who continue to support a total and exclusive alliance with Iran until the infidel, led by America, is driven out of the Middle East and those who want Hezbollah to distance itself from Tehran and emphasise its Lebanese identity. One reason why Hezbollah has found such little support among Arabs in Egypt and Saudi Arabia this time is the perception that it is fighting Israel on behalf of Iran, a Persian Shi’ite power that has been regarded by the majority of Arab Sunnis as an ancestral enemy.

In Lebanon, for the first time in two generations, a consensus is emerging among the country’s different ethnic and religious communities that the only way they can live together in peace is by developing a sense of Lebaneseness.

This means that Arab Sunnis must abandon their pan-Arab aspirations while Christians must stop looking to France as their “original motherland”. In that context Hezbollah’s Iranian ideology cannot but antagonise the Sunnis, the Druze and the Christians, many of whom are angry at the destruction of their country that Hezbollah has brought about by once again antagonising Israel.

The mini war that is taking place between Israel and Hezbollah is, in fact, a proxy war in which Iran’s vision for the Middle East clashes with the administration in Washington. What is at stake is not the exchange of kidnapped Israeli soldiers with Arab prisoners in Israel. Such exchanges have happened routinely over five decades. The real issue is who will set the agenda for the Middle East: Iran or America?

About the Author: Amir Taheri was born in Iran and educated in Tehran, London and Paris.

He was editor-in-chief of Jeune Afrique, Middle East editor for the London Sunday Times contributed to The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and the Daily Mail among other leading British publications. Taheri has also been a contributor to the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and The Washington Post.

U.S. Plan Seeks to Wedge Syria From Iran

U.S. Plan Seeks to Wedge Syria From Iran

The New York Times
Published: July 23, 2006

WASHINGTON, July 22 — As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to Israel on Sunday, Bush administration officials say they recognize Syria is central to any plans to resolve the crisis in the Middle East, and they are seeking ways to peel Syria away from its alliance of convenience with Iran.

In interviews, senior administration officials said they had no plans right now to resume direct talks with the Syrian government. President Bush recalled his ambassador to Syria, Margaret Scobey, after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, in February 2005. Since then, America’s contacts with Damascus have been few, and the administration has imposed an array of sanctions on Syria’s government and banks, and frozen the assets of Syrian officials implicated in Mr. Hariri’s killing.

But 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.’’
There are several substantial hurdles to success. The effort risks seeming to encourage Syria to reclaim some of the influence on Lebanon that it lost after its troops were forced to withdraw last year. It is not clear how forcefully Arab countries would push a cause seen to benefit the United States and Israel. Many Middle Eastern analysts are skeptical that a lasting settlement can be achieved without direct talks between Syria and the United States.
The effort begins Sunday afternoon in the Oval Office, where President Bush is to meet the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, and the chief of the Saudi national security council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Prince Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to Washington until late last year and often speaks of his deep connections to the Bush family and to Vice President Dick Cheney.
Ms. Rice is delaying her departure to the Middle East until after the meeting, which she is also expected to attend, along with Mr. Cheney and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser. The session was requested by the Saudis, American officials said.
The expected outcome of the session is unclear. “We don’t know how patient the Saudis will be with the Israeli military action,’’ said a senior official said. “They want to see Hezbollah wiped out, and they’d like to set back the Iranians.”
But in the Arab world, the official added, “they can’t been seen to be doing that too enthusiastically.’’
Several of Mr. Bush’s top aides said the plan was for Mr. Bush and other senior officials to press both Saudi Arabia and Egypt to prod Syria into giving up its links with Hezbollah, and with Iran. The administration, aside from its differences with Iran over nuclear programs and with Syria over its role in Lebanon, has also objected to both nations’ behavior toward their common neighbor, Iraq.
“They have to make the point to them that if things go bad in the Mideast, the Iranians are not going to be a reliable lifeline,’’ one of the administration officials said.
Another said, “There is a presumption that the Syrians have more at stake here than the Iranians, and they are more exposed.”
The American officials are calculating that pressure from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan may help to get Syria on board.
But so far, there appears to be little discussion of offering American incentives to the Syrians to abandon Hezbollah, or even to stop arming it. The Bush administration has been deeply reluctant to make such offers, whether it is negotiating with Damascus or with the governments of Iran or North Korea.
Nor did President Bush sound any conciliatory notes in his radio address on Saturday. “For many years, Syria has been a primary sponsor of Hezbollah and it has helped provide Hezbollah with shipments of Iranian-made weapons,’’ he said. “Iran’s regime has also repeatedly defied the international community with its ambition for nuclear weapons and aid to terrorist groups.
Their actions threaten the entire Middle East and stand in the way of resolving the current crisis and bringing lasting peace to this troubled region.”

The State Department lists Syria as a country that sends money to terrorist organizations. Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, has spent a lot of time on television in recent days, but he is often described as one of the loneliest ambassadors in Washington.
In the months after Sept. 11, Syria provided important assistance in the campaign against Al Qaeda. But relations soured as American officials complained that Syria did little to crack down on associates of Saddam Hussein who funneled money to the insurgency in Iraq through Syrian banks, or to stop the flow of insurgents across its border to Iraq. The United States imposed sanctions on Syria in 2004, and took further measures after Syrian officials were accused of involvement in Mr. Hariri’s assassination.

The idea is to try to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, which have recently been drawn closer together by standoffs with Washington. Syria and Iran have been formally allied since the Iran-Iraq war began in 1980, but historically they were suspicious of each other.

“Historically and strategically, they are on opposing sides — the Arabs and the Persians,” Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said in an interview on Thursday. Now, he added, “the only Arab country to ally with Iran is Syria,” a position that has angered Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Syria, like most of the Arab world, is largely Sunni. Iran and Iraq are largely Shiite.
A Western diplomat said Arab leaders had had trouble getting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to come to the telephone when they called to express concern about Hezbollah’s actions.
In 1996, when Israel and Hezbollah were fighting each other and bombs rained down on civilian populations, Secretary of State Warren Christopher spent 10 days shuttling between Damascus, Beirut and Jerusalem before brokering a cease-fire and an agreement by Israel and Hezbollah to leave civilians out of the fighting.
Ms. Rice has said she has no intention of duplicating Mr. Christopher’s approach. “I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do,” she said Friday. “I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante.”

Rather, the administration’s declared aim is to carry out United Nations Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarming of Hezbollah and the deployment of the Lebanese Army to southern Lebanon. Syria, which was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon last year, may well balk at efforts to enforce it.

But while analysts say it is possible for the Bush administration and Israel to work out a solution without including Syria in the diplomatic wrangling, it would be difficult. Some Bush administration officials, particularly at the State Department, are pushing to find a way to start talking to Syria again.

Mr. Bush on Saturday telephoned the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from his ranch in Crawford, Tex., to discuss the widening crisis in Lebanon, and pledged the United States would assist the Turkish government as it battled the Kurdish Workers’ Party, the violent separatist movement. Turkey has been mentioned as a potential leader of the proposed United Nations plan to deploy an international force to the region to help cool the violence.