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