Overall, Hezbollah’s decentralized, flexible network of small units exhibited the essential aspects of a warfighting style that some military thinkers have predicted would predominate in 21st-century warfare, and which has been described as netwar or fourth-generation warfare. It’s a style of warfare that armies of nation-states, with their massive levels of force, are ill-equipped to fight.
One proponent of this school of thought, John Arquilla, a professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, has argued: “What happens if you take your large hammer to a ball of quicksilver? That’s what these networks are.” He continues: “We are trying to wage war as if it still mattered that our forces are comprised of ‘the few and the large’ – a few large heavy divisions, a few large aircraft carrier battle groups – when in fact war is migrating into the hands of the many and the small – little distributed units. We live in an era when technology has expanded the destructive power of a small group and the individual beyond our imaginations.”
These lessons of combat – now exemplified by Hezbollah’s resistance to the IDF – are not being lost elsewhere in the Arab world. According to a UPI story, “Anti-tank Rockets Menace Israelis,” appearing on August 14, the day of the cease-fire, a reporter from the Israeli paper Ha’aretz recently interviewed a member of Fatah’s al-Aksa brigades in Bethlehem, who said: “The brothers…are no longer interested in games with Kalashnikov rifles; they want anti-tank rockets….When this technology arrives, how difficult would it be for one of the fighters to sit on the Palestinian side of the wall at Abu Dis and fire a rocket at the King David Hotel? With less effort than a suicide bombing or shooting one can fire a missile and get the same results.”
But not only this level of missile technology is being democratized. As the instance of the Iranian-made, radar-guided, anti-ship missile that hit the Israeli corvette illustrates, more sophisticated missile technology is also spreading. Pakistan, China, North Korea, and Iran, among others, now possess cruise missiles. The United States and its allies are now urging a U.N. resolution that will call for international sanctions against Iran.
To enforce such sanctions would require control of Iran’s offshore waters and particularly of the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil moves and where Iran can potentially destroy all shipping. It’s not inconceivable to many analysts that Iran, with the missile technology it now possesses, could ‘take down’ that foremost example of U.S. military power, the aircraft carrier battle group. In a world of proliferating cruise-missile technology, one Pentagon consultant told me: “We have a navy full of ships that will burn to the waterline when hit.”
(Next week, in the second part of this article, we will analyze the implications of this democratization of cruise-missile technology.)