Chavez spreads dominance in South America with Iranian style tactics

April 5, 2010 06:43

The perils of peripheral warfare: Iran & Venezuela share the tactics of asymmetric war

By Jon Perdue at Center for Security Policy

When Epifanio Flores Quispe, the mayor of Requena, Peru received an invitation recently to visit Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, he wondered to himself what had made him so important. Requena is a very small city in the Upper Amazon region of Peru (population 25,000), near a tri-border area with Colombia and Brazil. Although Flores Quispe refused the invitation, he said that he knew other mayors in the region that had accepted.

Requena is just downriver from Leticia, Colombia and Tabatinga, Brazil, two port cities that are the gateways to enter the remote corners of both countries. Analysts in the region speculate that Chávez is searching for friends on the border with Colombia because he considers Colombian President Alvaro Uribe an enemy and a threat.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia actually won the 2006 presidential race against the Chavez-backed candidate, Ollanta Humala, by aggressively denouncing Chavez’s meddling in Peruvian politics and by properly portraying his opponent as a Chavez proxy. Prior to the election, Chavez had been infiltrating parts of Peru by opening “ALBA houses” – supposed medical centers for the poor that also serve as propaganda mills and recruiting centers for budding left wing revolutionaries. [1]

A more recent incident in the Amazon town of Bagua, Peru ended in a blood bath last June, when members and supporters of a far-left “indigenous rights” group slit the throats of police officers that had been sent to end the group’s roadblock that had closed the city’s only highway for over a month. Leaders of the group AIDESEP (Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest), had ties to Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and had previously traveled to Caracas to participate in a meeting of radical indigenous groups. [2]

This method of utilizing proxies and perimeter footholds has also been the modus operandi of Iran in its arms-length war with Israel. Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, he has consolidated power in Iran by utilizing the Basij militia to suppress opposition while embedding the Revolutionary Guard Corps in positions within the government and the bureaucracies. This was part of the basis for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent comments that Iran is “becoming a military dictatorship.” [3]

Since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Iran decided not to develop a conventional force structure, but to focus instead on missile capacity to harass its neighbors and naval capacity to be able to cause problems in the Persian Gulf. More importantly, Iran has invested heavily in supplying and training its international subversive forces via Hezbollah.

Similarly, after narrowly surviving a coup in 2002, Chávez first purged his military of any soldiers that appeared supportive of the coup, and soon after began to indoctrinate his military in “asymmetric warfare.” At the “1st Military Forum on Fourth Generation War and Asymmetric War” in 2004, Chavez instructed his soldiers to change their tactical thinking from a conventional style to a “people’s war,” which glorified the tactics used by revolutionary Islamists. [4]

Chávez then had a special edition of La Guerra Periferica y Islam Revolucionaria (Peripheral Warfare and Revolutionary Islam: Origins, Rules and Ethics of Asymmetric Warfare by Jorge Verstrynge) printed in Spanish and distributed to the Venezuelan Army to replace the U.S. Army training manual.

Verstrynge’s book idolizes Islamic terrorism, calling it, “the ultimate and preferred method of asymmetric warfare because it involves fighters willing to sacrifice their lives to kill the enemy.” [5] The manual also contains instructions for making and deploying a “dirty bomb.” Verstrynge, a Spanish socialist, is now a hired consultant to Chavez’s army, whose members must also now recite the Cuban-style pledge “Fatherland, Socialism or Death.” [6]

“Peripheral Warfare” strategy was recently tested by Iran in its proxy war with Israel, when two of its surrogate forces, Hezbollah and Hamas, utilized specialized missile crews to bomb Israeli civilians, as well as to cause a distraction while it fired upon Israeli border patrols in 2006 to start the Israel-Hezbollah War. Even prior to the decision to remove Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iran was perfecting the use of peripheral warfare by supplying and training Shiite groups in Iraq. [7]

Iran also used this strategy against Egypt when it built up a presence just south of its border with Sudan in order to support terrorist operations against President Hosni Mubarak’s government, and it supported subversive groups in Yemen that could threaten Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.

In April of 2009, Egypt arrested members of a Hezbollah cell consisting of Egyptians, Lebanese and Palestinians that were smuggling arms to Hamas. The charges were verified by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. [8] A few weeks later, Egypt arrested four agents from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that had been sent to Egypt to set up an intelligence network. [9] Egypt, a long time foe of Iran, has to contend with its own potential insurgency via the Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ties with Hamas.

The major difference between Iran’s use of peripheral warfare in the Middle East and Venezuela’s is that the latter can much more easily find allies in the region willing to overtly offer support. Whereas Iran must maintain some semblance of plausible deniability in its subversive activities, the correspondingly lesser scrutiny and import given to Latin America allows Chavez to openly tout his “Bolivarian Socialism” throughout the region.

Aside from the use of “ALBA houses,” peripheral warfare conducted by Hugo Chávez has included setting up the “Venezuela Information Office” in Washington, DC, and hiring PR firms to improve his image in the U.S. [10] One of the propaganda tools that has emerged is the notorious campaign with Joseph Kennedy to supply cheap heating oil to down-and-out New Englanders who enjoy a standard of living only dreamed about by poor Venezuelans who suffer constant electricity and food shortages on top of a newly devalued currency.

The exclusivity of Chavez’s access to oil has also allowed him to subvert corrupt politicians in the region, as well as to offer a sanctions-busting 20,000 barrel a week deal to Iran. But it is the “benign neglect” policy of the United States toward Venezuela that may also end up enticing Chavez to overstep.

Although Chavez has been implicated in supporting terrorists in the region, he has managed to avoid being declared a state sponsor of terror because of his perceived relative unimportance when compared to Iran and Al Qaeda, and because of the possible disruption in oil markets that could occur. However, the closer Iran gets to a deployable nuclear weapon, any assistance from Chavez will edge ever so closer to a sanctions trigger.

Jon Perdue is a founder of the Latin America Research Group and serves as the Director of Latin America Programs for the Fund for American Studies


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