Saturday, December 18, 2004

How Iran Will Fight Back

Although the author of this article (via Winds of Change) is a professor at Tehran University, he reminds us of something very important:
According to a much-publicized article on the "Iran war game" in the US-based Atlantic Monthly, the estimated cost of an assault on Iran is a paltry few tens of millions of dollars. This figure is based on a one-time "surgical strike" combining missile attacks, air-to-surface bombardments, and covert operations, without bothering to factor in Iran's strategy, which aims precisely to "extend the theater of operations" in order to exact heavier and heavier costs on the invading enemy, including by targeting America's military command structure in the Persian Gulf.

After this Iranian version of "follow-on" counter-strategy, the US intention of localized warfare seeking to cripple Iran's command system as a prelude to a systematic assault on key military targets would be thwarted by "taking the war to them", in the words of an Iranian military strategist who emphasized America's soft command structure in the southern tips of the Persian Gulf. (Over the past few months, US jet fighters have repeatedly violated Iran's air space over Khuzestan province, testing Iran's air defense system, according to Iranian military officials.)

The author's description of the power of Iran's military maneuvers doesn't scare me any more than Iran's maneuvers prior to the US Navy entering the Gulf in 1987 worried me. Although "Seekers of Martyrdom in the Persian Gulf" was a pretty awesome name, in the end the Iranians did get martyrdom when they confronted the US Navy. Today, Iran's conventional military would be in an even worse position taking our military on.

But the author has one good point. The Iranians will not let us have a limited war as the Atlantic Monthly piece describes. Iran will widen the war.

Based on Iran's response to Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980, this should be clear. In that war, the First Gulf War, Iraq hoped to have a limited war over Khuzestan province and Iran's first response was to send their rump air power--still potent--to strike Iraqi oil facilities and cities.

Yet it will not necessarily be mindless widening. When the US went into the Gulf to escort oil tankers, Iran managed to restrain their response for quite some time. Eventually their good sense broke and they lost the cream of their navy at our hands.

So escalation by Iran could make sense as in 1980 or be foolish as in 1988.

If the Iranians are foolish, they will strike Arab Gulf Countries targeting their oil facilities. This will make the fight an Arab-Persian fight and tend to draw people to support us.

Or the Iranians could strike US forces in Iraq and maybe Kuwait as well as Israel to try to make the Sunni Arab world sympathize with Tehran.

So just in case, we need to look at regime change and not drive by air strikes that will only kick the problem down the road and make the Iranians even angrier. Such a strategy just gives the initiative to the Iranians who will widen the war in some way. Then we will be confronted with the choice of responding with our own escalation or backing down. We could be on the road to a more costly regime change that gives Tehran time to rally the population and military or we could be seen as impotent. Plus the Iranians would lose all restraint at all when they look at meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While an invasion aimed at Tehran would be one way to do the job, it would not be wise. We neither have the troops for it nor would it be ideal even if we did. Even in 1988 when Iran's morale collapsed in the face of defeat at the hands of Iraq, the Iranians rallied when it looked like Iraq was going in for the kill.

But if we are supporting an Iranian rebellion, that is another case altogether. Using the same template but using Iranian military units that switch sides we could overthrow the mullahs. This assumes we've been working seriously to do something about a major member of the Axis of Evil. I hope I'm not assuming too much.

But no half measures, please. The good professor from Tehran University has done us a favor by reminding us that enemies react as they plan and not as we plan. They will attempt to extend the theater of operations.