The Costs of War with Iran: An Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield

Abstract

This paper describes the possible Iranian responses to American or Israeli air strikes. Using the U.S. Army’s analytical tool, “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield,” it will define the operational environment of a war with Iran, and describe Iran’s terrain broadly. The paper describes how Iran’s military has adopted asymmetric tactics to defeat conventionally superior enemies, like America. Using this background, I will lay out the “courses of action” available to Iran at sea, air, ground, in other countries and by conducting terrorism around the globe.

(Portions of this article appeared in individual posts on my website, On Violence, but have been significantly rewritten for this paper.)

Introduction

When it comes to war with Iran--whether a limited air strike or a full-on invasion--proponents for war tend to exaggerate the benefits (preventing a nuclear Armageddon for Israel) while obscuring the costs (the number of dead U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines). For example, Matthew Kroenig defended his Foreign Affairs article “Time to Attack Iran” by saying:

“As other readers of the article know, I fully engage with the many negative consequences of military action, including possible Iranian missile and terror attacks against U.S. bases, ships, and allies in the region.”

Or Charles Krauthammer describing the U.S. Navy breaking an Iranian blockade of the Straits of Hormuz:

“We will succeed, but at considerable cost.”

I understand why pundits use ambiguous language like “negative consequences” or “considerable cost.” When proponents for war with Iran put numbers to their predictions, support for military action against Iran plummets. When asked “if attacking Iran started a war similar in length and costs to war in Iraq” only 37% of Americans still supported war, according to a Reason-Rupe poll.

But war with Iran might not even resemble another Iraq or Afghanistan; it could be worse. Iran could fire ballistic missiles at population centers, supply the Taliban with guided missiles, or fire anti-ship missiles at U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, most reporting on Iran revolves around whether Iran has nuclear weapons, not the costs of starting another war in the Middle East

With this paper, I hope to explain those costs. I will use my experience and training as a U.S. Army military intelligence officer to describe the options available to Iran. Specifically, I will answer the question, “What courses of action could Iran pursue immediately after an American or Israeli initiated air war?” To answer this question, I will use the traditional method of analysis of the U.S. Army, the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB).

First, a few caveats. This will not be a strictly doctrinal IPB. Such an IPB uses maps, rulers and weapon capability charts to define the exact capabilities of an opponent. Since I do not have an intelligence staff, and since readers don’t want to read a document several hundred pages long (the likely length of the CENTCOM IPB for this scenario), my IPB will only sketch out Iran’s broad capabilities and options. Further, an IPB is traditionally a tactical tool. My IPB will venture into Iran’s strategic and operational approaches, a topic much more relevant to the debate than Iran’s specific tactical plans.

Second, I believe America will avoid a ground invasion of Iran. Since America hasn’t made the logistical moves to support a ground invasion, to destroy Iran’s nuclear program America or Israel must launch a coordinated air and naval bombing campaign. As such, my IPB will focus on an Iranian response to that likely attack.           

Third, I will not predict how Iran will respond. They could use all of the options at their disposal. Or none of them. I will merely lay out their options and the possible costs. For papers predicting how Iran could respond, please see my bibliography at the end.         

Finally, I used no classified material while making this IPB. Because of this hindrance, some of my analysis will miss the mark simply because of Iranian or American deception, exaggeration or confusion.

Many military analysts and think tanks have described the general military options available to Iran in previous papers. However, I believe the Army’s method of intelligence analysis--summarized for this paper--will provide readers with a guide to an Iranian response to an American military attack. It will also give Americans an idea of the possible costs of starting yet another war in the Middle East.           

Thesis: Iran has several options--from the traditional to the unconventional--to respond to an American or Israeli air strike. Based on my analysis, I believe Iran easily has the capability to make war more costly in terms of American lives than either of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Outline of My IPB          

A traditional IPB has four steps: define the operational environment, describe the operational environment, evaluate the threat, and determine the threat courses of action. This paper will primarily focus on Iran’s capabilities and courses of action.

In step one, I will define the operational environment, which spans from Iran to Europe to America. In the next section, I will describe the operational environment. Iran’s large land mass and mountainous terrain will not affect the fight as much as the tiny strip of water called the Persian Gulf. Then I will describe Iran’s military in broad strokes, or step three “evaluating the threat.”

Step four--the longest section--will describe the courses of action available to Iran in six different domains of warfare. The first areas I will cover are the conventional domains: sea, air and ground. Then I will cover the unconventional or asymmetric realms of warfare, including ballistic missiles, proxy wars and terrorism.       

Step 1: Define the Operational Environment         

In the Army’s Field Manual 2-01.3, “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield”, it explains in pitch perfect Pentagonese that, “if all the relevant characteristics [of the battlefield] are not identified, the command may be surprised and unprepared because some overlooked feature of the operational environment exerts an influence on the success of the command’s mission.” (FM 2-01.3, Page 2-2)

In English, “Define the battlefield broadly or you may lose.”           

When it comes to war with Iran, we should follow this advice. Jeffrey White, Seymour Hersh, James Fallows and others have made this point about a possible war with Iran. The U.S. and Israel cannot contain a war within Iran and the waters touching its shores. In James Fallows words, Iran “has lots of ways to inflict retaliatory damage directly on Israel and U.S. troops...in the region, and...indirectly on the world economy and American interests in general.”

However, the war will probably start at sea. The Persian Gulf (the name I will use for this paper), presents U.S. capital ships with severe limitations due to its shallow depth and narrow width. As for importance, approximately twenty percent of the world’s oil supply passes from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman through the Straits of Hormuz. This makes the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman not only military targets, but economic targets for Iran.           

While a war with Iran will probably take place at sea, it will also likely spill over into its neighbor’s territories as well, starting with Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran could target American diplomats, troops, contractors and civilians remaining in those countries. Pakistan has chilly relations with Iran because of Iran’s friendly relationship with India. Turkey will closely watch a war with Iran because of the large Kurdish population they share. Azerbaijan has allegedly leased or rented some airfields to Israel, making it a critical staging ground. This alliance between Israel and Azerbaijan could make Azerbaijan a target in an Iranian counter-attack. While its other neighbors--Armenia, Turkmenistan, Russia, and Kazahkstan--have so far avoided intervening in the Iran conflict, a war could still draw them in.          

Yet, we cannot stop there. An Iranian response--or American diplomacy to gain international recognition for a war--will draw in countries from around the region and globe. The Gulf Cooperation Council nations--Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates--all lie across the Persian gulf from Iran. Each country also has generally had strong ties with America and would likely support or assist with American military action against Iran, making themselves targets of Iranian aggression. In any attack, Iran would likely try to harm Israel--one of the more vociferous leaders arguing for military action against Iran. Finally, all the members of the E.U., NATO, or the U.N. Security Council could either support or hinder U.S. military action in Iran. Depending on their support, they could also become targets of Iranian terror attacks.

Step 2: Describe the Operational Environment           

While I defined the operational environment above, I am going to specifically describe only the battlefield of Iran in this section. Iran is unlike any country America has fought since 9/11. Mainly, it’s bigger. Iran is larger in terms of both people and land mass (79 million and 1.6 million square kilometers) than Iraq and Afghanistan put together (31 million/30 million and .43 million square kilometers/.65 million square kilometers). This reason alone makes an American invasion unlikely. It will also complicate air strikes from Israel and America. Finally, this will increase the risk of any rescue operations America or Israel could conduct.

Demographically, the Persian ethnicity dominates the country with 61% of the population, followed by Azeri (16%) and Kurdish (10%) minorities with Lur, Baloch, Arab, Turkmen and Turkic tribes. Iran is 98% Muslim, dominated by 89% Shia Muslims. Hypothetically, America could “encourage ethnic tensions” in these minority groups as described by Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker. While some analysts see a strike on Iran encouraging democratic protesters, with its large religious and ethnic majorities, Iran’s internal situation is largely stable, as seen by the lack of protests during the Arab Spring. (Gardiner, page 35)

Finally, the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman will directly play into Iran’s naval strategy, which I will describe in Step 4, The Sea War. Also, Iran’s distance to various opponents will effect its decision to launch ballistic missiles, which I will address in “Iran’s Courses of Action: Ballistic Missiles.”

Step 3: Evaluating the Threat    

On the surface, one can easily dismiss Iran’s military. While Iran does invest heavily in its armed forces, it barely approaches Western spending levels. Take Stephen Walt’s description:

Iran is not a very powerful country at present, though it does have considerable potential...But its defense budget is perhaps 1/50th the size of U.S. defense spending, and it has no meaningful power-projection capabilities. It could not mount a serious invasion of any of its neighbors, and could not block the Strait of Hormuz for long, if at all....           

On the one hand, I agree with Stephen Walt: Iran does not have the capability to strike the U.S. or project power conventionally in the Middle East for long, if at all. It cannot deploy troops or control surrounding bodies of water with its navy. It lacks an air force capable of defeating its neighbors in an extended campaign. Western arms embargoes have atrophied Iran’s advanced weapons capabilities, especially in air defense, conventional ships and manned aircraft. Iran has tried to develop an internal defense industry in response, but it still has a long, long way to go before its domestic arms production resembles anything close the Western arms manufacturing. (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 6)           

However, Iran makes up for its resource and technology shortcomings through wit, cleverness, experience and initiative. Unlike previous U.S. opponents, Iran plans to fight the U.S. unconventionally. The most well-funded and trusted branch of the Iranian military--the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)--specializes in asymmetric warfare. The Ayatollahs hold the IRGC in the highest esteem and shower them (relatively) with money. (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 7)

The IRGC’s most trusted unit, the Quds Force (The closest thing Iran has to JSOC or CIA Operations branch, if the CIA or JSOC supported terrorism.) has operated for the last 30 years in countless countries around the Middle East, gaining experience fighting insurgencies, waging asymmetrical war, and studying the United States and Israeli militaries. The Quds Force and its relationships around the Middle East and world give Iran the ability to project unconventional power in terror attacks.

This strategy could work better than either Iraq’s conventional response during the U.S. invasion or the irregular responses of the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents. Unlike insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, who use low technology weapons because they lack the funds for anything better, Iran could marry high-tech weapons like anti-ship cruise missiles with irregular strategies.

With this mindset and preparation, Iran might have the best strategy of any opponent the U.S. has faced since 9/11. Afghanistan barely had a military. Al Qaeda hides in caves in Pakistan. Saddam never trusted his military, viewing it as a threat to his power. As a result, the Iraqi Army never embraced irregular warfare. The Ayatollahs--comparatively--love the IRGC; its name literally means “the guardians of the revolution.” Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad worked in the IRGC in the 1980s and under his leadership the IRGC has “expanded their power base.”

While Iran could be the best opponent the U.S. has faced since 9/11, they still cannot “beat” the U.S. war machine in a fight. They literally don’t have enough planes, boats, soldiers or tanks to invade America, or even stop a conventional U.S. military attack. But Iran doesn’t need to. Iran simply needs the capability to make war too costly in terms of American lives for U.S. politicians to continue to support the war. Iran will try do that in several domains of warfare, which I will discuss in the next section.

Step 4: Determining Iran’s Courses of Action

To determine how Iran could counter-attack the U.S. with its asymmetric capabilities described above, I will divide step four into the various domains of war. First, the conventional areas: sea, air and land. Second, the unconventional arenas: ballistic missiles, proxy wars in other countries and terrorism. I will end each section by describing, in broad strokes, the various courses of action available to Iran.

The Sea War

Iran plans to fight the U.S. asymmetrically at sea, using hit and run attacks with sea and land-launched anti-ship cruise missiles, mines, mini-subs and suicide boats. In almost no scenario can Iran destroy the U.S. Navy--it just doesn’t have the naval strength--but Iran could possibly inflict thousands of casualties in a short period of time. (Office of Naval Intelligence 2009, 7)

Since World War II, the US Navy has not lost a sea battle or even lost a capital ship. The U.S. also hasn’t fought an even semi-competent opponent--North Korea/China, North Vietnam, Israel (accidentally), and Iraq. In each case, U.S. ships barely suffered any harm while utterly destroying their opponents.

Which brings us to the intersection of the American and Iranian navies. The largest American naval battle since World War II occurred in the Persian Gulf in 1988, during the last year of the Iran and Iraq war. Called Operation Praying Mantis, U.S. military warships obliterated the Iranian Navy. Iran learned a lesson: fight conventionally and you will lose, while inflicting hardly any casualties on the Americans. (Haghshenass 2008, 6)

Iran has two navies preparing to fight the U.S. The first navy, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, or IRIN, is the smallest branch of Iran’s entire military. The bastard child of Iran’s armed forces, it has only five frigates, three corvettes and no capital ships to its name. In addition, IRIN suffers from material shortages.

On the other hand, Iran’s leaders shower money on Iran’s other navy, the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (or IRGC Navy). The IRGC Navy has roughly 20,000 people spread over hundreds of small, agile boats: patrol boats, commando boats, missile boats, torpedo boats and fast attack craft.

The IRGC Navy has a plan too: guerrilla war at sea. Hiding along Iran’s 1,000 nautical mile coastline, the IRGC’s small boats will emerge to conduct hit and run attacks that avoid America’s conventional superiority. This quote from the Small Wars Journal article, “Iran’s Response to a U.S. Attack” by Michael V. Rienzi sums up my worries:

“While Iran has added some of these [capital ships] recently, the majority of their buildup has constituted mostly of small boats that are fast and capable of firing lethal missiles, including cruise missiles. They have built up these forces partially through acquisitions of Chinese missile boats and Chinese C802 anti-ship cruise missiles and torpedoes. Iran’s use of fast attack crafts have a history of success; during the Tanker Wars in the 1980’s Iran used swarming techniques to overwhelm larger slower moving ships throughout the Gulf.”

With this small, asymmetric navy, Iran has several ways to attack the conventional U.S. Navy:

- Anti-ship guided missiles. Some of these missiles have been mounted onto ships; some are dug into tunnels in islands in the Persian Gulf, hardened and hidden. All these missiles can fire well into the gulf. (Office of Naval Intelligence 2009, 7)

- Mini-submarines. Iran also owns 6 “Ghadir” midget submarines. As North Korea showed when it sunk the South Korean ship Chenoan, mini-subs present another threat to large capital ships. (Office of Naval Intelligence 2009, 18)

- Suicide attacks. The most successful naval attack on the U.S. since 1987 was the USS Cole bombing. Iranian suicide attacks could take place in harbors or at sea.

- Marine raids. The IRGC Navy has a highly-trained 5,000 person strong marine unit that “can carry out extensive raids against gulf shipping...or other countries.” (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 50)

- Mines. The IRGC has developed multiple unconventional delivery platforms for this weapon system which, in previous wars, has been its most successful weapon. (Haghshenass 2008, 16)

Iranian naval forces will likely try to attack U.S. vessels with a combination of different attacks. It will also try to swarm U.S. vessels with multiple small craft at the same time, overwhelming U.S. defense. This strategy, of course, would come at a high cost, sacrificing many Iranian sailors to sink one ship. But the rewards--possibly thousands of sailors dead, possibly billions sunk to the bottom of the gulf--well exceed the risks. The ensuing U.S. rescue operations in the Gulf will also carry tremendous risks.

The Persian Gulf’s geography suits naval guerrilla warfare; both narrow (340 kilometers at its widest, 55 at its narrowest) and shallow (mostly less than 35 meters), and lined with a 1,000-mile coastline that can hide Iranian small boats and shore-based anti-ship missiles, Iran has tailored its naval strategy to maximize its advantages in this lake disguised as a gulf. Worse, pirates, smugglers and small boats fill the gulf, perfect for the IRGC Navy to hide its ships. The IRGC has a navy designed for the gulf; the U.S. Navy has one designed for the open seas.

Iran has also prepared for the overwhelming U.S. firepower advantage, which will likely target Iranian communications. According to the Office of Naval Intelligence, “Iran also began decentralizing its command structure in order to decrease its reliance on communications and enable continued resistance in the event of an attack.” They can fight without dependency on higher headquarters for decisions, something our own military can’t do. (Office of Naval Intelligence 2009, 7)

This gives Iranian small boats, “the ability to strike at larger conventional forces with little, if any warning.” (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 7) As John Arquilla has warned, this strategy could work very well. In Millennium Challenge 2002, a war game conducted by the Pentagon, General Paul van Riper--simulating a hostile Middle East nation like Iran--used asymmetric tactics and weapons like small boats, cruise missiles and torpedoes to swarm and sink dozens of U.S. ships, killing thousands of sailors, in effect validating the IRGC Navy’s strategy.

  

Some critics have also pointed out that Millennium Challenge 2002 showed the danger of allowing the enemy the element of surprise and that, now, the U.S. Navy will not let small boats approach it. Except, according to The Weekly Standard, they do:

In the last few months, Iranian boats have retreated only when U.S. vessels have fired warning shots. While the Pentagon does not publicize such incidents, sailors say there are now near daily occurrences. The proximity of the Iranian boats means that, should any be intent on a suicide plot, American sailors would likely lose their lives.

Of course, the American military has prepared for Iran’s asymmetric tactics. When questioned before congress, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations specifically described the “counter-swarm” capabilities the Navy has deployed to the gulf to discourage an Iranian counter-attack.

Though the U.S. Navy has a plan for Iran’s naval attacks, the IRGC Navy gives Iran its best option to hurt or kill thousands of U.S. service-members in the conventional areas of war.

Iran’s Naval Courses of Action:

Most Likely COA: Iran chooses to fight the U.S. using asymmetric naval guerrilla warfare. In the best case scenario, the U.S. wouldn’t lose a single ship. In the worst case, the Iranian plan succeeds wildly (similar to General Paul van Riper’s success in Millennium Challenge 2002). The U.S. loses dozens of ships and thousands of sailors. The rescue mission would then become a target of increased Iranian aggression. (Technically, this is the same course of action as above, just differing in degrees of success.) In either scenario, there is a good chance the U.S. Navy loses at least one vessel in the narrow confines of the Persian Gulf.

Most Dangerous Course of Action: Suicide boats. The IRGC recruits fanatics or die-hards to drive multiple suicide ships into U.S. capital ships. The IRGC recently acquired speedboats which could work perfectly for this tactic, and could probably avoid U.S. Navy counter-fire, designed for missiles.

Conventional: Iran learned nothing from 1988 and the IRIN attacks America conventionally. The U.S. Navy defeats Iran conventionally again. Iran loses thousands of sailors several ships while the U.S. Navy would likely emerge with limited damage.

Marine Raid Option: Some Iranian small boats avoid attacking U.S. capital ships and conduct raids on ports, oil rigs or civilian targets of G.C.C. nations. Very high-risk for the Iranian marine forces, but could hurt the political resolve of U.S. allies.

The Escalation Option: Iran chooses to mine the Straits of Hormuz, requiring a costly American-led mine clearing operation. Depending on the state of the war to this point, Iran could choose to reengage with swarming tactics aimed at U.S. capital ships.

Most Surprising Option: The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy somehow uses a submarine to attack a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Oman. Essentially, this means the Iranian Navy would score a conventional victory, which would stun me.

The Air War

I generally agree with Michael Rienzi, who writes, “If this war were to ever to take place, it would be conducted mostly from the air and sea, something the Iranians fully understand.” However, while Iran has invested in offensive naval weapons as described in the previous section, crippling Western sanctions have prevented Iran from fielding an even remotely modern air force. Iran will fight the air war on the defensive.

Weapons embargoes have prevented the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force from modernizing, and Iran struggles to keep the planes it does have flying. They may have up to 312 combat air craft, but up to 60% of those planes may be combat incapable. The Aerospace Force of the RGC has scant support compared to the IRGC Navy, and focuses on unconventional capabilities like UAVs, not fighter planes. Thus, compared to its rivals like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., Iran lags in air power. Though the G.C.C. countries have weak air defense systems, the U.S. could easily bolster them in the event of a war. (CSIS, “Iran and the Gulf Military Balance” page 27) When it comes to projecting air power, Iran has few options with its air force.

The same Western arms embargo that atrophied Iran’s Air Force has degraded Iran’s air defenses as well. As Anthony Cordesman writes:

“Iran has extensive surface-to-air missile assets, but most are obsolete or obsolescent. All of these systems are poorly netted, have significant gaps and problems in their radars and sensors, and are vulnerable to electronic warfare. Once again, Russia is Iran’s only current potential source of the modern weapons Iran needs, and it would take major deliveries of a new integrated air defense system based around the S-300 or S-400 surface-to-air missile to change this situation.” (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 26)

Despite these deficiencies, the U.S. Air Force still worries about Iranian air defenses. In a post about the Air Force’s desire for a new long range bombers on Times’ “Battleland” blog, General Norty Schwartz specifically mentioned Iran’s improvements to their air defense weapons. Air Force Assistant Secretary Jamie Morin also worries that air defense technology is “proliferating very rapidly” and “widely available and comparatively cheap.” In other words, relatively inexpensive surface-to-air missiles (versus astoundingly expensive U.S. warplanes) give Iran an affordable approach to the air war.

Iran has two air defense systems. In the first, it relies on Russian imports like the SA-2, SA-7, SA-14 and SA-16. In its second air defense system, Iran has attempted to replace its Russian SAMs with its own domestically produced versions, like the Misagh, Mersad, Sayyad 1 or Ghareh. As Anthony Cordesman notes, Iranian generals likely exaggerate the capabilities and quantities of these missiles. So Iran has a variety of missiles with long and short-range capabilities, but many are aging or obsolete. (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 26-29)

The bottom line on Iran’s air defenses: the U.S.S.R. at the height of the Cold War this is not. Iran has invested heavily in ground-based air defense, but not enough. The equipment it has, it cannot repair. Its long range surface-to-air missiles will remain a threat, and could down several aircraft, but can’t kill nearly as many people as a sunk U.S. capitol ship. Iran will keep investing in air defense weapons, but will lag behind the U.S. for years or possibly forever. With a thorough “suppression of enemy air defenses” mission, U.S. planes could fly with near immunity.

Iran’s Air War Courses of Action

Most Likely Course of Action: Iran aggressively uses its air defenses to counter U.S. war planes. Iran has virtually no incentive to passively let the U.S. attack it on its own soil. In the best case, the U.S. doesn’t lose a single aircraft. In the worst case, Iranian air defenses surprise U.S. commanders, and Iran downs several American or Israeli planes. The most likely result is that the U.S. loses at least one plane to either enemy action or a malfunction.

Least Dangerous Course of Action: Iran saves its surface-to-air missiles to use during a possible U.S. invasion. (It could also export its SAMs to Afghanistan or for use in terror attacks. I will discuss this in “The Proxy Wars” section.)

Most Surprising Course of Action: Iran tries to use its air craft in an offensive role, trying to attack its neighbors it believes supported the air strikes including Azerbaijan or G.C.C. countries. Because of their lack of modern air craft and the advanced U.S. fighters in the air, this option has a low chance for success.

The Ground War

Iran’s ground forces have few options to counter-attack America and Israel. Iran fields a large conventional army according to military observers like the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Jane’s Sentinel--over 350,000 soldiers, with 3,000 armored vehicles and 8,000 artillery pieces--but uses mostly low paid, poorly trained conscripts. (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 36) Combined with mostly aging and obsolete equipment, the Islamic Republic of Iran Army cannot project power or sustain combat outside Iran, which severely limits its options to attack either Israel or America directly. The IRGC Land Forces do have an additional pool of 120,000-130,000 men in the IRGC, but these force are mostly used for internal security. (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 19)

Iran’s Ground Forces Courses of Action

Most Likely Course of Action: Iran’s ground forces prepare for invasion. Meanwhile, Iran’s Army and IRGC quickly become the targets of an American bombing campaign. However, Iran’s army commanders would still try to prepare for a U.S. invasion, especially if U.S. forces started massing in Afghanistan. Further, Iranian regular and asymmetric forces would try to capture or attack any downed U.S. aircraft or special operations teams within Iran.

Attacking Israeli Bases in Azerbaijan Course of Action: As I mentioned in Step 1 “Defining the Operational Environment,” Azerbaijan has leased some of its airfields to Israel. If Israeli warplanes attacked Iran, and then landed in Azerbaijan, Iran could hypothetically attack Israeli troops at Azerbaijani bases. Such an aggressive move by Iran would likely unify global support around regime change and the U.S. would use it’s air power to attack massed Iranian ground units.

The Ballistic Missile War

If Iran’s leaders believe America intends to overthrow their regime, their ballistic missile inventory will provide them with their best means to kill large numbers of civilians in a (desperate) bid to sap their enemy’s will to fight. Iran’s missiles threaten countries from Pakistan to Greece. Jeffrey White explains their capability:

“Missile systems (principally the Shahab 3 variants and Sejjl types) allow Iran to strike targets throughout the Middle East, including population centers, military facilities, infrastructure and U.S. forces based in the region.”

  

Anthony Cordesman elaborates:

“Iran has also created robust nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which have become a focal point of US-Iranian military competition. Iran’s missile program dates to the 1980s, and was fully underway during the Iran-Iraq War. While Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities were initially limited, the range and sophistication of the country’s missiles has increased greatly since its inception in the early days of the Iran-Iraq War. Iran has now created conventionally armed ballistic missile forces that can strike at US allies and US bases in the region with little warning, and could be configured to carry nuclear warheads if Iran can develop them.”

            CSIS Iran and the Gulf Military Balance Page 7

Iran has the largest ballistic missile inventory in the Middle East, most of which can travel 1,000-2,500 kilometers, including a limited store of medium range missiles that could strike southern Europe. More importantly, their missiles could hit Israel, the Green Zone in Iraq, U.S. bases in Afghanistan, and G.C.C. countries.

Fortunately, Iran’s missiles cannot currently hit pinpoint targets. Unfortunately, Iran is desperately working to change that. (Cordesman and Wilner 2012, 5) How have they progressed? The Iranian military tends to exaggerate their achievements, which leads to incredible uncertainty about their exact capabilities. Anthony Cordesman sums the confusion up in one concise paragraph:

“There is no agreement as to when Iran may acquire missiles with homing warheads and the kind of terminal guidance that can hit point targets effectively with conventional warheads. There is no agreement on the reliability and accuracy of Iran’s missiles under operational conditions, there is no agreement on Iran’s ability to deploy systems with countermeasures to missile defenses. There is no agreement on when Iran might deploy a fully functioning nuclear warhead. And, there is no agreement on the future size, character, and basing mode of Iran’s missile forces once its long-range systems are deployed in strength.”

            (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 5)

Two factors determine whether and how Iran will use its ballistic missile inventory. First, ballistic missiles are a “use it or lose it” capability. The moment war starts, U.S. bombers and cruise missiles will attack those sites where they can find them. Second, unless Iran’s missiles have guided capabilities the intelligence community doesn’t know about, Iran will fire their missiles at civilian targets broadly, trying to frighten population centers, including isolated military bases.

This will also test Israel and America’s missile defenses. Israel has designed the Arrow missile defense system specifically for Iran’s Shahab-3 missile. Israeli estimates believe that a sustained missile campaign could kill up to 500 Israeli civilians.

Finally, while Iran cannot arm its ballistic missiles with nuclear weapons, Iran may have chemical or biological weapons. According to Sam Gardiner, Colonel (Ret.), the Director of National Intelligence “judge[s] that Iran maintains a small, covert CW stockpile.“ (Gardiner 2010,  43) Even if Iran doesn’t have an operational program, according to Anthony Cordesman, “Iran has all the technology needed” to produce “sophisticated biological weapons.” Obviously, chemical and biological weapons would dramatically increase the number of casualties Iran could inflict, but would outrage the global community. (Cordesman and Wilner 2012, 98-99)

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Course of Action

Fire Long Range Missiles at Israel: Most likely option based on Iran’s past statements about Israel.

Fire Missiles at Azerbaijan: Possible, if Iran believe Israeli warplanes used airfields in Azerbaijan. This could provoke larger international criticism of Iran.

Fire Missiles at Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Possible, especially if G.C.C. countries support the U.S. military operation. Iran could also try to hit U.S. naval facilities in Bahrain, Kuwait or other G.C.C. countries. America’s base in Kuwait makes an especially enticing target because it is in the middle of the desert, far from any Muslim civilians.

Fire Long Range Missiles at Europe: Unlikely. This risks bringing in a host of other countries to join the coalition and a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Iran.

Fire Missiles at the Green Zone in Iraq: Unlikely. If they miss, they threaten local Iraqis who have supported Iran. Using other forms of terrorism in Iraq would be less risky for Iran’s military.

Fire Missiles at Bases in Afghanistan: Likely. If the IRGC chooses not to escalate, or even if it does, this could provide an excellent diversion. Iran is less worried about the population’s support in Afghanistan.

Most Dangerous Course of Action, Using Chemical or Biological Weapons: Very unlikely, but very dangerous.

The Proxy Wars

When looking at the three conventional domains of war--ground, sea and air--Iran can hope to inflict some casualties on the U.S. (especially at sea), but it will still most likely lose men, vehicles and weapons to superior American and Israeli firepower. Therefore, Iran could choose to change the battlefield. Instead of fighting in Iran, it could move the battlefields to proxy wars in neighboring countries. As Alireza Nader writes for the United State Institute for Peace’s Iran Primer:

The IRGC’s secretive Qods Force has trained and equipped proxy groups, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Iraqi Shiite insurgents, and even elements of the Taliban. Some surrogates have already been used to target U.S. and other Western forces in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan; they could be used against U.S. targets outside Iran in the event of a future conflict.

Iran has a history with using proxies to further its interests around the Middle East, particularly Hezbollah. During the Iraq War, U.S. national security officials frequently blamed Iran for its support for Shia extremists. While Iran did supply some Shia insurgents with IED-making equipment, it always limited its support. Kenneth Pollack, quoted in The Atlantic, sums up Iran’s actual actions versus what they could have done:

“The Iranians really have not made a major effort to thwart us...If they wanted to make our lives rough...they could make Iraq hell.”

This Seymour Hersh article makes makes the same argument: Iranian agents could have done a lot more in Iraq than they did. As David Kay said when the U.S. was still in Iraq, “Iran is not giving the Iraqis the good stuff—the anti-aircraft missiles that can shoot down American planes and its advanced anti-tank weapons.” Iran held back on its support of proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid provoking an overwhelming American response.

If America (or Israel) starts an extended bombing campaign against Iran, that restraint disappears. Iran has three options for a proxy war: Afghanistan, Iraq and the G.C.C. countries with majority Shia populations.

Thus far in the war in Afghanistan, Iran has only provided minimal support to the Taliban, nothing like the support they provided Shia extremists in Iraq (Fitzgerald and Varun 2011, 5). Even General Petraeus has acknowledged that Iran facilitates Taliban operations, but nowhere near the level it could.

When generals or analysts talk about Iran’s restraint when supporting proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan, they almost always mean that Iran hasn’t provided guided missiles to insurgents. If Iran wanted to hamper American goals in Afghanistan, it would supply the Taliban with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), like, ironically, the ones America gave to the Pashtun insurgents in the 1980s. Currently, the U.S. hasn’t lost a single aircraft to a guided surface-to-air missile.       

Iran could supply two types of guided missiles to the Taliban: surface-to-air or anti-tank. The IRGC Quds Force would likely target relatively slower, lower flying U.S. helicopters with their surface-to-air missiles. This would remove one of the biggest U.S. tactical advantages from the battlefield.  Without helicopters (or their use severely curtailed), special operations units would have to limit their missions; U.S. forces would then travel the country by vehicle, increasing the risk of IED attacks; NATO forces would also lose close air support, their single biggest advantage over insurgents.

Iran could complement this anti-air strategy with an influx of anti-tank guided missiles. Several articles in the Jerusalem Post describe Iranian support and training of Gazans in the use of Iranian-made anti-tank missiles. Iran could also begin exporting IED materials (like explosively formed penetrators) or special forces trainers into Afghanistan as well.

The biggest hindrance to supporting proxies in Afghanistan is developing relationships with the insurgency. Iran already has operatives on the ground in Afghanistan, but mostly in predominantly Shia areas, the Western part of the country. They also have strong inroads with Hezara groups, another Shia sect persecuted by the Taliban for years. While Iran has some contact with the Taliban, they don’t like working together. Despite news stories describing the influence of Iran in Afghanistan, Iran doesn’t have nearly the same connections with the Taliban as does Pakistan’s ISI. (Fitzgerald and Varun 2011, 5)

In Iraq, Iran’s best option for a proxy war is to use the sources and proxies it developed during the Iraq war to launch attacks against Americans in the Green Zone in Baghdad. While the IRGC Quds force would have less targets to choose from, it has many more allies and supporters in Iraq than Afghanistan and it would have generally the same tactical options--SAMs, anti-tank guided missiles and IEDs in addition to terror tactics.

In addition to targeting U.S. troops and diplomats in the two countries America has fought lengthy wars over the last decade, Iran could try to start wars or domestic unrest in America’s Middle East allies, the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia both have large Shia populations that, “could be a useful resource and environment for terrorist and irregular operations.” Iran will believe the G.C.C. nations are complicit in an American attack by either providing staging bases or intelligence. However, trying to start a full-fledged civil war in a Shia majority country like Bahrain will require a massive influx of Quds force operatives, which probably exceeds or matches Iran’s capabilities.

Iran’s Proxy War Options

Most Likely Course of Action: Iran heavily increases its support of IED operations in Afghanistan through its connections with the Taliban.

Anti-Air Course of Action: In addition to IED support, Iran starts importing large numbers of man-portable SAMs into Afghanistan. Iran and the Taliban could launch a coordinated campaign against American aviation assets. To maintain surprise, Iranian agents would try to coordinate their attacks over a handful of days. They could also support a major Taliban offensive, and use SAMs to harass close air support.

Anti-Tank Guided Missile Course of Action: Like the anti-air course of action, but smuggling in anti-tank guided missiles to attack ISAF vehicles like MRAPs.

Most Dangerous Course of Action: Iran combines all three above courses of action. I find this unlikely since it would divert too many resources, but it could kill large numbers of U.S. troops. As I said above, Iran could either try to pick off helicopters by themselves, or use them to support large “Wanat-style attacks” while holding off U.S. close air support. In the worst case, the war in Afghanistan goes from bad to terrible.

Most Surprising Course of Action: Sniper operations. I lived in fear of these when I deployed to Afghanistan. Fortunately, Afghan insurgents don’t have good marksmanship training, or access to top-of-the-line sniper rifles. The IRGC Quds Force doesn’t have these same limitations. Plus, high-powered sniper rifles, and their bullets, are easier to smuggle into Afghanistan than guided missiles.

Iraq Course of Action: Technically, the U.S. doesn’t have troops in Iraq. Realistically, America has thousands of contractors and diplomats. Iran could target them with IEDs, anti-tank missiles and SAMs. It could support Prime Minister Maliki or Moqtada al-Sadr to persecute Sunni minorities or create a more theocratic state in line with Iranian values.

Start Proxy Wars in GCC Countries: Support would come either from the sea using IRGC Navy’s marine units for infiltration or from IRGC Quds Forces already in the countries. In the best case, the GCC countries intercept attempts to start revolutions and only low level terrorism results. In the worst case, full-fledged civil wars start in said countries. This escalates the conflict as violence approaches U.S. bases. This could also cause problems with world opinion as the U.S. sides with oppressive regimes against democratic movements.

The Terror War

In addition to the more conventional options open to Iran, in the words of Jeffrey White, America could “find itself involved in a ‘secret war’ of terrorist attacks and special counter-terror operations” well outside of Iran and the Persian Gulf. Some experts, like Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institute, say this kind of war has already started. As Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish National Defense College describes Iran, it “is a superpower in intelligence terms in the region; they have global reach because of their reconnaissance ability.”

Unlike more conventional forms of warfare--which require weapons and vehicles--predicting how Iran will use terrorism is much more difficult.

Take, for instance, predicting where Iran could attack. They could attack America, Israel, allied nations in Europe, Gulf Cooperation Council nations (roughly allied with America), Pakistan or Iraq. Iran could choose to attack Americans in America, Americans in Europe, Europeans in Europe, Americans and Europeans in the Middle East, Israelis in Israel, Israelis elsewhere in the Middle East, or any of its neighbors in their countries.

Or try predicting how they could attack. They could bomb buildings, take hostages, or shoot down airliners. They could use chemical or biological weapons. They could use terrorism techniques counter-terrorism analysts haven’t thought of yet or capabilities we don’t know they have, like cyber-attacks. And good luck predicting the intentions of an elite unit shrouded in secrecy like the IRGC Quds Force. (CSIS Gulf Military Balance, Page 23)

Unlike other options for war--such as a vicious naval war in the Persian Gulf or a proxy war in Afghanistan--when it comes to launching terror attacks, Iran has time on its side. While America could bomb Iranian ballistic missile batteries as soon as the war starts, it would have to run difficult, resource-intensive and time-sensitive counter-terrorism operations around the world to eliminate suspected IRGC Quds Force members, Iranian intelligence operatives or proxies.

Iran will have its own difficulties running a terror campaign. Terrorism requires an extraordinary amount of planning. The Mumbai attacks, for example, required dozens of visits by at least one operative, and countless hours of training for the attackers. The 9/11 attacks required flight school training for at least eight people. Even the well-funded IRGC Quds Force only has so many people it can spare for terrorism. (Anthony Cordesman estimates the Quds Force has between 5,000 to 15,000 people total in the organization.) (Cordesman and Wilner 2011, 51)

The IRGC Quds Force, Iranian intelligence and their proxies have a pupu platter of options for how to attack, but only a small cadre of personnel to carry out those attacks. Further, any terror attacks risks a global backlash.

 Iran’s Terrorism Courses of Action:

Conduct terror attacks on G.C.C. nations: Possible. The Quds Force has intelligence operatives spread throughout the region and each G.C.C. country has a sympathetic Shia population.

Conduct terror attacks in America: While the Quds Force does have a “North American Directorate,” I do not think Iran has terror cells in America. If discovered, it would give America casus belli for regime change, something the Ayatollahs want to avoid. (Gardiner, “The Israeli Threat” page 36)

Conduct terror attacks in Europe: Unlikely for the same reasons Iran will avoid upsetting America. Attacking Europe would draw in European support for regime change.

Conduct terror attacks on Israel: Possible, but I believe Iran will target Israel with ballistic missiles.

Conduct Cyber Attacks: Iran has invested at least one billion dollars to develop cyber-war capabilities. Like other forms of asymmetric attacks, Iran’s cyber capabilities remains shrouded in secrecy.

 

Conclusion: Escalation

“Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please.”

Machiavelli, The History of Florence Book III, Chapter 2

“There is no such thing as a quick, clean war...War will always take you in directions different from what you intended.”

Colonel T.X. Hammes, The Atlantic “Will Iran Be Next?”

Unlike either Iraq or Afghanistan, Iran could fight America at sea, in air, in other countries and by threatening civilians. Far and away, though, the most dangerous option for war with Iran isn’t a downed bomber, a sunk aircraft carrier or surface-to air-missiles targeting U.S. helicopters in Afghanistan; the biggest threat comes from a war which escalates out of control. As Jeffrey White in The American Interest tells it:

“Given the political context in which military engagement would rest, even a minor attack would likely become a major test of strength involving not only the United States and Iran but also a host of allies and associates.”

Or as Jonathan Marcus describes the situation for the BBC:

“With so much instability in the Middle East--not least because of the Syria crisis--there is a very real risk of an Israeli strike sparking a much broader regional conflagration.”

Or as Jeffrey White reflects:

“It seems fairly clear then that a conflict with Iran is unlikely to be an isolated event in which the U.S. strikes, Iran retaliates, and it’s over—with Iran either left with a viable nuclear program or not.”

For example, if America loses a fighter, bomber or transport plane, America will have to mount a rescue operation, which means sending in helicopters. Helicopters, as special operations troops learned in the Osama bin Laden raid, can crash. Of course, America might have to send in ground troops regardless. As Seymour Hersh wrote in “The Iran Plans”, “Some of the facilities may be too difficult to target even with penetrating weapons. The U.S. will have to use Special Operations units.” Any American ground troops found in Iran could easily escalate the conflict.

If Iran sunk an American aircraft carrier, shot down over a dozen U.S. helicopters in Afghanistan, conducted a terrorist attack in America or Europe, used a ballistic missile to kill over a hundred people or some other worst case scenario I previously described, then world opinion could quickly turn against Iran. And that might compel America to invade Iran.

One final note: I am sure that many readers will disagree with some of my assessments in this paper. Perhaps they will find the threat of terrorism more likely. Perhaps they will say that the IRGC Navy cannot even dream of sinking a U.S. carrier. Perhaps they worry that Iran will respond in some method I didn’t write about here. I hope that dissent happens, and I look forward to it, because it will mean that the U.S. is finally having a dialogue about the costs of a war with Iran in a substantive manner.

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Excellent think piece and insightful comments. I'll fall back on a former mentor, Brzezinski, who seems to have some influence on Obama: he has stated repeatedly that an Isramerican attack on Iran will be a "catastrophe". Nonetheless, Iran will be attacked because - like Iraq and Libya - it is trying to drop the petrodollar...which is the keystone of America's current global hegemony; without it, the debt-saturated US economy will go to hyperinflation and collapse. Problem is, by keeping the Straits closed for no more than a few weeks, Iran can spike oil at $200-$300/barrel and accomplish the same result. Do the Twelvers have the (asymmetric) ability to do this? I think so. And certain people with a great deal of economic power appear to believe so too, as witness the sudden, ongoing ramp in gold/silver and other commodities. A ramp which also tells us that the greater Mid-East War will be unleashed very soon.

As for Move Forward's bizarre arguments about the price of oil... it's hard to know where to start in criticizing them. He doesn't seem to understand the basics of either economics - i.e. marginal supply - or of petroleum geopolitics, i.e. the Saudi role as swing producer which keeps prices artificially low. Take Iranian supply out of the market and reduce Saudi capacity with terrorist strikes and whoosh - you've touched off an oil price shock. Add in a few mines in Hormuz and sabotage in Iraq and you have a worse one. Now add the teed off Chinese no longer buying USG debt and a large part of the US population are living off welfare cheese.

As for the idea that APCs can prevent terrorist or special operations attacks on oil refineries through providing "mobility", some ideas are so firmly contradicted by reality that it is impossible to know where they come from. Iraq, for example, is chock full of APCs and terrorist attacks there have killed tens of thousands of people. And pipelines of all kinds are of course particularly easy targets for terrorists - but oil pipelines are much easier again, being filled as they are with a flammable liquid...

In fact, talking about pipelines:

>>>>>>
http://www.iags.org/n0328051.htm

Pipelines are very easily sabotaged. A simple explosive device can put a critical section of pipeline out of operation for weeks. This is why pipeline sabotage has become the weapon of choice of the insurgents in Iraq.

Since President Bush declared the end of major hostilities in April 2003, there have been close to 200 pipeline attacks. According to the Iraq Pipeline Watch at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, most of the attacks took place in northern Iraq, primarily on the pipeline running from Kirkuk to the Turkish Mediterranean terminal of Ceyhan.

In addition, there have been dozens of attacks on oil and gas pipelines leading to the refineries around Baghdad, primarily near the Bayji refinery complex 125 miles north of Baghdad. In March 2004, terrorists began striking at oil installations in the south near Basra as well, where more than two-thirds of Iraq’s oil is produced. The attacks have exacted a heavy price from the new Iraqi government— it is estimated that pipeline sabotage costs the country more than $10 billion in oil revenues — and have undermined the prospects of Iraqi construction.
<<<<<<

And these people were amateurs compared to the Iranians. So unless you believe that Saudi APCs are incredibly more effective than US crewed ones, MF's arguments make no sense at all.

Once again, war is risk. It is possible to imagine a situation where everything goes right as MF has... but this is about as likely as winning a world poker championship without knowing how to play poker. Iran's strategic position is actually very strong - it is relatively indifferent to casualties, well-placed to get large results from the use of unconventional forces, expert in their use, and past history of both Iran and similar regimes says that conflict will increase the security of the regime rather than an undermine it.

*Move Forward: You miss the point that Israel will start the war and we will merely be on the defense in case they attempt to block the Straits of Hormuz. The Israelis have about 8 million concentrated in a small area. They cannot afford to trust Iranian intentions.*

This is, again, Hitler Logic. "Vee haff no option but to invade Russia! None, none, none! I haff read all of von Clausewitz!"

Of course the Israelis have options other than attacking Iran. For one thing, they can rely on their vast nuclear arsenal and deterrence. And even you know that this is an option. In fact, it's so obvious an option that not mentioning it when debating infront of an audience such as the one at Small Wars in itself shows your strategic judgement but to be profoundly lacking - because it is a lie by ommission that will have no effect but to destroy your own credibility.

To go on to do what any honest analyst must do, let's asses the likely effectiveness of deterrence:

- How do the Iranians behave strategically? Well, they've never started a war. They favour indirect, longterm, low risk operations. And their complex constitution provides enormous check and balances against military adventurism. In short, they're about the lowest risk possible for that most unlikely of things, a nuclear first strike.

- Is it possible that the Iranians could ever put together the capability for an effective first strike? No - this is insane. The Israelis have a huge nuclear arsenal. Sensibly distributed it would take dozens or hundreds of high precision nuclear strikes to destroy - even if the Iranians had precise intelligence, which is effectively impossible. And even then, the Israelis have nuclear armed subs.

In short, sometimes even Big Lies aren't believable.

This is weaseling: you stated your "doubt" (it was more accurately described as an atom of ignorance) and proceeded to draw a conclusion from it.

Meanwhile, the word “doubt” was used in the context of whether the Cheonan’s anti-sub capabilities were in operation. This article describes that at the time, South Korea did not believe DPRK could operate subs in the shallow West Sea. Hence it is logical that they were not in operation after passing close by an island with shallow water. Since that miscalculation, they have improved capabilities and operate in groups in that general area and elsewhere, no doubt giving shallow water more respect. But even the captain of another corvette admits that US anti-sub capabilities are far superior.

http://view.koreaherald.com/kh/view.php?ud=20120325000327&cpv=0

So even though I know next to nothing about US Naval warfare capabilities, we all know they are the best in the world...far better than any woe-is-me A2/AD claims about an Iranian threat would justify. Yet meanwhile, the Navy constantly demands more despite the limited capabilities of realistic foes. Each carrier, prior to adding the escort ships and aircraft, costs about as much as the entire JLTV program for 55,000 survivable and deployable trucks. Yet the Navy continues to believe it needs 11 such carriers, carrier wings, and escorts despite that most sit in ports for long timespans becoming potential targets for Klubs. Then we spend $2 billion more to tear down a perfectly good helicopter and STOVL F-35 aviation platform that could be parked and air-defended in troubled areas and run by contractors.

This is past Hitler-invades-Moscow silly and into dancing-Hitles-to-the-left! silly. For the fairly obvious reason that the USN hasn't actually fought a naval war in the period referred to, you can't draw conclusions on the effectiveness of antiship missiles against its warships from the fact that none have been hit. On account of hardly any have been shot at...

Your repeated reference to Hitler is silly. Meanwhile, it is equally foolhardy to claim that the absence of an anti-ship missile attack on a U.S. surface ships for 25 years is anecdotal rather than a trend. You and yours invented A2/AD because the revolution of military affairs fell flat on its face and something needed to justify excessive air and seapower spending and force structure despite the lack of any serious naval and airborne threat except China.

The simple fact is that few threats other than China have the resources for a large Navy, Air Force, or anti-ship, and modern air defense missiles. We can barely afford it with a $500 billion plus annual defense budget. Meanwhile, most real-world threats spend under $10 billion yearly which is more than enough for a large Army and hard to air-target terror proxies, but nowhere near enough for air and seapower of our existing quality and quantity.

Cost aside, are we overdue for another horse cavalry charge? Is another Battle of Kursk just around the corner or are modern threat main battle tanks disappearing worldwide because everyone witnessed what the U.S. and allies can do to such systems from the air and ground? Should we go back to HMMWVs because Iraq is over and Afghanistan is winding down and now we can get back to normal?

Are the Marines expecting another Inchon and does the A2/AD threat temporarily subside to allow amphibious tractors to launch from 12 nm? Will Marines not get ill launching from a more realistic 50nm? Is the Soviet fleet making a rapid comeback? Will the Chinese become a blue water threat and carrier experts overnight...and what other major naval threat is there? No nation has dropped a nuclear bomb since WWII. MAD works for big boys who are not suicidal. If we didn’t spend countless billions trying to modernize a nuclear triad with similar numbers instead of a smaller biad, maybe we could afford a larger Navy and would not need to boot out so many Army war heroes.

Basing the Pacific pivot on China is like investing excessively in fire insurance when you live on the Mississippi River. Meanwhile, you have smoke detectors (superb ISR to discern indications and warnings), a security company monitoring them (CIA/DIA etc), a sprinkler system (economic interdependency and greater dependency of China on the global commons for oil and exports), a fire station around the corner (ability to mine their harbors and board/stop inbound oil tankers), and concrete block construction with a steel roof (nuclear deterrent). The fire contingency has a probability of about 5% while a Middle East war and terror contingency will occur 99 times out of one hundred. Even the 5% probability is unlikely to lead to a nuclear weapon targeting the U.S., or Israel which is hardly the case in the Mississippi-like strong currents of the Middle East where suicidal tendencies are the norm amongst Jihadists and proxy groups looking forward to the 12th Imam.

Back to your ignorance of naval warfare, perhaps the leading principle of modern sea war is to keep yourself hidden. Even switching on a ship's radar is done reluctantly in combat. So again, no, warships won't sail around with their ECM constantly blasting.

Meanwhile, I seem to recall a Google executive’s presentation showing that they could monitor the location of all the world’s ocean traffic. Are you implying there are lots of places to hide in the Arabian Gulf? Did it help the Stark? When the Israelis start to bomb, are you saying the countermeasures and radars won’t turn on? Are you transferring former Soviet capabilities to target emissions to a far weaker Iranian military?

Going back to your "Destroy their oil refineries and the regime will fall" whackadoodle, ignoring the fact that it probably wouldn't, one still has to ask:
1. What do you think that this would do the price of oil in itself?
2. How much do you think this would annoy the Chinese, who are so superbly placed to influence US politicians by their consumption of US debt?
3. Why is that you, unlike professional analysts, don't think that it is necessary to consider Iran unconventional retaliation, eg by using terroristic attacks to badly damage Saudi Arabia's oil industry, much of which is virtually impossible to protect for geographical reasons? With Iranian and Saudi capacity down, a worldwide recession would be virtually certain. Add in China no longer buying US debt, and The Walton's would look like the Kardassians to the average American.

Iraq just surpassed Iran in oil production. Saudi Arabia has pipelines to the Red Sea just in case. The Saudis also have PAC 2 missiles and Aegis systems will be in the Gulf. Iranian missiles are inaccurate, and Galrahn pointed out the Saudi oil shipments to the U.S. increased dramatically earlier in the year and suspect they will again next month. Iran’s oil shipments represent about 2% of world daily oil consumption. The Saudi have thousands of APCs to provide infantry mobility and area security against terror attacks. If Iran did attack Saudi oil facilities foolishly, their own would be at risk from Saudi attack. The Saudis can deal with a minor loss of capacity more than the Iranians whose sanctions will soon strangle them.

It's easy to pretend that a war will be manageable and safe. Most people are very good at lying to themselves, and the scope of uncertainty in war is such that it gives the maximum scope to their talents. This is why "A short victorious war" so nearly equates to "I am a fantasist and a great disaster is in the offing."

You miss the point that Israel will start the war and we will merely be on the defense in case they attempt to block the Straits of Hormuz. The Israelis have about 8 million concentrated in a small area. They cannot afford to trust Iranian intentions. Netanyahu just appointed a fellow ex-commando to run Israel’s civil defense efforts. The handwriting is on the wall, and we can only make the best of a bad situation should an attack occur after November 6th as is currently predicted by some. Hezbollah’s Nasrallah is already threatening to attack U.S. troops should Israel act. It will be up to us to react accordingly should they or Khameini miscalculate in that manner.

The price of oil did not cause a recession when we invaded Iraq and Iraqi oil production dropped dramatically. Without ground troops in Iran, the options for IEDs and terror will be far less than occurred after OIF 1 when we failed to practice wide area security. Meanwhile, Iranian oil production is down from 3.2 million barrels per day in December 2011 to today’s 2.9 million barrels per day.

Move Forward:

When you say "whether the Cheonan’s anti-sub capabilities were in operation.", what are the "anti-sub capabilities" to which you refer?

From what small amount I know about these things regardless of whether things were turned on or not detecting very small subs in shallow coastal waters is very difficult. This has direct bearing on the potential dangers posed by Iranian mini-subs operating in the Persian Gulf, especially when you throw in a lot of other fishing and commercial vessels sailing around the area.

I am guessing that the Google presentation to which you refer has to do with monitoring the position of ships that choose to participate in the system, ie they have radio transmitters that continuously broadcast their position and Google just displays their transmissions. I don't know for sure because you didn't provide a reference but it sounds similar to the system that tracks the position of various aircraft that fly over the US. But that system can only display the position of aircraft that choose to play along. I suspect the system to which you refer is about the same.

If somebody wanted to hide a ship in the Persian Gulf, they would not emit. To be found, somebody else would have to see them somehow. If they were going to do that with a radar they would open themselves up to attack. If they were going to do a visual search the aircraft, ship or sub would open themselves up to attack. I am guessing now (so if this is wrong somebody please tell me) but if a sub located a or some USN ships via sonar and wanted to tell somebody, they would have to transmit and that would be heard. Just because there aren't any bushes of rocks to hide behind doesn't mean ships can't hide themselves. Look up what Adm. Woodward did in an exercise to successfully attack a US carrier.

Thousands of Saudi APCs would be of less use in thwarting sabotage and terror attacks than people who were willing to talk about what they knew to a good police force or intel service.

These things I bring up aren't earth shattering in importance but do have some bearing on the discussion.

*Look up what Adm. Woodward did in an exercise to successfully attack a US carrier*

It's an open secret that US carriers have been killed in exercises over and over. Usually the results get re-written by referrees, and US sub captains acting as opfor know that pushing too hard to kill carriers has a questionable value on their careers - but RN, RCN, and Dutch sub skippers especially consider sinking a carrier to be great fun.

It's unlikely that the Iranians have crews and skippers as good as those, but not impossible. And carriers operating in the Gulf are at a huge disadvantage, while minisubs are on ideal "ground" - it really is the equivalent of fighting Brer Rabbit in the briar patch.

**Meanwhile, I seem to recall a Google executive’s presentation showing that they could monitor the location of all the world’s ocean traffic.**

This is insane. You are equating Google's integration of publicly available information on commercial shipping - that consists literally of ships reporting their positions (using the MAIS system) - with ability to locate warships that are attempting to hide. In case you don't get this, warships in combat do NOT upload their position data to public websites.

(Yes, you probably imagined that Google get position data directly from spy satellite cameras. I don't have time to explain why this is mind-bogglingly silly even for a war nerd, just trust me when I say that it is. Also, talking of google, 60 seconds of search engine use would have stopped you from posting this nonsense...)

*Are you implying there are lots of places to hide in the Arabian Gulf? Did it help the Stark?*

This is also insane. That the Stark was found does not mean that hiding is not valuable. You seem to have fundamental misconceptions about the nature of war that are quite unprecendented: to suggest as you are that a countermeasure should never be used because it sometimes fails is mind boggling. The same argument could be used to insist that submarines should always operate on the surface and that tanks should be stripped of their armour.

As for hiding in the Gulf: yes, it's harder than in blue water - much harder - but again, you're so fundamentally ignorant that you don't understand even the basics. The Gulf is big enough to make continuous visual observation impossible, and one thing the US could reasonably count on is killing any Iranian radar within minutes of it switching on. Otoh, once a ship lights up its own radar or ECM, it provides precise targetting data to any appropriate sensors within line of sight.

Really - why are you wasting your time and other people's time making arguments on the net about a subject that you obviously lack even minimum comprehension of?

And this is the easy stuff - the economic interactions and possible terrorist operations are a lot harder to assess.

Dude, your ad hominem attacks are cracking me up along with the continued harping on naval tactics that are an minute part of the issues involved their. I'm sure you had ample time to ponder the theoreticals of vast imagined naval battles while sailing around not getting shot at unlike your Army/Marine brethren or WWII naval predecessors.

You failed to refute the Cheonan evidence. The should-have, could-haves concerning the Falkands decades ago are further evidence of a crusty retiree yearning for a return to past glories of a real Soviet naval threat never fought. Instead, you are left to Tom Clancyish dreams of perilous third world threats or a larger China, that like the Soviets, the Navy will never fight because of MAD.

No kidding, the navy may experience losses if we fight Iran. They may approach 1/1000th of what the land component and SEALS experienced over the past decades since Korea. No doubt those losses will motivate naval analysts to press for more funds and force structure taken from the Army to get those losses down to 1 for every 2000 lost Soldiers and Marines the next time the Navy is engaged in another 25 years.

Carl, the google tracking system was from this link:

http://defense.aol.com/2012/05/17/google-satellites-can-track-every-ship...

I'm sure they turn their gear off when threats are imminent. However, should they turn it off all the time, I would imagine they would run into super-tankers in the Gulf of Oman...oh wait.

Move Forward:

The details that pertain to fighting at sea and fighting in the Persian Gulf are important because as the brothers Cummings point out, the highest risk of a lot of Americans being killed in the event of a conflict is if a ship is heavily damaged or sunk. Even though the Falklands fight was decades ago, the basic lessons are still the same. That they are has been reinforced by decades worth of exercises since then. A properly driven SSK is very hard to handle, no matter how advanced all your systems are.

The killing of the Cheonon doesn't really have any evidence to refute. It was sunk by a mini-sub that wasn't detected. That is because those things are very very hard to find in shallow and coastal waters. Sonar conditions in those kinds of waters aren't very good, so even if the Cheonon was pinging away they still may not have detected that sub. ASW is complicated no matter what and I've read it is even more so someplace like the Persian Gulf looking for mini-subs.

I didn't ask you what you meant by "anti-sub capabilities" to put you on the spot (well, not completely). I wanted to find out if you knew about sound detection in the water which is the primary way to find a submerged sub. Details about how all that works and its complexity are quite important to this discussion. I only know a little about ASW, certainly not enough to instruct anybody but what little I do know makes me believe that those subs, provided they have good crews, are potentially lethal. If they manage to hit one of our ships hard, a lot of people can get killed quick.

Thank you for the link. The system is about what I expected it to be. I looked it up and the ref said for anti collision it is a supplement to radar and keeping a sharp lookout.

(A note to all, if I make any errors about ASW, subs and sonar please correct me.)

*I used the word doubt. You used the word evidence.*

This is weaseling: you stated your "doubt" (it was more accurately described as an atom of ignorance) and proceeded to draw a conclusion from it. As I said.

*USS Stark...1987...relieved commander. Only U.S. ship on record to be successfully attacked by an anti-ship missile...25 years ago*

This is past Hitler-invades-Moscow silly and into dancing-Hitles-to-the-left! silly. For the fairly obvious reason that the USN hasn't actually fought a naval war in the period referred to, you can't draw conclusions on the effectiveness of antiship missiles against its warships from the fact that none have been hit. On account of hardly any have been shot at...

Back to your igorance of naval warfare, perhaps the leading principle of modern sea war is to keep yourself hidden. Even switching on a ship's radar is done reluctantly in combat. So again, no, warships won't sail around with their ECM constantly blasting.

Going back to your "Destroy their oil refineries and the regime will fall" whackadoodle, ignoring the fact that it probably wouldn't, one still has to ask:

1. What do you think that this would do the price of oil in itself?

2. How much do you think this would annoy the Chinese, who are so superbly placed to influence US politicians by their consumption of US debt?

3. Why is that you, unlike professional analysts, don't think that it is necessary to consider Iran unconventional retaliation, eg by using terroristic attacks to badly damage Saudi Arabia's oil industry, much of which is virtually impossible to protect for geographical reasons? With Iranian and Saudi capacity down, a worldwide recession would be virtually certain. Add in China no longer buying US debt, and The Walton's would look like the Kardassians to the average American.

It's easy to pretend that a war will be manageable and safe. Most people are very good at lying to themselves, and the scope of uncertainty in war is such that it gives the maximum scope to their talents. This is why "A short victorious war" so nearly equates to "I am a fantasist and a great disaster is in the offing."

One of the most amusing results of the Internet is that it has shown that the sort of mind boggling military insanity that leads to disasters like Hitler's invasion of Russia - or even Napoleon's - is utterly common. For example:

**Move Forward: I still doubt they are a threat to an aircraft carrier with an escort force looking for any surface, subsurface, and airborne activity. I doubt the South Korean corvette was on full sub alert when it was hit, just as the Israeli corvette did not have its countermeasures turned on when it was struck by a Hezbollah anti-ship missile.**

Ok:

- This guy's doubts are equated to evidence.

- He is obviously ignorant of naval warfare, and treats this ignorance not as a source of uncertainty but as an opportunity to assume whatever he wants. For example, a warship with its full anti-missile package operating is lit up like a Christmas electromagnetically - it has lost all stealth and become a target to even the crudest sensors. This behaviour is saved for very special occassions! (Hint: you shouldn't be arguing about naval warfare if you know less than an intelligent skimming or Red Storm Rising would teach you.)

- He ignores evidence that he doesn't like. For example, the RN is probably the best ASW force in NATO, and the Argentine Navy was and is appalling. And the sub/ASW technology difference was entirely in the RN's favour - but the RN still didn't get the Argentine sub, and professional opinion is that with an aggressive captain and good crew it would have scored hits on major warships.

And when arguing for a point that he want to believe in...

*Never count the Israelis out from being able to come up with innovative responses that exceed any losses they incur.*

- This is argument by truism

- This is argument by double standard - he exactly does this re. the Iranians

- Yes, the Iranians will take more casualties than they inflict. But this is not even remotely important, **because their tolerance for casulaties is not the same as that of the US or Israel.** Really - it takes Hiterlerian blitheness to ignore a point rubbed in by decades of conflict, including repeated Israeli and US defeats.

*Without oil revenue, and with enhanced sanctions still in place, a regime change could not be far behind.*

Yes, and when our troops get to Iraq they'll be welcomed with flowers and candy. And Ho Chi Minh can't possibly hold out against our bombing. Etc.

This guy's doubts are equated to evidence.

I used the word doubt. You used the word evidence. Nobody outside the US Navy understands the full naval threat because it is classified. However, the state of the Russian Navy as a near peer has largely disappeared and never was employed. Everyone else who is a potential foe pales in comparison. Yet the sky is always falling in the Naval world, with much of AirSea Battle kept classified to offer the illusion of a serious threat that will actually be used and responded to in kind.

Meanwhile, real wars continue in the Middle East, with real people being killed on land, both US servicemembers, foes, and civilians in many nations.

For example, a warship with its full anti-missile package operating is lit up like a Christmas electromagnetically - it has lost all stealth and become a target to even the crudest sensors.

USS Stark...1987...relieved commander. Only U.S. ship on record to be successfully attacked by an anti-ship missile...25 years ago. Tragic losses of 37 and an unsunk ship become Naval evidence of a worldwide Naval threat that is never fought in contrast to Stark casualties that equal about a month of land conflict where such U.S. casualties are routine.

Double standard of 10-foot tall threat by AirSea Battle that must be addressed immediately vs. demonstrated threat against land forces far inside land masses that render the Navy largely irrelevant.

Double standard of 1500 TBM missiles unlikely to be fired by the Chinese, our largest trading partner, vs. demonstrated threat of 4000 artillery rounds per hour falling on Grozny and 3500 rounds per day descending on Sarajevo. Shall we count WWI and WWII shells on shore targeting small areas vs the threat of 1500 missiles against a broad, dispersed, and in the case of landpower...hardened array of Pacific targets that would simply increase allied resolve?

Yes, and when our troops get to Iraq they'll be welcomed with flowers and candy. And Ho Chi Minh can't possibly hold out against our bombing. Etc.

The fourth largest Army in the world was defeated twice in short order. The subsequent disaster was more a matter of failing to plan for the aftermath and its required stabilization effort with adequate force.

North Vietnam was defeated during the Easter Offensive in 1972 and could have been again in 1975 were it not for legislation. It was driven to the Peace table by bombing of Hanoi. Should-have, could-haves occur more often on the ground because historically demonstrated use of force has occurred more often on the land, not on the sea where virtually no real-world foes pose a substantial seaborne threat.

Michael C. and Eric C.: Nice job. This forever a civilian has three points to bring up.

First one is I think more emphasis needs to be put on the vulnerability of the great huge American base located in the middle of Kuwaiti nowhere. It is packed with American military and military support people. That and its size makes it an ideal target for relatively inaccurate Iranian missiles. And as you mention it is a long way from Kuwait City so there is less risk that Kuwaitis will be killed. I would imagine there are Patriots defending the place but the Iranians may be able to run us out of Patriots before they run out of missiles.

Second, I was poking around the net and I think the Iranians have more than 6 subs. They have 3 Kilos but may have from 10 up to 19 mini-subs. The Kilos may not be able to get out of port so they may not be so bad. But those mini-subs could be a nightmare. From what I've read trying to hunt down mini-subs in the shallow crowded waters of the Persian Gulf would be extremely difficult. Trying to do that while dealing with swarming small boats and flocks of missiles launched from caves would be far worse. The key thing with those little subs is the quality of the crews and captains. There is no way to know how good they are but if they are good, it will be bad. The South Koreans recently learned about mini-subs the hard way. And that sub got away scot free.

Third, I think you are mistaken that world opinion would turn against Iran if they killed a lot of Americans ship or aircraft crewman. I think it would be just the opposite. If they confined their attacks to American military targets and successfully sunk some ships or knocked down a lot of aircraft, the world would admire David slaying Goliath, especially if they got some ships. Many many in the world would cheer the sight of plucky Iran cutting up the giant some. That is if they confined their attacks to military targets, outside Israel. Nobody will care if Israeli civilians are killed because the sight of dead Iranian civilians would vitiate the sight of dead Israeli civilians.

All in all this thing isn't pleasant to think about.

Carl: Just a minor point concerning submarines. The U.S. Navy is not unaware of the precise number of submarines that the Iranians possess. Presuming the US was to attack Iran, those subs will be (or should be) immediately taken out.

As a point of reference, after the Pueblo was taken by the North Koreans in 1968, the US sent a large numbers of ships, sir force units, etc to to Korea. I was a Navy Officer on the staff of one those destroyer squadrons then rerouted into the Sea of Japan. Unknown to many, at first, LBJ ordered the US forces to plan a major retaliatory attack against North Korea. From a first hand prospective I know we had detailed intelligence information on the location of their forces, weapons emplacements, etc. One of our concerns were the (then) (if my memory is correct) four submarines the North Koreans possessed. One was undergoing repairs in port. We immediately latched onto the other three --without them realizing it, and as the attack was beginning (if it had) we would have immediately sunk them. We planned to direct a large number of forces against that effort realizing its potential critical impact on naval operations during any attack against North Korea. You can rest assured that the US Navy knows precisely how many subs the Iranians possess, is tracking their locations, and will sink them before any bombs / missiles even hit the Iranian nuclear facilities.

Of course, that presumes the US government's and the military's ability to forcefully conduct military operations and apply explosive power onto targets has not been so dumbed down and weakened by that pussy footing large scale COIN style tactical methodology that appears to have permeated the thinking of so many in the military that all they worry about is obtaining the vote of local nationals rather than physically destroying one's enemy and physically destroying their capacity to fight.

CBCalif:

All I know is what I read and I read that mini-subs in shallow crowded waters like the Gulf can be very difficult to find. I read also that properly handled SSKs can be very dangerous and difficult to deal with. That Argentine sub in the Falklands War gave the British fits and according to one account I read it seemed if that if that sub captain had been as daring as a British captain probably would have been and if they had maintained their torpedoes properly the British would have lost some ships. All that impresses me.

I hope you are right about the USN knowing exactly how many subs the Iranians have and where they are all the time but I don't have the confidence that you do in that. We have a hard time finding very low freeboard drug smuggling boats.

If anybody knows about mini-subs ops in the shallow waters of the Gulf, now is the time to speak up.

Of course, that presumes the US government's and the military's ability to forcefully conduct military operations and apply explosive power onto targets has not been so dumbed down and weakened by that pussy footing large scale COIN style tactical methodology that appears to have permeated the thinking of so many in the military that all they worry about is obtaining the vote of local nationals rather than physically destroying one's enemy and physically destroying their capacity to fight.

When one sits in a comfortable armchair far from the fight it's much easier to think about the theoretically localized destruction of a few subs/minisubs/military bits of gear versus the messy reality of the interconnected world.

Most of the chickenhawks don't know shit about what 'enforcing one's will upon the enemy' actually means and the chances of them, their kids, or their grandkids actually doing so in downtown Tehran, if this particular scenario actually happens, are slim to none.

Iran, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran#Energy

A 1,648,000 km² land area, sitting on top of the worlds 2nd largest gas reserves & third largest oil reserves, with a variety of Great Power Patrons, and peopled with approximately 75 million people described as Persians (61%), Azerbaijanis (16%), Kurds (10%), Lurs (6%), Arabs (2%), Balochs (2%), Turkmens and Turkic tribes (2%),[218] Laks, Qashqai, Pashtuns, Armenians, Georgians, Persian Jews, Assyrians, Circassians, Tats, Mandaeans, Gypsies, Brahuis, Kazakhs and others (1%) many of whom are not bound by arbitrary borders.

First one is I think more emphasis needs to be put on the vulnerability of the great huge American base located in the middle of Kuwaiti nowhere.

I don't think the Iranians are stupid. They saw what occurred after 9/11. If they kill substantial numbers of Americans in Kuwait, on a ship, or in Afghanistan, their world becomes a nightmare.

If it becomes clear that more modern weapons are entering Afghanistan, I find it hard to believe we would restrict our responses to just Afghanistan.

The fundamental flaw in the A2/AD argument is that attacks against allied territory using missiles result in allied surrender rather than resolve. If China used TBM to attack U.S. facilities and temporary basing on Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, or Australia, they simply would cause those nations to enter the hostilities, and allow enhanced U.S. basing at conflict termination.

The same notion applies in the Middle East. Iranian attacks against anyone other than Israel would solidify Sunni opposition, improve GCC/U.S. relations, increase modern arms sales, and enhance U.S. basing options in the Gulf. The CSBA "Outside-In" study erroneously shows aerial refueling orbits limited to the Gulf of Oman and Turkey, not including U.S. capabilities over the Arabian Gulf or Saudi Arabia should the latter become a target. With those orbits added, U.S. fighters could access nearly all of Iran. A2/AD claims apply only to China (and on a temporary basis at that) and any realistic analysis admits that.

Second, I was poking around the net and I think the Iranians have more than 6 subs.

This link has a lot of the Arabian Gulf order of battle.

http://csis.org/files/publication/120518_Gulf_Military_Balance_2012.pdf

You are correct if CSIS facts are right about the 23 Iranian subs and 12 Midget subs. I still doubt they are a threat to an aircraft carrier with an escort force looking for any surface, subsurface, and airborne activity. I doubt the South Korean corvette was on full sub alert when it was hit, just as the Israeli corvette did not have its countermeasures turned on when it was struck by a Hezbollah anti-ship missile.

If you look at the air defense comparison, the Iranians rely on 150 I-Hawks, 55 older SA systems and a limited number of more modern short-range systems. In a nation the size of Iran, the coverage gaps will be multiple. Israel already demonstrated capabilities against advanced air defenses in its alleged attack on the Syrian nuclear site.

The Syrian response to that attack (deafening silence) also illustrates that an attack limited to military targets may not result in TBM attacks against Israeli civil targets. The Shahab 3 lacks the accuracy to target anything but a large target like Tel Aviv. If Iran breaches that red line, watch out.

Iran has primarily old tanks nowhere up to capabilities of Saudi Abrams. The Saudi also have many more APCs while Iran's infantry resembles more of the human wave level of mobility characteristic of the Iran/Iraq war. They have no offensive modern air attack capability relative to the Saudis 245 F-15s, Typhoons and Tornados.

The U.S. would protect Kuwait and Iraq. The Iranians have no game other than missiles and terror/proxy efforts. But even the Saudis and Kuwaitis have I-Hawk and PAC-2 air defenses. Iran has nowhere near as capable missiles and aircraft relative to what Iran would face from Israel and the U.S./GCC. Add U.S. Naval air defense missiles and the GCC and its oil facilities are relatively safe...unless Iran attempts tit for tat oil facility attacks that would not favor Iran.

Note that we just downsized U.S. presence in a major air defense exercise with the Israelis. This provides U.S. credibility in denying excessive air defense assistance to Israel in the event that they attack Iran.

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20120901/DEFREG02/309010003/Washington-Tel-Aviv-Disagreements-Lead-Scaled-down-Exercise-Report?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

Note that the U.S. clearly is not supporting an Israeli attack diplomatically. If the Iranians drag us into this, it will be their own fault when they suffer the consequences.

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20120902/DEFREG04/309020001/Iran-8217-s-Nuke-Strides-Strain-Israel-U-S-Ties?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

Just see defensenews.com since the links don't work.

Third, I think you are mistaken that world opinion would turn against Iran if they killed a lot of Americans ship or aircraft crewman. I think it would be just the opposite.

If retaliation is limited to just Israel after an Israeli strike, Iran may retain partial world opinion and backing. If they attack the GCC and/or Azerbaijan, they expand Sunni opposition against Iran. The result is likely a great expansion of GCC defense systems and an invitation to the U.S. to enter Azerbaijan.

The CSIS study points out that Saudi Arabia alone has far more modern airpower and air defenses than Iran. Saudi Arabia is likely to expand their TBM inventory beyond old CSS-2 systems if struck by Iranian TBM. They, too, would likely seek to join the nuclear club. More importantly, suspect that they and the U.S. would eliminate Iran as a world oil power by bombing its depots and ports, thus circumventing any sanction-busters. Without oil revenue, and with enhanced sanctions still in place, a regime change could not be far behind.

Move Forward:

I agree completely that if you line up the machines and Israeli and American skill that Iran is completely outmatched. But I think that a lot of your argument is basically variation of "they wouldn't dare" because of how hard we could hit them. But what if they did dare? What if the Iranian leaders made the judgment that for every 10 Iranian civilians killed the regime would last one more month, for every 10 American soldiers killed it would last 5 more months, for every American ship sunk it would last 10 more years and if they lucked out and sunk or crippled a CVN it would last 25 more years? I think it is possible that the Iranian regime is half hoping, maybe more than half hoping that Israel will strike them and drag us along into it. An attack upon Iran that would be perceived in Iran I think, as unprovoked would do a lot to unite those tens of millions of smart determined people behind the regime.

No matter how much we punished them, I would be surprised if it caused regime change. A lot of nations have had hell thumped out of them by air and the people didn't change the regime. Nazi Germany and North Vietnam are good examples. I figure the we should figure the Iranian people are at least as tough and they wouldn't be likely to overthrow a regime just so they could surrender to us. That is what a regime change in those circumstances would be, putting in somebody new so they could wave the white flag.

I agree also that Saudi Arabia outmatches Iran when it come to machines. But I am not so sure they can fight like the Iranians can fight. Persians have done fairly well in battle over a long time and they exhibited as much determination as anybody in the war with Iraq. And they have the moxie to take us on over and over. The Saudis have wonderful machines but does their human element match Iran? I don't know but I know how I would bet, especially since I see the only way all that Saudi armor could face Iran is if Saudi Arabia tried to invade.

A minor point about the two corvettes you mentioned, that they weren't prepared for attack isn't really germane I think. In a conflict a lot of the units, ships and airplanes will forget to get completely ready or their stuff won't work when they try to turn it on. That seems to me to be the nature of things. In theory if everybody does everything right nothing bad will happen but everybody won't do everything right.

DavidPB4 linked to an article a few weeks ago about how this thing could go south in a huge way (nukes) fast. That article impressed the hell out of me and was very persuasive about how scary unpredictable this is.

As I mention at the end of the article, more than anything, I want feedback and discussion on this topic. I hope the American public--especially those with experience in military affairs--understands better what war will entail with Iran than it did with Iraq. Also, intelligence is as much art as it is science, and I don't have all the answers.

@ Carl - Your comments on the blog posts inspired me to do more research which is why I added in the concept of mini-subs for this particular paper. You are absolutely right they pose a big threat, especially when combined with swarming attacks and possible suicide boats.

As for world opinion turning, I meant that mainly if Iran chooses to use chemical weapons or attacks civilians. I agree that if Iran limits their response to American military targets or Israel (especially if they were attacked first) that world opinion (like Russia or China) would remain mixed.

Again thanks for the excellent comments Carl.

Good effort but does not address that Israel will initiate the conflict and we would just be dragged in. Also not listed are possible Israeli/GCC/U.S. responses to each which I will suggest. Never count the Israelis out from being able to come up with innovative responses that exceed any losses they incur. Envision large bombs dropped out of recently delivered C-130Js or commercial aircraft. Commando actions are a possibility to breach underground facilities.

Following the initial bombing surprise, Israel could continue attacks with ad hoc KC-130/commercial aircraft and their few genuine KC tankers and fighters flying around Saudi Arabia via the Gulf of Aqaba for weeks to continue attacks.

The other major likely cost is non-military: a tremendous rise in the cost of fuel meaning the strategic fuel reserve would need to be tapped along with other off-shore, Alaska and CONUS/Canadian sources that should have already been accessed long ago.

Seapower

Most Likely COA: Iran chooses to fight the U.S. using asymmetric naval guerrilla warfare. Naval vessels don’t need to defeat naval guerillas. That is the point most miss on LCS…the helicopters and UAS. The Ponce could be used as a base for SOF and attack helicopters. Israel could hide its own Apaches on a cargo ship for raids on Iranian sites.

Most Dangerous Course of Action: Suicide boats. Ditto from the MLCOA above and add Air Force Reapers and joint fighters.

Conventional: Iran learned nothing from 1988. No contest as you mention. Israeli subs would launch missiles against command and control and oil complexes if they are attacked hard by TBM. They would sink any Iranian Navy vessel before it ever reached or just after it emerged from the Suez.

Marine Raid Option: Some Iranian small boats avoid attacking U.S. capital ships and conduct raids on ports, oil rigs or civilian targets of G.C.C. nations. Just increases our Reaper, fighter, and helicopter air assault/attack basing options.

The Escalation Option: Iran chooses to mine the Straits of Hormuz. We just sent mine sweepers. With JSTARS, Reapers, and Global Hawk overhead, it will be hard to mine undetected. We can mine their oil depot ports, as well. That’s one means of getting around those not adhering to oil sanctions. China and India, who ignore sanctions, would pressure Iran to cool it.

Most Surprising Option: The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy somehow uses a submarine to attack a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Oman. They have six and I’m betting we and Israel know where they are.

Airpower

Most Likely Course of Action: Iran aggressively uses its air defenses to counter U.S. war planes. They have weak air defenses and the same tactics that worked on Libya would work on Iran. Threat MANPADs are less effective on our aircraft than most ground guys realize.

Least Dangerous Course of Action: Iran saves its surface-to-air missiles to use during a possible U.S. invasion. A good reason for a ground invasion to be a realistic threat (ala Marines off Kuwait) at least along the southern coast below the Straits of Hormuz.

Most Surprising Course of Action: Iran tries to use its aircraft in an offensive role, trying to attack its neighbors it believes supported the air strikes including Azerbaijan or G.C.C. countries. Fruitless suicide mission that most Iranian pilots in broken, obsolete aircraft would not attempt ala Iraqi pilots.

Landpower

Most Likely Course of Action: Iran’s ground forces prepare for invasion. Meanwhile, Iran’s Army and IRGC quickly become the targets of an American bombing campaign. Add Israel.

Attacking Israeli Bases in Azerbaijan Course of Action. Ditto above.

Tactical Ballistic Missiles

Fire Long Range Missiles at Israel. Israel attacks with conventional Jerichos and sub-launched missiles and air attacks on Iranian cities. Nuclear Jerichos on Iran nuclear sites are an option if the Iranians launch too many TBM at Israeli cities.

Fire Missiles at Azerbaijan. That country invites us to base from there during and after the war.

Fire Missiles at Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. GCC nations retaliate against Iranian oil facilities.

Fire Long Range Missiles at Europe. Libya II commences.

Fire Missiles at the Green Zone in Iraq. They attack Shiites? US forces/civilians go to bunkers.

Fire Missiles at Bases in Afghanistan. Strykers may head south, along with MLRS/HIMARS/M777 and airpower from Kandahar and elsewhere.

Most Dangerous Course of Action, Using Chemical or Biological Weapons. Israel retaliates with nukes.

Proxy war

Most Likely Course of Action: Iran heavily increases its support of IED operations in Afghanistan. We bomb Iranian targets on a one-for-one, eye-for-an-eye basis.

Anti-Air Course of Action: In addition to IED support, Iran starts importing large numbers of man-portable SAMs into Afghanistan. See above MLCOA and recall that we have countermeasures and TTP options the Soviets lacked there or in Georgia.

Anti-Tank Guided Missile Course of Action into Afghanistan. See earlier comment about bombing on a one-for-one retaliatory basis.

Most Dangerous Course of Action: Iran combines all three above courses of action. We bomb Iranian munition storage areas, manufacturing plants, and oil depots.

Most Surprising Course of Action: Sniper operations. We have snipers too, and they could be inside Iran.

Start Proxy Wars, and terror attacks in GCC nations, America, Europe, Israel. The Israelis are implied to have been involved in multiple incidents within Iran, yet it elicited little proxy war response. Proxy wars with clear fingerprints result in post 9/11 type responses. The GCC states could similarly launch proxy wars in Iran.

Conduct Cyber attacks: Iran has already allegedly been a victim of cyber attacks and no similar retaliation was evident.

I think you are a little too optimistic about our capabilities and a little too dismissive of the Iranians. Some examples of what I mean.

Iranians have been the target of some of the most sophisticated cyber attacks ever. They aren't stupid and are sure to have learned something, something they may be able to use against us. We have been in a sense drilling them on this.

Those mini-subs are far more dangerous, if properly handled, than you give credit for.

Many many SA-24s went walkabout from Libya recently. I will bet quite a lot that many of those are in Iran. The Society of Old Crows calls the SA-24 a scary good missile. It is the first line Russian MANPAD. If those showed up in Afghanistan, or some Quds force guys snuck into the desert just outside American bases in the Gulf, things could be very bad. Maybe not, but could be.

The things that have given the USN more fits than maybe anything since WWII have been naval mines. The Iranians have had a lot of time since the 80s to figure out how to lay mines without anybody knowing it. We may be able to detect mines laid before they go boom but maybe not. The may not have to even lay mines, just announce they did. That would be enough to gum up commercial shipping hugely.

Reapers are cool enough but they cannot survive any kind of attack by another aircraft. In order for them to operate they would have to covered constantly by anti-aircraft missile ships or fighters. That would be complicated.

You mention the LCS. We have two test ships that basically are unarmed. They don't count. The Ponce would be a target and have to be covered by other ships.

Please don't even think nuke strikes on Iran. If that happened the open gate of hell would move from the Great Lakes region of Africa to God alone knows where, and He would be guessing.

This thing is scary unpredictable.

Although the analysis of the authors is not intended to cover everything, I think it would be helpful to consider the relation of means to ends for the United States in addition to assessing the kinds of possible conflict (means vs. means).

If a nuclear Iran is not acceptable only for the next five years, then the US has one set of calculations to make. If it is not acceptable over a longer period of time, or for however long the current regime is in power, then the US has another set of calculations to make. Whatever our goal is, though, if ends and means cannot be reconciled, then we need to recognize that fact now, before a war begins.

The diplomatic dimension also deserves some consideration, in case there is an outcome that Iran could live with that we might credibly propose in an effort to shorten a war, if there is no diplomatic way to prevent one.

David, I absolutely think American politicians and strategists need to consider the relation of means to ends for this conflict. I just wanted to fill a gap in scholarship that seems to ignore the Iranian options for retaliation. I wanted to lay those out in a clear way to help make future decisions.

When it comes to the larger "Iran nuclear issue", the ability of U.S. or Israeli forces to permanently destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities (which it can't) is a key question to launching a war in the first place.

Thanks for the comment.

There are the usual problems with this rendering, both technical and tactical.

For instance the authors conflate the IRGC-AF with the IRGC-ASF. The former is primarily involved with anti-drug operations in the east, while the latter provides Iran with a more reliable and economical strike capability than that it would possibly field with traditional means of aviation.

Also, it should be pointed out that Iran's SAM network continues to employ upgraded I-Hawk systems, as well as upgraded and improvised AA solutions. It certainly shouldn't be underestimated.

As was the case preceding and during the 2006 war in Lebanon and Israel, analysts here in the West continue to focus on "terrorism" and strikes against population centers, without focusing on the economic siege-like effects which are central to the strategy of Iran and its allies. It was this strategy that marginally won the war for Lebanon in turning back and terminating the Israeli offensive. In a potential war with Iran, this Iranian strategy would be employed on a greater scale, with the addition of various means of strikes against energy corridors which are numerous in the region.

Mark, I thought if anything I was overestimating their capabilities. Can you point me to the best research on their "upgraded I-Hawk systems". I used the CSIS reports, and they didn't mention them.