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Can Iran Defeat the US in a Major War?

Viktor BURBAKI | 12.01.2012 | 00:00

US President Dwight Eisenhower used to say that his country would achieve peace even if it takes a war. Naturally, what he had in mind was the kind of peace acceptable to Washington. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, German writer Thomas Mann dropped a wise remark that “War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace”. French author Romain Rolland held more or less the same when he explained that only bankrupt countries unleash wars as the means of last resort and that a war is always the last trump in the hands of a desperate gambler, a disgusting speculation pulled off by crooks and fraudsters. 

The imminent collapse of the US dollar as the global currency and the demise of the whole Ponzi scheme built by the US financial sector will likely prompt Washington to launch a large-scale aggression which can take the form of provoking a major war against Iran and other countries of the Greater Middle East. In the meantime, the US debts to domestic lenders and to other countries will continue to grow, making it difficult for Washington «to finance» the war. Up to date the US already had to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, which probably came as a serious disappointment to the US Administration considering how easily control over the country had been gained. 

Anyhow, under the current circumstances the US has at its disposal only one time-tested method of solving all problems in one move - that is, to unleash a grand war in some remote region of the world and to make a serious attempt to cap the campaign with a real triumph. It should be taken into account in the context that the US has the experience of implementing a combat mission against the former Yugoslavia practically without an overland component. 

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace B. Obama is clearly smarter and a lot more cautious than his predecessor G. Bush and will likely abide by Marcus Tullius Cicero's rule saying that a country should start a war so as to create an impression that all it seeks is peace. The US typically sends others to fight its wars — at least, it usually delegates to other countries the task of starting truly serious conflicts. This is how World War I and World War II broke out, and even in the March, 2011 case of Libya Washington's NATO partners with France at the helm had to do the job. Consequently, the coming major war should be expected to begin in the same mode, and the list of potential players gives a good idea of its proportions. 

Israel, Turkey, and other NATO countries will likely join in, as will Saudi Arabia. Syria, Lebanon, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, face serous prospects of being drawn in directly, which means that Russia, China, Pakistan, and Central Asian republics will have to get involved indirectly. At the moment, Israel and Turkey appear to be the top candidates for the roles of the conflict instigators. In a bid for regional leadership, Turkey is openly hosting a Syrian opposition group which makes no secret of the intention to plunge its home country into a civil war. A similar arrangement concerning Libya became the pretext for air strikes against the country, a special forces intervention, and the killing of M. Gadhafi. Planning to send others to fight, the US will not be able - nor likely hopes to - to stay completely out of the process and will have to contribute military efforts thinly disguised as peace enforcement.

It is widely believed that the scenario optimal for the US is that the US air forces independently launch raids with the aim of destroying Iran's nuclear, military, and administrative infrastructures, though, under a certain combination of circumstances, Syria can be the first target. The US will be prepared to launch the campaign provided that an agreement is reached that Turkey and Israel would shoulder most of the burden of the overland offensive (with Israel fighting against Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon). 

A disarming US strike on Iran can detonate a much wider war across the Middle East. As of today, predicting its outcome is essentially impossible as, according to Niccolò Machiavelli, «Wars begin where you will but they do not end where you please». Given the region's specific character, it is unclear at the moment whether Iran's neighbors would seize the opportunity to carve up the routed country or would instead rise as one, united by the opposition to the «infidels».

* * *

The two Persian Gulf wars left no illusion that a classic World War II-type army like those of Iran and Syria has the potential to resist NATO for considerable period of time. The above, however, does not necessarily mean that no strategy can be compiled using which Iran and its allies can defeat a US-led coalition and negotiate a truce on the terms acceptable to the victims of the aggression. I suggest that such a strategy actually exists, provided that the side led into self-defense would set the objective of suppressing the so-called Boyd decision cycles also known as the OODA loops originally described by Col. John Richard Boyd. 

Generally, the search for winning strategies can be conducted in the framework of three basic paradigms:

1. The classic “normal combat” strategy which would obviously prove self-defeating for Iran and Syria due to the immense inferiority of their military potentials to those of the US, NATO, and Israel, unless the Iranians' much higher level of solidarity bears a drastic impact on the situation. 

2. The ordered risk strategy based on the development of response decision-making trees with the aim of suppressing the Boyd cycles, assessing the efficiencies of various response options, and severing the low-efficiency branches. Under the strategy, the “normal” combat should have no prescribed result – rather, the picture reflects a statistical distribution of various options. Relying on the ordered risk strategy, the weaker party to the conflict can attempt to evade certainty, maximally put to work its higher solidarity level, and tap into the opportunities found at the fringes of the statistical distribution of combat outcomes. The probability-based war should help sustain a general state of uncertainty

3. The emerging risk strategy supposed to produce unanticipated outcomes contrary to the Liddell Hart axiom. In this case, the objective is to make the post-war world less acceptable to the winners than the pre-war one.

As a rule, “normal” combat strategies imply the use of conventional forces and conventional approaches to their use. The ordered risk strategy suggests employing unconventional forces and approaches as a parallel process, while the emerging risk strategy relies almost entirely on unconventional means. 

According to the information found in publications with references to Qatar sources, Iran and Syria have a common plan of resistance to the possible invasion. The plan counts Turkey among the first targets. The escalation of the regional conflict has already made Tehran declare what response measures it would take if Syria becomes a victim of direct aggression. In particular, Iranian air and missile forces commander said US infrastructures sited in Turkey - namely, those of the US missile defense – would come under strike if Syria and Iran are attacked

The El Siyasah media outlet described Iran's defense plan as having six key dimensions.

1. An attack against Turkey by Iran, Syria, and Iraq plus an intensification of the Kurdish insurgency in the eastern part of Turkey. 

2. An attack against the Suez Canal by Hamas and Iran, with the Yemeni and Somalian jihadists joining in.

3. An Iranian attack against Western vessels, including oil tankers, in the Persian Gulf, plus attacks against the US military bases by Lebanon's Hezbollah and the pro-Iranian groups entrenched in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. 

4. A large-scale campaign against NATO forces in Afghanistan to be organized by the Iranian intelligence services, with financial resources and armaments supplied to the country's various militant groups.

5. The seizure of control over all of Lebanon's state institutions and attacks against all NATO targets in the East Mediterranean by Hezbollah.

6. Intense shelling of Israel by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the entry of the Syrian army into play following the Israeli response strike. 

It does not take expertize in military affairs to realize that Iran and Syria would imminently lose the war if the above plan is implemented in the form of a conventional war. Under the circumstances, Iran's sole beneficial strategy is to switch from conventional to unconventional warfare. 

According to Sergey Pereslegin (“The South Against the North. A New Strategy”), the potentially victorious unconventional strategy for the weaker side in a conflict can be sketchily described as follows (the text below represents a citation of Sergey Pereslegin).

Iran should inflict upon the US such fatalities which the US public opinion would perceive as intolerable. One should keep in mind in this regard that the Muslim nations' own death toll would be practically irrelevant in the situation due to their specific religious and ideological worldview.

Up to date, guerrilla warfare used to be regarded as a form of military defense a nation can only wage on its own territory and only provided that the resistance is fully supported by the population. Yet, the very notion of a nation's own territory stops to make sense given the intensity of transit flows in today's Europe, and the financial support may be as instrumental as popular support. The concept stemming from the above regards is that of an OFFENSIVE GUERILLA (TERRORIST) WARFARE. 

At present, Western countries are able to fight local wars only as long as the conflicts do not affect the basics of the existence in the West, which, in particular, means that the Western citizens' private lives, freedom of travel, occupation choices, security, and living standards do not come under threat as a result of the fighting. Preserving the conditions makes it impossible to prevent the penetration of Western countries by the enemy's small armed groups. The penetration can be disguised as completely legal travel or be illegal as border crossings by compact armed teams. Terrorist groups, importantly, require minimal amounts of training and are extremely cheap to organize. They are not supposed to fight the Western countries' regular armed forces or to blow up heavily secured installations – what they do is kill unarmed people, which in many cases means women and children. The terrorist groups can as well comprise women and children. Such groups typically have no chances to survive, but even if 9 of every ten of them are exterminated before committing a terrorist attack, the tenth one can still get its objectives accomplished...

The activity of such groups would bear a double impact. The Western populations would be hurt both by the terrorist acts and their own governments' counter-terrorist steps. The guerrilla warfare strategy can combine the activity of large numbers of minimally trained terrorist groups with support from a score of professional teams. The latter can attack major civilian airports whose command posts are hard to protect from portable anti-aircraft systems, stock-market computer networks, etc. The hunt for acclaimed individuals declared doomed beforehand, as for Salman Rushdie in the past, can also have a profound psychological effect. 

Finally, there also exists a possibility of bacteriological warfare. The travel of carriers of infectious diseases via large transit hubs can trigger epidemics or even pandemics. 

In essence, the above strategy is a projection of the techniques of an all-out war onto a local conflict. The underlying assumption within the approach is that the cost of human life in the European civilization is much higher than in the world of Islam. 

It must be taken into account that similar terrorist attacks (for example, in the form of nuclear strikes against large enemy cities) cannot be a part of the Western response. For the West, taking such steps would be tantamount to scrapping its own value system and allowing the third world values to prevail. 

Wars are fought by countries to achieve peace that, from their standpoints, is better than the pre-war one. Will today's Europeans agree that the peace won at the cost of nuclear strikes on large “fundamentalist” cities is better than what they used to have?

The range of technologies available within the emerging risk strategy is not limited to the unconventional warfare techniques outlined in the text cited above. It must be noted that the history of the Middle Eastern conflict includes unconventional warfare episodes which are in fact attributed to Iran. In April, 1982, a kamikaze on a vehicle loaded with explosives slammed into the US embassy in Beirut, leaving 63 people dead. US and French army barracks simultaneously came under similar attacks in October 23, 1983, with the US battalion's headquarters completely destroyed. The death toll resulting from the twin attack reached 241 US and 59 French servicemen. In November of the same year, a terrorist attack was launched against the Israeli forces in Tyre, killing 30. A discotheque was blown up roughly at the same time in the proximity of a US military base in Germany, with 200 people left dead. As a result, the Western coalition shut down the “peacekeeping” operation in Lebanon. 

The East's military tradition also counts older examples of unconventional warfare of the weak against the strong, which date back to the epoch of the resistance against the feudal Europe's crusades. At that time, the Assassins, a sinister order, carried out narrowly targeted attacks on the enemy territory. The present-day Iran maintains an Islamic Jihad Movement group within the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution which is in fact a kind of an order (not within the Iranian intelligence service, notably). Washington is convinced that the group not only knew about the coming attempt to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US but was directly involved in the plot. 

«If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure», said member of the Iranian parliament's National Security Committee Parviz Sarvari. For Iran, the only promising strategy is linked to the unconventional warfare, and the country has the resources it would take to implement it. This is something the US decision-makes should think of before opting for a major war.

Tags: Iran Middle East

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    Nikolai BOBKIN

Yemen or Iran: Which One is in US Sights?

...Saying yes to the operation against the Shia movement Ansar Allah (Houthis) Americans risk facing «unexpected consequences» one more time. No doubt the Houthi movement is the only force in Yemen able to counter the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State (IS). The Yemen’s overthrown President Hadi was blamed for his close ties with Sunni radicals connected to AQAP and IS. As soon as the Houthis came to power, the AQAP militants gave an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State and started to fight the Houthis. Once again Obama aims at wrong terrorists...

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