Defeating Iran

The emphasis on regime change to deal with a soon—to—be nuclear armed Iran looks like a repeat of our short—sighted strategy in dealing with Saddam Hussein.  Astute analysts in the pages of the American Thinker have suggested strategies that essentially focus on Ahmadinejad and the mullahs: encouraging rebellion by the Iranian people concurrent with a Coalition bombing campaign to step up the pressure on the Iranian leadership to effect a regime change.

This regime change option would be great if it had worked better in Iraq.  It certainly got rid of Saddam Hussein and many of his cronies, but focusing on the personalities of the leadership didn't translate into completely defeating his elite forces on the field of battle or rooting out his intelligence operatives lurking in the alleyways of Fallujah and Mosul.  We should also not anticipate that an operation dependent on a popular uprising or the notion that a substantial number of Iranian Army units will turn on their masters will result in anything other than a military stalemate.

Fomenting a rebellion against the loony dictator Ahmadinejad and the mullahs has always been touted as "just around the corner" by Iranians in exile in their print and internet news outlets.  If only the US and the Coalition would initiate covert operations against the Iranian leadership, and provide materiel and intelligence support to the opposition, we are told the Iranian people will play the key role in toppling the mullahs and returning the government to land of the sane and rational.  Some think that this covert war has already begun; they might be right.  But it is likely to develop into a long operation against a tactically savvy and battle—hardened Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian intelligence service (VEVAK).

Iran's extended operations in the Central Region should give pause for any planner betting on the outcome that in isolation, covert action will be even moderately successful in causing a rebellion or turning the regular armed forces against the regime.  Arguably, this is Iran's strongest suit as evidenced by its infiltration of operatives and military cadre into southern Iraq almost immediately after Saddam's fall, and its follow—on small boat campaign against Iraq's oil terminal south of the Al—Faw peninsula.

And speaking of Saddam, his Special Republican Guard and the Mukhabarat provide a case study on how to permeate virtually every level of government, military, and industrial bureaucracy.  His control was so complete, that a CIA coup operation in the mid—90s was penetrated and defeated in short order.  Why should we assume that the IRGC and Iranian intelligence services are any less embedded in Iranian society?  And since the end of Gulf War I, they have been largely successful in conducting regional operations by extending their reach as far as Somalia, Pakistan, and north from Iran into the Caucasus.

The missing element in all of this strategy is of course, a conventional combined arms and services assault into selected areas of Iran.  One experienced intelligence officer has reminded us of the absolute requirement to commit ground forces to ensure success against the mullahs.  Paul Levian, a former member of German intelligence (Bundesnachrichtendienst), writes in the Asia Times that the most likely scenario is a massive land, naval, and air campaign to deal the mullahs a death blow by destroying their forces in the field and seizing their economic center of gravity.  He reveals how the Russians and Chinese see the battle developing:

An initial Israeli air attack against some Iranian nuclear targets, command and control targets and Shahab missile sites.  Iran retaliates with its remaining missiles, tries to close the Gulf, attacks US naval assets and American and British forces in Iraq.  If Iranian missiles have chemical warheads (in fact or presumed [as previously I noted were present on the island of Abu Musa — DH]), the US will immediately use nuclear weapons to destroy the Iranian military and industrial infrastructure.   If not, an air campaign of up to two weeks will prepare the ground campaign for the occupation of the Iranian oil and gas fields. [emphasis added]

The launching of US nuclear weapons in this scenario is arguable, but Levian clearly sees our objectives as economic rather than political.  Instead of conducting another capture the flag exercise by seizing Tehran and Qom and hoping for the long—anticipated popular uprising, we immediately pound WMD, command and control, and military targets into oblivion, and seize and occupy — not liberate — Iran's natural gas, oil, transportation, and strategic port facilities which are concentrated in the southwest area of the country.  All well within the range of US forces stationed in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

On paper, the Iranian military is much larger than Saddam's depleted force was on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  They have bought or developed their own manufacturing ability to replace main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles lost in the Iran—Iraq War, and have been importing technology for both battlefield tactical and theater—level missiles from North Korea for over a decade.  Nevertheless, Levian thinks that a redeployment of US troops currently in Iraq and Afghanistan could position us for a large—scale attack.  This runs counter to the popular the view that we and the Brits are too busy to handle an Iran operation.

I would differ though on the prospect of a US troop redeployment.  Levian maintains that the US would surge forces to provide the required combat power, but to date, the US command in the Central Region has been reluctant to quickly increase ground forces in Iraq since the first year of the occupation when they were needed.  The high command instead opted for a one—for—one rotation scheme, generally at the brigade level.  Whether CENTCOM or the National Command Authority will redeploy and boost forces to deal with Iran is a matter of conjecture at this point.  What is certain is that our senior commanders on the ground will not have the luxury of cutting deals with the IRGC as they did with  elements of the Sunni "insurgency." As Levian says:

The character of this war will be completely different from the Iraq war.  No show—casing of democracy, no "nation—building", no journalists, no Red Cross — but the kind of war the United States would have fought in North Vietnam if it had not had to reckon with the Soviet Union and China.

On this point he is absolutely spot on.  Regardless of how the battle develops, our divisions and regiments must be cut loose to win the fight.  And this time, leave the aid agencies and the beltway governance types at home.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.  He is currently overseas supporting GWOT operations.

The emphasis on regime change to deal with a soon—to—be nuclear armed Iran looks like a repeat of our short—sighted strategy in dealing with Saddam Hussein.  Astute analysts in the pages of the American Thinker have suggested strategies that essentially focus on Ahmadinejad and the mullahs: encouraging rebellion by the Iranian people concurrent with a Coalition bombing campaign to step up the pressure on the Iranian leadership to effect a regime change.

This regime change option would be great if it had worked better in Iraq.  It certainly got rid of Saddam Hussein and many of his cronies, but focusing on the personalities of the leadership didn't translate into completely defeating his elite forces on the field of battle or rooting out his intelligence operatives lurking in the alleyways of Fallujah and Mosul.  We should also not anticipate that an operation dependent on a popular uprising or the notion that a substantial number of Iranian Army units will turn on their masters will result in anything other than a military stalemate.

Fomenting a rebellion against the loony dictator Ahmadinejad and the mullahs has always been touted as "just around the corner" by Iranians in exile in their print and internet news outlets.  If only the US and the Coalition would initiate covert operations against the Iranian leadership, and provide materiel and intelligence support to the opposition, we are told the Iranian people will play the key role in toppling the mullahs and returning the government to land of the sane and rational.  Some think that this covert war has already begun; they might be right.  But it is likely to develop into a long operation against a tactically savvy and battle—hardened Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian intelligence service (VEVAK).

Iran's extended operations in the Central Region should give pause for any planner betting on the outcome that in isolation, covert action will be even moderately successful in causing a rebellion or turning the regular armed forces against the regime.  Arguably, this is Iran's strongest suit as evidenced by its infiltration of operatives and military cadre into southern Iraq almost immediately after Saddam's fall, and its follow—on small boat campaign against Iraq's oil terminal south of the Al—Faw peninsula.

And speaking of Saddam, his Special Republican Guard and the Mukhabarat provide a case study on how to permeate virtually every level of government, military, and industrial bureaucracy.  His control was so complete, that a CIA coup operation in the mid—90s was penetrated and defeated in short order.  Why should we assume that the IRGC and Iranian intelligence services are any less embedded in Iranian society?  And since the end of Gulf War I, they have been largely successful in conducting regional operations by extending their reach as far as Somalia, Pakistan, and north from Iran into the Caucasus.

The missing element in all of this strategy is of course, a conventional combined arms and services assault into selected areas of Iran.  One experienced intelligence officer has reminded us of the absolute requirement to commit ground forces to ensure success against the mullahs.  Paul Levian, a former member of German intelligence (Bundesnachrichtendienst), writes in the Asia Times that the most likely scenario is a massive land, naval, and air campaign to deal the mullahs a death blow by destroying their forces in the field and seizing their economic center of gravity.  He reveals how the Russians and Chinese see the battle developing:

An initial Israeli air attack against some Iranian nuclear targets, command and control targets and Shahab missile sites.  Iran retaliates with its remaining missiles, tries to close the Gulf, attacks US naval assets and American and British forces in Iraq.  If Iranian missiles have chemical warheads (in fact or presumed [as previously I noted were present on the island of Abu Musa — DH]), the US will immediately use nuclear weapons to destroy the Iranian military and industrial infrastructure.   If not, an air campaign of up to two weeks will prepare the ground campaign for the occupation of the Iranian oil and gas fields. [emphasis added]

The launching of US nuclear weapons in this scenario is arguable, but Levian clearly sees our objectives as economic rather than political.  Instead of conducting another capture the flag exercise by seizing Tehran and Qom and hoping for the long—anticipated popular uprising, we immediately pound WMD, command and control, and military targets into oblivion, and seize and occupy — not liberate — Iran's natural gas, oil, transportation, and strategic port facilities which are concentrated in the southwest area of the country.  All well within the range of US forces stationed in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

On paper, the Iranian military is much larger than Saddam's depleted force was on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  They have bought or developed their own manufacturing ability to replace main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles lost in the Iran—Iraq War, and have been importing technology for both battlefield tactical and theater—level missiles from North Korea for over a decade.  Nevertheless, Levian thinks that a redeployment of US troops currently in Iraq and Afghanistan could position us for a large—scale attack.  This runs counter to the popular the view that we and the Brits are too busy to handle an Iran operation.

I would differ though on the prospect of a US troop redeployment.  Levian maintains that the US would surge forces to provide the required combat power, but to date, the US command in the Central Region has been reluctant to quickly increase ground forces in Iraq since the first year of the occupation when they were needed.  The high command instead opted for a one—for—one rotation scheme, generally at the brigade level.  Whether CENTCOM or the National Command Authority will redeploy and boost forces to deal with Iran is a matter of conjecture at this point.  What is certain is that our senior commanders on the ground will not have the luxury of cutting deals with the IRGC as they did with  elements of the Sunni "insurgency." As Levian says:

The character of this war will be completely different from the Iraq war.  No show—casing of democracy, no "nation—building", no journalists, no Red Cross — but the kind of war the United States would have fought in North Vietnam if it had not had to reckon with the Soviet Union and China.

On this point he is absolutely spot on.  Regardless of how the battle develops, our divisions and regiments must be cut loose to win the fight.  And this time, leave the aid agencies and the beltway governance types at home.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.  He is currently overseas supporting GWOT operations.