October 17, 2006
Is Ahmadinejad setting a trap?By James Lewis
Mahmood Ahmadinejad is an extremely shrewd customer, who is perfectly capable of provoking an attack by Israel and/or the United States in ways that play to his strengths and their weaknesses. There is reason to think he may be doing exactly that.
In the Hezb'allah War, Israel pulled its punches. It's perfectly conceivable that Ahmadinejad pulled his also, by not making use of his full missile capacity located in Lebanon. Hezb'allah's rockets are Tehran's counterpunch against an Israeli attack on its home territory. That counterpunch might be a great deal more powerful than Israel now believes, based on its limited experience in the Hezbo War. All Tehran had to do was forbid Hezb'allah from firing its most formidable rockets, or smuggle in more powerful ones after the Hezbo War.
Tehran is constantly parading fake "new" weapons, like Hitler's "ultimate weapons" that he kept on threatening at the end of WWII. Given another five years, Hitler would have had usable jet planes, missiles, and early nukes. So it wasn't all bluff. But Tehran's parading of obviously fake weapons may be designed to give the impression that it is all bluff.
Threatening nukes is partly a provocative display, as is Holocaust denial. Ahmadinejad may not really believe his provocative speeches and actions on this score. It may be psychological warfare, designed to trigger an Israeli attack to forestall his nukes. Once he is attacked, he can pretend injured innocence and retaliate in force, with the cooperation of Syria and his proxies in Iraq and Lebanon, and perhaps elsewhere in the world. This guy is one nasty customer.
Israel has well—known limits to its military capacity. Any major war effort grinds the economy to a halt, since the armed forces in a crisis are largely civilians. So Israel's successful wars have all lasted a very short time.
In addition, hitting Tehran's uranium enrichment cascade at Natanz would be difficult (but achievable) for the Israeli Air Force. It is entirely possible that the Natanz facility is a red herring, designed to draw air attacks that would degrade Israel's formidable but limited air bombing capacity. It would also be a legal casus belli (a legal justification for war), legitimizing Tehran attacking Tel Aviv or other vulnerable civilian locations. It would certainly mobilize the "Arab street" to Iran's side, along with the Arab media, a crucial ingredient if Tehran is to succeed in its ambition to lead the entire Islamic world.
When Buddist monks and nuns in Saigon started to douse themselves with gasoline in the public squares —— with convenient photographers on the spot, to put their last moments of self—immolation into worldwide news —— the United States reacted with shock. It was the first indication that we were dealing with something unprecedented in Vietnam, a kind of ideology we could not understand. Kennedy's reaction was to trigger a coup against South Vietnam's leader of the moment, Ngo—Dinh Diem.
Ahmadinejad also represents a martyrdom cult. He may be anticipating his own martyrdom in the next few years, as part of a plan of triggering Shiite Armageddon to bring down the Big Satan and Little Satan, and ultimately the return of the Twelfth Imam. All his propaganda moves may be designed to convey that impression, but it may also be true. Ahmadinejad is a leading member of Khomeini's Islamic Revolutionary Guard cohort that sent thousands of martyrs into battle in a mad attempt to counter Saddam's technological superiority in artillery and tanks with the bodies of martyrs. Reportedly those martyrdom tactics include sending young teens on motorcycles into mine fields, to explode mines with their bodies, wearing plastic "Keys to Paradise" around their necks.
Anybody who has deliberately sent children to die in war is likely to suffer from intense survivor guilt, part of which is an intent to die in the next war, and indeed to provoke a war as an opportunity to die gloriously for Allah.
The Shiite less—than—half of Islam glorifies martyrdom —— its adherents fervently whip themselves in long parades, to demonstrate their willingness to suffer for the return of the Twelfth Imam, their messianic figure. That's normal Shiite worship. In Iraq we've seen the quietist version advocated by Ayatollah Sistani, in which hundreds and hundreds die in attacks by Sunni killers, or even just in crowd accidents on the way to shrines. A certain kind of person derives immense psychological rewards from such self—injury.
Within Shi'a we have the Khomeini cult, who are even more eager for martyrdom than Sistani's quietist faction. The Khomeini cult fed thousands upon thousands of martyrs into Saddam's meat grinder, for a total of one million dead. The West has not seen these kinds of casualties since World War Two. So the Khomeini cult are the martyrs for the martyrs.
The cult of Ayatollah Yazdi and the Hojattieh cult is so extreme that even Khomeini tried to suppress it. Ahmadinejad is a follower of Yazdi, the extreme of the extreme of the extreme in the art of martyrdom. Even worse, he is a leading member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the SS storm troopers of the regime, and helped to found its al Quds (Jerusalem) Brigade, a special ops command designed to "liberate" Jerusalem. That is his obsession, as it was Khomeini's.
People with martyr complexes parade their suffering. It makes others feel profoundly guilty and torn. The trap Ahmadinejad may be setting for an attack on Iran may trigger exactly that kind of psychology. If Israel attacks Natanz, and takes substantial casualties in its Air Force as a result, this will be celebrated as a victory (for having harmed the demonized enemy) and it will be dragged as symbol of victimhood before the Islamic masses. It may mobilize the Iranian people, who are by no means happy about Ahmadinejad. It will set the stage for revenge.
A similar strategy may be at work toward the United States. We have formidable forces in the region, air, land and naval. But our publicly broadcast wars are self—limiting. Ahmadinejad is completely aware of America's virtual civil war on the matter of Iraq and Vietnam. The Arab—Persian world routinely looks for ways of splitting the enemy. In our case, our Democrats are parading our domestic split right in front of the entire world. As we noticed when he was visiting the United Nations, Ahmadinejad is word—perfect in the Democrat playbook, to evoke as much sympathy as possible. If we attack Iran, Ahmadinejad will have a sympathetic Fifth Column in place in the United States, and it won't even be Hezbollah sleeper cells. It will be a third of the country that is swayed by the Left, led by the leftwing media.
Militarily, Tehran has invested in "ambush weapons". For example, truck—mounted anti—ship missiles can be in constant motion along the Persian side of the Gulf. This gives them formidable power to destoy our naval ships as well as tankers, with relatively low cost on their side. Truck—mounted missiles are harder to spot and destroy. If they are parked in civilian areas, the death toll to be splashed on the evening news all around the world may be sizable. So anti—ship missiles are powerful ways of controlling the Gulf with relative safety. It is an ambush weapon.
Likewise, Iran has new Russian anti—aircraft missiles, and the Russians still have a beef against Israel for beating its air defense above the Bekaa Valley in a huge defeat in 1981, when the Israel Air Force shot down essentially the entire Syrian Air Force, in spite of sophisticated SAM anti—aircraft missiles located in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. It was a huge blow to the prestige of Soviet arms, from which the Soviet Union never recovered. Arab nations negotiated alliances with the United States as a result. The Russians want payback.
This is extremely stupid, as is the Chinese failure to negotiate a brake to Iranian and North Korean nuke development at the United Nations. Already Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are seriously considering obtaining their own nukes, and the possibility of forming a mutual defense alliance cannot be dismissed, precisely contrary to Chinese policy aims. It is a major setback to Beijing, and it's all because of North Korean brinksmanship games. Nevertheless, the Chinese seem incapable of controlling NoKo.
The same thing may happen in reaction to Tehran's trap. Persia's Arab neighbors are not stupid, and they see Tehran as a threat to their existence (which Israel is not). So Tehran's armed moves are already triggering Saudi arms purchases, including possible nuclear arms from Pakistan. But the main player is the United States, the only trustworthy guarantor of a nuclear umbrella in the world.
The Iranian strategy may therefore be designed to call American bluff. If it can be shown that the United States will not go to war on a fullfledged basis if Iran, for example, invades the vast empty space of Arabia, our prestige would plumment. The Arabs would have to sue for surrender to the Persian Caliphate.
Iran may be moving in that direction. Anti—ship and anti—air missiles may draw American ships and planes into vulnerable battle spaces: The Gulf is a shooting gallery for lightly protected naval ships. If a ground invasion is attempted from Iraq, a popular uprising is planned along Saddam's lines, with many more suiciders. As mentioned, in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and perhaps around the world, suicide bombers are being indoctrinated.
If Israel were to go nuclear in a life—threatening confrontation, it might forfeit the whatever sympathy the world might still have for it; certainly the European media have been slandering Israel's reputation for years, in preparation for such an event. Europe's behavior in the last twenty years is beneath contempt, given its black history, but it is what it is. Europe will be used as a propaganda center, as it already is.
It is the glorification of martyrdom that sets Ahmadinejad apart from the run—of—the—mill sadistic tyrant with delusions of grandeur. It's quite likely that Ahmadinejad is looking forward to his own martyrdom, as part of a larger plan to draw other nations into disastrous warfare. Ahmadinejad may actually believe, as Mao Zedong once said, that Iran can sustain multiple nuclear attacks while the West could only tolerate one.
There are military and strategic answers to these dilemmas. But they should be planned for with the utmost psychological and military care. This guy is not your normal looney—tunes leader; he's Pol Pot with nukes, rather than Brezhnev or even Kim. Unlike Kim, he may not care if he survives. And he may have a fullfledged backup military government set up if he does not survive a major air strike, with redundant media facilities, for example, so he can claim victory even in physical defeat. Add that to agents of influences planted throughout the Western media, and you get a very formidable and dangerous opponent.
So Ahmadinejad may be planning a trap. But even worse, he may be putting the West into a cleft stick, so they lose if they avoid the trap, and lose if they fall into it. It's a standard chess gambit, and Ahmadinejad is perfectly capable of executing it.
Overestimating an enemy is as bad as underestimating him. Iran is worn down technologically, it cannot produce its own refined petroleum products, its people yearn for freedom, it has its own rebellious minorities, and the people are constantly hearing from relatives abroad that there are much better ways to live. But the fanatical Khomeini cult has the weapons and the batons to beat demonstrators with, sometimes to death. A domestic rebellion is unlikely to work in the short term, because this is not a regime that has any shame or guilt. It's not the Brits in India against Gandhi. Rather, it's the Nazis or NoKos against the people.
On balance, Tehran would seem to have more of the cards. There may be ways to defeat its shrewd chess gambits. But they cannot be underestimated.
James Lewis is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.