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Iran’s Tactical Strength

A New York Times story on March 19 reported that there might be “perils” for the U.S. in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran and warned that “it may be impossible to preclude American involvement in any escalating confrontation” with “dire consequences for the region and for United States forces there.” The story received wide play in the media, a respite from the barrage of persistent press coverage that has been portraying a new Middle East war as both inevitable and a legitimate response to a burgeoning threat. The conclusion, based on the outcome of the Internal Look war games concluded in early March, is not particularly surprising, as many inside and outside the government have long been arguing that it would be impossible for Washington not to get involved in such a conflict given the U.S. military presence in the region and expected pressure from Israel and its friends.

But the real story of the still-classified war games, which were designed primarily to test internal communications and response coordination between Central Command in Tampa and operational units in the Middle East, was the ability of the Iranians to counterattack effectively against American forces and U.S. regional allies. The Netanyahu government has been arguing that any Iranian response to an Israeli air attack would be manageable, with few casualties among Israelis, because Iran would fear an escalation that would bring U.S. forces to bear. Yet even modest retaliation from Iran would almost unavoidably draw the U.S. into the fray. The war games tested a number of scenarios in which U.S. forces were hit either deliberately or by accident, producing a reaction from Washington that included sustained bombing of Iranian coastal defenses and nuclear sites, which quickly escalated into a full-scale regional conflict.

[1]The war games demonstrated that the United States Navy would have considerable problems in dealing with Iranian offensive operations in the narrow waters of the Straits of Hormuz. Iran is believed to have more than 5,000 mines available, many of modern design and exceedingly difficult to detect, sweep, and disarm. The Iranian Navy has also become adept at small-boat swarming tactics, in which large numbers of light vessels attack larger warships in what have been described as suicide runs. U.S. warships have been training to deal with such tactics and it is believed that they can counter them somewhat effectively, but the games revealed that there is a high probability that American vessels will be sunk with considerable loss of life. Iranian cruise missiles also pose a threat. Iran has Chinese sea-skimmer models and has also developed its own variants. Again, U.S. warships have countermeasures, but sustained attacks at sea level combined with missiles that approach their targets vertically from high altitude could cause considerable casualties. In the earlier Millennium Challenge war games carried out in 2002, a combination of Iranian cruise missiles and swarming small boats employing innovative tactics and operating on internal lines defeated a much larger U.S. Navy squadron. The result was so disturbing that the game was canceled before it was concluded. 

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Iran’s Tactical Strength"

#1 Comment By Jim Bovard On May 2, 2012 @ 11:59 am

Excellent analysis – thanks for posting.

#2 Comment By John Finnerty On May 2, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

Is Washington listening to these guys? Did anybody think this would be another cakewalk and how would the American public take to a war that was pre emptive even if not by us? Then with Americans overwhelmingly with war fatigue and most people wanting us out of Afghanistan tommorrow. How will this be allowed even to happen.

#3 Comment By John Finnerty On May 2, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

Is Washington listening to these guys. How would the American people take take to another unnecessary war started not this time by us.Then with the majority of Americans with War fatigue and most people wanting us out of Afghanistan tomorrow . How will we allow this to happen!

#4 Comment By James Canning On May 2, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

Given that Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20 percent is often cited as evidence of a possible wish to get ready to build nukes quickly, is it not just a little strange that Iran’s offer last year, to stop enriching to 20 percent, received no response from the Obama administration?

#5 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 2, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

This sounds like the same sort of thing we heard before the Gulf War in 1991, how we would have so many casualties, etc..

#6 Comment By John McKeown On May 2, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

I suspect that potential US casualties and economic damages are relatively unimportant concerns to some decision makers.

#7 Comment By Rossbach On May 2, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

There is no objective basis for a war between the US and Iran. Neither side would gain much. The cost to the US of “regime change” in Tehran would be prohibitive. The Israelis wouldn’t get much out of it either and would risk immediate and significant civilian casualites.

#8 Comment By US 66 On May 2, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

Thanks for this article, Mr. G.

“The Netanyahu government has been arguing that any Iranian response to an Israeli air attack would be manageable, with few casualties among Israelis, because Iran would fear an escalation that would bring U.S. forces to bear.”

Right. In the ideal neocon scenario, Israel zips in to get the ball rolling, then America comes in to take the casualties while Israel zips back and resumes the production of casus belli in the form of expanded settlements. Just like Iraq and Afghanistan.

#9 Comment By Escher On May 2, 2012 @ 11:27 pm

I can see a lot of opportunity for “false flag” incidents to force the US into the fray, should things indeed spiral out of control.

#10 Comment By Sean Gillhoolley On May 3, 2012 @ 6:49 am

Lots of talk about the initial conflict and very little about the long-term prospects. Iraq has half as many people as Iran, and it crippled the USA to try to police that now-failed state. I also doubt that Russia and China would sit idly by while the US invaded yet another country in that oil-rich region. They cannot afford to allow the US to control Iran, so they would get involved in some capacity and make things even hotter. Invading Iran is about as stupid an idea as a person can have. The US military is broken, demoralized, and stretched far too thinly. I think the best thing the USA can do now is pull back and lick its’ wounds. The USA is far from being defeated, but each new war only weakens the nation further.

#11 Comment By Greg Panfile On May 3, 2012 @ 10:30 am

I’ve read in several places that “missiles that approach their targets vertically from high altitude” make the entire US fleet, especially aircraft carriers, obsolete unless deployed against Third World countries that don’t have such missiles. Yet I never read about this in any discussions about the size or configuration of our naval forces. Given the budgets involved, and how much of the US overseas presence is indeed naval, one would think that this topic would be one frequently discussed and examined. Surely someone in the national security journalistic establishment could dig up exactly how real and potent these missiles are, and what if any countermeasures can be taken, and what that should mean in terms of investment and procurement. Certainly anyone, including the neocon hawks who have been so ready to bomb Iran that they even used to sing about it, with any interest in reality would want to know this. The general silence is very alarming.