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Is Iran next?

By William S. Lind
web posted July 28, 2003

Bit by bit, the Taliban is retaking Afghanistan. In Iraq, a guerilla war against the Americans is now in its first stage. Has this had any effect on the plans of the neo-con clique that rules Washington? No. Living as they do in a fantasy world where a war is over once you take the enemy's capital, they plan more wars. The question is what country will be the next target.

Iran seems most probable. The same "intelligence dominance" that gave us all those Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq is now "discovering" a nuclear weapons threat in Iran. By one report, the team charged with planning an American attack on Iran recently arrived in Kuwait.

Such an attack could take two basic forms, a full-scale "liberation" on the Iraq model or a drive-by shooting aimed at Iran's reactors, now under construction. Since Washington seems unlikely to ask how Iran might defend against the first or respond to the second, I thought it might be useful to look at those questions here.

If the threat is full-scale invasion on the Iraq model, it is reasonable to think that the Iranians will not just sit there and serve themselves up as a passive target. Two options would give them a reasonable shot at a successful defense. The first is preemption. The American way of war telegraphs its intentions long in advance, and once America's purpose is clear, Iran could choose to attack first, before America is ready.

What form might an Iranian preemptive attack take? If I were sitting in Tehran, I would probably combine a surprise attack with several armored divisions into Iraq - call it Iraqi Liberation II - with a smaller thrust against American forces in Afghanistan, employing Revolutionary Guard infantry. I would use the Iranian Air Force, Navy and missile forces to attack the port of Kuwait and attempt to sever the American supply line through the Persian Gulf. If I could do that at the same time that my ground offensive put U.S. forces in Iraq under maximum pressure, I might take those forces off the board. Meanwhile, I would use my submarines (something Iraq did not have) to keep American aircraft carriers well away from my shores.

A second intriguing Iranian option, one that would reflect the lessons from Iraq, would be to go directly to guerilla warfare. Park the ships, aircraft and tanks (except the subs; American coastal ASW is weak). Disperse the troops into civilian population centers to serve as the core of the resistance. Pass out lots of RPG's sniper rifles and land mines. And invite the Americans into just the kind of war they like least. The neo-cons are so disconnected from reality that they would probably still come. But saner voices in Washington might say, "Wait a minute. Do we want to multiply many-fold what we are facing in Iraq?"

If the U.S. elects merely to attack Iran's reactors with the usual cruise missiles and satellite-guided bombs, Iran's options for an immediate response are not very attractive. She could launch air and sea attacks on our Persian Gulf supply line, but with our forces in Iraq not under pressure from a ground assault, the result would not be decisive. Iran could hit Kuwait's and Saudi Arabia's oil loading facilities while at the same time embargoing her won oil exports; the resulting spike in world oil prices would not help Mr. Bush on the domestic front. But the American election is still more than a year away, and the spike would be grief.

More effective and, in my view, more likely would b e a slow, quiet Iranian response, in the form of increased support for the anti-American guerillas in both Afghanistan and Iraq. If Iran were to take her time and not move until she had established an effective guerilla infrastructure in Shiite southern Iraq, American forces there could fact their worst nightmare: a widespread Shiite insurgency coupled with the ongoing Sunni rebellion. What will Mr. Bush's situation be if American casualties start running on hundred or more per week?

If for no other reason that America has almost no Army left to deploy, an American attack on Iran seems likely to be a drive-by shooting. The Iranians have to anticipate this, and have probably already moved the key components of their nuclear weapons program into hiding. The real victims of such a strike will be our relations with Russia, especially if Russians are killed in a strike on the Iranian power plants, and the Iranian opposition. That opposition seems to have been making some real headway of late against the ruling clerical government. An American attack will work powerfully to undermine it, as the Iranian people rally around the flag and any opposition looks like treason.

Given the present direction of Iranian politics, it may well be that the most effective American action is inaction. But to the high and mighty neo-cons now running Washington, that sort of logic is not likely to appeal.

William S. Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism.

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