Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Iran: Three Stories, No Surprises but Still Scary

Also at DKos.

Here are three recent stories on Iran that I found noteworthy.

From Bloomberg and other sources we learn that Iran has ignored the UN imposed deadline to stop its uranium enrichment program. At a rally in Iran's Gilan province, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told supporters that acquiring nuclear energy is "very important for the progress and honor of the country,'' and that "If we shut down other activities for 10 years and the country only focuses on nuclear energy it will be worth it because if we obtain this energy our people will advance as much as 50 years."

This doesn't surprise me. Ahmadinejad has consistently said he will not give up Iran's efforts to develop an independent nuclear energy program, citing the UN Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty's guarantee that pursuing the technology is an "inalienable right."

The BBC "reveals" the U.S. attack plan for Iran.
US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country's military infrastructure, the BBC has learned.

It is understood that any such attack - if ordered - would target Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres.

I'd be surprised to learn differently. If you're going to strike a country like Iran, you need to hit it hard enough that it can't hit back.

Last but certainly not least, the Associated Press brings us news of recent Iranian naval maneuvers.
MANAMA, Bahrain — Iran has brought its war games maneuvers over the past year into busy shipping lanes in the Straits of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which two-fifths of the world's oil supplies pass, the top U.S. Navy commander in the Mideast said.

The moves have alarmed U.S. officials about possible accidental confrontations that could boil over into war, and led to a recent build-up of Navy forces in the Gulf, Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh said in an interview with The Associated Press and other reporters.

Again, I’m not surprised that Iran would conduct naval exercises near shipping lanes and in the Straits of Hormuz. That's what their navy is designed to do--interdict shipping and close down the Straits. And Iran has as much right to operate in those waters as we do. But like Admiral Walsh, I'm somewhat alarmed about "possible accidental confrontation that could boil over into war."

Three or more things could trigger an all out war with Iran. One would be conclusive evidence that the country is developing nuclear weapons. I doubt we'll discover such evidence because I doubt it exists--not yet anyway.

Another trigger would be positive "proof" that Iran is directly involved with arming Shiite militias in Iraq and helping them attack U.S. troops. After the secret briefing fiasco in Baghdad two Sundays ago, it seems unlikely that credible proof will emerge.

Iran could preemptively toss a Shahab 3 ballistic missile into Baghdad, but that's just not going to happen.

But with tensions mounting and Iranian and U.S. naval forces careening around the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, the possibility of a Tonkin Gulf or Vincennes style incident occurring is entirely too real.

A provocation or even a mere misunderstanding at sea could lead to the U.S. unloading the whole can of smack on Iran, at which point Iran would be justified in fighting back. Iran couldn't "defeat" us in an air and naval war, per se, but it would likely do enough damage to embarrass us.

And the rest of the world will look on as America once again shines its heinie in a war that didn't have to be.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.


  1. Jeff, once again you've covered it and not much more to be said, except I hope to God the current president will not be willingly led astray down this path.

  2. Anonymous4:46 PM

    Hi Commander,

    I always enjoy and appreciate your insights.

    You say:

    Iran couldn't "defeat" us in an air and naval war, per se, but it would likely do enough damage to embarrass us.

    Could you elaborate on this a bit? Specifically, what kinds of damage might they likely be capable of inflicting on us, assuming we limit our attack to an aerial and naval bombardment?

    Thank you!

  3. Anonymous2:47 AM

    Do we even know what kind of weapons Iran possesses? They just got TOR-M1, short range missiles, from Russia, but what else have they recently gotten from other nations? How about their sea defense? What type of missiles or torpedos do they have. If they have the latest Russian weapons we (US) might be in trouble in the Gulf. If they have Chinese stuff, who knows. If they have antiquated systems the Iranians are in trouble. If they have a combination of all three then its the fog of war and, once again, who knows. But I'd still like to see your scenario of an air and sea war, not that I want it to happen.

  4. Anonymous,

    The range of bad consequences is pretty broad. If we lose a pilot over Iran and can't get him back, we'll look kind of silly. If, God forbid, Iran managed to put an aircraft carrier out of action, we'd be a laughinstock.

    Bob G.

    I'd say we have a pretty good idea of what they have and where they have it. Last year they tested the supersonic anti-ship missile and the rocket torpedo they bought from Russia. In all, though, from what I can find in open sources, they've got a wide range of old and new stuff. Sometimes "old but reliable" is better.



  5. Anonymous11:35 AM

    From Wikipedia, they got the Noor anti-ship missile, wich is basically a local variant of the Chinese Yingji-82 , as well as the Ko(w)sar system, wich is modified C-701s and Hongdu TL-10A. For additional info, see .

    (I wonder though, if at all possible, how much the russian mafia will take to get ahold of one or two little surprises. Propably not viable, due to problems with platform integration, but still an interesting thought.)

    Ive asked before, Jeff: How much do these systems limit US first-strike capacity in terms of range from carrier-groups, do you know?

  6. MK,

    The answer to your question is: it depends. I don't know how Iran would deploy those systems--land or shore based. Let's just say they could make things complicated.

    Modern naval warfare in restricted waters is a messy business.

  7. Anonymous10:15 AM

    From the article, they have developed swift-boat delivery-systems, wich would increase the range. As someone else noted, their drone-capacity is also fast evolving. One little noted point of the Iraq war is that it has caused two new braintrusts, the combined Iraq/Iran/Lebanon shia and Iraq/Syria/Lebanon baathist science/engineering-community.

  8. I'll need to dig a bit deeper into this. If they've figured out how to operate sophisticated missiles from a dhow, that's trouble.

    I can't imagine just how they'd do that, though.