(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)
Let’s start this IPB with a core assumption: I don’t think Iran’s leaders will start a fight against Israel or America. As others have written, if the Iranian regime truly cares about their survival, they will avoid provoking an overwhelming U.S. response.
Therefore, unless congress approves war (or euphemistically “authorizes the use of military force”) with Iran, or the U.N. Security Council (miraculously) sanctions war (very unlikely), why would Iran risk the wrath of the American military?
Instead, war with Iran would likely begin with a limited series of air and naval strikes on Iranian nuclear sites or military targets by either Israel, the U.S. or both. According to this war game, leaked by The New York Times, if Israel attacks Iran, Iran will attack American targets in return. Iran sees the U.S. as complicit in any Israeli decisions or actions. And since the House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor said, “We need to make sure that this president is also going to stand by Israel and not allow his administration to somehow speak contrary to what our ally thinks is in its best interest”, this shouldn’t come as a shock.
Most pundits--specifically Jeremy White’s American Interest article, “What Would War with Iran Look Like?” and James Fallows’ article in The Atlantic, “Is Iran Next?”--say that the U.S. has three possible courses of actions to strike Iran. The first is a limited strike on Iranian nuclear targets. (Israel’s only option as well.) Second, America attacks the Iranian military and its IRGC components along with nuclear targets, but stopping short of regime change. In a more extensive campaign, the U.S. or Israel could also send in special operations troops to parts of Iran. The final option is the full monte, invasion. (At this point, the U.S. has not moved the pieces into place to invade Iran.)
Since I don’t see the final option happening, that leaves either a lengthy or abbreviated air and naval bombardment. Once this starts, Iran will now have to choose how to respond, which brings us to my Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, Iran Edition. I see four major components of an Iranian response:
A. The naval war.
B. The air war.
C. The proxy war in Afghanistan.
D. The asymmetric component (terrorism and long-range missile attacks on civilian populations).
E. All of the above.
F. None of the above.
Proponents of war bank on (the properly titled) option F with unlimited optimism--everything goes smoothly, the Iranians overthrow the Ayatollahs, the nuclear reactors turn into rainbows--while opponents of war tend to bank on option E with globs of pessimism--the U.S. loses every single military battle, Iran wins, America sinks into the ocean.
Plus, we have another major factor: will Iran or America escalate the conflict into a larger war? I will address this issue in its own post a week from Friday.
A realistic Iranian response will probably fall somewhere in between. Iran could succeed in one domain (the sea for example) while failing to find good proxies to exploit in Afghanistan. Iran could fail at stopping American planes from blowing up every target they want, but successfully target the Green Zone in Iraq with ballistic missiles. Iran could shoot down a B-2, but its terrorist proxies in Hezbollah refuse to attack Israel.
Over the next few posts, I will flesh out these various options in my IPB, starting with, broadly speaking, “What do I think of Iran’s military?”