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Missiles of Illusion - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Remember al-Qaher and al-Zafer? You don’t? Well, what about al-Hussein and al-Abbas? No, again?

The first two were the names of missiles that the Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser relied upon as “secret weapons” in his promised “Battle of Destiny” in 1967. The other two were names of Saddam Hussein’s missiles that were supposed to secure him victory in his “Mother of Battles” in 1991.

We now have to learn the names of two other missiles, Shahab and Zelzeleh presented by Iran’s Khomeinist rulers as in what they regard as an inevitable war against the United States and, possibly, Israel.

In a surprisingly frank analysis delivered in a speech in Tehran last Sunday, General Muhammad-Ali Jaafari, Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s parallel army, put the Khomeinist regime’s arsenal of missiles at the centre of its strategy for the coming war. He said Iran’s armament industry has been put into high gear to mass-produce all types of missiles as quickly as possible.

Jaafari described a defense doctrine based on three key assumptions.

The first is that the principal theatres of battle will be in the Gulf, especially the Strait of Hormuz. He said his forces had established the plans needed to close the strait “with relative ease.” Because the Gulf is a shallow body of water the depth of which never exceeds 90 metres, the US navy’s large vessels, including aircraft carriers, would be unable to make large maneuvers and thus would become vulnerable to suicide attacks by small high-speed boats coming at them in large numbers. According to Jaafari, this is a tactic known as “hojum ezdehami” (overcrowding attack) in which big American ships would resemble large whales being swarmed upon by thousands of small but deadly fish.

Jaafari’s second assumption is that the Islamic Republic manages to keep fighting for a few weeks, world public opinion, especially the peace movement in the United States, would come to its rescue and force Washington to stop the war before winning a complete victory. Such an outcome would then be hailed in Iran as a great victory for the Khomeinist revolution. We witnessed a similar event two years ago during the war between Israel and Iran (via the Lebanese branchy of Hezbollah). By all classical measures, Iran’s Lebanese units suffered a crushing defeat. They lost control of territory in southern Lebanon, saw their network of missile-launching pads dismantled, and left

a quarter of their fighters dead on the battlefield while and hundreds more captured. And, yet, the overall perception even today is that Iran-Hezbollah won that round hands down.

Jaafari’s third assumption is that his forces would be able both to fight a war against the United States for several weeks or if needed, months while also protecting the regime against its numerous internal enemies who might seize the opportunity to try to overthrow it.

General Jaafari, who has made his reputation as an expert in asymmetric warfare, was promoted Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC precisely because he has always argued that the Khomeinist regime could win against a self-doubting, internally divided, and utterly confused United States. Jafari’s optimism is in sharp contrast with the pessimism expressed by his predecessor General Yahya Rahim Safavi who, in a blunt speech just weeks before his dismissal, warned that the Islamic Republic lacked the equipment for fighting a much-better armed adversary.

Under Jaafari, the IRGC ha decentralized its command-and-control structures by creating 31 autonomous headquarters covering all of Iran’s 30 provinces plus the capital Tehran. He has also replaced most of the key IRGC commanders in the biggest purge of the force in more than 25 years. Almost all the “fat cat” generals who spent more on their various business enterprises than their military careers have been sent home.

There is no doubt that Jaafari has done all an IRGC commander could. However, as Clemenceau observed, war is too serious a matter to be left to the generals. Although it contains a high dose of military action, war is primarily a political matter. This is why it requires a political strategy, as opposed to the tactical scenario that t Jaafari has depicted.

Seen from that angle, things might not be as simple as Jaafari seems to assume.

The first question that Tehran’s leadership must ask is: what would be the goal of an American or Israeli military attack against the Islamic Republic?

The routine assumption is that the goal would be the destruction of the nuclear project that the West claims is designed to make atomic bombs.

If that is the case, Jaafari’s plans to sink American warships, close the Strait of Hormuz, and destroy oilfields in Arab countries and possibly launch a few missiles against Israel as well, might prove counter-productive. Such plans would escalate the conflict and provide the pretext for a “regime change” exercise.

In 1991, the goal of the US-led coalition was to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Once that was achieved, there was no pretext for transforming the war into a “regime change” campaign. Had Saddam Hussein attacked the coalition or fired missiles at US, and its allies, after the coalition had achieved its objective, he would have provided a pretext for prolonging the war until the end of his regime.

Obviously, it is not up to Jaafari to guess the ultimate goal of the US, or anyone else that might want to attack the Islamic Republic at this time. The answer must come from the political leadership, that is to say “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Only that answer could provide Jaafari and other military planners with the guideline needed to devise a strategy. For the time being, Jaafari is providing a solution to a problem that has not yet been defined. Like Don Quixote who fought the windmills taking them for giants, the general is firing missiles of illusion at phantom ships sailing through a fog of assumptions.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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