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The General, the Mullah and military fantasies - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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What would Iran do if, as Benjamin Netanyahu threatens, it is attacked by Israel?

One man who should know is the Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Major-General Muhammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari. At a press conference last Sunday, Jaafari provided an unexpectedly detailed answer.

Last February, the general gave another talk in which he claimed that Iran faced the twin threat of Israeli air attacks and full invasion by the United States. Then he detailed his strategy for dealing with an American invasion through asymmetric war in Iranian provinces south of the Zagross mountain range.

It now seems that Jaafari no longer believes that the US might invade, at least not as long as Barack Obama is in charge.

“The Zionist regime {i.e. Israel} has been trying to persuade America to take military action against Iran,” Jaafari said. “Our assessment is that {Israel} will not succeed.”

However, the threat of Israeli military action remains and the general says he has a plan to deal with it.

His is an odd plan if only because it contains no provision for direct Iranian retaliation against Israel. The general says that, if attacked by Israel, Iran will respond by attacking US targets.

The general’s “strategic response” to an Israeli attack has four axes.

The first axe is diplomatic. The Islamic Republic will renounce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and accelerate uranium enrichment. This is what North Korea did in the 1990s in response to pressure by the United States.

Such a move, however, would be hard to justify on diplomatic grounds. Because Israel is not a signatory of the NPT its acts would not concern nations that are. By leaving the NPT Iran would antagonize nations that had nothing to do with the Israeli action.

The second axe is the closing of the Strait of Hormuz, to create an “oil panic” and damage the US economy. Israel will not be affected because it imports its oil from Nigeria, Angola and Gabon. Assuming that the general is capable of closing the strait, the nations most affected would be Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and – last but not least – Iran itself. The UAE is already exporting part of its oil through a new pipeline to Fujairah while Saudi Arabia maintains export facilities on the Red Sea.

Under international law, the closing of Hormuz would be an act of war and would oblige the United Nations’ Security Council to respond. The move would also put Iran in a state of war with Oman which controls the southern gateway to the strait. And if the “oil panic” does materialize Iran would face hostility from the 170 nations that are net importers of energy.

The third axe in Jaafari’s “strategic response” consists of “missile attacks” on US bases, military assets and economic interests in the region.

Jaafari boasted about IRGC’s success in developing new generations of the Zelzal (Earthquake) rockets with a range of 300 kilometers and the Raad (Thunder) missiles with a range of 27 kilometers. To these must be added Behpad drones fitted with Sadid (Barrier) rockets.

The arsenal unveiled by Jaafari is made of theatre weapons, that is to say arms for use in a limited area. If launched from Iranian territory none would reach Israel. But they could hit US “military assets” and economic interests in Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. The largest American-cum-NATO base in Incirlik in Turkey is also within range.

To sum up, Jaafari’s strategy means putting Iran at war not only with the US but with most of its neighbors, not to mention oil-importing countries and the United Nations.

In other words, Jaafari’s plan would put virtually the whole world on Israel’s side against Iran.

Jaafari’s assumption that that the US would take no action to defend its “military assets” and economic interests against Iranian rocket and missile attacks is open to question.

It would be wiser to assume that the US, even under Obama, would be obliged to react in self-defense. And that would escalate the conflict to levels at which Jaafari’s chances of winning would diminish by the hour.

Jaafari says Israel has failed to persuade America to take military action against Iran. His strategy would oblige the US to do exactly what Netanyahu is supposed to want.

Jaafari makes another big and dangerous assumption.

“Under no circumstances do we take into account the possibility of extensive American military retaliation against Iran,” he said.

And, why not?

“Because they know for sure they will be defeated,” he says.

This is irresponsible talk of the kind that the Japanese military used when they dragged their country into an unnecessary war with the United States.

Prudence dictates to assume that if Iran attacks US bases and kills Americans, Washington would retaliate with “extensive military action”.

But, what about Israel in all this?

The general says that he has subcontracted the whole thing to the Lebanese Hezbollah, a militia created by Iran in the 1980s. According to best estimates, Hezbollah has around 3,000 fighters, recruited and trained by IRGC for “asymmetric warfare”.

However, Jaafari does not count on those fighters. He pins his hopes on “thousands of rockets and missiles” that Iran has amassed in Lebanon for use against Israel.

Even supposing those missiles could be used with success the question of timing remains.

Will the missiles be unleashed before Israel has attacked and, presumably, destroyed Iran’s nuclear sites or after?

If they are unleashed before, we would have a different configuration. Israel would claim self-defense and move into Lebanon to dismantle Hezbollah. An attack on Iran itself would be postponed until after Hezbollah is eliminated. If, however, the missiles are launched as an act of revenge after an Israeli attack on Iran they would serve little military purpose.

Before he was appointed IRGC Commander, Jaafari had a reputation as a tactician. Has he remained stuck at that level, unable to develop a strategic analysis of Iran’s options and capabilities and the threats it faces?

I doubt it. He is an intelligent man. If he depicts a world of military fantasies it is because his political allies, chiefly Ali Khamenei, have lost all contact with reality.

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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