Target Iran - Military Options
Leadership is what happens when all the options are bad. By 2019, the United States had few options on Iran, all of which were bad. A nuclear armed Iran had become a matter of when not whether. Two decades earlier, when the world [that it, America and Israel] had come to appreciate the full scope of Iran's nuclear ambitions, there were plausible attack options. Much of Iran's nuclear and missile program was concentrated at a few facilities, which for the most part had readily identifiable co-located staff housing. A concerted air campaign against these targets had plausible prospects of killing most of the personnel who had been so carefully recruited and nurtured in the preceding decades. Iran's nuclear ambitions would have been abated for decades, as the necessary staff was recreated.
This window of opportunity has closed. By 2019, Iran presumably had claim to some fraction of the hydrogen bombs that had been co-produced in North Korea [the actual location of Iran's stockpile was un-knowable]. The staff of Iran's programs had dispersed to the four winds, and many presumably now had residence in North Korea.
Israel [at least the Netanyahu government] had no identifiable strategy beyond stoking the flames of the Wahabi holy war against the Shia polytheists. As long as the Sunni Arab states were pre-occupied with the Iranian menace, they would not object to Israel's continued depredations against the forgotten Palestinian people.
The United States had no clear military option beyond re-opening the Strait of Hormuz. Iran probably had the means to render the Strait of Hormuz too hazardous for the liking of international insurance companies. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] missile and maritime assets pose credible threats to the US Navy, which would eventually prevail in suppressing the IRGC assets. Over a period of months, concerted US military operations could destroy IRGC anti-shipping capabilities.
Iran might seek to assert escalation dominance by escalating missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, as well as American personnel in the region. It might also undertake unconventional operations against American [and Israeli] interests around the world [sa well as the homelands of its chief tormentors].
There is no plausible American course of action that results in either disarming Iran's WMD capabilities, or changing the complexion of the regime in Tehran.
In the Senate chamber on 20 May 2019, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine said, "It would be absolute lunacy for the United States to get involved in another war right now in the Middle East. I think it would be devastating to be in a war with Iran and, in my view unconstitutional to be in a war with Iran at a president's say-so. … It's Congress that declares war, not the president. It's not for a president to say it and start it. It's not for a president to, by a series of provocations, blunder us down the path where war becomes inevitable." ?Later, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: "No one should defend the actions Iran has taken — they've been out of control for years — but dumb wars start when each party mistakenly believes that the other party's defensive or reactive actions are actually offensive and proactive."
Trump issued a stern warning to Iran on 19 May 2019 amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran," said Trump. "Never threaten the United States again!" Iran responded with defiance. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that Trump would fail to destroy the country, just as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan had in the past. Zarif said what he called the "B Team" — a group of anti-Iran hard-liners that includes US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman — was empowering the very military-industrial complex that Trump claims to oppose.
Zarif said 18 May 2019 that Tehran was not seeking armed escalation with US or its regional allies. "We are certain," Zarif said. "There will not be a war since neither we want a war nor does anyone have the illusion they can confront Iran in the region." However, a commander of Iran's elite paramilitary organization, the Revolutionary Guard, offered a different message. US soldiers would be "easy to defeat," said Commander Hossein Salami in a statement 19 May 2019.
In May 2019 "Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces" or begin work anew on nuclear weapons, the New York Times reported 13 May 2019. The plans "do not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops" and "reflects the influence of Mr. Bolton, one of the administration's most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush." Trump said "Would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we're not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we'd send a hell of a lot more troops than that".
The delivery of the options' by the Defense Department came the same day that Shanahan was finally nominated for the permanent position. The previous Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, had ignored similar options requests from the White House. Trump fired Mattis.
"The U.S. may face a trifecta of nuclear crises in 2019 because of flawed strategies it pursued toward North Korea, Russia, and Iran in 2018," Dartmouth's Nicholas Miller and MIT's Vipin Narang warned in the January 2019 issue of Foreign Affairs. Narang updated that assessment on 13 May 2019, writing "We were too optimistic in this piece. Things are on track to go far worse than we thought likely, or possible. On all three fronts."
Trump called for negotiations with Iran several times on 09 May 2019. He told reporters, "What I'd like to see with Iran, I'd like to see them call me." But General Yadollah Javani, a top commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, said "there will be no negotiations with America." He also said the United States would not dare to take military action against Iran.
Iran is not in a position to risk war and will likely have ordered its allies to avoid confrontation with the US. Trump benefits from the posturing but will not risk a war he is not certain to win. Trump has sought to wind down the conflict in Afghanistan through peace talks in a clear sign that his approach to foreign policy is a lot of bluster while committing as few resources as possible. Trump cannot rely on Saudi Arabia or the UAE or Qatar to do the fighting.
On 09 May 2019, the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and four B-52 bomber aircraft arrived in the Middle East region after concerns Iran may be planning an attack against American targets. The carrier strike group completed its transit through the Suez Canal, U.S. Central Command spokesman Navy Capt. William Urban said. He also said two B-52 bombers arrived in the region 09 May 2019, while two others arrived 08 May 2019. The bombers are now positioned at the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, a defense official confirmed.
The request for more military assets in the Middle East was "in direct response to a number of troubling and escalatory indicators and warnings" from Iran, CENTCOM commander Marine Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie said. Brian Hook, State Department special envoy for Iran, said only that the U.S. is "responding to credible intelligence reports that Iran was actively plotting attacks against American interests and our partners in the region."
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are “highly likely” to have facilitated attacks last 12 May 2019 on four tankers including two Saudi ships off Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, according to a Norwegian insurers’ report. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Norway are investigating the attacks, which also hit a UAE and a Norwegian-flagged vessel. A confidential assessment issued this week by the Norwegian Shipowners’ Mutual War Risks Insurance Association (DNK) concluded that the attack was likely to have been carried out by a surface vessel operating close by that dispatched underwater drones carrying 30-50 kg (65-110 lb) of high-grade explosives to detonate on impact.
US officials speaking on condition of anonymity described one piece of intelligence which concerned US officials: an Iranian vessel transporting missiles that, one of the officials said, was capable of being fired from a small ship. Hours later, the U.S. Maritime Administration issued an advisory that commercial vessels, including oil tankers sailing through key Middle East waterways, could be targeted by Iran.
The deputy commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, said on 17 May 2019 that his country's missiles could easily reach US warships anchored in the Gulf and the rest of the region in case of war. Photos taken by US intelligence have indicated that Iran had placed cruise missiles on small boats in the Arabian Gulf that could strike ships and land targets, according to a US official who spoke to ABC News. The photos have suggested a threat to ships belonging to the US and its regional allies and was one of several factors that led Washington’s hastened deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group to the Middle East.
US diplomats warned commercial airliners flying over the wider Gulf of the risk of being "misidentified" amid the heightened tensions. The warning relayed by US diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) underlined the risks the current tensions pose to a region crucial to global air travel. The US also pulled some diplomatic staff from its embassy in Baghdad following weekend attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Trump introduced new sanctions 08 May 2019 on Iranian metal exports, major sources of revenue for the western Asian country. The U.S. had previously slapped sanctions on Iranian oil, which have devastated its economy. Hours before the new sanctions were imposed by the United States, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would enrich uranium beyond allowable limits if European leaders didn't come up with a plan to protect Iran from the sanctions within 60 days. Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 deal along with the United States, China and Russia, have long been determined to show they can compensate for last year’s U.S. withdrawal from the accord by protecting trade with Iran and thereby preventing it from developing a nuclear bomb. But with Iran’s economy dependent on crude exports that are traded in U.S. dollars, a promised European trade channel to bypass American sanctions has proved complicated, is not yet operational, and may never be able to handle oil sales.
Donald Trump warned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to "never threaten the United States," in a Twitter comment 22 July 2018 that came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech critical of Iran's leaders. "To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!"
Pompeo told an audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California that the government in Iran has become a nightmare for the Iranian people. The top U.S. diplomat said the United Sates is not afraid to pressure the Iranian government at its highest level as he urged all U.S. allies to join in financially suppressing the government. "This especially goes for our allies in the Middle East and Europe, people who have themselves been terrorized by the violent regime's activity for decades," Pompeo said.
Earlier in the day Rouhani warned Trump, "don't play with the lion's tail, this would only lead to regret. ... America must understand well that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars". Gen. Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar, a senior officer in Iran's Revolutionary Guards, dismissed Trump's statement as "psychological warfare" and said Trump would not take action against Iran.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|