Iran Attack: Too Big for Israel
Published Monday, August 20, 2012
Despite Israeli media clamour last week about an imminent Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran seems unperturbed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s and defense minister Ehud Barak’s recent threats. Iran’s defense minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi dismissed Israeli threats as “psychological warfare”, while Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast insisted Iran wasn’t “taking these claims very seriously,” arguing that “Even if some officials in the illegitimate regime (Israel) want to carry out such a stupid action, there are those inside (the Israeli government) who won't allow it because they know they would suffer very severe consequences from such an act."
Aside from belittling what Iran perceives as just another empty Israeli threat, another reason for the Islamic Republic’s dismissive attitude is its confidence in its ability to absorb and respond to such an attack. As acknowledged by former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign, Colin Kahl, “They think it will not hurt them that badly.” In part, Iran’s self-assured stand derives from the strategic value of the 2006 July War in Lebanon; a value which holds whether it serves to deter an Israeli or US strike or to prepare Iran and its most trusted ally, Hezbollah, for retaliation.
While the July War has been widely identified as a “proxy war” between the US and Iran, a more accurate depiction would be that the war represented a “dry run” for Washington and Tel Aviv on the one side, and Tehran on the other.
Although the Bush administration helped Israel pre-plan the war on Hezbollah, it was motivated primarily by its intention of carrying out a rehearsal strike on Iran. As disclosed by senior US officials to Seymour Hersh, an Israeli bombing campaign was envisaged as one which would “ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations.” In this manner, the US and Israel could rehearse for a planned attack on Iran while clearing Hezbollah’s arms out of the way as a means of preempting its anticipated retaliation. However, given the evident failure of this policy, and the “surprising success of Hezbollah’s resistance,” proponents of this plan suffered “a massive setback.”
In effect, what was originally designed to be a dry run for Iran, it became an Iranian demo for the US and Israel on how the Islamic Republic could thwart an invasion or attack by either party. Iran could now use the Hezbollah template to demonstrate how its enemies would fare if they executed a planned attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of Kayhan and advisor to Ayatollah Khamenei sums up Tehran’s logic: “If anything happened, the Americans and Israelis would regret it. Hezbollah is just a sample of what could happen. We can compare it to what we can do.”
The deterrent value of Hezbollah’s combat performance in the war was all too evident in the threat made by commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, that Iran would “make the United States regret any such undertaking and desist from repeating it. The best and prominent example of what I say is the July War…”
In inflicting defeat upon Israel, Hezbollah’s resistance set a precedent for any US or Israeli planned aggression against the Islamic Republic – a fact registered by Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah himself. In a rare public admission of how the war strategically benefited Iran, the Hezbollah Secretary-General advertized that “the chances of America’s war on Iran have diminished after the lesson of Lebanon.” In fact, Barak confirmed this himself last week when he admitted that “the shock of the 2006 war is the reason the army high command is opposed to attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
Implicit in all these threats and acknowledgements of Iran’s use of Hezbollah’s military prowess as a dry run against the US is the close military cooperation between the two sides, thus re-affirming the thesis that the political and military advantages derived from the Iran-Hezbollah relationship benefit both actors equally. This reasoning is used by Iran’s political establishment – which overwhelmingly advocates continued support for Hezbollah – to persuade others in the country who question the wisdom of this assistance, that Iran’s investment in the organization has clearly paid off. Moreover, foreign policy radicals invoke the Hezbollah experience to inspire confidence in their country’s military capabilities vis-à-vis the US and Israel.
Given the imbalance in power between its own army and the US military, Iran has been crafting an asymmetrical national security strategy in preparing itself for the prospect of a US or Israel launched offensive, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at its centerpiece. On the report of the US Center for Naval Analysis, “the IRGC has been systematically equipping, organizing, and retraining its forces to fight decentralized partisan and guerrilla warfare.” This claim is substantiated by Jafari’s affirmation that “we can nullify their military superiority” using “the same strategies” as Hezbollah did in the July War.
In pursuing such a strategy, Tehran has confirmed the worst fears of many in the US military establishment who believe that Hezbollah’s hybrid model will be replicated among both non-state and state actors, in other theaters of conflict involving the US or Israel. Proponents of this view maintain that non-state actors such as Hamas will emulate the conventional aspects of the Hezbollah hybrid, while enemy states like Iran and Syria will borrow its unconventional methods. So paradigm-breaking has the Hezbollah “school of warfare” proven to be, that the Pentagon is now split between repositioning the army for irregular warfare and counter-insurgency and refocusing its efforts on conventional methods better suited to fighting anticipated “hybrid threats.”
As a force which combines conventional army units, and with units trained in covert missions and asymmetric warfare, the IRGC is well-suited for this kind of warfare and along with the Iran’s regular army, the “Artesh,” will purportedly combine its conventional capabilities with unconventional ones, along the same lines as Hezbollah. To that end, Iran’s military forces are presumed to be developing guerrilla-style tactics, including “deception, concealment, and camouflage methods.” They are also believed to be training their forces in “layered” or “mosaic” defense using small “cells” who would be entrusted with the function of attacking “lines of supply and communication, striking at elements in rear areas, and conducting ambushes on combat troops.” In the event of a US occupation of Iran, all of the country’s military forces are now trained to fight a decentralized war of attrition to liberate occupied territory with independent units.
Another component of this asymmetrical strategy is the use of “proxy actors” in neighboring countries and elsewhere who could conceivably “provide the Islamic Republic with a measure of strategic depth it otherwise lacks.” Lending credence to such speculation is Jafari’s threat to use “capabilities that the Islamic world and especially the Shia world has in the region” against the invaders. Aside from its Shia allies in Iraq, which Iran has tacitly threatened to unleash, as well as groups in neighboring Afghanistan, Tehran is widely believed to be relying on the services of Hezbollah.
The Lebanese movement’s close proximity to Israel renders it Iran’s first line of defense against the Zionist regime. According to this view, Hezbollah would open a front with Israel in order to raise the stakes in the event of a strike against Iran. As admonished by an Israeli official, "Hezbollah is the long arm of Iran," which will “undoubtedly barrage Israel with thousands of missiles… Hezbollah could cover Israel with rockets." Hezbollah’s deterrent value was further noted by the Israeli daily, Yediot Ahronot, which recently observed: “While senior security establishment officials vehemently warn against the ramifications of a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, security and government assessments indicate that the biggest threat to Israel is a deadly response from Iran's ally Hezbollah.”
Indeed, one of the motivations behind the US’ underwriting of the July War was to neutralize Iran’s deterrence capability in the region. Hersh’s sources echo this logic: “If there was to be a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel.” Mohsen Rezai, the former head of the IRGC, drew a similar conclusion about the causes underlying the July War in an interview where he alluded to the notion that Hezbollah had a significant deterrence value for Iran: “Israel and the US knew that as long as Hamas and Hezbollah were there, confronting Iran would be costly. So, to deal with Iran, they first want to eliminate forces close to Iran that are in Lebanon and Palestine.”
However, seeing as the war left Hezbollah even stronger militarily with an expanded weapons’ arsenal, Israeli officials regard a war against the movement as integral to any plan to attack Iran. This line of thinking is illustrated by former Mossad head Danny Yatom’s assertion that striking at Hezbollah was an inevitability in such a scenario: “We are liable to destroy, or likely to destroy, parts of Lebanon, and parts of Gaza, so that our citizens will not suffer and be killed.”
To date, Hezbollah officials have not confirmed such expectations, preferring to remain cryptic on the issue. In a 2009 interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Qasim suggested that Hezbollah’s reaction was contingent on the nature and scope of the attack, though he refrained from specifying what form or shape that reaction would take, contending that “ambiguity gives more strength to the resistance.” Likewise, in an earlier talk with this author, Qasim affirmed that a US or Israeli offensive against Iran could set the stage for a wider regional war if Israel preemptively attacked Lebanon. Clearer still, was Qasim’s conviction that, “It cannot strike Iran but not Lebanon,” hinting at the inevitability of Hezbollah being dragged into the conflict and assuming the role of Iran’s second line of defense against military onslaught.
Doubtless, it is considerations such as these which underlie Nasrallah’s declaration in February this year that: “Iran will not request anything from Hezbollah and will not desire anything. When this day comes, we are the ones who will sit down and decide what to do.” But given Israeli officials’ repeated references to a strike on Iran as a “wider regional war,” and considering how the fates of Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Palestine have become inextricably bound together, Hezbollah will most likely find itself with no choice but to respond to an Israeli strike on Iran.
Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is a Lebanese academic and political analyst. She is author of the book, “Hizbullah: Politics and Religion,” and blogger at ASG’s Counter-Hegemony Unit.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.