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A Lesson from History on Attacking Iran

By Manouchehr Hosseinzadeh


Military Force May be Necessary, but Cleaver Strategy is Sufficient


Much has been said about immanent US attack on Iran, while the leadership in Tehran is confidant that such an attack would not take place, others have been offering scenarios on possible and form of Iranian response. There seem to be a common thread in almost all of these suggestions on possibility and extent of Iranian response. In general, most of these reports assume that from such a conflict Iran will emerge damaged and sufficiently weakened to stop its' unfriendly posture toward west and particularly the United States. I happen to believe that this is not entirely true; damaged maybe but not weak enough to abandon its position. Why? Because history has persistently proven two important points that a) no military undertaking can be planed carefully enough to bring about the exact intended outcome, b) in any military confrontation there are two parties involved and therefore no matter how weak one of them is, still can influence the outcome to a degree. Furthermore I believe that from such a military confrontation Iran will emerge with considerable success although seriously damaged.  In other words US will not achieve what it wants militarily, mostly because the cards are stacked in favor of Iran.


I believe no one has paid much attention to a theory called 'Sotoon.' What? You haven't heard of it; well that is because I just made it up. But still I think it is worth reading about it.  I call this 'the Sotoon (as in column) theory' after an Iranian proverb that states 'az in sutoon beh oun sutoon frajj-eh' or there are still possibilities and hope from one column to another. Let me explain.


During the reign of Muawyaih, a Persian man was arrested and accused of being the Persian prince who was instigating revolt against Arab occupation in Iran.  He was put on trial and sentenced to death. He was then tied to one of six columns in a Mosque to read him his sentencing statement. But before they go ahead to read the statement and carry the punishment he was given a chance to make his last wish. 'Tell us your last wish before you die, oh and it can't be letting you go, and no we have no cigarettes here, so what would it be?' 'Simple' the Persian said "tie me to the column of my own choice before you read me my sentence and execute me." Well, as strange as his request was, it didn't seem to be harmful.  So they began untying him from one column and tying him to another. The Persian waited until they were done moving him and then he said; 'no this is not the one. I don't like it; take me to the other column.'  So they did what he had asked for. And again before they finished tying him to the other column he had chosen another.  This went on until they were about to tie him to the last column. Meanwhile someone rushed in and told the judge that the man is not whom they thought to be and Emir had ordered him to be released.


The moral of story is this; victory is possible as long as defeat is delayed, and that is what Americans are doing in Iraq. After an embarrassing premature claim to victory by President Bush on board USS Abraham Lincoln, the United State learned its' lesson. From then on, they delayed their pronouncement of success pending to outcome of another event. From transferring the power to Iraqis, to numerous elections in Iraq, and ill-fated 'surge' the US has been telling people of the light at the end of tunnel. The latest US transitional column of choice is formation of Iraq's security forces. 'Once the 'Iraqis stand up, they would stand down.'  In other words, they would be able to build an Iraqi army that would take orders from them and do their dirty work. Only then they would be able to pull red-blooded blue-eyed American 'boys' out of Iraq and live happily ever after. Fat chance, and Bush administration knows this. That is why they are already asking to be moved to another column which is Iran. Once Iran, this new source of trouble is eliminated or at least forced to silence, they would be done and will wait for the eagle of victory to land on their shoulder.  In other words they are buying time and hope that at some point they will have the initiative. The problem is that Iranians also have their own columns. And boy, I tell you, mullahs are excellent at playing the column game. Look at what they are doing on nuclear issue.


So, how is this related to a US attack on Iran?  The issue is 'time' time favor Iran the most. But bush administration still does not get it; they don't know whom they are dealing with. Have you heard of the Mullah who fell into the river? Someone tried to help him 'give me your hand, give me your hand' yelled the man, rushing after Mullah who was rolling and screaming in the water. 'That is the wrong thing to say' said a bystander; 'they don't give, they take, say take my hand.'


So let me take this opportunity to offer a useful advice to Ms. Condi Rice. If she wants to know whom she is dealing with, she should take a trip to Tehran and buy a carpet from an Iranian rug merchant in Bazaar (who are as close as they come to Mullahs.)  Before she notices, she will be driving away with a fine Persian rug in the trunk of her car, not knowing how much it has cost her. The rug merchant on the other hand, knows what and for what price he has sold her. Don't believe me talk to Europeans who have been negotiating with Mullahs for years.


Now back to attacking Iran. In their analysis of attack on Iran and possible Iranian response there are several possibilities that have been mentioned.


1)       Iran would retaliate by having Hezbollah attack Israel. Not likely at all, I would say. Anyone who forwards such a proposition knows nothing of true nature of relation between Iran and Hezbollah. The Islamic Republic and Hezbollah view each other as brothers in arm. Hezbollah certainly does not see itself as sacrificial lamb for Iran. The history of this relation goes back to before Iranian Revolution when Hezbollah was still Amal and ran by Immam Mussa Sadr. Amal was in fact the revolutionary school for Iranians. The relation between Iranian Islamic Revolutionaries and would be Hezbollah (which at that time was Part of Amal) was forged long before Islamic Republic or Hezbollah had been established. In fact some of worries of Islamic revolution received their military training from Amal. People like Muhammad Chamran who became Iran's first post-revolution Defense Minister had been trained and lived in Lebanon for many years.  The Hezbollah/Iran relation is not modeled after master/proxy relation that was common during cold war between Soviet Union and the United State. Their relation is not one of strategic military alliance that would obligate one to jeopardize its own existence to defend the other. It wouldn't make sense for Hezbollah to sacrifice its own political stand and future among Lebanese people by dragging them into military adventure that has no strategic and tactical value for Lebanon and just to please Iran. Any such an attempt by Hezbollah to defend Iran at the expense Lebanon will be foolish and suicidal. No, certainly Hezbollah is not an obedient proxy of Iran, not by any stretch of imagination. The same goes also to Hamas, a movement far older than Iranian revolution.

2)       Iran would use 'its terrorist agents' around the world to attack US interest around 'Middle East.' Nonsense, this too, seem to one of those theories that is forwarded by people at 'Project for New American Century who' have proven their limited ability to understand Middle East. Iran has far more effective means in her toolbox than aimless and useless terrorist actions that can only benefit her enemy. The most effective political weapon on Iran's position, after a US attack, would be world-wide sympathy that could be directed to counter US's global effort to isolate and restrain Iran economically and politically. Believe me I know mullahs; they are not that stupid.

3)       Iran would close strait of Hormuz. Not so; it would not be necessary. Why turn the world against yourself by causing them hardship. Especially when it is more likely to cause yourself economic harm. If the intention is to push the oil prices up, it can be achieved in a way that US is blamed for not Iran. It is true that at least in short run higher oil prices favors Iran, and cause US difficulties, but in the long run nobody will benefit from it. Plus, that will happen by itself anyway.  As it is the price of a barrel of oil is hovering over $80. Slightest indication of supply instability will push prices possibly as high as $200 a barrel.


4)       Iran would retaliate by lunching missiles against US bases in Iraq and around Middle East. Perhaps, but don't expect them to rush and unload everything they have on US. From previous US operation in Bosnia, Iraq and other places Iranians have learned that a short war favors US but a longer war helps the other side. Therefore, it is only logical to husband your resources and use them sparingly.


So what would Iran do?

The most important weapon in Iran's arsenal is 'Time. That is because;

         By opening another front in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan US will have to deal with an expanded theater of operation that extends from Mediterranean to Indian subcontinent (assuming the Syria and Lebanon offer logistical support to US foe by granting them right of passage.) Furthermore it is likely that Turkey and some of Arab countries of Persian Gulf will limit US use of their territory. Taking all this into account, US will face a costly logistical nightmare that can not maintain for long time.

         A prolonged war will have devastating economic consequences for US. In addition, higher oil prices affect all sectors of US economy from finance to transportation, distribution even service sector. Under these conditions, US economic performance already faced with oversized deficit and falling value of dollar would be far more vulnerable to political instability. It is not clear how long US dollar can stand this kind of pressure, especially when Euro is becoming a viable alternative currency.  It is not clear if other countries, fearful of loss of their assets and revenue dump dollar and hence contributing to dollar's free fall. Under such a scenario, cost of foreign military operation especially in such wide theater of operation will skyrocket beyond tolerance.

         A prolonged war would be domestically unpopular and politically dangerous, especially if US is forced to institute draft.


I still haven't told you what would Iran do. Here is when 'Sotoon' theory comes handy. In other words all Iran have to do is keep the war going by changing the drama from day to day.  That is offering different twists in war and maintaining initiative. This is where the concept of Asymmetric War becomes useful. You would get the point once I've explained what asymmetric war means. It is not what Fox News has been telling us; it has nothing to do with terrorism. These are some of the concepts in an asymmetric war.


a)       Keep them safe, your military assets that is; they can not destroy what you don't have or they don't see. In other words; you don't need expensive hardware to fight a war.  Smaller less expensive hardware are better because they could be easily hidden or replaced, do not require massive infrastructure to operate, are more difficult to detect, give higher mobility, more flexibility and destroying them cost the enemy far more than they are worth. Have you seen reports on Iran's military purchases? When was the last time Iran bought large battleships, destroyers or squadrons of advance fighter jests? Instead the first thing they did after the war with Iraq was to buy submarines that fits perfectly their defense doctrine. Then they went ahead and built about 200 mini subs that because of their size and limited depth of waters in Persian Gulf are very difficult to detect. All you hear from them is missiles, missiles, missiles. Missiles don't need runways which are difficult to maintain; they are operated by ground crew and are easier to hide. For more than a decade, Iran has been working to expand its vast underground network of fiber optics. That began in mid-1980s in the middle of Iran-Iraq with a thinly stretched financial recourses when Iran built a factory to produce fiber optics

b)      Maintain initiative. In a world when eye in sky can report everything, you can't's surprise enemy when all your tools are exposed. In fact you can't maintain initiative if you are engaged in day to day combat.

c)       Prolong the war.

d)      Fight expensive sophisticated hardware with cheap simple weapons

e)       Fight an incremental war, allow yourself to recover and plan your attacks in your own connivance.

f)        Coordinate your military moves with your political goals at a micro level.

g)      Do not respond to the events. Make events that serve you best.

... Payvand News - 10/21/07 ... --

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