Friday, June 23, 2006

Could Iran Defend Itself Against a US Attack?

First Published 2006-06-23, Last Updated 2006-06-23 12:23:48

--Iran is a formidable military power, second only to Israel in the Middle East, writes Patrick Seale. Would they be able to defend themselves against a US attack? According to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), deterrence is the focus of Iran's substantial military strength.


Iran is a formidable military power, second only to Israel in the Middle East. This is the judgment of most Western observers.


Unlike Israel, however, it has been denied access to American weapons, and indeed to most Western weapons, since the overthrow of the Shah by the Islamic Revolution 27 years ago. And, again unlike Israel, Iran has no nuclear bombs - at least not yet. Nevertheless, militarily, it is by no means backward or defenceless.


Largely through its own immense efforts, and with some help from Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea, Iran has created a powerful military-industrial complex, which employs more than 200,000 engineers, technicians and skilled workers.

According to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), Iran today produces almost two thousand defence items, from munitions to aircraft, and from missile boats to satellites. It exports military equipment to over 30 countries, including seven in Europe.


How would it fare if it were attacked by the United States alone or, indeed, by the US and Israel together? Could it defend itself? Could it strike back? To what extent has it acquired a capability for strategic deterrence?


These questions are relevant because, although there are now some slender hopes that the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme might be resolved by negotiation, the possibility of war cannot be ruled out. American hawks, including John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN, have made clear that they would prefer regime change in Tehran rather than a negotiation which might result in Iran being allowed to continue some nuclear activities, even on a reduced basis.


In an interview with the Financial Times on 9 June, Bolton declared, "Our experience has been that when there is a dramatic change in the life of a country, that's the most likely point at which they give up nuclear weapons." He added that US security guarantees for Iran were "not on the table."


There is undoubtedly a strong current of opinion in both the United States and Israel that, for geo-political reasons, would prefer the Islamic regime in Tehran to be destroyed, much as Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was destroyed.


Geo-political ambitions are, in fact, fuelling the dispute over Iran's nuclear activities. The United States is concerned to control Middle East oil for at least the next decade or two. Israel, in turn - now that Iraq has been smashed - wants to consolidate its military dominance over the region, and be in a position to reshape the regional order to suit its interests. To both powers, therefore, Iran poses a strategic challenge.


Iran is at present considering the package of incentives which six leading countries - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia - have offered it, in a bid to persuade it to abandon its nuclear programme. Iran has not rejected the package outright, although it has said that it contains "problems and ambiguities." It is expected to make a counter-proposal within the coming days or weeks.


The most important hurdle would seem to be the pre-condition insisted on by the United States. Washington has said that it will not join in the negotiations unless Iran first suspends its nuclear activities in a verifiable manner. Iran has rejected any such precondition and has declared that its right to enrich uranium is "inalienable" and "not negotiable."


Iran is determined to pursue its nuclear programme for what it claims is the purely peaceful purpose of producing fuel for nuclear power stations. It is fully entitled to do so under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United States and Israel, with some support from the Europeans, and more ambivalent backing from Russia and China, are determined to shut down Iran's nuclear industry altogether, because they believe it is a cover for a secret military programme.


Both the US and Israel have, on several occasions, stressed that they would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. On a visit to London on June 12, Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, once again declared that Israel would not allow Iran "to cross the nuclear threshold." He warned that, equipped with nuclear weapons, Iran would pose a "serious danger to the entire world."


This is consistent with the usual Israeli argument that the problem does not concern Israel alone, but that the whole international community must, in its own interest, join in denying Iran nuclear weapons.


In pressing for the use of force to put an end to Iran's nuclear ambitions, Israel betrays its fear that the United States might strike a deal with Iran which would undermine Israel's strategic predominance, as well as its privileged status as America's key Middle East ally.


In the Military Balance 2006, the IISS's annual analysis of the world's armed services, Iran's military capability is described in some detail. Under the Shah, American firms such as Bell, Litton and Northrop, set up assembly lines in Iran for helicopters, aircraft, guided missiles, electronic components and tanks. During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) this military-industrial base was enormously expanded under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Ministry of Defence.


Huge investment was poured into the missile industries, so that Iran today has an extensive arsenal of rockets and missiles, with ranges from 45 kms to 2,000 kms. There are today 19 state-owned centres in different parts of Iran involved in aerospace and related activities, employing over 100,000 technicians and engineers.


For example, a complex in Lorestan province is able to produce each year up to 80,000 aircraft tyres of various types, making Iran the first country in the Middle East, and seventh in the world, to acquire such technology.


Iran's helicopter industrial infrastructure supports the third-largest helicopter fleet in the world. The Qods Aviation Industries produce a wide range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for reconnaissance, combat and other roles. Iran has developed a diverse arsenal of anti-ship missiles, as well as midget and medium submarines, and fast and maneuverable missile boats.


The IISS conclusion is that the years of war with Iraq "turned the Iranians into military professionals" who proceeded to develop an advanced and innovative defence industry. They were able "to create an industrial infrastructure which is capable of meeting nearly every requirement of the Iranian armed forces."


What has been the purpose of this vast Iranian effort? Is it for offensive use or is it purely defensive? Should the Arab Gulf states be concerned at Iran's military power? The IISS believes that Iran's defence structure is based on a foundation of "strategic deterrent defence." Iran's strategy, it says, "is to absorb a first strike and then to initiate immediate retaliation with all means available, but only if such a move serves the political ends, and does not threaten the very existence of the Islamic regime. Iranian leaders believe an effective defensive deterrence can force their enemies to relinquish their threats of pre-emption, believing that such a move would be too costly."


What does this mean in the current situation? First, it suggests that Iran will not be bullied into abandoning its nuclear activities. Second, Iran's considerable military strength is for deterrence purposes, to protect it against any aggression by the United States or Israel aimed at regime change.


Third, if Iran is seeking to build an atomic bomb - which it strenuously denies - this could only be to strengthen its deterrent posture. It could not consider using such a weapon without risking national annihilation at the hands of the United States and Israel, both with nuclear arsenals infinitely more powerful than anything Iran could hope to produce.


Nuclear weapons have contributed to stability between the West and the former Soviet Union, and between India and Pakistan. Might they not serve a similar function between Iran and Israel?


Would an Iranian bomb really be such a disaster? History has surely proved that a balance of power creates peace, whereas imbalance causes war, as the more powerful side will inevitably seek to impose its will by force. Is not this the meaning of the current threats against Iran by the United States and Israel?



Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.


source:middle east online
posted by ali ghanandi-irannuk

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