Threat of US Igniting Military Conflict With Iran
(Noteworthy News and its Analysis)
Brigadier (Retd.) Dr. Ahsan ur Rahman Khan
Many news reports and published views are in circulation in media these days, which indicate the lurking threat of US igniting a military conflict with Iran anytime before November 3 Election to re-garner President Trump’s electioneering support, which has depleted due to his inept handling of Covid–19 pandemic and US’ pandemic–affected economy. Prima facie the arguments presented to support that thesis appear to be logical; however, the projected threat being too serious deserves critical analysis in light of the existing ground realities.
This week (22 September 2020) the Hong Kong based Asia Times has published an article titled “Pompeo threatens to light the fuse in Persian Gulf” (1). Its author is the former Indian diplomat MK Bhadrakumar. In his article Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar has referred to the indication of this danger from a 19th September 2020 news of Tehran Times titled “U.S. aircraft carrier enters Persian Gulf amid heightened tensions” (2). The heightened tension mentioned by the Tehran Times refer to the US’ current aggressive diplomatic posture against Iran by announcing imposition of sanctions against Iran despite refusal of UN Security Council to endorse those sanctions.
It is mentioned in the article that according to an announcement of US’ Fifth Fleet (headquartered in Manama, Bahrain), its carrier group led by USS Nimitz crossed the Persian Gulf with two guided missile cruisers and a guided missile destroyer. And, that has happened after a gap of ten months.
MK Bhadrakumar has opined that this news may fuel the speculation that a military flare–up involving Iran is in the making. To support the possibility of this danger, he has quoted Washington (US) based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft’s 16th September 2020 article titled “Is Mike Pompeo preparing an October Surprise” (3). Author of that article is the Iranian born and acknowledged Iran–expert Dr. Trita Parsi, who had the rich experience of serving in Swedish permanent mission in UN, adjunct professor of international relations in John Hopkins University, founder of National Iranian American Council, and the co-founder and Executive Vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
Quoting Dr. Trita Parsi, MK Bhadrakumar mentions – “In Parsi’s estimation if President Trump’s election campaign fails to make headway, he might resort to some desperate gimmicks that give him mileage in the news cycle and whip up jingoism among a gullible American public who would rally behind their commander–in–chief” – and then mentions, “Therefore Trump’s Plan B might well be to engineer a military flare–up in some form invoking Iran in the few weeks between now and the November 3 election”; and that, “Parsi sees Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the mastermind behind this Plan B”.
MK Bhadrakumar highlights the facts that while Trump is going through a very difficult election campaign, Israeli PM Netanyahu is also facing serious difficulties of corruption charges and inept handling of Covid-19 – hence, the chances of Trump and Netanyahu preferring to engineer the military flare–flare up to boost their public support in case election defeat stares in their eyes.
He also opines, “It is a foregone conclusion that Israel would jump with glee into any US–Iranian military conflagration. With the normalization of Israel’s relations with United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman, Israel gets access to three vital staging posts overlooking the Iranian coast from where its jets can operate”. (Note (Correction). So far, Oman has not formally announced normalisation of its relations with Israel, like UAE and Bahrain.)
Prima facie Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar’s arguments and inferences are quite logical, especially in view of the fact that US has geared up these anti–Iran diplomatic and naval aggressive moves immediately after the success of US’ efforts in making UAE and Bahrain normalise their relations with Israel.
According to this point of view, therefore, there are comparatively higher chances that President Trump might initiate a military conflict with Iran to re-‘arouse’ his electioneering support in his evangelical constituency (about 25 % of population), Christian Zionists, ‘White Supremacists’, and the Israeli lobby. That unfortunate possibility may be actualised any time from now to before November 3. It is also comparatively more likely that for that purpose, US may limit its military aggression to sort of Iran’s naval/maritime blockade, seizing cargo ships moving from/to Iran, and long range carrier–based jet aircrafts’/cruise missiles’ attacks on Iran’s military/economic hubs.
(Map courtesy DW) (4)
On the other hand, however, the existing ground realities highlight many problems (geopolitical, economic and military), which are too severe for US to overcome for initiating and sustaining even the aforementioned limited military aggression against Iran.
Geopolitically, US’ isolation in international arena has increased manyfolds by now. In that context, repercussions of US’ unilateral withdrawal from Iran Nuclear Agreement and other such acts are well–known. Climax of US’ geopolitical isolation has now reached when US insisted to snapback UN sanctions on Iran through UN Security Council (UNSC), but US was clearly humiliated by the overwhelming rejection of its request by UNSC.
On the other hand, Iran has much improved upon its geopolitical stature in recent years. Even the US’-allied major European powers are now trying to keep Iran ‘in–good–stead’ to serve their respective geopolitical/geoeconomic interests, defying US’ dictates tactfully – eg continuing with the Iran Nuclear Agreement, not supporting the recent US’ bid to snapback UN sanctions on Iran, etc.
Under these circumstances none of the European and Asian world/regional powers, not even US’ Asian strategic partner India, are likely to provide any political/diplomatic/material support to US’ military aggression against Iran – hence, making it almost impracticable for US to initiate and sustain even any limited military aggression against Iran.
As for the severe economic recession in US – due mostly to government’s inept handling of Covid–19 pandemic and the pandemic–affected US’ economy – the severity of the problem is reflected from the published facts. According to the BBC report dated 30 July 2020, “The US economy shrank at a 32.9% annual rate between April and June as the country grappled with lockdowns and spending cutbacks during the pandemic. It was the deepest decline since the government began keeping records in 1947 and three times more severe than the prior record of 10% set in 1958”. (5) And, consequently, millions of US’ citizens have become jobless; and not only that, according to report by Aljazeera dated 5 august 2020, “Millions of Americans face the prospect of permanent job loss”. (6)
In the field of high–tech military capabilities, US undoubtedly remains superior; however, in last some decades Iran has also achieved considerable improvement. That aspect has been amply highlighted in the Washington (US) based research think tank Center for Global Policy in its 9th July 2020 publication titled ‘Iran’s Conventional Military Capabilities’ (7). Following are some of the noteworthy extracts of that publication:
“Subject to sanctions and with a large inventory of obsolescent equipment, Iran has placed considerable effort into developing an indigenous defense industry over the past several decades”.
“Iran has nevertheless achieved considerable success in keeping its aging equipment in operation, modernizing many of its weapons, and even producing some useful indigenous systems for its particular needs”.
“Progressing from largely inaccurate models such as the initial Scud type derivatives, Iran has now begun fielding much more accurate models in larger numbers, including the Fateh-313 used in the January 2020 strike on U.S. bases in Iraq. Iran has also successfully sought to diversify its offensive capabilities by developing cruise missiles and strike drones, as shown in the September 2019 Abqaiq–Khurais attack on Saudi energy facilities”.
“Iran’s geography presents both daunting defensive barriers and considerable opportunities for offensive action”.
“Iran’s location in the region enables Tehran to present a considerable retaliatory threat that greatly amplifies the deterrence part of its strategy. The country stands astride critical sea lines of communication, particularly through the Strait of Hormuz, and it is close to numerous critical energy fields in the Persian Gulf area, giving it the ability to target critical energy and commercial targets with the potential to seriously disrupt the global economy”.
This publication has also given the following map showing Iran’s ballistic missiles’ ranges.
(Map courtesy US’ Center for Global Policy dated 9 July 2020)
Factually, however, Iran’s high–tech military capabilities have risen considerably above the level mentioned in the above–quoted publication of Center for Global Policy.
That has been done through Iran’s secretive deal with China (also including Russia); though much details of the deal, and it current status is still shrouded in the haze of secrecy. That veil of secrecy has been unveiled to certain extent by Simon Watkins – a former senior FX trader and salesman, financial journalist, and best–selling author; has worked as a geopolitical risk consultant for a number of major hedge funds in London, Moscow, and Dubai. His article titled “China Inks Military Deal With Iran Under Secretive 25–Year Plan” (8), published by OilPrice.com on 6th July 2020. It is a very informative article. Following are some of its extracts (italics added for highlighting):
“Last August, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Zarif, paid a visit to his China counterpart, Wang Li, to present a roadmap on a comprehensive 25–year China-Iran strategic partnership that built upon a previous agreement signed in 2016. Many of the key specifics of the updated agreement were not released to the public at the time but were uncovered by OilPrice.com at the time”.
“According to the same senior sources closely connected to Iran’s Petroleum Ministry who originally outlined the secret element of the 25-year deal, not only is the secret element of that deal going ahead but China has also added in a new military element, with enormous global security implications”.
“Now, though, another element that will change the entire balance of geopolitical power in the Middle East has been added to the deal. “Last week, the Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] agreed to the extension of the existing deal to include new military elements that were proposed by the same senior figures in the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the intelligence services that proposed the original deal, and this will involve complete aerial and naval military co-operation between Iran and China, with Russia also taking a key role,” one of the Iran sources told OilPrice.com last week. “There is a meeting scheduled in the second week of August between the same Iranian group, and their Chinese and Russian counterparts, that will agree the remaining details but, provided that goes as planned, then as of 9 November, Sino–Russian bombers, fighters, and transport planes will have unrestricted access to Iranian air bases,” he said”.
“This process will begin with purpose-built dual–use facilities next to the existing airports at Hamedan, Bandar Abbas, Chabhar, and Abadan,” he said. OilPrice.com understands from the Iranian sources that the bombers to be deployed will be China–modified versions of the long-range Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3s, with a manufacturing specification range of 6,800 kilometres (2,410 km with a typical weapons load), and the fighters will be the all–weather supersonic medium–range fighter bomber/strike Sukhoi Su-34, plus the newer single-seat stealth attack Sukhoi-57. It is apposite to note that in August 2016, Russia used the Hamedan airbase to launch attacks on targets in Syria using both Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and Sukhoi-34 strike fighters. At the same time, Chinese and Russian military vessels will be able to use newly-created dual–use facilities at Iran’s key ports at Chabahar, Bandar-e-Bushehr, and Bandar Abbas, constructed by Chinese companies.
These deployments will be accompanied by the roll–out of Chinese and Russian electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, according to the Iran sources. This would encompass each of the three key EW areas – electronic support (including early warning of enemy weapons use) plus electronic attack (including jamming systems) plus electronic protection (including of enemy jamming). Based originally around neutralising NATO’s C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) systems, part of the new roll–out of software and hardware from China and Russia in Iran, according to the Iran sources, would be the Russian S–400 anti–missile air defence system: “To counter U.S. and/or Israeli attacks.” The Krasukha-2 and -4 systems are also likely to feature in the overall EW architecture, as they proved their effectiveness in Syria in countering the radars of attack, reconnaissance and unmanned aircraft. The Krasukha-2 can jam Airborne Warning And Control Systems (AWACS) at up to 250 km, and other airborne radars such as guided missiles, whilst the Krasukha-4 is a multi-functional jamming system that not only counters AWACS but also ground-based radars, with both being highly mobile.
And, besides that, there are clearly expressed doubts whether US’ Navy is now capable of defeating Iran’s Navy? In that context, an article titled “The U.S. Navy Isn’t Ready to Take On Iran” published on 30th September 2019 by the well–known US’ magazine Foreign Policy (9), is noteworthy. Some extracts of that article which are of significance to note are (italics added for highlighting):
This article was published when US could not act against Iran in response to the alleged 14 September Iranian missile and drone strike on Saudi oil facilities. The author of the article, the American analyst Michael E. Moran, asserted “The United States’ ability to project power into the Persian Gulf region via carrier strike groups, the go-to U.S. option in such situations for decades, is not what it used to be, nor what it might have been”.
From that incapability of US, Michael E. Moran highlighted that “Not long ago, a modern version of gunboat diplomacy—dispatching carriers or guided missile cruisers to the region to loiter menacingly offshore—could have decisively influenced events”. ——- “Today, however, such a deployment would no longer elicit the same response in a potential adversary. In part, the change reflects the closing of the enormous technological advantage the U.S. Navy had enjoyed for decades over any realistic rival”.
Mentioning Iran’s domestically produced anti–ship missiles capable of 100 miles range, and Iran’s fleet of fast moving boats, he asserted “The combination of these missiles and Iran’s fleet of fast and cheap patrol boats has been enough to keep the USS Lincoln out of the Persian Gulf as tensions between Iran and the United States increased this summer’. —- —- “Even against what the U.S. military regards as a second–tier power like Iran, Washington’s options are severely limited”.——— “After all, the Lincoln and its 90–plane strong air wing have remained about 200 miles off the coast of Oman since May, even though its F/A-18 strike aircraft have a range of only about 500 miles. At best, this leaves strike aircraft barely able to get to the eastern Iranian coast and back and hundreds of miles short of the Iranian naval bases in the Gulf most frequently cited as potential targets”.
In essence, therefore, the arguments/inferences presented by Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar appear to have fair amount of logical weightage, which indicate higher chances of the threat that President Trump is more likely to ignite military conflict against Iran to save his ‘troubled’ electioneering situation. On the other hand, however, the above–mentioned ground realities are also too daunting to foretell the impracticability of US achieving any worthwhile success in such a ‘militarism adventure’.
Obviously from any angle of saner decision–making US’ President Donald Trump should not decide to go for that ‘militarism adventure’ against Iran. However, likelihood of that possibility is dicey taking into consideration President Trump’s current dangerously desperate actions to ‘re–win over’ his depleted election support – as reported on 25th of this month (September 2020) by US’ website Business Insider “President Donald Trump is refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, threatening to shatter a tradition that lies at the heart of the democratic process in the US. Combined with Trump’s relentless disinformation campaign, celebration of violence against journalists, and incitement of armed militias, historians and election experts warn that the president is mirroring the behavior of despots that the US generally leads the way in condemning before the world” (10).
Unfortunately, therefore, the possibility of US igniting that military conflict with Iran cannot be ruled out, at least for the time being. In case that eventuality materialises, Iran will undoubtedly face military and serious economic losses and Persian Gulf region will be destabilized; but keeping in view the historical experiences and consequential psyche of Iranian and regional people, they are most likely to still survive and emerge with much more stronger strategic will. However, on the other hand, the multitude of the US’ ‘saner but silent’ citizenry is most likely to find it too difficult to bear with the colossal losses which they are bound to face – huge casualties of their military kith and kin, further economic devastation, anarchy in their country, and immense national humiliation in world community.