Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Iran, Beating the War Drums!

Iran, Beating the War Drums!

Ali Asghar Kazemi

November 24, 2009


In the midst of a confusing stalemate in the nuclear negotiation with the 5+1 powers, Islamic hardliners are engaging in an unprecedented military exercise with the objective to show a deterrent air defense umbrella for Iran’s nuclear sites and strategic points. The Islamic government has so far shown reluctance to go along with the West on the matters concerning its nuclear undertaking and the proposed confidence-building measures. Instead, it is aggravating the situation by organizing maneuvers that would eventually create further suspicions and hostility.

How far the major challengers of the controversial projects are susceptible to be deterred from this and similar military exercises? Is really military confrontation a rational solution to the problem? What are eventual scenarios in this conflict? Is a military clash between Iran and its main nuclear contenders inevitable?

It is normal that countries plan in peacetime for regular military maneuvers in order to keep forces in a state of readiness and efficient condition to confront potential foreign threats. Also, it is quite understandable that such exercises be made known to public with a view to deter those who may have ill intentions about the security, independence and territorial integrity of another state. But, the odd thing about the recent air defense exercise in Iran is its timing and configuration.

At the outset, the exercise was supposed to cover almost the whole space of the country for the purpose of the air defense protection of nuclear sites and other strategic targets exposed to eventual hostile air raids. This has included both active as well as passive defense. But, one missing important element in this defense puzzle was the promised Russian S300 which so far was not delivered to Iran. Eventually, the lack of this vital weapon system pushed the Islamic Guard Corps- Pasdaran- to stay away from this particular operation. Since, without this air defense system, the chances for an effective active defense would be highly diminished. Understandably, Pasdaran, who are now in control of almost everything in the country, do not want to enter into a contest whose outcome is unclear.

Thus, unlike most other exercises, this time the regular military forces (and not the Pasdaran) have been tasked for carrying out operation. This is indeed a significant change from the past when the Guardian Corps assumed the responsibility of all show of forces in similar cases. In the central command post, a clergy with black turban and army uniform was sitting next to the commanding flag officer of the maneuver; implying that everything is under the control of the clerical hierarchy. It is interesting to notice that we seldom saw similar situations when a high profile “Pasdar” assumed the responsibility of an operation.

As for military and political implications of this untimely exercise, the following points can be observed:

· Considering the timing of this exercise, the Islamic government seems to be losing hope in diplomatic negotiations with the 5+1 powers and is trying to put more pressure to them for further concessions;

· Despite wide publicity in the domestic media, while public at large might be impressed by the extent and scope of the exercise, Iran’s potential hostiles, namely the United States and its ally in the region (Israel) appear not be deterred by the show of forces. Since, they have a practical estimate of Iran’s actual defense potentials and state of technology ;

· While a clash seems to be still remote under present circumstances, in an unfortunate worst case scenario, the conflict would be fast (blitzkrieg) and decisive leaving no option for Iran to project power beyond its borders;

· Should the worst case scenario occurs, the extent of damages to strategic points will be beyond calculation and the result of the last 50 years investment in infrastructure and economic resources will be put to nil.

· In case of a quick round up of the conflict, the blame of the defeat will be put on the regular armed forces and a number of outside factors beyond incumbent government control.

Given that the Islamic government has partially lost public support in the wake of the controversial presidential elections, it seems rather hard that the regime could mobilize a long-run attrition war against its enemies. This means that the ruling clergies might not be able to count on people’s religious or patriotic fervor for effective support. However, should the conflict drags on for more than a few days after the first rounds of strikes, then, Pasdaran might try to organize retaliatory brushfire strikes against the invaders or American allies in the region.

On the rationality and logic of Islamic hardliners to organize such costly exercises for the purpose of deterring their potential adversaries, one should realize that defending national interests of a country is no longer possible with mere hard power and weapon system. No matter how powerful a state might be, it needs to use diplomacy and negotiation for the purpose of protecting its security and sovereignty.

There is no doubt that the West and their allies in the region have a good grasp and assessment of Iran’s defense capacity and potentials. They know well its vulnerabilities and weak points as well as the technological state of its defense system. Hundreds of research centers and institutes permanently follow every bits of defense development or procurement in the world. Therefore, one ought to be realistic enough not to engage in a confrontation whose outcome is at least unclear if not totally adverse to its national interests.

Let’s hope that politicians involved in this critical situation act vigilantly in their decisions and actions. The Middle East has enough problems and bottlenecks that we need not another new situation that could engulf the whole region into a new crisis and bloodshed. /


Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran. See: www.aakazemi.blogspot.com

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