The Iran War Plans

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 2 months ago

Update posted on July 20, 2006.  Stay tuned.  Coming soon to the Captain’s Journal are our own proposed plans for war with Iran.  The Defense Department plans discussed below will fail.  Included will be the outline for a comprehensive strategy, justification and intended results.

**** SCROLL FOR UPDATES **** 

It is pretty much universally acknowledged that (a) Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and (b) Iran is behind not only the existence of Hezbollah, but also the kidnappings of the Israeli soldiers and therefore the current situation in the middle east.  Iran has been conducting war by proxy since the creation of Hezbollah with the help of Syria, and for some reason, Ahmadinejad has chosen this point in time to start a war.  He also doesn’t seem to be too troubled by any response he might receive from Israel or the U.S.  His bluster and threats shows that he believes Iran to be immune from a successful retaliatory strike from Israel (and it would seem that he believes the U.S. to be too hamstrung by lack of intelligence and/or political baggage at home to act decisively in the middle east).  On at least some of this, he might appear to be correct.

Seymour Hersh over at The New Yorker did a fascinating piece back in April entitled “The Iran Plans.”  In this very good piece, we learned that there has been fairly directed planning to knock back the nuclear infrastructure in Iran with a bombing campaign, supplemented if necessary by special operations at specific nuclear sites.  While I don’t doubt that planning has been and is underway, I was skeptical when I read this: it is prima facie absurd to walk into this with an illusions of victory without a high cost (politically and militarily).

Here was my thinking.  We will likely not use tactical nuclear weapons.  The world will be outraged, especially if we attack using nuclear weapons without first having irrefutable evidence of a nuclear program.  An attack of this nature invariably destroys the evidence we need.  The Iranians have had a chance to study our conventional capabilities in Afghanistan, and have buried their centrifuges deep enough that we cannot effect them.  In fact, I would predict that the facilities are deep enough under ground to avoid destruction — with some safety margin.  If I was the engineer responsible for designing the defense features of the facilities, that is what I would do.

So what is really needed are boots on the ground.  I have serious doubts that there is any foolish planning for regime change or occupation of Iran at the Pentagon.  If the U.S. actually goes into Iran, it will be to retrieve centrifuges and weapons-grade fissile material.  The Army is too slow and lumbering to place inside Iran (with the possible exception of the 82nd and 101st Airborne; but use of them would be disastrous for reasons that would take me far afield).  There aren’t enough special forces operators for this to be exclusively a special forces war.  Therefore, the Marines have to do it.  They are designed for rapid, mobile and intense warfare with no support from anyone but the Marines (i.e., the MEU).

Now.  Proceeding from here, there is no way to get Marines to the sites that they need to be at.  For example, the primary enrichment site — Natanz — is about 250 miles from the border with Iraq and 450 miles from the border with Afghanistan (see here for map).  Many other potential nuclear sites are just as far, if not further, from either border (or the Persian Gulf).  The primary method of transport to hot zones, the helicopter, hasn’t the range to get Marines to these sites.  The new MV-22 (the Osprey) has a range of 242 nautical miles carrying 24 troops (using a conversion of 0.869 nautical miles to miles, this is 278 U.S. miles).  It is possible, though not likely, that we would choose this method of transport, if the Osprey could carry more troops.  This capacity is not enough.  Moreover, the MV-22 is not quite ready for service and there aren’t enough of them.  The target date for deployment is early 2007.

But then again, what is needed to stop the nuclear program is to set up a temporary perimeter around the nuclear sites, remove the fissile material if there is any, take the centrifuges, and then get out.  If bombing alone will not work, there aren’t enough special forces to do it, and there is no way to get enough special forces or Marines there to begin with, then what about all of this war planning with Iran?  How will this come off?

This was my thinking when I first read Hersh’s first article.  Fast forward to just a few days ago, and Seymour Hersh has posted another interesting piece entitled “Last Stand: The military’s problem with the President’s Iran policy.”  A whole host of problems are becoming apparent to the military planners and strategists, and an apparent mini-war is going on in the Pentagon and State Department over if and just how such a thing as an attack on Iran would come off.

A senior military official told me, “Even if we knew where the Iranian enriched uranium was—and we don’t—we don’t know where world opinion would stand. The issue is whether it’s a clear and present danger. If you’re a military planner, you try to weigh options. What is the capability of the Iranian response, and the likelihood of a punitive response—like cutting off oil shipments? What would that cost us?? Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior aides “really think they can do this on the cheap, and they underestimate the capability of the adversary,? he said.

In 1986, Congress authorized the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to act as the “principal military adviser? to the President. In this case, I was told, the current chairman, Marine General Peter Pace, has gone further in his advice to the White House by addressing the consequences of an attack on Iran. “Here’s the military telling the President what he can’t do politically?—raising concerns about rising oil prices, for example—the former senior intelligence official said. “The J.C.S. chairman going to the President with an economic argument—what’s going on here?? (General Pace and the White House declined to comment. The Defense Department responded to a detailed request for comment by saying that the Administration was “working diligently? on a diplomatic solution and that it could not comment on classified matters.)

A retired four-star general, who ran a major command, said, “The system is starting to sense the end of the road, and they don’t want to be condemned by history. They want to be able to say, ‘We stood up.’ ?

The military leadership is also raising tactical arguments against the proposal for bombing Iran, many of which are related to the consequences for Iraq. According to retired Army Major General William Nash, who was commanding general of the First Armored Division, served in Iraq and Bosnia, and worked for the United Nations in Kosovo, attacking Iran would heighten the risks to American and coalition forces inside Iraq. “What if one hundred thousand Iranian volunteers came across the border?? Nash asked. “If we bomb Iran, they cannot retaliate militarily by air—only on the ground or by sea, and only in Iraq or the Gulf. A military planner cannot discount that possibility, and he cannot make an ideological assumption that the Iranians wouldn’t do it. We’re not talking about victory or defeat—only about what damage Iran could do to our interests.? Nash, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “Their first possible response would be to send forces into Iraq. And, since the Iraqi Army has limited capacity, it means that the coalition forces would have to engage them.?

The Americans serving as advisers to the Iraqi police and military may be at special risk, Nash added, since an American bombing “would be seen not only as an attack on Shiites but as an attack on all Muslims. Throughout the Middle East, it would likely be seen as another example of American imperialism. It would probably cause the war to spread.?

In contrast, some conservatives are arguing that America’s position in Iraq would improve if Iran chose to retaliate there, according to a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon’s civilian leaders, because Iranian interference would divide the Shiites into pro- and anti-Iranian camps, and unify the Kurds and the Sunnis. The Iran hawks in the White House and the State Department, including Elliott Abrams and Michael Doran, both of whom are National Security Council advisers on the Middle East, also have an answer for those who believe that the bombing of Iran would put American soldiers in Iraq at risk, the consultant said. He described the counterargument this way: “Yes, there will be Americans under attack, but they are under attack now.?

Iran’s geography would also complicate an air war. The senior military official said that, when it came to air strikes, “this is not Iraq,? which is fairly flat, except in the northeast. “Much of Iran is akin to Afghanistan in terms of topography and flight mapping—a pretty tough target,? the military official said. Over rugged terrain, planes have to come in closer, and “Iran has a lot of mature air-defense systems and networks,? he said. “Global operations are always risky, and if we go down that road we have to be prepared to follow up with ground troops.?

The U.S. Navy has a separate set of concerns. Iran has more than seven hundred undeclared dock and port facilities along its Persian Gulf coast. The small ports, known as “invisible piers,? were constructed two decades ago by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to accommodate small private boats used for smuggling. (The Guards relied on smuggling to finance their activities and enrich themselves.) The ports, an Iran expert who advises the U.S. government told me, provide “the infrastructure to enable the Guards to go after American aircraft carriers with suicide water bombers?—small vessels loaded with high explosives. He said that the Iranians have conducted exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow channel linking the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and then on to the Indian Ocean. The strait is regularly traversed by oil tankers, in which a thousand small Iranian boats simulated attacks on American ships. “That would be the hardest problem we’d face in the water: a thousand small targets weaving in and out among our ships.?

America’s allies in the Gulf also believe that an attack on Iran would endanger them, and many American military planners agree. “Iran can do a lot of things—all asymmetrical,? a Pentagon adviser on counter-insurgency told me. “They have agents all over the Gulf, and the ability to strike at will.? In May, according to a well-informed oil-industry expert, the Emir of Qatar made a private visit to Tehran to discuss security in the Gulf after the Iraq war. He sought some words of non-aggression from the Iranian leadership. Instead, the Iranians suggested that Qatar, which is the site of the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, would be its first target in the event of an American attack. Qatar is a leading exporter of gas and currently operates several major offshore oil platforms, all of which would be extremely vulnerable.

It seems that it is all coming down to an intense bombing campaign.

“The Air Force is hawking it to the other services,? the former senior intelligence official said. “They’re all excited by it, but they’re being terribly criticized for it.? The main problem, he said, is that the other services do not believe the tactic will work. “The Navy says, ‘It’s not our plan.’ The Marines are against it—they know they’re going to be the guys on the ground if things go south.?

“It’s the bomber mentality,? the Pentagon consultant said. “The Air Force is saying, ‘We’ve got it covered, we can hit all the distributed targets.’ ? The Air Force arsenal includes a cluster bomb that can deploy scores of small bomblets with individual guidance systems to home in on specific targets. The weapons were deployed in Kosovo and during the early stages of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Air Force is claiming that the same techniques can be used with larger bombs, allowing them to be targeted from twenty-five thousand feet against a multitude of widely dispersed targets. “The Chiefs all know that ‘shock and awe’ is dead on arrival,? the Pentagon consultant said. “All except the Air Force.? 

You should read Hersh’s entire piece.  Don’t get me wrong on this.  A nuclear Iran is unfathomable.  Also, Iran is also at the center of terrorism in the middle east and beyond (read a good piece by friend and fellow Marine father, Michael Ledeen, entitled “The Same War“).  But we should also realize several things:

  1. We likely will not have the intelligence to be positive about where Iran is on their nuclear program before we have to decide the steps to take on Iran.
  2. No one should underestimate how difficult this will be; the costs - in oil prices, destruction to the infrastructure of the region, and U.S. lives – will be very high.  Very high.
  3. The outcome effected by whatever strategy we choose soon will likely not be complete or determinative.  More will be needed later.

These are indeed difficult times we live in.

**** UPDATE ****

The always insightful Victor Davis Hanson has a good piece over at NRO that casts light on oil, nuclear weapons, and “cowboy” diplomacy.  A good read and well worth the time.  Also, one typographical error corrected in original post.



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  • http://www.ifilm.com/warzone?ns=1 Marshall

    Nasrallah (leader of Hezbollah) on the martyrdom of his son a few years ago. Hopefully, Nasrallah will have another occasion to “celebrate.”

    http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2753875

  • Herschel Smith

    Yáll go look at the web site given to us by Marshall. This will remind you of who we are fighting.

    http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2753875

    No illusions here. The raw truth.

  • A Veteran

    As someone who has done war planning in a previous life…war with Iran will not be cheap, short, or contained to just area near Iran. Conflict with Iran would really be a major war. The war has started, but the question is how long before we start to seriously fight it? Or, do we let Israel fight it for us until it becomes obvious to those in the U.S. that it have to be fought. Do we as a nation have the will to fight it or are we going to have to wait for another 9/11 event? I think the later, and then it will take much more of our Comrades blood to win. the answers are not easy and this is not for the faint of heart.

  • A Veteran

    Sorry for the poor grammar in the previous post, but that is what I happens when I write prior to a cup of coffee. I’m really not that damn dumb.

  • rick johnson

    You are an idiot. ’nuff said.

  • Steve Sadlov

    A Veteran – I strongly concur. The questions you have asked are points of concern for me as well.

  • Pingback: http://tinyurl.com/7dtdnz9


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This article is filed under the category(s) War & Warfare and was published July 14th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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