The Covert War with Iran

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 7 months ago

Syria and Iran could not tolerate an American success in Iraq, because it would fatally undermine the authority of the tyrants in Damascus and Tehran. Since the United States has taken too long to move on from Afghanistan to challenge the regimes of the terror masters, they had forged an alliance and would co-operate in sending terror squads against coalition armed forces, with the intention of repeating the Lebanese scenarios in the mid-Eighties (against the United States) and the late Nineties (against Israel)Michael Ledeen, before the invasion of Iraq.

Michael Ledeen has given us compelling argument to see the war in the Middle East as running through Syria directly to Iran.  The war.  The Isreal-Hezballah war, and OIF …  the war.  It is all the same war, argues Ledeen.  Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming.  It has been well known for some time that Iran has provided training, funding, weapons and equipment for terrorists inside Iraq.

Iranians have been caught destroying oil pipelines in Iraq under orders from Iranian intelligence.  IED technology has been developed in Iran, tested by Hezballah in the recent war with Israel, and shipped to Iraq, this IED technology having an unmistakable Iranian signature.  In response to “the surge,” dozens of Iranian Intelligence officers were taking positions around Baghdad, in Salman Pak, Hilla and Kut, in preparation for an attack to drive out the remaining Sunni population from districts on the Rusafa side, east of Baghdad, in order to assume full control by Shi’ite political parties loyal to Iran.

Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, an accomplished terrorist, serves as an Iranian agent in the Iraqi ParliamentMoqtada al Sadr is apparently not the Iraqi patriot he has been made out to be, as it appears now that not only was he smuggled off to Iran, but the high level leaders of the Mahdi army were as well (see also here).  It is old and tired, this argument on the question whether the insurgents are domestic or foreigners.  Iran and Syria are behind much of the trouble in Iraq.  The Iranian investment of human resources inside Iraq and as a safe haven for the Sadrists, Badr Brigade and other terrorists is as unmistakable as it is remarkable.  Recently seized Iranian intelligence documents detail the mayhem Iran has planned and executed inside Iraq.

The activity of Iranian intelligence and the Quds forces and the flight of the Mahdi army leadership to Iran are not reflexive.  It must be seen within the context of the broader war with Iran.  Perhaps four years too late with this assessment, the January 16, 2007 Strategic Forecasting Geopolitical Intelligence Report by George Friedman flatly states:

The Iraq war has turned into a duel between the United States and Iran. For the United States, the goal has been the creation of a generally pro-American coalition government in Baghdad — representing Iraq’s three major ethnic communities. For Iran, the goal has been the creation of either a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad or, alternatively, the division of Iraq into three regions, with Iran dominating the Shiite south.

The United States has encountered serious problems in creating the coalition government. The Iranians have been primarily responsible for that. With the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June, when it appeared that the Sunnis would enter the political process fully, the Iranians used their influence with various Iraqi Shiite factions to disrupt that process by launching attacks on Sunnis and generally destabilizing the situation. Certainly, [the] Sunnis contributed to this, but for much of the past year, it has been the Shia, supported by Iran, that have been the primary destabilizing force.

So long as the Iranians continue to follow this policy, the U.S. strategy cannot succeed. The difficulty of the American plan is that it requires the political participation of three main ethnic groups that are themselves politically fragmented. Virtually any substantial group can block the success of the strategy by undermining the political process. The Iranians, however, appear to be in a more powerful position than the Americans. So long as they continue to support Shiite groups within Iraq, they will be able to block the U.S. plan.

The Iranian activity has not been limited to providing ordnance, weapons, cash, moral support, training and direct military engagement.  The February 14, 2007, the Strategic Forecasting Terrorism Intelligence Report by Fred Burton describes the ongoing covert war with Iran.

Clearly, there is a lot of rhetoric flying around. But despite the threats and bluster, it is not at all clear that the United States has either the capacity or the will to launch an actual attack against Iran — nor is it clear that Israel has the ability to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure on its own. For its part, Iran — in spite of its recent weapons purchases and highly publicized missile tests — clearly is in no position to go toe-to-toe with the U.S. military.

With neither side willing or able to confront the other in the conventional military sense, both will be looking for alternative means of achieving its goals. For any nation-state, its intelligence services are an important weapon in the arsenal — and it now appears that a covert intelligence war between the United States and Iran, first raised by Stratfor as a possibility in March 2006 , is well under way. So far, the action in this intelligence war has been confined mainly to Iraq and Lebanon. However, recent events — including the mysterious death in January of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, who was believed to have been a target of Mossad — indicate that this quiet war is escalating, and soon could move to fronts beyond the Middle East …

Because Iran’s conventional military forces — though among the best in the region — are clearly no match for those of the Americans or others, the sophisticated and highly disciplined intelligence service, and its ability to carry out covert campaigns, is a key component of national security. In the past, kidnappings and assassinations — carried out with sufficient deniability — have proved an effective way of eliminating enemies and leveraging the country’s geopolitical position without incurring unacceptable risk.

But Strategic Forecasting stops short in either of the two analyses cited above of recommending a compelling strategy for addressing the Syrian and Iranian threat inside Iraq, even though they have said that the success of OIF depends upon such a strategy.

In The Iran War Plans, I provided a fairly pedestrian analysis in which I suggested that a land invasion of Iran would be costly and fraught with problems.  Moreover, I pointed out that if the goal of such military action is to destroy the Iranian nuclear enrichment program, the transport aircraft to deploy Soldiers and Marines to the sites are too slow, cannot carry the requisite fuel to get to some of the nuclear sites based on calculations I performed (and relying upon aircraft specifications in the public domain), and cannot move enough troops to accomplish the mission.  Destruction of the enrichment sites will require heavy involvement of U.S. air power, probably to the exclusion of everything else.

Thus the boundary conditions are as follows.  The human costs of a land invasion would be high.  Iran is at war with both Iraq and the United States, involving covert and intelligence operations and other military and additional assistance.  The Iranian strategy is succeeding.  Assuming the accuracy of the Strafor assessment – “So long as the Iranians continue to follow this policy, the U.S. strategy cannot succeed? – Iran must be engaged in order to succeed in the pacification of an Iraq that is at least mildly to moderately an ally of the U.S. in the global war on terror.

So how should we engage Iran?  This engagement will not take the form of large-scale conventional operations.  It will necessarily involve special forces operators, intelligence assets, counterterrorism operations and politics.  And as I have earlier suggested, there is a budding insurgency in Iran, and we should be actively supporting this insurgency.  But the covert war with Iran has already begun, and it was started several decades ago by Iran.  The U.S. will fully engage this covert war or Operation Iraqi Freedom will fail.  Beyond the failure of OIF, Iran will be strengthened, the Middle East will go nuclear, and the world will face the worldview and vision of the radical Mullahs.

Finally, I have suggested Syrian and Iranian border incursions to destroy terrorist safe havens and networks.  This may be accomplished with the use of conventional forces (the U.S. Marines, half of which is currently on or near the Syrian border in the al Anbar Province).  But the administration continues its equivocation.  On the one hand, Secretary of State Rice has been evasive on whether Bush’s statements meant that U.S. military personnel could cross into Iran or Syria in pursuit of insurgent support networks, in apparent agreement with General Peter Pace.  On the other hand, this administration has not ruled out the possibility of striking across the Iranian border.

A large scale conventional war with Iran should only be considered after the strategy above has been pursued: border incursions, killing of the Quds forces, Mahdi army leadership and Badr Brigade, and closure of the border, along with air assets to destroy the enrichment sites inside Iran.  But talk of this is premature, since even though we know that OIF is doomed to failure without the engagement of Iran and Syria, we are not willing to do it.  Perhaps we could listen to the voices.  The ghosts of more than three thousand dead American warriors cry out for victory so that their deaths will not be in vain.



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  • Devin

    But despite the threats and bluster, it is not at all clear that the United States has either the capacity or the will to launch an actual attack against Iran — nor is it clear that Israel has the ability to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure on its own.

    This is not entirely accurate. At the moment the US does not have the forces to enage in a protracted conflict with Iran, however the US Military is still the most advanced and lethal on earth, and can cause massive damage to the Iranian military and the IRCG through the use of air/sea operations, and the use of covert US Special Forces and CIA teams, which could begin killing and capturing Iranain operatives world-wide. This has already happened in Iraq, where two dozen IRCG and “Quds force” members have been captured by US Special Forces. Also, if the US drwas doen in Iraq, we will in fact have more then enough capability to fight and defeat Iran in a longer conventional war. The US retains the ability to defeat any military in the world in a traditional war. Despite the debacle of Iraq, this fact must always be remembered by potential enemies.


You are currently reading "The Covert War with Iran", entry #465 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Iraq and was published February 18th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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