Over at The Iran Primer Bruce O. Riedel provides a perspective titled Iran's Worsening Military Status. In it, Mr. Riedel maintains a belief that "Iran's military leaders, both in the regular military and the Revolutionary Guards, cannot be pleased with trends in the regional military balance." His assumption is based on a balance sheet of forces favoring numbers of the latest and most expensive conventional weapons systems. Recently, how many times has this proven illusory? Rest assured, the Iranians have taken notice of such.
Riedel asserts that America "mishandled" the military occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, opening the door for Iranian "interference". Here we have something of a contradiction. For the US possessed perhaps the most lopsided advantage in sophisticated and immensely powerful military forces, yet full-time insurgent forces never more than a few thousand strong and fielding only the bare essentials of small arms, rockets and explosives have managed--to date--to inflict over 30,000 casualties on this American fighting force. Don't think for a second this hasn't been lost on the Iranians.
Riedel believes that the developing militaries of Iraq and Afghanistan are reducing Iran's "room for maneuver". Left unsaid is Iran's intervention by elements of its military leadership (IRGC/Quds) that brokered the deal between the Iraqi Army and the Shia militias in 2008, which factually contradicts the supposedly triumphant American surge narrative. Perhaps this is the sort of "interference" Riedel is referring to? And to be sure, Iraq's present leadership leans heavily toward the resistance camp confronting Israel, so such a buildup of Iraqi military force can potentially be looked upon opportunistically by the Iranians.
Then there is the issue of the recent arms purchases by Gulf nations and Israel, with Riedel believing the Iranians look towards with dire envy. He couldn't be more wrong. In terms of the Gulf region, for the most part Iran's leadership looks upon these acquisitions as superfluous to already existing advantages. That is to say, they change very little the certain advantages already prevalent in the region, advantages representative of which that did not--in the final analysis--realize the stated goals of the 2006 Lebanon War and the two ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Riedel seems to have the mistaken impression that Iran is arms hungry. He doesn't seem to be aware of the fact that Iran has on a number of occasions actually turned down Russian sales pitches for sophisticated weapon types. For example, in the 1990's Russia made a number of unsuccessful sales pitches for sophisticated combat aircraft types such as the MiG-31. Also, there is evidence that the initial Iranian acceptance of the Tor-M1 SAM system involved a level of diplomatic arm twisting. Looked upon from the Iranian perspective, the logic of Iran's defense policy based upon the deterrent value of its indigenously produced weapon types, such as its SSM forces, provide it with its best solution possible based upon its own unique needs.
"Na doost daram." A failed Russian MiG sales pitch in Tehran
Left unsaid in the Riedel piece is Iran's successful military influences in the 2006 Lebanon War (successful strike on the INS Hanit, signal intercepts of the IDF, light infantry tactics, etc.), its top level successes in relations with various Iraqi military forces, the strides made in SSM capability, the application of the Mosaic doctrine and more. On balance, it can be claimed that Iran's military has achieved much as a result of its own hard work and more sensible policies. But for someone like Riedel, the dollars and cents of high-end arms purchases provide the blinkers with which to narrowly focus upon the overall military situation in the region.