Thursday, September 22, 2011

A response to Michael Eisenstadt's 'The Strategic Culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran' (Part 3)

by Mark Pyruz

We continue with Part 3 of our response to Michael Eisenstadt's monograph published by the Middle East Studies at Marine Corps University. [For Part 1, click HERE. For Part 2 click HERE]

Mr. Eisenstadt's text in red:

"[Armed Surrogates] have greatly enhanced Tehran’s ability to project influence, and are part and parcel of its deterrent complex..."

It can be argued that Iran's current warm relations with the governments of Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan offer a more enhanced ability to project influence than any relationships with forces mentioned by Mr. Eisenstadt.

"The primary mission of the Basij is internal security, and waging a ‘popular war’ against an invader."

This is another simplification. The Basij are more often than not involved in the organization of officially sanctioned holiday festivities, civil defense preparedness and disaster relief. In some ways it is roughly analogous to the U.S. Army National Guard.

"Iran’s rocket and missile force is more correctly seen as a conventional deterrent and war-fighting force, which has the ability to deliver nonconventional payloads. Iran produces a large family of conventional rockets which have a range of up to 300km, which it likely intends to use to supplement its missile force as weapons of mass terror against enemy cities."

Iran's missile forces can be seen as a more effective strike force than its air force, which is under-resourced and more vulnerable to interception, as well as being more economical to field. It's interesting that retired USMC officer and analyst Robert Haddick (FP Magazine and Small Wars Journal) has recently advocated an indigenous missile force capability for Taiwan in lieu of its difficulty in acquiring new F-16 multirole fighter aircraft (See HERE). Even though he does not make the comparison with Iran's IRGC/ASF assets, his rationale is based on similar restrictions being applied to Taiwan's means of defense, indirectly affirming the soundness of this aspect of Iran's defense strategy.

It should be pointed out here that during the 2006 war in Lebanon, Hezbollah's use of rocket artillery didn't contribute toward terminating the Israeli offensive by "terror", so much as the siege-like conditions it generated on northern Israel which served to undermine its economy.

"Soft Power"

Mr. Eisenstadt identifies "reputation and image management", "militia proxies", "economic leverage" and "Propaganda and spin". But he ignores the warm state-to-state relations Iran enjoys with the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, due in no small part to the largely unforeseen impacts of OEF, OIF and the unsuccessful Israeli offensive in 2006. Also, relations with Turkey are currently better than at any time since Iran's revolution. Eisenstadt offers no detailed discussion in this regard, nor does he discuss the historical, cultural and social ties within the region that provide Iran with inherent soft power advantages.

"Proxy Warfare: For Tehran, war is a job for its Arab surrogates and not, to the extent possible, for its own military. When Iran has wanted to strike out at its enemies, it has done so by commissioning or facilitating operations by others: As part of its war on the United States, the IRI facilitated the October 23, 1983 Marine Barracks bombing by Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization that killed 241 Marines, and led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Lebanon."

From the Iranian perspective, the catalyst for its involvement in the Lebanon conflict was the kidnapping of Iranian journalists in Beirut by Israeli proxy forces. (The diplomats remain missing to this day.) Once engaged, Iran's allies retaliated against U.S. military naval gunfire being applied against them as an act of war that in the eyes of Iran's allies relinquished any pretense of neutrality by the U.S. with its deployment in Lebanon. Thus, this is another simplification by Mr. Eisenstadt of a complicated interplay involving the U.S. and Iran in its regional Cold War.

"In response to an Israeli air strike on a Hizballah training base at Ayn Dardara in Lebanon, on June 2, 1994, which killed dozens of Hizballah recruits and their IRGC trainers, Hizballah (with Iranian assistance) bombed a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, killing eighty-five and wounding hundreds more."

This assignment of responsibility is contentious for both the '92 attack of the Israeli embassy and the bombing of the Jewish Community center in Buenos Aires. For evidence to the contrary, see HERE and HERE.

"Six months after the U.S. Congress authorized $18-20 million for covert operations in Iran, Saudi Hizballah bombed a U.S. military housing complex in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996, killing 19 U.S. service members and wounding 372 personnel of various nationalities. The operation was planned by the IRGC-Qods Force, with the assistance of the Lebanese Hizballah, in an apparent attempt to replicate the success of the Beirut Barracks bombing."

There is compelling evidence that this attack was actually the work of Al-Qaeda, just as the Iranians insisted at the time. See HERE:

"Reliance on proxies provides plausible deniability and complicates retaliation by its enemies. There are, however, disadvantages to relying on proxies over which it does not have full control. Thus, in 2006, Hizballah miscalculated its way into war with Israel that led to the destruction of Hizballah’s long-range rocket forces—a key element of Iran’s strategic deterrent. And in 2007, Iranian-sponsored Iraqi Shiite militias engaged in internecine violence and acted in ways that undercut the authority of the Iranian-supported central government, contributing to the latter’s 2008 decision to crack down on the Mahdi Army and Shiite special groups. 1In both of these cases, Tehran’s proxies and allies acted in ways that harmed Iran’s image and interests. In both of these cases, Tehran’s proxies and allies acted in ways that harmed Iran’s image and interests."

Regionally, there is a competing narrative to this perspective, as the 2006 war with Israel is generally considered a significant victory on the "Arab street." What's more, Iran was provided the opportunity of furnishing aid to rebuild areas of southern Lebanon impacted by war, which in no small way contributed to the hero's welcome that greeted President Ahmadinejad on his state visit to Beirut in 2010. Regarding the second instance which Mr. Eisenstadt refers to, this encompassing relationship of the Iranians enabled it to score a signal soft power victory in the form of the IRGC/Quds arranged ceasefire between the Iraqi Army and Shiite militia groups in 2008.

"Iran has taken a carefully considered approach toward the domestic opposition movement that arose in the wake of the contested June 2009 elections, that built on lessons-learned from previous confrontations. The IRI has sought to prevail by wearing down and demoralizing the opposition over time, rather than by resorting to the massive use of force."

From the perspective of Iranian authorities, its police forces (NAJA) and volunteer auxiliary (Basij) were called in to protect the results of a legitimate election. Moreover, there is persuasive evidence that the elction result was in fact legitimate. See HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Iran's primary reliance on police forces (NAJA) is in contrast to the highly militarized responses seen recently in Bahrain, Syria, Tunisia and Egypt, as is its less-lethal force policy in dispersing declared unlawful assemblies.

"Likewise, the commander of the IRGC Navy unit that detained 15 Royal Navy sailors and marines without authorization in disputed waters in the Shatt al-Arab in March 2007, was lauded and decorated when the episode ended well for the IRI with the humbling of the UK."

In some respects, this is comparable to the USS Vincennes incident where the ship's crew tracked an aircraft thought to be an IRIAF F-14 (an air superiority fighter and not an attack aircraft), ignored the fact its ship sensors found the aircraft to be ascending and not descending into a potential attack trajectory, in the apparent hope of seizing the opportunity to down a prize Iranian military asset. Instead, the combat action resulted in the downing of a Iran Air jetliner, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, including 66 children.
In this case, the action did not end well. Crew members of the Vincennes were subsequently commended and some decorated. Again, such episodes can be attributed to conditions of Cold War.

End of Part 3.

Part 4 to be posted on Friday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think anybody has got the time to go through all this historical junk. May be you should do this monologue in your own blog.