The Costs of War with Iran: An Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield
SMALL WARS JOURNAL
Journal Article | August 31, 2012 - 4:30am
Journal Article | August 31, 2012 - 4:30am
This paper describes the possible Iranian responses to American or Israeli air strikes. Using the U.S. Army’s analytical tool, “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield,” it will define the operational environment of a war with Iran, and describe Iran’s terrain broadly. The paper describes how Iran’s military has adopted asymmetric tactics to defeat conventionally superior enemies, like America. Using this background, I will lay out the “courses of action” available to Iran at sea, air, ground, in other countries and by conducting terrorism around the globe.
(Portions of this article appeared in individual posts on my website, On Violence, but have been significantly rewritten for this paper.)
When it comes to war with Iran--whether a limited air strike or a full-on invasion--proponents for war tend to exaggerate the benefits (preventing a nuclear Armageddon for Israel) while obscuring the costs (the number of dead U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines). For example, Matthew Kroenig defended his Foreign Affairs article “Time to Attack Iran” by saying:
“As other readers of the article know, I fully engage with the many negative consequences of military action, including possible Iranian missile and terror attacks against U.S. bases, ships, and allies in the region.”
Or Charles Krauthammer describing the U.S. Navy breaking an Iranian blockade of the Straits of Hormuz:
“We will succeed, but at considerable cost.”
I understand why pundits use ambiguous language like “negative consequences” or “considerable cost.” When proponents for war with Iran put numbers to their predictions, support for military action against Iran plummets. When asked “if attacking Iran started a war similar in length and costs to war in Iraq” only 37% of Americans still supported war, according to a Reason-Rupe poll.
But war with Iran might not even resemble another Iraq or Afghanistan; it could be worse. Iran could fire ballistic missiles at population centers, supply the Taliban with guided missiles, or fire anti-ship missiles at U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, most reporting on Iran revolves around whether Iran has nuclear weapons, not the costs of starting another war in the Middle East
With this paper, I hope to explain those costs. I will use my experience and training as a U.S. Army military intelligence officer to describe the options available to Iran. Specifically, I will answer the question, “What courses of action could Iran pursue immediately after an American or Israeli initiated air war?” To answer this question, I will use the traditional method of analysis of the U.S. Army, the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB).
First, a few caveats. This will not be a strictly doctrinal IPB. Such an IPB uses maps, rulers and weapon capability charts to define the exact capabilities of an opponent. Since I do not have an intelligence staff, and since readers don’t want to read a document several hundred pages long (the likely length of the CENTCOM IPB for this scenario), my IPB will only sketch out Iran’s broad capabilities and options. Further, an IPB is traditionally a tactical tool. My IPB will venture into Iran’s strategic and operational approaches, a topic much more relevant to the debate than Iran’s specific tactical plans.
Second, I believe America will avoid a ground invasion of Iran. Since America hasn’t made the logistical moves to support a ground invasion, to destroy Iran’s nuclear program America or Israel must launch a coordinated air and naval bombing campaign. As such, my IPB will focus on an Iranian response to that likely attack.
Third, I will not predict how Iran will respond. They could use all of the options at their disposal. Or none of them. I will merely lay out their options and the possible costs. For papers predicting how Iran could respond, please see my bibliography at the end.
Finally, I used no classified material while making this IPB. Because of this hindrance, some of my analysis will miss the mark simply because of Iranian or American deception, exaggeration or confusion.
Many military analysts and think tanks have described the general military options available to Iran in previous papers. However, I believe the Army’s method of intelligence analysis--summarized for this paper--will provide readers with a guide to an Iranian response to an American military attack. It will also give Americans an idea of the possible costs of starting yet another war in the Middle East.
Thesis: Iran has several options--from the traditional to the unconventional--to respond to an American or Israeli air strike. Based on my analysis, I believe Iran easily has the capability to make war more costly in terms of American lives than either of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.