There are many question marks about the Iranian regime’s military might, what are the regime’s true missile capabilities, and should it truly be considered an imminent threat, or are they merely small talk and saber-rattling. In this text we will be reviewing this very issue:
1. Can the Iranian regime take the lead in any attack? Is it possible for the Iranian regime to stage an attack against its neighbors, prior to a foreign attack? Any military conflict is a red line for the Iranian regime, and it goes the limits to refrain from any such scenario. On the nuclear dossier this was very significant. Despite the fact that uranium enrichment was a red line for the regime, when a military conflict was becoming imminent it easily crossed its red line of uranium enrichment.
2. Is a foreign attack imaginable? The Iranian regime claims due to the fact that the Iranian people will campaign in such a scenario and defend the regime, Iran will be able to destabilize the region, it will attack all ships and oil tankers, go on to close the Strait of Hormuz, and the regime actually has the capacity to attack U.S. interest in neighboring countries.
- The first subject of the Iranian people rallying behind the regime in the case of such an attack is completely wrong, and this is nothing but an illusion for the regime. The 2009 and 2010 uprisings very much proved that the Iranian people have much hatred regarding this regime that has built up in the past four decades, resulting from executions and cruel crackdown. This has made the Iranian society very explosive. The Iranian regime’s true social base inside the country is actually less than 5% and based on a secret opinion poll conducted by the regime itself, over 95% of the Iranian people are against the regime. Another issue is the number of Iranian people who actually voted in parliamentary and presidential elections of 2011 and 2013. According to the regime’s internal intelligence less than 10% of eligible voters took part in these elections was.
- The second subject is the destabilization of the region. Considering the fact that most of the people in the Middle East are Sunnis, the Iranian regime has no power to provoking them against their own governments. The only method left for this regime is resorting to missile barrages against these countries that will result in destabilizing these countries, and finally the entire region. However, the fact that these missile attacks will render what consequences is an issue worth evaluating.
- To attack ships and oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and closing the Strait of Hormuz, this is only possible through launching missiles.
3. How does the mullahs’ regime view war?
- This is true that the mullahs’ regime in Iran is facing dangerous crises from within the government, in the society and the entire region. Based on the regime’s nature its classic measures are none other than causing war and clashes. The most important characteristic of the Iran-Iraq War back in the 1980s was confronting all forces motivated after the anti-monarchial revolution and political crises of the first years of this regime in Iran. In a much smaller scale, launching chain murders were another example of resorting to such solutions to contain crises. However, this led to a major rift inside the regime with Mohammad Khatami becoming president.
- Despite the mullahs’ necessity to war, the ruling elite in Tehran understand quite well that a foreign attack will have major social consequences inside the country that would be dreadful for their entire regime.
Such an attack will have a major impact against the regime’s crackdown apparatus, and will eventually enflame major uprisings across Iran; similar to firing a bullet to a cache of gasoline. The reason behind this chain of events is that the Iranian people themselves are the main threat currently endangering the mullahs’ regime. As a result, the ruling mullahs distance themselves from any element that activates this element.
- Senior regime officials have left no doubt on the reality of this threat:
In September 2007 Iranian regime leader Ali Khamenei appointed Mohammad Ali Jafari as head of the Revolutionary Guards. Two factors were behind this appointment.
First, Jafari was commander of the Tharallah Base (the important fort containing IRGC urban repression forces). Second, Jafari’s two-year long investigation in the IRGC Strategic Center, based on which changes were made in the IRGC strategy and hierarchical structure.
“According to the discretion of the Islamic republic’s leader, the IRGC strategy has altered in comparison to the past. The main IRGC mission is currently confronting internal threats,” Jafari explained in his first public remarks after his appointment to this post.
“Internal security and maintaining these grounds are the responsibility of the police and other security apparatuses. However, if our problems surpass a specific stage, the IRGC – with the authority provided by the Supreme National Security Council and the leader – will take over all major issues.” (October 20th, 2007)
Based on its new strategy the IRGC was divided into 31 different entities. 29 corps for 29 provinces, and two corps missioned for Tehran to confront urban uprisings.
These corps were the most important force that rose to the occasion to quell the 2009 uprisings, as the police was completely unable.
- In any clash against a foreign force, the regime’s only retaliating measure will be through missile attacks.
- The rulers of Iran will place all their efforts to never allow such an incident of reaching a military conflict with the West, as this will immediately allow social forces inside Iran to rise from their ashes.
- If rulers in Iran sense they are threatened with a military attack over their nuclear program (or any other challenge), they will immediately choose to retreat and will not enter any such conflict. Their main objective is to not allow the massive force of the people to be relieved of their shackles and overthrow the government.
In 2003 when Khamenei saw how the U.S. had encircled Iran after toppling two regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, he immediately felt the threat and suspended his nuclear program. And years later when he realized America had no appetite to attack Iran due to its own difficulties, he ordered the suspension to be lifted.
- In March 2015 when senior regime officials predicted the possibility of Saudi Arabia rising against Iran’s proxies in Yemen, they staged 8-day long military maneuvers and drills to show their military might. They claimed in various reports of testing very important weapons in these drills, yet they couldn’t actually name any. These maneuvers in fact were aimed at preventing the Saudis from initiating a military campaign that began on March 26th, 2015. However, the mullahs’ reactions remained limited to those military maneuvers that lacked any significant tactical importance.
- Iran stopped its missile test fires the moment it entered serious talks with the P5+1 (that led to the July 2015 nuclear agreement).
- This regime’s last missile drills were held in July 2012.
- In February 2013 Tehran held a limited series of drills code named “Payambar A’zam 8”, in which all missile tests were cancelled.
- In 2013 the Revolutionary Guards completely cancelled its annual “Payambar A’zam” maneuvers.
- In fact, Iran’s military drills have officially been suspended. This policy, showing a clear sign of weakness, became the subject of protests by the mullahs’ parliament members. On August 10th of this year 30 MPs wrote a letter to armed forces chief of staff Firouzabadi demanding missile tests be restarted. Firouzabadi responded two days later saying this decision has been made based on orders of the supreme leader.
- Chart #3 (military drills conducted) shows the trend of this regime weakening through the number of missile test fires, specifically in the past decade, while this had been a major sign of the regime flexing its muscles. In 2013 to 2015 the mullahs completely sheathed their “missile sword”.
Reasons why Iran resorted to missile program
The missile and nuclear weapons programs are two fundamental pillars for the Iranian regime. Official circles in Iran have described the missile program as part of the “unconventional war doctrine.”
“Our defense strategy is based on an unconventional war doctrine,” said former IRGC chief Rahim Safavi back on April 24th, 2005.
However, in recent years these terms are heard less in the Iranian leaders’ officials remarks.
“The IRGC commander in chief also emphasizes on two necessary strategic characteristics for the IRGC: intelligence about the enemy’s movements and increasing missile capability,” said current IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari when appointed to this post. [State-run “Iran” daily – September 4th, 2007]
This strategy, of course, was adopted by Iran after the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988. Now we must see what elements led Iran to building a large missile arsenal:
From a political perspective
Based on what has taken place in the past, a military conflict with a foreign party is a red line for Iran’s rulers, and no one must get anywhere close to it. They have campaigned all their assets to prevent such a faceoff. Building a large missile arsenal is not aimed at staging innovated attacks against other countries, but to prevent the United States and Israel from staging their own attacks against Iran, keeping them on warning about Iran’s possible response, meaning launching missiles against Israel and US interests in the region, or those countries friendly to the US in the Middle East.
In 2011 Iranian regime leader Khamenei in his speech overtly described these missiles as means of threats.
“Iran’s missiles, or those of the resistant group, are not meant to force the enemy to erect missile shields here or there; the real threat that has no cure is the true will of the men, women and youths of Islamic countries. Of course, those missiles will carry out their duties whenever deemed necessary”, he said.
From a tactical perspective
- Currently the main bulk of the IRGC forces are provided through soldiers serving their 2-year duties. Most of them are actually oppose the mullahs’ regime. The result is the IRGC (the Iranian regime’s loyal army) is actually deprived of having a fighting force that is willing to defend this regime, and will be ready to sacrifice their lives for.
Therefore, the IRGC in in 2009 merged the Bassij paramilitary forces into its Ground forces to be able to use their ranks and files against urban uprisings. However, Bassij paramilitary forces, with a characteristic of fighting like mercenaries and to provide financial necessities for their families, are neither willing to sacrifice their lives for the regime, nor have the motivation to undergo major military training. Thus, the fundamental “force” shortage is an unresolvable issue for the IRGC and has guided it to obtaining missile technology to “maintain its survival”.
- Iran has yet to be able to rebuild the major weakness witnessed in the air force seen since the fall of the Shah back in 1979 to this day. One major issue is the US’ unwillingness to provide the necessary spare parts for Iran’s fighter jets.
Many fighter jets and attack helicopters are not operational and cannot be relied on at full capacity for a long period.