Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tehran’s Reaction to Military Threats

Farideh Farhi

Tehran has always been quite strident in its response to the possibility of US or Israeli attack, either identifying periodic rise of reports of imminent attack as part and parcel of “psychological warfare” to intimidate the Iranian leadership into accepting restrictions on its nuclear program (in the words of Iran’s well-known hard-line editor of Kayhan daily, Hossein Shariatmadari, to make Iran “commit suicide out of the fear of death”) or generally asserting Iran’s capability to respond to military attacks in ways that would harm the initiators of such attacks. The first sentiment was once again reiterated by Ali Larijani, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator and current speaker of the parliament, who pointed out yesterday the routine nature of complementing the “carrot” that Tehran was just offered through the 5+1 package of incentives with the threat of “stick.”

But yesterday’s long interview with General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolution’s Guard Corps (IRGC), with Jam-e Jam daily is noteworthy not because of his confirmation of Tehran’s determination to react to attacks but for the details he reveals regarding the current state of thinking in Tehran about the US and Israeli capabilities, and Iran’s assessment and preparation for such an attack.

The wire services have generally picked up Jafari’s counter-threats regarding what Iran would do in case of an attack by the United States (including missile attacks against Israel, chocking off the Hormuz Straight, and reliance on ideological assets throughout the Middle East). Still quite a bit of nuance has been left out regarding his thinking.

First and foremost are his thoughts about the possibility of US or Israeli attack. On this issue, Jafari deviates from the usual pronouncements and suggests that the next few months are indeed dangerous months in which the threat of military action against Iran has been enhanced by the “impasse” facing the United States. This is how he explains it:

“The analysis of political, security, and defense experts is that that the United States is in a special situation and, because of this, it is trying to implement its threats. If the conditions are really there and it finds an opportunity and it has confidence that its action will at least have a percentage of success, it will implement its threat… The limited amount of time that Bush has until the end of his presidency and also the Republican hopelessness regarding the victory of their candidate have created conditions that have led us at present to take the possibility of a military attack in comparison to other junctures more seriously. Of course, I don’t want to say that military action is certain. But in comparison to the past, it seems that the enemy sees one of the ways of exiting the impasse facing it to be military action.”

The focus on political conditions in the United States is further emphasized in Jafari’s rejection of Israel as the source of military action: “We believe that Israel is much smaller to be able to take action against the Islamic Republic alone. Hence, the axis of threats is the United States. However, this country [the U.S.] will undoubtedly benefit from the Zionist regime’s support.” He further states that this same point - that the US cannot attack Iran without Israeli support – “because of the Zionist regime very high vulnerabilities’ is a deterrent factor.”

The point made is that Iran perceives the difficulties of concealing the Israeli support for the US action combined with Israeli vulnerabilities, both because of its lack of strategic depth as well as “Iran’s external capabilities” in harming Israeli interests, as important deterrent to US military action against Iran (along with other deterrents, including the U.S.’ own particular vulnerability caused by the extensive presence of its forces in the region).

But if military action does come, then Iran’s response will be quick: “We cannot reveal the kind of action we will take. But it can be said that we see our time frame for response to be very short; this is because we see the extent of our enemy’s action to be limited and this limited extent forces us in a short period of time to give swift, decisive, and blunt responses so that they will have impact.” He later adds “unimaginable” to the list of adjectives describing the response.

Bravado and bluster aside, the point made by Jafari directly questions the argument laid out in a recent report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) that, given Tehran’s past moves and history, it will probably employ restraint and rely on a "delayed asymmetric response in a distant theater of operations (using proxies or terrorist surrogates)." Jafari is explicit in this interview that Iran will respond immediately and this immediate and blunt response, presumably begging the subsequent possibility of immediate escalation and further commitment on the part of American forces, must be taken into account in the American calculations of a limited aerial strike against nuclear facilities and/or IRGC facilities.

In short, Jafari is very clear that Tehran is ready to match the Bush Administration’s words and deeds if need arises, even at a time when the Iranian government is taking the possibility of a military attack more seriously than before. Now, to me, this is truly a scary dynamic for both countries as well as the region as a whole.

I am of course still counting or hoping that sanity will prevail in Washington. While some may explain away the US invasion of Iraq as a tragic mistake or miscalculation, nothing short of madness can account for an attack on Iran even if political expediency turns out to be the reason for some to contemplate the attack.


Anonymous said...

Two observations, then my analysis of the situation, followed by some personal recommendations to leaders, Iranian and otherwise.


(1) The initial answer by General Mohammad-Ali Jafari to the question with regard to the role of Israel in a possible military action against Iran, is contrary to what any impartial observer would suggest, which is that without the explicit approval and direct involvement and cooperation of America, Israel is in no position, whatever (see below), to undertake any military action against Iran. I could expound on the military aspects of this, however I believe that this would amount to reproducing the analysis by the military analyst John McCreary in NightWatch; the relevant reports by NightWatch and Stratfor can be read in the following article by Dion Nissenbaum:

One should in particular realise that in contrast to the false general perception, Israel has no security agreements with the United States of America so that Israel has absolutely no guarantees that an American administration will support Israel militarily in a time of her need. American politicians my continually express their support for Israel, however this support is premised on the implicit condition that Israel will not act unilaterally in matters that directly affect American interests. Evidently, this precondition limits Israel to military undertakings that are not capable of harming American interests in the region, or elsewhere for that matter. It follows that the decision for any possible military action against Iran by Israel will be taken, if at all, in Washington and not in Jerusalem.

(2) It is very remarkable that towards the end of the Jam-e Jam interview, General Jafari seems to change his viewpoint towards the conventional one, that America is pivotal for any military action to be undertaken, or contemplated, by Israel against Iran.

It would be very useful to understand why General Jafari has chosen to put forward two conflicting viewpoints in the same interview. Is General Jafari sending two different messages to two different constituencies? I cannot imagine that the inconsistency that I am referring to is a consequence of an oversight (although this cannot be ruled out), as the text of the interview is extremely carefully composed.


Before going into details, I should like to invite the readers to view the following video by Congressman Dennis Kucinich on YouTube:

Here he quotes from a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility in which the death-toll of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities is estimated to be 2.6 million people in the first 48 hours following the attack; the number of people suffering from the consequences of radiation is estimated to be 10.5 million. This means that any military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities amounts to a genocide by any definition.

Since one cannot take absence of genocidal people for granted (history is littered with them), it is important to take into consideration that according to a scientific report (which I read over two years ago) any radioactive contamination of Iran will eventually lead to a radioactive contamination of Israel within two years at the longest; depending on the wind direction, radioactive contamination of Israel can be almost immediate. Since these basic facts must be known to Israeli ruling elite, and generals, it follows that it is very safe to assume that Iran’s nuclear facilities cannot be the targets of Israeli and American military. On the other hand, Iran’s oil facilities are vulnerable and in fact today’s newspapers hinted at the possibility that indeed these facilities might be the real targets of the Israeli bombers, so as to bring Iran to her knees through inflicting a heavy blow on her economy. I must add, however, that such an eventuality certainly poses a direct challenge to China, if not also to India. China has the leverage to devalue dollar overnight.


My advice to Iranian authorities is to immediately stop this puerile practice of constantly chanting “Death to X”, “Death to Y”. I have never understood the logic behind this repulsive practice and in fact I have always felt embarrassed by its use by the people of an ancient country as Iran. I would even argue that this deplorable practice is un-Islamic: If Islam is a religion of peace, then what religious license can there be for constantly calling for the death of this or that nation? People the world over (including the overwhelming majority of the Iranians inside Iran --- from the ancient times, Iranians abided by the religious commandment of Good Words, "Goftar-e Nik") find this practice highly repulsive, not to mention that these slogans unjustly portray Iranians as violent and uncivilised to the outside world. Iranians, and the Iranian state, must abide by the norms of civility and it is highly uncivil constantly to chant “Death to X”, “Death to Y”.

Iranian authorities must also seriously consider to discontinue with the abhorrent practice of walking on the national flags of other nations. This practice is highly offensive, to say the least. How would an Iranian feel by seeing the flag of her/his beloved country under the feet of the people of other nations? Do not do to others what you do not wish to be done to you!

For the sake of justice and impartiality, I also recommend that leaders of other countries immediately stop with this inhumane practice of constantly threatening Iran with violence: such statement as “all options are on table” is inhumane and deeply offensive to anyone who respects humanity and life. It is un-Jewish (do we still remember the Ten Commandments?) and un-Christian (does Jesus Christ mean anything to us?). Should I, as a citizen of a civilised nation, threaten my neighbour with “all options are on table”, most probably, and rightly so, I shall before long find myself confronted with the police authorities of the country of my residence. As a matter of fact, threatening a sovereign nations by violence is illegal under the existing International Law. The matter can therefore be rightfully brought before the International Court of Justice by Iran. Iran must therefore seriously consider this legal option at her disposal, but not before she has declared illegal the chanting of “Death to X” and “Death to Y” --- some instruments happen to cut on both sides!


In conclusion, I hope and pray that reason and basic decency, our shared human qualities, will prevail and no military action will be undertaken. Although I deeply believe that the probability of a military action against Iran is very small (for all the obvious reasons, including those presented above), my deepest concern is that potentially a single unintended human error can ignite a disaster of unimagined proportions. One needs only to read the history of the WW I to realise how dangerous the present situation is. As human beings, we are obliged, by all the principles that entitle us to call ourselves humans, to do our utmost to advance and preserve peace. Our elected politicians have no rights, whatsoever, to endanger life and peace by their frivolous political games. May God save us all from the ills of Pride. It is apt to remember that "Pride goeth before destruction".


Farideh Farhi said...

BF, as far as I can tell Jafari's initial and later positions are not different (perhaps complementary?). He states initially that he sees Isreal as being in no position to attack Iran but then he goes on to say that Tehran believes that in its attack the United States must rely on Israeli support. Tehran's view regarding Israel inability to attack Iran has been reiterated both by Foreign Minister Mottaki and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani in the past couple of days.

Anonymous said...

Dear Farideh,

Thank you for your kind response. I believe that I had understood the statements by General Jafari correctly and this is confirmed by your clarifying statements. The essence of my argument was/is that the United States of America does not need the support of Israel; the role of Israel is in my opinion exaggerated, by all parties, including Israel. At best Israel is a noisy cheerleader in this whole affair. I am always dumbfounded by how so many commentators are inclined to attribute more to Israel and the Israeli lobby than is due. To my best judgement, it is Israel and the Israeli people who are continually being used as the willing, or perhaps unwilling, instruments of the American foreign policy in Middle East. This is abundantly clear to see: should Middle East come to implode (or explode, which is the same to the people living in the region) Israel is one of the first nations, if not the first nation, in the Middle East to suffer from the consequences. Already now, Israel is deeply suffering from brain drain. Many Israelis have double citizenships so that they can leave Israel at any moment should the economic and political situation be deemed as untenable to them. During her recent visit to the United Arab Emirates, the foreign minister of Israel made an off-the-record remark to an aide, on seeing the apparent prosperity of the place, that is very telling. Many people may not realise, but the overwhelming majority of Israeli people live on very modest incomes, and this is the case while Israel receives massive economic and military support from the USA.

Please correct me if I am mistaken, but how can one clarify the fact that in sixty years of the existence of the state of Israel America has not signed a security agreement with Israel? To me it exactly looks like what a non-committal abusive man does: always claiming to love the woman lover, but never prepared to marry her. Such behaviour does not signify a true love, but an unhealthy and unbalanced "love". Like the woman in this example, Israel will do well to get out of this relationship and start making friends with her neighbours. Please note that, the balance of powers in the American-Israeli relationship is such that Israel is not capable of undertaking even the most mundane actions without the explicit approval of America; American can at any moment stop the economic and military aid to Israel (to use the above metaphoric language, there is simply no marriage certificate); America can withdraw at any moment even her verbal support, that America stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel --- there is nothing that Israel can do in any of these instances.

With kind regards, BF.

Unknown said...

Basically Gen. Jafari is right to suggest that if Iran is attacked Iran considers that both US and Israel are involved and equally responsible for initiating the attack, so if attacked by US , he is implying that the theater will not be limited to the Persian gulf it will be rather the entire middle east , correctly by involving middle east he will expand the US venerability as well as politically keeping the Muslim countries more closer for political support since the Iran will not be the war initiator , secondly if Israel starts the attacks for sure she has to have the green light from US since US will know that Iran considers US has approved the attack and is a party to the war therefore US will be limiting itself to pass resolutions in UNSC and getting approval from China and Russia ( Iraq case)

Basically if attacked for Iran will not matter which one starts they are both involved and must face consequences equally, that is why we have the new media campaign that Israel will attack Iran, since the yellow bellies would love Iran attacked as long as they will not get involved (Iran Iraq war 1980), rightly so Iranians will not play this game any more
If Iran is attacked and when Iran retaliates to Israel and at the same time with firing on US war ship or a US bases in Iraq or Qatar what will be US next step it will have to retaliate back and widen the war and eventually declare war with a possible invasion, we all know that will be impossible in current US situation

Gen Jafari is right to say we have small window to retaliate and retaliate hard to make an all out war so the other side will need to decide to get involved or to walk off with tails between the legs

Basically the situation for Iran is ( Aab Ke As Sar Gozasht Cheh Yek Wajab Cheh Sadd Wajab )

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much. This was a great help.

Anonymous said...

Dear Farideh,

With reference to my earlier remarks, you may wish to have a look into the following article by Amos Harel in the Haaretz of last Thursday:

"U.S. analyst: Pentagon made clear Israel has no 'green light' to strike Iran"

Kind regards,


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