War's economic and human costs prompt Iran to explore new tactics

Iran is seriously considering shifting its military strategy away from traditional large-scale ground offensives against Iraq. According to Iranian sources and Western observers in Tehran, the country's Supreme Defense Council is exploring alternatives that include: heightened guerrilla actions by Revolutionary Guards behind enemy lines, increased support for opposition elements in Iraq, and a sabotage campaign directed at Iraq's main Gulf supporter, Kuwait.

Iran's decision to review its strategy stems from economic, political, and military concerns.

An Iranian journalist confirms that some of the 11 Defense Council members have said they would oppose any new economic restrictions that might result from an increase in military spending. Several members of parliament insisted their constituents couldn't take any further lowering of their standard of living.

Parliamentary Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani recently said that last year Iran mobilized 500 battalions at a cost of $3 billion. Cutting Iraq in two by occupying the Baghdad-Basra highway would require a force four times that size, he said. ``This would be much more expensive and could provoke a new rise in [prices] that might dissuade poor people from supporting the Islamic regime,'' he said.

Western military attach'es say Iranian leaders had expected a breakthrough in last winter's offensives. A NATO air force officer comments: ``You can't win such a war without a sizable air force capable of covering your infantry, something the Iranians don't have anymore.''

``Iran has realized in recent months that it cannot topple [President] Saddam [Hussein] in one go, and that fighting at the war front is of limited use,'' said Kamal Kharrazi, head of Iran's war information office, in a recent interview.

Some European diplomats in Tehran consider that talk suggesting a lull in the ground fighting may be intentionally ``leaked'' by the Iranians in an attempt to catch the Iraqis off guard for a new offensive. Others believe that Iran has already committed itself not to launch any large military offensives in coming months. These diplomats believe that Iran gave such a promise to the Soviet Union earlier this month in return for Soviet help in current UN Security Council deliberations on the Iran-Iraq war.

An Iranian official, who insists that Mr. Hussein's downfall remains Iran's goal, says that new war tactics will include greater support for the hit-and-run raids that Revolutionary Guards have launched inside Iraq since last December. The raids have been carried out on the northern front with the help of Kurdish opponents of the Iraqi regime, and in the south with the aid of Iraqi Islamic fundamentalists based in Iran. Independent observers have not yet been able to assess the effectiveness of those attacks.

According to Iranian exiles in Paris, Iran's new strategy will also include a sabotage campaign against Kuwaiti military and economic facilities, to be carried out by Iran's allies inside Kuwait.

Recent explosions in both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are viewed by some Western observers as evidence of what the future holds. On Aug. 15, a liquified gas plant in Saudi Arabia was shaken by two explosions. The official Saudi Press Agency said the blasts were accidental. But Western oil industrialists quickly drew parallels between the Saudi explosion and one at a Kuwaiti gas plant on May 22, which Kuwaiti officials said was caused by a bomb. A Beirut-based group, the Hizbullah of the Arabian Peninsula, has claimed responsibility for both.

Claude van England writes on Iran from his base in Brussels.

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