How Iran would retaliate if it comes to war
Military analysts say the Islamic Republic would strike back in unconventional ways – targeting American interests in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pressure is building on Iran. This week Europe agreed to new sanctions and President Bush again suggested something more serious – possible military strikes – if the Islamic Republic doesn't bend to the will of the international community on its nuclear program.Skip to next paragraph
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But increasingly military analysts are warning of severe consequences if the US begins a shooting war with Iran. While Iranian forces are no match for American technology on a conventional battlefield, Iran has shown that it can bite back in unconventional ways.
Iranian networks in Iraq and Afghanistan could imperil US interests there; American forces throughout the Gulf region could be targeted by asymmetric methods and lethal rocket barrages; and Iranian partners across the region – such as Hezbollah in Lebanon – could be mobilized to engage in an anti-US fight.
Iran's response could also be global, analysts say, but the scale would depend on the scale of the US attack. "One very important issue from a US intelligence perspective, [the Iranian reaction] is probably more unpredictable than the Al Qaeda threat," says Magnus Ranstorp at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.
"I doubt very much our ability to manage some of the consequences," says Mr. Ranstorp, noting that Iranian revenge attacks in the past have been marked by "plausible deniability" and have had global reach.
"If you attack Iran you are unleashing a firestorm of reaction internally that will only strengthen revolutionary forces, and externally in the region," says Ranstorp. "It's a nightmare scenario for any contingency planner, and I think you really enter the twilight zone if you strike Iran."
Though the US military has since early 2007 accused Iran's Qods Force – an elite element of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – of providing anti-US militias in Iraq with lethal roadside bombs, and of training and backing "special groups" in actions that the US government alleges have cost "thousands" of lives, US commanders have played down Iran's military capabilities.
Even Admiral William Fallon, who publicly opposed a US strike on Iran before he resigned in April, dismissed Iran as a military threat. "Get serious," Adm. Fallon told Esquire in March. "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them."