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.
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Closer to home, Iran has honed a swarming tactic, in which small and lightly armed speedboats come at far larger warships from different directions. A classified Pentagon war game in 2002 simulated just such an attack and in it the Navy lost 16 major warships, according to a report in The New York Times last January.Skip to next paragraph
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"The sheer numbers involved overloaded their ability, both mentally and electronically, to handle the attack," Lt. Gen. K. Van Riper, a retired Marine Corps officer who commanded the swarming force, told the Times. "The whole thing was over in five, maybe 10 minutes."
During the 1990s, Iranian agents were believed to be behind the assassinations of scores of regime opponents in Europe, and German prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Iran's intelligence minister.
Iran and Hezbollah are alleged to have collaborated in the May 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in revenge for Israel's killing of a Hezbollah leader months before. Argentine prosecutors charge that they jointly struck again in 1994, bombing a Jewish community center in the Argentine capital that killed 85, one month after Israel attacked a Hezbollah base in Lebanon.
With some 30,000 on the payroll by one count, Iranian intelligence "is a superpower in intelligence terms in the region; they have global reach because of their reconnaissance ability and quite sophisticated ways of inflicting pain," says Ranstorp. "They have been expanding their influence.… Who would have predicted that Argentina would be the area that Hezbollah and the Iranians collectively would respond?"
Past examples show that "Tehran recognizes that at times its interest are best served by restraint," says a report on consequences of a strike on Iran published this week by Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
But Iran could target the US, too, depending on the magnitude of any US strike. "Iran's capacity for terror and subversion remains one of its most potent levers in the event of a confrontation with the United States," says the report, adding that "success" in delaying Iran's nuclear programs could backfire.
If "US and world opinion were so angered by the strikes that they refused to support further pressure against Iran's nuclear ambitions, then prevention could paradoxically [eventually ensure] Iran's open pursuit of nuclear weapons," concludes the report.
And the long list of unconventional tactics should not be taken for granted in Tehran, says Vatanka, noting that the Islamic system's top priority is survival.
"So the Iranians have to be careful," says Vatanka. "Just because the US doesn't have the will right now, or the ability to produce the kind of stick that they would fear, doesn't mean the way of confrontation is going to pay off for them in the long run."