Iran's defense strategy
Iran has begun preparing for a possible U.S. attack, announcing efforts to bolster and mobilize recruits in citizens' militias and making plans to engage in the type of "asymmetrical" warfare used against American troops in neighboring Iraq.If the Iranians are preparing for asymmetrical warfare that is a pretty good indicator they recognize that they can not win a conventional war. It is likely that within the first week Iran's air force and its heavy infantry equipment would be destroyed. Iran also has to worry about theloyalty of many of its troops in a country where the mullah's in charge are deeply unpopular. While there may be many true believers who want to die for the mullahs, it would be hard for Iran to sustain a long war of attrition since there would be little chance of outside support. Destruction of the Tehran regime would be something of a twofer since it would also cut off a significant source of revenue for the Norks.
"Iran would respond within 15 minutes to any attack by the United States or any other country," an Iranian official close to the hard-line camp, which runs the country's security and military apparatus, said on the condition of anonymity.
In recent days, Iranian newspapers have announced efforts to increase the number of the country's 7-million-strong "Basiji" militia forces, which were deployed in human wave attacks against Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
Iranian military authorities have paraded long-range North Korean-designed Shahab missiles before television cameras. Iranian generals have conducted massive war games near the Iraqi border.
One Western military expert based in Tehran said Iran was sharpening its abilities to wage a guerrilla war.
"Over the last year they've developed their tactics of asymmetrical war, which would aim not at resisting a penetration of foreign forces, but to then use them on the ground to all kinds of harmful effect," he said on the condition of anonymity.
It remains unclear how much of the recent military activity amounts to an actual mobilization and how much is a propaganda ploy.
Iranian officials and analysts have said they want to highlight the potential costs of an attack on Iran to raise the stakes for U.S. officials considering such a move and to frighten a war-weary American public.
"Right now it's a psychological war," said Nasser Hadian, a University of Tehran political science professor who recently returned from a three-year stint as a scholar at New York's Columbia University.
"If America decides to attack, the only ones who could stop it are Iranians," he said. "Pressure from other countries and inside America is important, but it won't prevent an attack. The only thing that will prevent an attack is that if America knows it will pay a heavy price."
In December, Iran announced its largest war games "ever," deploying 120,000 troops as well as tanks, helicopters and armored vehicles along its western border.
More recently, Iran's press reported that the Iranian air force had received orders to engage any plane that violates Iranian airspace. These reports followed the disclosure that unmanned American drone planes have been monitoring Iranian nuclear sites.
"It is obvious that with Iran surrounded by the United States forces and America pressing the nuclear issue, Iran wants to make a show of force," said a Western diplomat from Tehran, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Iran's army includes 350,000 active-duty soldiers and 220,000 conscripts.
Its elite Revolutionary Guards number 120,000, many of them draftees. Its navy and air force total 70,000 men.
The armed forces have about 2,000 tanks, 300 combat aircraft, three submarines, hundreds of helicopters and at least a dozen Russian-made Scud missile launchers of the type Saddam Hussein used against Israel during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Iran also has an undetermined number of Shahab missiles based on North Korean designs that have ranges of up to 1,500 miles.
But both outside military experts and Iranians concede that the country's antiquated conventional hardware, worn down by years of U.S. and European sanctions, would be little match for the high-tech weaponry of the United States.
"Most of Iran's military equipment is aging or second-rate and much of it is worn," military expert Anthony Cordesman wrote in a December 2004 assessment of Iran's military. He said Iran lost between 50 percent and 60 percent of its military equipment in the Iran-Iraq war, "and it has never had large-scale access to the modern weapons and military technology necessary to replace them."