Iran engages in indirect attacks on US to avoid a direct confrontation it would lose

Dov Zakheim:
The crisis over the Iranian downing of an American Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle has cooled somewhat but could flare up at any time. President Trump was right to call off a strike on Iranian facilities, even if his last-minute decision upset the process-oriented Pentagon. It was hardly the first time a president called off a strike just as the military was ready to move: Bill Clinton did exactly the same thing in November 1998, when he called off a missile strike on Iraq.

Trump said that he did not want 150 people killed in an operation against Iranian facilities. In any event, Tehran would have responded as it has in the past, not with a direct attack on U.S. forces but, rather, by indirection.

Indirect attacks, such as the October 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut — which elements of Hezbollah carried out but which Iran instigated — or the planting of Iranian IEDs by various insurgent groups during the course of the Iraq War, always have been Tehran’s preferred modus operandi. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was certainly at the center of the attacks in Iraq, and possibly that of Beirut as well, just as it appears to have been behind the attacks on two Japanese oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Such attacks are as deniable as they are lethal, and are not geographically limited to the Middle East — or, for that matter, any particular part of the world.

The key figure behind many, if not most, of Iran’s strikes against American or Western targets — Qasem Soleimani, longtime leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force — is particularly adept at striking at U.S. forces and interests in a deniable manner. Soleimani knows that a direct confrontation with U.S. forces would not result in a positive outcome for Tehran. As one Middle Eastern leader recently told me, “Soleimani is nobody’s fool.”
The Israelis have had some success at thwarting Iranian attacks and hitting where Iran's forces are vulnerable in Syria and Lebanon.  But Zakheirm is right about their use of indirect attacks.  The attacks on shipping are an example of such approaches.  They went after commercially owned ships and not the US Navy in the area around the Straights of Hormuz.  They use proxies to attack Saudi Arabia and Israel.  It is a cowardly approach that has allowed them to avoid direct attacks most of the time.


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