By Bob Maginnis
There has been plenty of breaking news about Iran, but the most important story earned little attention.
Last week, the Pentagon declassified portions of a report to Congress that indicates Iran’s military is rapidly growing its conventional force’s lethality. That means the price of delaying military action to destroy Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, when sanctions inevitably fail, could soon become too costly.
The U.S. and its partners face a stark choice: strike now to destroy Tehran’s nuclear facilities or accept the inevitable consequences of the rising nuclear armed Persian powerhouse with a credible, sophisticated conventional military.
Three important Iran-related stories stole the limelight from the Pentagon report, however. First, the White House announced a fresh wave of sanctions against Iran to apply additional pressure on the Islamic rogue to open up to international inspectors its nuclear programs, which the West suspects are aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
Second, the British spymaster forecasted Iran will likely achieve a nuclear weapons capability by 2014, according toThe Daily Telegraph. Sir John Sawers, the head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6, said “The Iranians are determingly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons; all the technologies they need.”
Third, the U.S. deployed remotely operated submersible mine-clearing vehicles, or Sea Fox devices, to the Persian Gulf to upgrade our Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships. The Sea Fox is the latest asset to join a growing armada of allied forces—aircraft carriers, F-22 stealth fighters, MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters—to guarantee the free navigation of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil exports pass.
The build-up of allied forces is in response to renewed Iranian threats to close the strait. Earlier this month Arsalan Fathipour, an Iranian lawmaker among others, threatened the Islamic republic would close the strait “If we completely go under the sanctions” which are now in effect.
These stories demonstrate the rapidly deteriorating crisis between the West and Iran over the regime’s suspected nuclear program. But they are not immediate threats if you believe Iran won’t have a deliverable nuclear weapon for years and the Chinese, Iran’s largest trade partner, most likely ordered Tehran’s mullahs to keep the strait open.
By comparison the Pentagon’s new four part report is chock full of revelations about Iranian military capabilities that translate into real, tangible dangers for the region and America’s immediate interests and plans to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Iran’s Growing Military Capabilities
Consider highlights from that report:
First, Iran’s strategy is to challenge U.S. influence while becoming “the dominant power in the Middle East.” “Diplomacy, economic leverage, and active sponsorship of terrorist and insurgent groups” are tools Iran uses to increase its regional power that runs from the Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean Sea.
Iran influences Afghanistan through a multifaceted approach that includes ties with Afghan president Hamid Karzai and humanitarian, economic, and cultural outreach activities. It supports insurgent groups like the Taliban, America’s Afghan enemy, and actively undermines U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization military operations by fomenting violence, according to the report.
Iran rushed into Iraq as soon as the U.S. withdrew in December 2011. It exercises considerable leverage working with political leaders, the populace and Iraqi Shia militants and terrorists. Iran provides money, weapons, and guidance to radical groups and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—Qods Force (IRGC-QF) trains them inside Iran.
Tehran makes no secret about its support for Syria’s besieged president Bashar al-Asad. It supports Asad with military equipment and “probably” military trainers. Other sources indicate the IRGC-QF is embedded in Syrian combat units as are Iranian regime thugs—basij militia.
Second, “Iran’s conventional military capabilities continue to improve,” according to the Pentagon. Iran added new ships and submarines and is expanding its bases on the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Earlier this year it deployed two separate surface groups to the Mediterranean Sea and Iranian ground forces conducted three large combined-arms maneuver exercises in northeastern and central Iran, a sign of a sophisticated force.
Third, the IRGC-QF is Iran’s conduit to terrorist and militant proxies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas. For the first time the Pentagon officially acknowledged the IRGC-QF provides money, training and equipment to Hezbollah such as “a wide array of missiles and rockets” capable of striking deep into Israel. The report also states Iran “provides funding and possibly weapons to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza strip.”
Finally, the report documents Iran’s technical capabilities that could be applied to the production of nuclear weapons “if the decision is made to do so.” The report’s nuclear-related analysis is already well publicized elsewhere, but its analysis of Iran’s modernizing ballistic missile program is new.
Brig. Gen. Amir Ali-hajizadeh, the commander of the air force of Iran’s IRGC, boasted during the recent Great Prophet 7 missile exercise the West would not attack Iran because of its missile strength. The general’s statement is not without merit based on the Pentagon’s latest report.
The Pentagon report indicates Iran continues to grow its missile and rocket inventories and their effectiveness. The breaking news about missiles is “Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing systems with accuracy improvements and new submunition payloads.” And its medium range missiles specially made to target Israel are also improving in range, lethality, and accuracy.
Further, the report indicates Iran’s missile force is mobile which provides it great flexibility and Iran has a multiple missile salvo capability, which was demonstrated in the recent Great Prophet 7 exercise. The report also indicates Iran “may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015” which eventually puts America’s homeland within striking distance.
Iran also fields mobile short-range ballistic missiles with good survivability against missile defense systems, such as America’s Patriot anti-missile systems now on guard in the Persian Gulf. Some Iranian missiles also have sophisticated seekers to enable them to identify and maneuver toward ships during flight, which makes American warships in the Persian Gulf vulnerable.
The Pentagon’s declassified report is important because it confirms Iran is rapidly modernizing its conventional military to threaten even sophisticated American forces to “become the dominant power in the Middle East.” That means time is running out on any plans to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities before the consequences of Iran’s inevitable conventional blow-back become unacceptable.