As Iran continues its aggression against the U.S. — yesterday shooting down an American drone — one has to wonder what will happen if full-blown conflict occurs. To answer that question, The Jerusalem Post’s Seth J. Frantzman takes a look at how the U.S. and its allies stack up against the Islamic Republic and its proxies:
Tags: Iran Israel Jerusalem Post Middle East Unrest Seth J. Frantzman Terrorism United States US-Israel Relations
When we look at how Iran and its allies have waged war in the past, it is clear Iran doesn’t wage massive wars.
Iran has a regular army and navy, called Artesh. These armed forces are potentially quite large in a country of 80 million. It has 530,000 men under arms, but according to the Middle East Institute, they are poorly equipped.
Since Iran’s last land war was its 1980-1988 conflict with Iraq, it is “hard to provide an accurate assessment of their real fighting capabilities.” The war with Iraq saw Iran use human wave attacks on a battlefield that sometimes resembled more World War I than a war of maneuver and technology. Even though Saddam Hussein’s army fought the Iranians to a standstill, it was no match for the US military in the 1991 Gulf War and it was easily destroyed.
Iran doesn’t spend much on its army. Around $16 billion in 2017, compared to an Israeli defense budget of up to $19b. Saudi Arabia plows through $76b., and the Americans spend $600b.
This then tells us Iran’s conventional army is no match for the US in a real war. But Iran doesn’t fight large conventional wars. Its strategy is based on its alliance system involving the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its affiliates, allies and proxies, including Houthi rebels in Yemen, Iraqi paramilitaries, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza…
The way Iran fights wars, though, is asymmetrically. It doesn’t want a conventional war. That is why Iran also uses other allies, such as the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shi’ite militias called the PMU. These have 100,000 men under arms and possess missiles, rockets and armored vehicles. They helped defeat ISIS, and some of them have fought the Americans in the past. The US army in Iraq today is there solely to train Iraqi security forces against ISIS, not to fight Iran. In the last week, there have been four rocket and mortar attacks near US forces. Iran knows that in each case, if its allies harass the US, the US will not likely retaliate but will call on the Iraqi army to respond.
In Syria, Iranian-backed militias have tested the US near Tanf and Deir Ezzor in recent years. In each case, the US struck at the harassers. These included mercenaries who attacked a US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces post in February 2018. Any Iranian harassment of US forces in Syria would be met with force. And the US has the forces to deal that blow, including several thousand personnel and air force assets.
The question for the US and its allies when dealing with Iran is that in each case, the US and its allies – including Saudi Arabia and Israel – are capable of fighting, and have already been fighting, Iranian-backed groups. Israel has dealt with thousands of rockets fired from Gaza. Riyadh has dealt with drone attacks and ballistic missiles. Israel has carried out more than 1,000 airstrikes in Syria over five years, according to reports.
If a conflict develops between the US and Iran, the US and her allies are more than a match for every part of the Iranian octopus of militias and proxies. The question is whether each front-line will erupt at once and the complexity of facing off against these asymmetric forces in a major conflict. Ideally, neither Iran nor the US want that conflict, and neither do their allies.