Iran Lacks Military Firepower for Tackling US or Israel

According to up-to-date data gathered by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Iran’s combined military might – Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) plus regular army, including their missile, air and naval forces – lacks the firepower for tackling the US or the Israeli army, even one at a time.

They point to the yawning gap between the bellicose bluster issuing from Tehran and its lean military clout.

At the same time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources note that the DIA’s calculations have only taken into account Iran’s conventional forces. They have left out Tehran’s ability to stretch its military might by activating covert terrorist networks in the Persian Gulf and Middle East for a-symmetrical warfare against American targets, in addition to the Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami groups poised on Israel’s borders.

These covert cells were exposed, albeit obliquely, for the first time by the CIA director Michael Hayden on Tuesday, July 8, in a conversation with Bloomberg staff.

He said: Hizballah may not be willing to attack American interests and provoke a global fight in retaliation for a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran.

If Iran was attacked and pressured Hizballah to retaliate, “the Shiite group may be especially reluctant to disrupt international oil supplies for fear of triggering a backlash.”

(Read also the next article in this issue: Israel’s Military Turns to Plan B.)

How would Hizballah do that?

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources reveal here the existence of Hizballah’s special marine commando units, which have been newly trained in special courses at Revolutionary Guards bases on the disputed Gulf islands of Abu Mousa, Greater and Lesser Tunb, and Sirri. These islands sit close to the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint, through which one-fifth of the world’s oil must pass.

Some of the trainees stayed on the islands and moved under cover to Gulf emirates; others were diverted to Lebanon, ready for raids on Israeli’s shore installations and towns.


Not enough missiles, launchers or precision


The DIA calculates that Iran has accumulated at most 100 Shehab-3 long-range ballistic missiles with a 2,000- km reach, but not all are serviceable. No more than 70 to 75 would be operational in a confrontation if one blew up today.

Even more acute is Iran’s shortage of launchers; its estimated 6-12 are far too few for keeping up a level of consecutive missile fire. Each launcher can boost four missiles before it is withdrawn for 48-72 hours of maintenance.

Israeli intelligence challenges the DIA estimate, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, contending that Iran can field 16 missile launchers – all usable.

They agree, however, that any of these numbers are far short of the 300-400 long-range ballistic missiles and between 30 and 40 launchers at least, which Iran would need to field for any chance of standing up to American or Israeli military might.

Up until the Shehab-3 test-fire Wednesday, July 9, no long-range Iranian ballistic test had been recorded by either American or Israeli intelligence trackers.

Furthermore, the Iranians had never before been seen firing the same type of missile at the same distance twice.

Therefore, if the Iranian claims for the Shehab-3 are correct, this test broke new ground and Tehran would be entitled to boast of the acquisition of a ballistic missile able to reach any enemy location within a range of 2,000 km. (Jerusalem is about 1,070 kilometers from western Iran).

This boast remains to be tested. The information incoming from US and Israeli surveillance of the test fire has still to be processed to substantiate Tehran’s claims. This will take a few days. Our military sources recall that hitherto, whenever Iran announced the test-launch of a Shehab-3, it turned out to be an improved Shehab-2.

Even if the range hurdle has been passed, Iran’s missile designers, according to the most reliable intelligence reports, have yet to overcome serious faults in assembling missile warheads and their guidance systems. Several warheads are known to have fallen off in tests on their way to target, while other missiles often veered sharply off-course, especially against long-range targets.

Iran therefore lags a long way behind the missile war of the future.


An air force both archaic and paltry


Iran’s parallel air forces are in no better shape, whether the Revolutionary Guards or the regular army. Some of their air fleet date from the pre-revolutionary days of the 1960s and 1970s, and are unfit for modern air combat. The only craft capable of posing a threat to US Gulf forces are an estimated 65 Iranian warplanes made in Russia – 30 Sukhoi fighter-bombs of different types, including 24 SU-24MK, and 35 MiG-29A fighters.

This fleet is both archaic and paltry compared with the hundreds of US aircraft deployed in Iraq, the Gulf and aboard carriers, and with the hundreds of warplanes in the Israeli Air Force.

Sunday, June 6, the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier and strike force departed the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf, leaving the region without a single fleet carrier.

Defense secretary Robert Gates denied that this signaled an escalation of the US military effort in Afghanistan, but acknowledged that the violence there has grown in intensity.

This raised speculation that the US carrier had been removed to avoid being bottled up in the Gulf by Iran’s closure of the Strait of Hormuz in an approaching military confrontation. A US Navy spokesman, who insisted on being nameless, denied that the carriers’ disappearance was “a move in preparation for an attack on Iran. We’re simply repositioning the capabilities to support the commanders on the ground down there,” he said.

DIA analysts state firmly that the Iranian Air Force is quite incapable of challenging US Gulf forces, much less cover the distance to Israel.


An effective fast missile boat fleet


As for its ground forces, Iran has 900 tanks, half of them in disrepair mechanically.

The home-made Zulfikar, based on the Russian T-72, is not equipped for modern warfare, whether for assault or defense.

The Iranian navy’s surface ships consist of three destroyers, which are more than 50 years old and kept in reserve at Bushehr in southern Iran, and three corvettes commissioned more than 30 years ago. Its underwater force is made up of Nahang and Ghadir attack mini-submarines and three Russian Kilo craft.

The Iranian navy relies on a fighting core of much newer Chinese, French and Iranian fast missile boats. Five are attack catamarans of very recent design and manufacture, which are believed to be extremely stable and mobile and capable of a turn of speed of up to 50 knots (93 km/h). They are armed with the latest Chinese anti-ship missiles.

The rest of the navy is made up of some 250 small coastal and inshore patrol craft.

Intelligence sources agree that Iran’s naval force, even fully deployed, is not up to taking on the US Fifth Fleet forces in the Gulf.

Considering these numbers, the American intelligence analysts have concluded that the war maneuvers Iran conducted in the last two years were a good deal smaller in scope than presented in official bulletins. Most significantly, they were confined exclusively to defensive tactics, never once practicing attack deployments.

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