If the next war in the Persian Gulf and Middle East plays out according to the Iranian scenario, Revolutionary Guards elite units will hit back at enemy troop landings by sea or air, by taking the war to US Middle East bases, Mediterranean shores, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The paucity of Iranian fighting men and size of country would make defense a tall order for Tehran, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military experts.
The IRGC's regular strength is just 150,000 fighting men – rising to 200,000 when war reserves are fully mobilized. This is nowhere near being up to the combined task of defending the country while striking the enemy outside its borders.
The Iranian general staff has addressed this predicament by assigning some 15,000 troops of the IRGC's crack Special Forces, Navy and Air Force units to striking targets in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel, while leaving an army of roughly one million soldiers to deal with enemy assaults and invasion.
That number too is far too small to defend all 1,648,195 square kilometers (636,372 square miles) of Iran, which is the 18th largest country in the world in terms of area, with a population of more than 75 million and coastlines on three seas, the Persian Gulf-Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Caspian Sea.
To make up for that deficiency, Iran has for the past eighteen months been building and training special local forces for defending the capital Tehran, other key cities, its nuclear installations and other strategic and military centers. They will also bear the brunt of putting down minority uprisings by Kurds, Arabs or Baluchis and curbing their efforts to sever main transportation arteries by sabotage and terror.
These scratch armies, yielding around 140,000 semi-trained fighting men, have been molded out of the Basij volunteer militia and local police departments.
Semi-trained, poorly-equipped to rebel invaders
The Basij, which numbers about 90,000 volunteers (The Iranians claim there are more than 10 million!) was until recently no more than a poorly equipped local militia of enthusiastic thugs at the beck and call of the regime. Iranian tacticians have managed to hammer them into five armored Basij divisions equipped with tanks, artillery and short-range anti-aircraft weapons, whose task it is to destroy any enemy forces landing on their patch.
Iran's police force has undergone a similar transformation. It now resembles a paramilitary force more than an arm of law enforcement. Its single Police Unit 110 for rapid response in urban areas has been replicated in many parts of the country and trained for combating local guerilla fighters and invading foreign troops in their areas of control.
All in all, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources estimate that Iran could field in the early stages of a war 900,000 to a million fighting men – the professionally-trained 600,000-strong army and IRGC troops and the semi-trained units making up their numbers.
This army would be far from homogenous, lacking a unified central command, with uneven combat skills, low-grade weaponry and only very basic communications equipment. The units assigned with repelling invaders will have little-to-no air support or helicopters for striking ground targets because almost the entire ageing air force, including attack helicopters, must be reserved for the big battle of the Persian Gulf against US, Saudi and emirate forces.
Heavy Iranian reliance on allies for proxy offensives
Given these grave tactical deficiencies, Tehran would be heavily dependent in any conflict in the foreseeable future, on "second" and "third fronts" fought by allies and surrogates – the Syrian Army of around 500,000 troops, Hizballah's fighting militia of 45,000 and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, which together could muster 17,000-20,000 men under arms.
They would be charged with carrying forward Iran's military doctrine of taking the war into enemy territory.
Iran's proxy army is made up of two main elements:
1. Commando forces trained for missions inside Israel
The two most professional forces under Iran's remote control are the 15,000-strong Syrian airborne commandos and Hizballah's 4,000 special forces – most of whose officers and men underwent specialist IRGC and Al Qods Brigades training in Iran.
According to Tehran's war plans, while helicopters dropped Syrian commandos over target areas in Israel, flying in low to evade Israeli radar, Hizballah's ground troops would drive across the Lebanese-Israeli border and head for sectors inside Israel pre-designated for capture with the aid of the local Israel-Arab populace, while also striking Israel Defense Forces facilities and severing Israeli transport routes in their respective areas.
The involvement of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers has deepened throughout the Hizballah chain of command. Tehran has appointed Revolutionary Guards Gen. Hossein Mahadavi overall commander of the war front against Israel in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. He is permanently seated in Beirut with a staff of dozens of Iranian specialists who advise Hizballah on intelligence and weapons systems.
While Syrian and Hizballah troops attack northern Israel, armed Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist squads would smash their way into southern Israel and attack IDF soldiers and civilians, focusing on the coastal cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod. They would make use of the hundreds of tunnels burrowed under the Gaza border fence in deference to the North Korean doctrine of infiltration and operation behind enemy lines, and also try and land by sea.
Iranian war planners foresee simultaneous battles flaring up in many parts of their country, especially around nuclear installations and important military facilities. They are keen to replicate this scenario inside Israel which is far too small to withstand such strategy.
Evidence has been building in the past six months of Syrian and Iranian marine units – the latter already present in Syria – simulating sea landings from the Mediterranean at various points on the Israeli coast where major naval bases, oil refineries and power stations would present ready infrastructure targets for destruction.
2. A sustained missile strike on Israel
Tehran plans its first knee-jerk response to a US or Israeli attack to be a concentrated four-directional missile blitz on Israel and has amply armed its proxies for that task. Not only would Iranian missiles cover the distance, but Syria would let loose from the north, Hizballah from the northwest, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the south. They have all been supplied with enough intermediate-range missiles and rockets to pound every inch of Israeli territory.
Syrian and Hizballah arsenals were recently swelled by large consignments of the new-model Fateh-110 missiles, which have a range of 220-250 kilometers, while the two Palestinian groups in Gaza have been furnished with a growing supply of improved Fajr-5 missiles whose 80-kilometer range takes them as far as Tel Aviv.
Iran has also smuggled into Gaza enough anti-aircraft missiles of different types with launchers housed underground and operated by remote control to affect Israel's aerial tactics against terrorists operating out of Gaza. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report the Israeli Air Force has just discontinued the use of helicopters for surveillance and other tasks over the Gaza Strip and border areas in Israel lest they are shot down from Gaza.
Indeed, last week, an Iranian anti-aircraft missile fired by an Islamic Jihad squad managed to bring down an Israeli UAV over the northern Gaza Strip. Large Israeli ground forces with tanks rushed across to the crash site to remove every fragment of the drone before the scraps could be collected by Palestinians and sent on to Iran or Hizballah for analysis.
The missile blitz Tehran has planned would be coordinated by a joint command set up in Damascus last June by Iran, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This command center also divided Israel into sectors for coordinated targeting adjusted to the types of missiles in the hands of the participants and ongoing events in the various war zones, including Iran.
Israel lines up its defenses
Tuesday, October 26, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, drilled a simulated strike on the building by two of Hamas' Grad missiles during a plenary session, necessitating the transfer of deliberations to another location in Jerusalem.
That exercise, which took place three days after the conclusion of the US-Israeli joint missile defense maneuver Juniper Falcon 11, indicates Israel is fully aware that every part of the country is now exposed to Iranian or surrogate missiles. That maneuver led straight into the biggest exercise the Israeli Air force has ever staged to practice the widely-varied combat, defense and support functions this arm will have to perform against a synchronized Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah-Palestinian assault.
The air exercise continues through the end of the week.
On the diplomatic front, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley Tuesday night accused Syria of continuing to "steer weapons to Hizballah militants in Lebanon in an attempt to exert control over its neighbor."
In Paris, Israeli sources leaked word to the French newspaper Le Figaro that Hizballah is running three logistics units whose specialty is weapons transport:
Unit 108, based in Damascus, is responsible for trucking arms and ammunition supplies inside Syria to storage depots in Aleppo, Homs and Tartous.
Unit 112 delivers war materiel to Hizballah's caches in Lebanon and ammo to its Bekaa Valley facilities.
Unit 100 organizes the travels of Hizballah fighters and Iranian experts between Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and Iran via Damascus airport.