tehranbureau An independent source of news on Iran and the Iranian diaspora
nextback

Iran's Worsening Military Status

by BRUCE O. RIEDEL

23 Nov 2010 01:5312 Comments

obama-and-ahmedinjad1.jpg[ comment ] Iran's military leaders, both in the regular military and the Revolutionary Guards, cannot be pleased with trends in the regional military balance. They retain formidable retaliatory power both in missiles and militant allies, but the basics of the military balance are tilting further and further away from Tehran and towards a regional alignment that will contain Iranian power for the indefinite future. The United States is particularly tightening the noose.

Start in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of Iran's rise in the last decade was a function of the American decision to remove Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar from power. With the departure of the Baathists and the Taliban, Iran was suddenly freed of two deadly enemies. Then chaos ensued in both countries as America mishandled two occupations and opened the door for Iranian interference.

But now both Iraq and Afghanistan are rearming and building formidable militaries. Both countries are still wracked by violence, yet the vacuum the United States created is gradually being filled by new U.S.- trained and -equipped armies. They don't threaten Iran like Saddam and Mullah Omar, but they do reduce its room for maneuver.

Then look across the Persian Gulf. The United States is about to conclude a $60 billion deal to enhance Saudi Arabia's military capabilities.The Saudi National Guard is about to purchase over 150 new attack, utility and transport helicopters. The Royal Saudi Air Force is getting another 84 F15 warplanes and upgrading 70 more they already have. It will be the largest single arms deal ever signed by the United States. Iran's principal military rival in the Gulf is about to get a major leg up.

And then of course there is Israel. Israel already has considerable capabilities to damage Iran, starting with its own nuclear arsenal, the best air force in the region and the best intelligence capabilities in the area.The Obama administration is about to further upgrade all of Israel's capabilities by providing the next generation in combat aircraft, F35 jets. Israel will be the first air force in the region with these advanced weapons.

Iran, on the other hand, has never fully rebuilt its conventional military from the damage suffered in the Iran-Iraq war. It still relies heavily for air power on equipment purchased by the shah. Moreover, the new United Nations sanctions in Security Council resolution 1929 impose a very stringent arms ban on Iran.

Virtually all significant weapons systems -- including tanks, aircraft, naval vessels and missiles -- are banned from sale or transfer to Iran. Training and technical assistance for such systems is also banned. In other words, even if Iran wants to try to improve its conventional military capability in the next few years with the help of foreign suppliers, the U.N. arms ban will make that close to impossible. And Iran does not have the capability to produce state-of-the-art weapons on its own, despite its occasional claims to be self-sufficient.

For Iranian generals, the world around them is rearming and upgrading, while they are stuck in the past. For a generation of officers who learned their trade in the longest conventional war in modern history, the eight-year Iran-Iraq conflict, it must be a grim picture.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, was special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. This article is presented by Tehran Bureau, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as part of the Iran project at iranprimer.usip.org.

Also by Bruce Riedel | The Clinton Administration

SHAREtwitterfacebookSTUMBLEUPONbalatarin reddit digg del.icio.us

12 Comments

"...Much of Iran's rise in the last decade was a function of the American decision to remove Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar from power..."

Great to know that the American administration finally made the decision to support the Islamic Republic.

Ekbatana / November 24, 2010 4:07 AM

If weapons were the sole criteria to win a war than the US would have by now won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Israelis would have defeated Hizbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza. But nothing like that has happened. However provoking fears and insecurities is what helps sustain orders for the bloated military-industrial sector in the US. Such large contracts inevitably lead to hefty commissions and keeps the gravy train going for these extremely powerful and wealthy capitalists behind these industries. It is a sad reflection on the human race, and this article is of a gloating nature, that where peace and good relations could so easily be built using a fraction of the sums spent on these expensive toys of weaponry, which God forbid never have to be used, to build a real peace in the whole region where all peoples could live together in peaceful co-existence in the land of the semitic Prophets descended from Abraham (pbwh) through his sons Ishmael(pbwh) and Isaac(pbwh).

If America and Americans could be true to the dream of their founding fathers, instead of allowing the evil few amongst them to cause much suffering amongst nations that have caused it no harm. Mr Bruce Riedel, it is you and your type that are living in the past, thinking the old British game of 'divide and rule' will work and playing off one side against another. People are much more aware of your evil designs on others although they may not have reached the point of actually standing up to the bully that the US regime has become dominated as it is by the very wealthy and powerful with little or no regard of the effect their schemes have on the oppressed nations of the world. But don't worry the Day of Reckoning is fast approaching!

rezvan / November 24, 2010 6:31 AM

Tehran is probably well aware that its air force and naval fleet is outdated and inferior compared to that of its regional neighbours. Their strategic defensive and offensive capabilities rest on their medium range SAMs, their ability to mine the Strait of Hormuz in a time of crisis, and their ability to wage unrest and conflict through proxies such as Hezbollah. Tehran has also been trying to balance out their military deficiencies through diplomatic efforts with neighbours such as Saudi Arabia.

Arnold / November 24, 2010 7:14 AM

"...For Iranian generals, the world around them is rearming and upgrading, while they are stuck in the past..."

As opposed to American generals for whom the world around them is disarming and where they see white doves flying over wide stretches of green pasture...and at Westpoint, it is a taboo to talk about the past.

Ekbatana / November 24, 2010 9:55 AM

It is rather shamefull for the USA to boast military capabilities, when their only achievements (with the help from europe and 'Israel') was nothing but innocent civilian murder and unstability in the occupied region.For 10 years the mighty USA have struggled unsuccesfully to deal with a hand full of simply armed militants i doubt HAha they can manage the might of God protected Iran...long live the republic!

AliHaji / November 24, 2010 11:09 AM

"...The Saudi National Guard is about to purchase over 150 new attack, utility and transport helicopters. The Royal Saudi Air Force is getting another 84 F15 warplanes and upgrading 70 more they already have..."

"...The Obama administration is about to further upgrade all of Israel's capabilities by providing the next generation in combat aircraft, F35 jets. Israel will be the first air force in the region with these advanced weapons..."

If anything, this reflects an arms race between Saudi Arabia and Israel. What does Iran have to do with this?

After all, how can an army equipped with "equipment purchased by the shah," motivate such a huge unprecedented arms buildup in the region? I mean how much arms do they need to have in order for them to feel secure and safe against Iran? Or is it against each other? Isn't Iran's military "stuck in the past," as you say?

Mr. Riedel, did you believe your old boss when he said "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky?"

Ekbatana / November 24, 2010 12:07 PM

AliHaji,
Gurrilla warfare is something I doubt America would face with Iran. Since it would never try and invade, only press a few buttons and level it without leaving the US

Ollie / November 24, 2010 7:10 PM

It is rather wishful thinking to say that the U.S. involvement in Afganistan and Iraq have been anything close to failures. As well as the Israeli attack of lebanon.

As the Bush administration found out, occupation is different than destroying the military defense...Even so, compared to historical occupations, the U.S. casualities were/are extremely light. The major difference is that the U.S. populace is intolerant of even the fewest casualities in these conflicts.

If the real security of the U.S. were at stake, the U.S. would be more than willing to accept such casualities. And they would be thankful it was so minor. The Vietnam and Korean conflicts were far less successful, yet the U.S. populace excepted the much higher rates of casualities. WWI and WWII saw much higher casualties and the U.S. populace saw these as great victories.

muhammad billy bob / November 24, 2010 11:58 PM

Iran's military is the best in the region. Could and will defeat israel. Iraq will see the light and join Iran, Afganistan will sink under its own weight.

Radical_Guy / November 26, 2010 11:52 PM

All knows iran has developed in many important fields.THE Matter of fact is that any war fought till not needed only the weaponary but many other things as well.iran is superior than all other nations of the region. LONG LIVE IRAN.

Shuja Abbass / November 28, 2010 5:20 PM

One correction Shuja, Iran is superior to all nations of the world.

Radical_Guy / December 1, 2010 10:56 PM

The article is self defeating:

It proclaims Israel to be the force to deal with. Yet, it ignores the fact that Iranian know-how, with Lebanese courage, not only stopped the Israel warmachine, it actually totally defeated it-despite the latters "inteligence" and "airforce." Making US military technology irrelevant.

Iran has wilfully not purchased weapons from abroad over the past 20 years, averaging $2.5 billion worth of weapons purchase per year. It is the reason why Iran's economy is now ranked 17th by the IMF, with over $90 billion in cash and gold reserves, while Iran's "main rival" the Saudi's are ranked 21st (despite 4 times the oil exports volume) and are in $50 billion debt (according to Saudi government itself). This is the principle reason why Iran has gained grounds in the region while the Saudi's are retreating every year. And this economic record will dwarf any irresponsible purchase of weapons the Saudi's make.

The article ignores that Lebanon's Prime Minister, the son of slained Prime Minister Hariri, is now in Iran to purchase Iranian weapons and technical support staff to modernize teh Lebanese military based on the experience gained in 2006.

Mr. Maleki, PM of Iraq, finally came to Iran to be able to form a new government, sidelining US backed Alawi. On his first speech, Maleki vowed all US troops HAVE to move out by Dec. 2011 as planned. I don't think I have to go through Afganistan to point out how strong is Iran's position.

Finally, people always ignore the fact that Iran has excellent and expanded relationship with every democratic state in ME-Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon. Iran's expansion of economic and political power in the region is not only depended on what happens in Iraq and Afganistan. Iran immensely benefits even if Iraq and Afanistan simply stay stable and have open borders to trade with Iran. Iran currently has a positive trade flow with Iraq equivalent to $8 billion and $1 billion with Afganistan.

We in America, are best served if we get better advice than what the author presents and hope to device a foreign policy that serves the broader American interests in the long run.

Anonymous / December 2, 2010 12:14 PM