05 October 2011

Iran Takes Naval War To U.S.A.

According to Iran's state run news agency (really!):

[In] the same way that the world arrogant power is present near our marine borders, we, with the help of our sailors who follow the concept of the supreme jurisprudence, shall also establish a powerful presence near the marine borders of the United States[.]

From here.

I'd wondered if the Iranians were going to pick on someone their own size and harass Canada, but it would be absurd to think of Canada as "the world arrogant power."

Actually, of all the nations in the world that could potentially be hostile to the United States in naval combat, only Russia and China clearly have more capable navies than Iran, and North Korea is roughly comparable (although it has longer range missiles, a greater demonstrated willingness in recent history to resort to military force, and at least comparable coastal submarine resources).

But, most of Iran's naval strength lies in its high concentration of low tech coastal submarines and tiny but heavily armed attack boats in the Persian Gulf, combined with a willingness to be reckless, ruthless and suicidal in warfare. So, Iran's Navy is all but impotent outside the Persian Gulf and its immediate vicinity. Iran's "blue sea navy" is negligable and frankly a lot less threatening to the security of the United States than a covert operative suicide bomber. A naval ship can't take you by surprise in the age of spy satellites, radar, patrol aircraft, sonar and electonic evesdropping, and its weapons probably have ranges of several miles to thirty miles, with almost no "over the horizon" capabilities. A trip half way around the world at the speed of a car stuck in rush hour traffic doesn't do much for the element of surprise either.

The Iranian naval mission to the U.S. is simply a feeble publicity stunt.

Iran's main military threats are its ability to disrupt the Persian Gulf oil trade, its ability to participate strategically in the international oil trade, its ability to develop nuclear weapons, its ability to threaten Israel, Turkey and other Middle Eastern allies if it can obtain medium range missiles (particularly if nuclear weapons are a possibility), and its ability to support various foreign insurgencies and deadly covert operatives.

While chemical and biological weapons, which Iran may have devoted resources to developing, have been much touted as weapons of mass destruction on a par with nuclear weapons, in point of fact, unlike nuclear weapons, neither has a historical record of being more deadly than conventional warfare, and there are no game changing developments in either kind of warfare that are just over the horizon. A long range Iranian drone aircraft would pose more of a threat than Iranian chemical weapons developments.

For a country that has been the subject of massive international trade sanctions for most of the last three decades, Iran's economy is surprisingly functional and its regime appears to be one of the most secure non-monarchies in the Islamic world. It's unique mix of theocratic authoritarianism and limited democracy has allowed it to survive its most recent political crisis over contested Presidential elections, play an important behind the scene role in Iraqi politics, and achieve the same kind of success that the Soviet style Communists, African single party states, and other authoritarian regimes like the Baathists did in keeping a lid on suppressed ethnic divides that run deep in a nation that has many substantial and regionally concentrated ethnic minorities and minority language populations. Were Iran's current regime to collapse at some point, it isn't clear that the nation-state would emerge in one piece, and an Afghan or Iraqi style civil war by ethnic and regional factions vying for control is a plausible possibility.

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