By Anthony H. Cordesman, Alexander Wilner
In the wake of recent failed negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, it seems increasingly unlikely that a political solution will be reached regarding Tehran’s increasing uranium enrichment. As a result, some form of military clash between the US and Iran, while by no means certain, is becoming increasingly likely. Such a clash can take many different forms, and each presents different levels of risk.
Although many reports and analyses tend to focus on Iran’s missile forces and burgeoning nuclear capability, Iran’s steady build-up of asymmetric forces presents a threat to both Gulf commerce and the military forces of both the US and its regional allies, at least in the opening stages of a conflict. Unlike Iran’s missile forces, these forces are difficult to detect and counter, and can be used with a degree of deniability to harass or disrupt military operations and commerce in the Gulf.
The Burke Chair at CSIS has substantially updated and expanded its analysis of Iranian military forces to reflect recent events, as well as comments on the previous draft. Moreover, unlike previous versions, this analysis includes extensive reporting on arms transfers to the US’ Gulf allies in the last decade, which have had a significant impact on the balance of forces in the Gulf. The first part of this analysis is entitled “Iran and the Gulf Military Balance I: The Conventional and Asymmetric Dimensions.” It is available on the CSIS web site at: https://csis.org/files/publication/120612_Burke_IRan_Gulf_Military_Balance.pdf
The Historical Background 5
Current Patterns in the Structure of US and Iranian Military Competition 13
Differing National Perspectives 17
Key Uncertainties in Assessing the Details of US and Iranian Military Competition 27
Competition in Conventional Military Forces 29
Ground-Based Air Defenses 43
Iran’s Largely Defensive Land Forces 47
Iran’s Naval Forces and Their Role in Asymmetric Warfare 51
Measuring the Overall Balance of US and Iranian Military Competition 63
Competition in Asymmetric Forces 67
Iran’s Growing Asymmetric Forces 67
Conventional Weakness vs. Asymmetric Capability 70
Iran’s Growing Mix of Asymmetric Warfare Forces 71
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) 74
The MISIRI, MOIS, or Vevak 93
Other Asymmetric Forces 96
“Closing the Gulf:” Iran’s Real World Military Options for Asymmetric Warfare 102
The Potential Strategic, Energy, and Global Economic Impacts of the Iranian Threat 104
Iran’s Growing Military Assets for Such a Mission 110
Iran’s Submarines and Submersibles 110
Iran’s Bases and Other Assets for “Closing the Gulf” 114
US and Arab Gulf Options for Competing with Iranian 128
US Forces in the Gulf 128
The US Partnership With Southern Gulf, Other Regional, British, and French forces 131
Changing the Ground Rules: What If Preventive Strikes – Not Sanctions – Trigger Iranian Efforts to Close the Gulf 173
Implications for US Policy 174
The second volume of this analysis is entitled Iran and the Gulf Military Balance II: The Missile and Nuclear Dimensions. It is available on the CSIS web site at: http://csis.org/files/publication/120222_Iran_Gulf_Mil_Bal_II_WMD.pdf . Both reports are working drafts of chapters in a comprehensive survey of US and Iranian competition made possible through the funding of the Smith Richardson Foundation, and which are to be published as an electronic book in early March. Comments and suggestions would be most helpful. They should be sent to Anthony H. Cordesman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below you will find each chapter on the CSIS website. Select the chapter title to download the PDF. The complete book is available below to be read in 2 parts.
- Introduction (http://csis.org/files/publication/120315_ch_1_iran.pdf)
- Types and Levels of Competition (http://csis.org/files/publication/120315_iran_ch2.pdf)- This chapter looks at the various arenas in which Iran and the U.S. compete for influence.
- US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Conventional and Asymmetric Dimensions (http://csis.org/files/publication/120221_Iran_Gulf_MilBal_ConvAsym.pdf) – This chapter looks at Iran’s Military forces in detail, and the balance of forces in the Gulf Region.
- US and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Missile and Nuclear (http://csis.org/files/publication/120222_Iran_Gulf_Mil_Bal_II_WMD.pdf) – This chapter looks at Iran’s Missile and Nuclear forces.
- U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Sanctions game: Energy, Arms Control, and Regime Change (http://csis.org/files/publication/120124_Iran_Sanctions.pdf) – This chapter examines the impact of sanctions on the Iranian regime, Iran’s energy sector, and the prospects for regime change in Tehran.
- US and Iranian Strategic Competition in the Gulf States and Yemen (http://csis.org/files/publication/120228_Iran_Ch_VI_Gulf_State.pdf) – This chapter examines the competition between the US, and Iran and how it affects Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman and Qatar.
- The Outcome of Invasion: US and Iranian Strategic Competition in Iraq (csis.org/files/publication/120308_Combined_Iraq_Chapter.pdf) – This chapter examines in detail the role Iran has played in Iraq since 2003, and how the US has tried to counter it.
- U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Proxy Cold War in the Levant, Egypt and Jordan (http://csis.org/files/publication/120312_Iran_VIII_Levant.pdf) – This chapter examines US and Iranian interests in the Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Syria. The military balance is also analyzed.
- The United States and Iran: Competition involving Turkey and the South Caucasus (http://csis.org/files/publication/120309_Iran_Chapter_VIII_Turkey_Caspia…) – This chapter analyzes the US and Iranian competition over influence in Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
- Competition in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Pakistan (http://csis.org/files/publication/120312_Iran_Chapter_X_AfPakCentAsia_AH…) – This chapter examines the important role Iran plays in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, and how the US and Iranian rivalry affects Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.
- U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: The Impact of China and Russia (http://csis.org/files/publication/REPORT_Iran_Chapter_X_China_and_Russia…) – This chapter examines the complex and evolving relationships between China, Russia, Iran and the US.
- U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: Competition Involving the EU, EU3, and non-EU European States (http://csis.org/files/publication/120305_Iran_Chapter_XI_Europe.pdf) – This chapter looks at the role the EU, and in particular the EU3, have played as the U.S.’s closest allies in its competition with Iran.
- U.S. and Iranian Strategic Competition: Peripheral Competition Involving Latin America and Africa (http://csis.org/files/publication/120404_Iran_Chapter_XIII-Peripheral_St…) – This chapter examines the extent and importance of the competition between the US and Iran in the rest of the world.
- Policy Implications