Iranian Axis of Resistance and strategy of asymmetric wars

Firas Elias

Translated by Shaimaa Behery

This article sheds the light on

  • In case of Launching attacks with large numbers of troops, Iranian forces will be able to follow sweeping tactics in droves or to follow the “hit and run” tactics.”
  • The Mosaic Defense Plan allows Iran to take advantage of its enormous strategic and geographical depth in organizing an armed movement against the invading forces.

The term “asymmetric war” began to appear in the writings and studies of American officials since the end of the Chechen war during the last decade of the twentieth century with several given definitions. The first one who knew this term  was Lieutenant Colonel Bill Neamt, when he described it as a modern form of guerrilla war where protesters use modern technology and modern ways to mobilize moral and popular support. ”[1] And modern technology means advanced weapons, which have been used as part of guerrilla tactics, in a way that the regular armies of the major powers become no longer able to distinguish whether they are fighting a conventional or unconventional war. [2] Chechen fighters have used modern anti-armor and anti-aircraft missiles and within the framework of guerrilla wars they carried out suicide operations, ambushes and counterattacks. [3]

Big challenge

In this context, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington published; a report entitled: “Navigating Gulf Waters After the Iranian Nuclear Deal: Iranian maritime provocations and challenges for US Policy.” The report was prepared by Melissa Dalton, Director of the International Security Program at the center, in which she reviewed the US policy in the Arab Gulf region, Iranian driving political forces and its military capabilities in addition to all the foregoing effects on the interests of the Gulf countries and the US policy. Dalton went to say that Iran vis-à-vis others does not depend on the conventional war tactics, rather on asymmetric warfare methods, as a result of its limited conventional military capabilities compared to the US forces. These methods are characterized by the absence of centralization, and hence the difficulty of predicting their movements, which represents a great challenge to the United States. [4]

Asymmetric maritime strategy

The Iranian side follows an asymmetric naval strategy targeting the control on the Strait of Hormuz. This strategy aims at filling the strait with numbers of small boats with the use of large number of portable anti-ship missiles, in parallel with innovating number of coastal missile defense systems. In its point of view, Iran has adopted asymmetric warfare methods due to the fact that its conventional military capabilities face many problems, including the lack of interest in modernizing and reforming the Iranian naval forces. Iran has about 200 ships dating back to the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and actually its regular forces lack readiness for operations that require fast action. However, this indicates that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) with numerous elements of power, they adopt asymmetric and other warfare tactics which makes its movements are difficult to predict. For that reason, these forces often impose a number of restrictions on ships passing in the Gulf, and engage in a range of provocations. [5]

The Iranian military forces, especially the Revolutionary Guards, are a military group capable of carrying out various combat operations. Although the armed forces suffer from the presence of an arsenal of obsolete weapons, using asymmetric warfare tactics with their own techniques represents strength that compensates this deficiency. Such tactics enables Iran of using new hostile techniques especially against its weak neighbors. At the meantime, Iran can compensate its inability to provide an effective deterrent force against enemy’s forces that are superior to it such as the US’s, by seeking for developing dual-use nuclear programs (civilian and military). Iran claims that its uranium enrichment operations are for civilian purposes, but given the evidence on its pursuit to obtain nuclear weapons designs; an indication of its intentions to possess nuclear capabilities can obviously be found. [6]

Nuclear deterrence

The Iranian nuclear deterrence way which is based on flourishing its ballistic missile development program, will, in the Iranian opinion, provide a great deal of security in its relations with two of its staunch enemies, namely the United States and Israel. Iran also believes this way will also guarantee greater immunity in its regional circle. Actually, the Iranian-Iraqi war that broke out in the 1980s in addition to what Iran witnessed in terms of civil disobedience at home means that the Iranian military institution has gained more experience and strength, and until now, Iran’s lack of modern weapons and equipment systems means that the Iranian military must rely on the quantitative superiority on the level of personnel and weapon systems more than modern technology in its wars. Plus, launching attacks with large numbers of forces will enable Iran of following tactics of sweeping in droves or following the “hit and run” tactics in an attempt to paralyze the movement of hostile forces. On the other hand, the outdated Iranian air squadrons are of limited value as many of them are dismantled and used as spare parts so that other fighters can operate. Moreover, the ban imposed by the US on supplying most of the traditional and main weapons systems to Iran in June 2010 will further weaken the state of Iranian equipment, and although Iran has attempted with partial success to activate its national military industries, it is still dependent in this area on foreign countries such as Russia, China, and North Korea to develop high-tech equipment including anti-ship missiles and air defense missile platforms.[7]

Under threat asymmetry hypothesizes, Iran has developed a hybrid strategy to confront US operations in the Gulf. This strategy uses a combination of irregular tactics and improvised weapons with technologically advanced capabilities to prevent or limit the US military’s access to its bases and to restrict its freedom to maneuver across the Strait of Hormuz. Iran also can implement its asymmetric strategy to exploit these geographical and political advantages in the Arab Gulf region in order to limit the effectiveness of US military operations and this approach in itself may not be a successful war strategy for Iran, but it will significantly raise the costs or the length of the US military intervention, which will represent an opportunity for Iran to conduct acts of aggression and coercion. Indeed,  the challenges will not end once the US  sets foot on Iran’s doorsteps as it will have to conquer the rest of the country. Once again   Iran will work to take advantage of geography as almost all major cities in Iran are located in the north of the country, which will make the mission of reaching them from the south a tremendous challenge under the best circumstances. More important, the space of Iran is enormous and according to the Stratford Center “Iran is the 17th largest country in the world, and it extends over 1,684,000 km2. This means that its territory is larger than that of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal collectively.” [8]

Mosaic defense

Of course, the US forces will not work within Iranian territory under the best circumstances. In fact, the Revolutionary Guard Corps have  been  trained for a long time on a plan to wage hostile and guerrilla war campaign against the invading forces. This plan, dubbed by  the Revolutionary Guard as “mosaic defense”, will include joint efforts among revolutionary guards, the Basij militia and the regular armed forces, as the Mosaic defense plan allows Iran to take advantage of its enormous strategic and geographical depth in organizing an armed movement against the invading forces. Ehenever the enemy’s supply lines extend into Iran, they will be intercepted  by special cells formed by the Revolutionary Guard to harass the enemy’s operations. The Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basij have trained to place armor and helicopter ambushes, and most of these trainings were conducted in an urban environment, which indicates to the Iranian intentions to lure enemy forces into cities where the enemy’s forces can be deprived from the ability to move and obtain air support. In addition,  axis of resistance that Iran has established in the Middle East region will be used militarily in case of any military operations conducted against Iran in the future. [9]

In fact, Iran’s capability to carry out global terrorist attacks depends on its capability to summon a group of armed militias who are in the Middle East as part of the axis of resistance and are ready to act at the behest of Iran.  This axis will certainly be called to carry out that type of asymmetric terrorist attacks, that can be carried out with reasonable ability to deny responsibility, which will make the targeted response more difficult. In this regard,   former deputy chief of the Iranian armed forces, Muhammad Hegazy, hinted that Iran might order its armed militias in Gaza and Lebanon to launch rockets at Israel, and he even implied that such attacks could be carried out preemptively. In this respect, the leaders of the Lebanese Hezbollah have also confirmed that they will stand by Iran and any other entity that had stood against Israel. Among the  groups sponsored by Iran are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the General Command,  Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements and militias in Iraq. In other places, Iran supports the Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigades and the Pakistani Zeinabiyoun Brigades in addition to other lesser-known connections such as Iran’s links with Al-Shabab Mujahideen Movement and Al-Qaeda branch in Al-Qaeda Somalia [10].

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