Strategic Power, Strategic Logic

27 February 2012 | 12:43 Code : 1898404 General category
A strategically powerful Iran will adhere to the terms and conditions of its new state. Ebrahim Mottaqi.
Strategic Power, Strategic Logic

IRD: Speculations regarding an Israeli attack on Iran, similar to the ones on Iraq and Syria, have been circulating around for a while. Iran, however, benefits from unique geopolitical advantages which make it different from both Iraq and Syria, turning it into an unpredictable opponent for Western strategists. On the one hand, Iran enjoys effective avenging aptitude and on the other hand, Western countries have only vague knowledge of Iran’s military abilities. Yet the reality is that both Iran’s military force and its nuclear program respectively have defensive and peaceful natures and in no way could be categorized as mass destruction tools, despite the adverse campaign of Israel’s intelligence services and the Western diplomatic circles.


Neither Israel nor the West has objections regarding these capabilities. Yet, it is the ‘perceived knowledge’, the main ingredient in strategic decision-making, which determines their Iran policy.


In Fall 2011, The Washington Quarterly, published by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), published an article in which Kenneth Pollack and Bruce Riedel, Brookings Institution members --both former CIA staff and renowned Iran analysts-- noted that Iran would never launch preemptive operations against the West. Their arguments were an extension of Ruhollah Ramezani’s arguments on pragmatism in Iran's foreign policy. The piece authored by Ruhollah Ramezani in the Middle East Journal (Fall 2004) is an authoritative article on understanding the Iranian foreign policy.  


The Western world and Israel are aware of this fact and their military intelligence suggests that Iran follows no aggressive preemptive strategies. Now the argument is: what model should be applied vis-à-vis Iran? What I have mentioned so far regarding known information on Iran’s intentions is in direct contrast to what has been taking place, particularly in the past 4 months, about a military strike on Iran. Currently the Wests’ main argument is Iran’s intimidating attitude.


Despite its poor economic and administrative capabilities, Iran enjoys strategic capability. Graham Fuller once mentioned that conquering Iran would not be a difficult job, keeping it, however, would be a tough task. The US does not take most of the Iranian officials’ comments into its decision-making considerations. They are aware that Iran’s key arguments, policies and decisions come from the Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Khamenei’s statements on February 3rd as well as in the Islamic Awakening Conference in December indicate that the Supreme Leader’s approach is one of mutual threat. Unfortunately, those Iranian officials who use threatening language have not fully understood the nature of the Supreme Leader’s guidelines.


The Supreme Leader argues that Iran should not be forced into a retreating position against the West because the more it retreats, the tougher the political, military and economic pressures become. His other point is that Iran’s behavioral pattern should not be hostile. However, the Iranian media’s conduct is not based on practical strategic model and actually hurts our strategies.


Iran’s defense capabilities of preventive nature necessitate preventing the use of provocative language and reactions that create an atmosphere in which the US and Israel can speak of military measures. The mentality of the Iranian society favors peace, yet they are aware of the truth that if you want to live in peace you must be prepared for war.


Personally, I strongly object to some of the provocative language that has been used by some of our country’s officials, as it would only damage Iran’s legitimate intentions in keeping regional peace and stability. Today we are facing several crises, which call for two behavioral characteristics: Firstly, defensive strengthening and secondly, using terminologies that reflect our true intensions in regards to our regional policy.


In this context the Western countries are aware of Iran’s structural realities and in 2011 the CIA released a report that in parts mentioned Iran’s military intention is not to gain nuclear capability. Further, it needs three more years to gain military nuclear capability. This has been published by intelligence agencies.


Unfortunately, both in Iran and the US, the media are creating an atmosphere that is affecting both countries’ operational strategies. David Ignatius, Middle East and Iranian affairs expert, believes that Israel will attack Iran. His speculations and arguments were logical and yet his approach concluded an Israeli attack on Iran. My perception however indicates that Israel would not attack Iran firstly because Israel is hoping that Iran would give in under increased foreign pressure; an ideal outcome for both Israel and the West. And secondly, any Israeli military planning is based on Iran’s reaction and whether it would eventually better or worsen the current crisis.


My opinion, which is also in line with several other strategists, is that any measures taken against Iran would result in an unbalanced and undesirable outcome and that any military intervention would increase the current crisis manifold. Therefore, all the existing issues and arguments are a part of political pressure and propaganda, which could ultimately affect certain future decisions. For instance, both Israel and the US are eager to see Iran initiate a military action. Yet an initial action is not part of Iran’s strategic behavior. Hence I argue that Iran must understand its enemies’ indications of threat and to recognize what terminology to use in the face of such threats.


On February 3rd Iran’s Supreme Leader insisted that the West’s verbal and strategic threats as well as their propaganda are not in their interest, meaning that we would mutually proceed against any expressed threat toward Iran. So far, in theory, mutual threat in international relations has not initiated conflicts. Today however, mutual threat could spark conflicts, as Iran’s influential territory has expanded beyond its borders. Currently Iran’s strategic power in the Middle East expands from its western borders to the Mediterranean Sea. Hence, any kind of military action would bring risks and implications for the West beyond the country’s borders.


Perhaps, with the exception of Mitt Romney and a few others’s opinions, it could be argued that any threat of a military action against Iran is only a psychological response to the current atmosphere in the West. Iran should take the responsibility to control the existing psychological atmosphere by emphasizing and producing language that indicates Iran’s lack of aggression.


Iran could argue that historically, particularly since Nader Shah’s era, it has been subjected to constant attacks. Moreover, since the establishment of the Islamic Revolution it has been constantly threatened. Issues like coups, foreign support of anti-revolutionary movements at Iran’s borders and the imposed 8-year war on Iran all signify the fact that Iran has been subject to assaults. Therefore it is only natural that Iran seeks to create a less-intrusive atmosphere by strengthening its power, which would work as a deterrent. Deterrence however could not solely be based on a slogan and is founded on two basic principles: Reputation and Continuation.


The topic of a US, EU or Israeli attack on Iran before August 2012 is completely dismissible. In America’s power structure there are bodies that support an attack on Iran. The AIPAC, the Washington institute for Near East Policy as well as personalities like Robert Satloff and Patrick Clawson are amongst them. None of which have confirmed that Iran has the necessary tools to build nuclear weapons. All of their analysis revolves around the idea that Iranian officials are seeking to gain high capabilities.


Let’s assume that this is achieved. A country that possesses strategic power should also have strategic logic. An argument that has been mentioned by Stephen Walt in the Foreign Affairs website.



*Ebrahim Motaghi is an international analyst and a university professor.