Iran’s attack on US bases: a major roll of the dice - analysis

The Islamic regime knows that most Americans do not want war – but that it is not secure and could be targeted.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pray near the coffins of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, in Tehran, Iran, Ja (photo credit: OFFICIAL PRESIDENT WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pray near the coffins of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, in Tehran, Iran, Ja
(photo credit: OFFICIAL PRESIDENT WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iran has gambled with an early-morning attack on two US bases in Iraq in response to the US assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
Reports say more than a dozen ballistic missiles were launched by Iran at Ain al-Asad air base and US forces stationed in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
This is a major roll of the dice for Tehran, which hopes that the United States will not respond – or at least not with a massive retaliation.
Iran’s regime knows that most Americans do not want war. The regime also knows it is not secure and could be targeted.
Iran used ballistic missiles, its weapon of choice, perfected over years of tests. They are the same missiles used in Yemen and against ISIS and Kurdish dissidents.
In October 2018, Tehran fired ballistic missiles at ISIS in Syria. It also used missiles against the Kurds in Koya that September.
Reports indicate that Iran also sent ballistic missiles to Iraq a month earlier in August and again in December 2019.
These missiles threaten the wider Middle East – including Israel and Saudi Arabia – and US bases in the Gulf, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere.
Iran’s rocket and missile program is one of its most sophisticated indigenous defense programs. Iran is a rocket pioneer, along with its drones, and has sought to equip Hezbollah with precision-guided munitions.
This is why Iran chose to attack the US with its missiles: They are precise and can be deadly. But Iran knows it does not have an air force or navy that can confront the US. It has missiles, drones and large numbers of infantry in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its regular army, called the Artesh.
Iran has allies in the region, such as the 100,000-strong Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq, a mostly Shi’ite group of militias. Some of these groups have been designated as terrorists by the US.
Kataib Hezbollah (KH) has already been accused of around a dozen rocket attacks on US bases over the last year in Iraq. The US killed its leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in the same strike that took out Soleimani.
KH has fired rockets and launched drones at Israel and Saudi Arabia. It has also used its proxies to attack the US in Iraq with rockets since 2018.

THE RECENT crisis began with a December 27 rocket attack on US forces in Iraq near Kirkuk. Washington responded with airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah. Iraqi pro-Iranian militia members then stormed the US Embassy compound in Baghdad; the US killed Soleimani and Muhandis in response to that. Now, the January 8 ballistic-missile attack is Iran’s latest move.
Iran knows the death of Soleimani cannot go unanswered. It has seen tensions rise with the US for a year. In May, Iran began by attacking oil tankers. It continued its attacks in June and downed a US drone. It fired rockets at Saudi Arabia in May, and again in September, using drones and cruise missiles. It waylaid a British ship and carried out 12 rocket attacks in Iraq.
So while Iran has already carried out many attacks, most of them were small and calculated. The Islamic Republic wanted to know how the US would respond. When President Donald Trump decided to hit Soleimani and Muhandis, the rules of the game changed.
What are some of the ballistic and other missiles that Iran has? The Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar, Qiam 1, Shahab-3, Fajr-3 and Fajr-5. They range in sophistication from less accurate to precision missiles and from short- to long-range. Iran also has long-range cruise missiles, such as the Hoveizeh of the Soumar series. The Shahab-3 is supposed to have a range up to 1,000 km., and the Hoveizeh has a similar range, even though Iran boasts of even greater ranges for its missiles and cruise missiles.
Iran’s regime usually prefers ambiguity. It likes recruiting proxies such as Hezbollah or the Houthis in Yemen to use missiles so that it can have plausible deniability. Even when its drones attacked Saudi Arabia in September, it asked the Houthis to take credit. Iran never likes to do things by itself. It wants others to fight and be the target of reprisals. That is why it was so outraged by Soleimani’s death.
And this is why the regime gambled on Wednesday to strike at US forces in Iraq, hoping that America does not want to push the crisis deeper and start a conflict in Iraq.
Iran must also be careful not to anger and alienate the Iraqis. The attack on Erbil could stoke tensions in the Kurdistan region.
Initial reports indicate that the rockets that fell in Erbil did not do much or any damage. The major attack was at the Ain al-Asad base.
Trump spoke at that base in December 2018 – one of the reasons it may have been chosen as a symbolic and meaningful target.
Tehran has pulled the trigger on the first major attack from Iran targeting Americans. Now, based on America’s response, it must decide what to do next.