Middle Israel: Attacking Iran - dos and don'ts

This column has three dos and don’ts to suggest, as the White House considers attacking Iran.

THE NIMITZ-CLASS aircraft carrier ‘USS Abraham Lincoln’ transits the Strait of Gibraltar, entering the Mediterranean Sea in April (photo credit: CLINT DAVIS/US NAVY/REUTERS)
THE NIMITZ-CLASS aircraft carrier ‘USS Abraham Lincoln’ transits the Strait of Gibraltar, entering the Mediterranean Sea in April
Middle-aged mechanical engineer Patrick M. Shanahan, who spent 31 years in Boeing and less than two in government, was doubtfully aware of this history when he reportedly showed President Donald Trump last week the US military’s plans in case Iran restores its nuclear misbehavior.
The 120,000 troops that the acting defense secretary said the US military was ready to deploy in such a case would be more than twice the size of the Greek force of 45,000 foot soldiers and 7,000 horsemen with which Alexander the Great overran ancient Persia.
For its part, the first Western invasion of Iran deployed more troops than Caliph Omar’s Arab army that seized Persia and made it Muslim after Muhammad’s death.
The burgeoning American deployment would be roughly the size of the Mongol hordes that overran Persia in the 13th century, and smaller only than the Anglo-Soviet invasion of summer 1941, when 200,000 troops, 1,000 tanks and more than 500 aircraft subdued Iran in three weeks.
The American commotion brings to Iranian minds all these Persian traumas: a Western intrusion like Alexander’s, backed by Arabs like Omar, while serving superpower agendas like Stalin’s and Churchill’s and delivering carnage like Genghis Khan’s.
This is no reason to either back or oppose an America assault, but it is to say that at stake, from the target’s viewpoint, is Armageddon.
From the American viewpoint, at stake are decades of unsettled accounts harking back to the 1979 hostage crisis, when Iran humiliated 52 American diplomats for 444 days, and to the 1983 Beirut bombings in which 241 American and 52 French peacekeepers were killed.
Beyond these looms the broader Islamist terrorism that Iranian Shi’ites pioneered, Sunni Arabs multiplied, and the rest of mankind now counts as the chief threat to its peace.
Lastly, there is the growing American impatience with Iran’s military plotting throughout the Mideast, and its ayatollahs’ continuous brainwashing of millions that America is the Big Satan.
Having said this, Middle Israelis are in no position to tell America whether or not to attack Iran. This column does, however, have three dos and don’ts to suggest, as the White House considers attacking Iran. The first is military.
AN AMERICAN attack must focus on airpower.
The aerial attack’s status in the battlefield transformed several times over the past century. The warplane emerged from World War I as king of the battlefield, so much so that one military theorist, Italian general Giulio Douhet (1869-1930), argued that aviation rendered obsolete the ground forces because they couldn’t prevent bombers from leveling industrial plants and government centers.
This thinking came undone in World War II, when the German aerial attack on Britain failed. The airplane’s limitations as a decider of wars later resurfaced when American air superiority in Vietnam failed to deliver victory.
The consequent conventional wisdom was that wars are decided on the ground, and the air force can only help this process, the way the Allies used it in June ’44 or the IDF in June ’67.
That was last century. Now this thinking has to be revised, following the Russian air force’s decision of the Syrian civil war’s outcome.
The Russian bombers’ impact represented no military thinker’s genius, and their pilots’ performance involved no heroism. The Russian pilots faced neither air forces nor conventional armies, and the piloting was simply about dropping bombs, often on civilians.
Then again, militarily unassuming and morally appalling though all this was – it worked.
This is, of course, not to say the US should target Iran’s civilians – it shouldn’t. It is, however, to say that Iran’s air force is antiquated, relying heavily on the Phantoms Nixon sold the Shah, which besides being dated also lack spare parts.
The US Air Force is therefore in a position to overpower Iran’s air force and also to debilitate its airfields over a relatively short period of time, and at minimal cost in American, and also Iranian, lives.
Having said this about a prospective attack’s aerial focus, our second recommendation is to avoid any invasion on the ground.
ONE REASON not to invade Iran is its terrain.
Unlike Iraq, whose flatness outside the Kurdish north simplified its conquest, Iran is largely mountainous, often dramatically. The Alborz range, which overlooks Tehran, peaks at the 5,609-m. Mount Damavand, which is but one of more than 140 Iranian summits taller than 4,000 m.
This ruggedness is besides the formidability of the Great Salt Desert, a moonscape larger than Ireland, and its neighbor, the not-much-smaller, and equally inhospitable, Dasht-e Lut desert. In short, an American expedition force can be easily confronted by a serious guerrilla challenge that could make good use of Iran’s unique terrain.
All this geography dwarfs compared with an American landing’s psychological impact.
Patriotism being the scoundrel’s last refuge, the ayatollahs can be counted on to charge that America is picking up from where the Greeks, Arabs and Mongols left off. The people, watching GIs patrolling their streets, will believe the mullahs, and soon start sniping at them from the windows of Meshed, Tehran and Tabriz.
The aerial assault would avoid the population and focus on the regime.
It would first raze all military airfields and aircraft, and then bomb missile sites, nuclear installations, armories, warships, secret-police buildings, and the fleets of motorbikes on which Basij cops scoot as they club demonstrators. On top of these, assorted leaders, both military and civilian, would be personally targeted.
Throughout it all, the message to the Iranian people will be: We’re not the Russians, who joined a despot’s war on his people; this air force is on the side of the people. We are after the regime that oppressed you, defamed us, and destabilized the entire world. If you want to seize your fate, gain your freedom and restore your pride – join us.
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019) is an interpretation of the Jewish people’s political history.
An American
assault must unleash airpower, avoid invasion, and target only the regime and its tools