Iran conventional military power overrated, security study says

Leading US security expert to ‘Post’ regarding possible IDF strike against Iran: Israel doesn't face modern Iranian air defense threat, but does face large air and surface-to-air missile force.

Iranian soldiers take part in a military procession in Tehran (photo credit: Courtesy)
Iranian soldiers take part in a military procession in Tehran
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A study by leading US security expert Anthony H. Cordesman says that the Iran nuclear deal could lead to significant arms sales by Russia and China, but that Iran’s conventional forces are currently in a dilapidated state.
Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday: “Iran is not the hegemon or leading military power in the Gulf, and its Arab neighbors have taken a massive lead in military spending and the import of modern arms and military technology.
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“Iran’s air and land-based forces are too old and too lacking in capability, its army and IRGC forces are filled with worn and aging equipment and designed for defense in depth and not power projection,” he said.
Iran’s navy is designed for asymmetric warfare that is only credible if the US and its Arab allies do not escalate to major retaliatory strikes, said Cordesman, who has worked for the Defense Department and various other government agencies.
While its conventionally armed missiles do provide for a “terror option” to strike populated targets, they “lack the lethality and accuracy to come close to matching Gulf Arab precision strike power, much less that of a combination of Arab and US forces,” he added.
“Iran’s infrastructure is all too vulnerable as Israeli experts warn,” continued Cordesman. However, he said, “this could change if Iran can give its conventionally armed missiles real precision strike capability.”
The new CSIS study titled, “The Arab-US Strategic Partnership and the Changing Security Balance in the Gulf,” compares the size of Iranian and Arab Gulf military spending, showing that Gulf states have a massive spending advantage According to estimates for 2014, the Gulf Cooperation Council states have spent $114 billion compared to around $16b. for Iran.
Asked what Iran’s weakness means in terms of resisting a Saudi-led Arab attack or confrontation that could be sparked by the Yemen war, Cordesman responded: “Iran cannot project major conventional forces into Yemen in the face of Saudi military opposition, but it can potentially confront Saudi Arabia with a long asymmetric war of attrition if it can provide funds and arms to the Houthis.”
“The fact Iran has not modernized its conventional forces in no way means its asymmetric forces or ability to arm and support forces in other states does not make it a major threat,” he added.
Questioned regarding what this could mean for a possible Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, he replied that “Israel does not face a modern Iranian air defense threat, but it does face a large air and surfaceto- air missile force.”
Moreover, he said, Israel would face “a large and dispersed target base some of which is hardened, and the challenge of operating a very long range for fighters that must carry large weapons payloads, and operate and refuel over or near Arab countries.”
Asked about Iranian exaggeration of its domestic arms production capabilities, the security expert said that Iran does in fact exaggerate its domestic arms claims and often announces developments which do not come to fruition.
Iran is, however, “making steady progress and deploying more advanced systems. Its production of ballistic missiles and weapons for asymmetric warfare, as well as spare parts and weapons modifications, have had an impact,” asserted Cordesman, adding, “Iran’s future capabilities need to be taken seriously.”
Brandon Friedman, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and a researcher at its Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, told the Post that Cordesman’s argument makes sense and that it is important to remember that the Arab Gulf states have historically used arms purchases from the West as a means of alliance-building more than anything else.
“Historically, the quality or quantity of military technology the Arab Gulf states have possessed has not always translated into battlefield strength or effectiveness, particularly in a region where political sabotage and proxy contests have been the primary means of regional confrontation since the Iran- Iraq War,” said Friedman.
Friedman went on to point out that Iran’s lack of advanced weapons systems “has not prevented it from executing a very effective asymmetric war doctrine in the region. That said, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have all demonstrated some degree of battlefield or combat effectiveness in recent years, which I think reflects a change in political will more than any newfound confidence in its weapons systems.”
As a result of regional developments, Arab rulers in the Gulf “appear to have recognized the need for a certain amount of security self-reliance, which will stand them in good stead as Iran gains access to more advanced military technologies and capabilities.”