Three Possibilities of Foreign Military Attack


Hossein Mohammadi

After a period of public verbal confrontations between Iranian and Western officials, the website of Iran’s supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei has taken the possibility of military action against Iran seriously and now posts an analysis on three possible military scenarios Iran could be subjected to. In a related development, a Revolutionary Guard commander has threatened that Iran would fire missiles at Israel if the country was attacked by that country.

The importance of the story on ayatollah Khamenei’s website,, lies in that the contents of the site reflect the views of the supreme leader. Just last week in a message to the families of those killed in the Bidgeneh military base explosion, ayatollah Khamenei called the victims “martyrs” whose work was available to those engaged in jihad (self sacrifice), and called on the armed forces to increase their efforts “so that others were aware, more than before, that martyrdom is a divine privilege for us and a source of rewards.”

The story describing the three war scenarios against Iran is written by Amir Mohebbian, a veteran Iranian theoretician belonging to the conservative Principlists camp. The first possibility he writes is an “exhaustive all out war” which would involve an “invasion by ground forces after a destructive air campaign” whose purpose would be nothing other than inflicting heavy damage” on the country.  The second possibility is “a war as a preparatory action for a political goal.”  This phase would aim at hitting Iran’s control centers for the purpose of disrupting the stability of the Islamic regime aimed at creating domestic chaos or forcing Iran to the surrender table.” The last possibility is a war on “specific centers and locations.” The purpose of this would be to destroy such centers as “nuclear, political, economic and military facilities” with the aim of destroying the aggressive machinery of the state particularly those aimed at Israel.” In short, it’s retaliatory and strike capabilities.

Describing the limitations of each scenario, Mohebian argues that the first option could result in difficulty in justifying the war to US allies, a change in the balance of power of the region, absence of knowledge of Iran’s possible response, etc.

The problem with the second type of action, according to Mohebian, is that there is no certainty that Iran’s defensive potential would be destroyed, the possibility of Iran becoming more radical, the expansion of the war to other regional countries, etc.

The issues with the third option are the public in Iran may not necessarily stay aloof and the inability to strike at all the sensitive and critical military centers.

He views the materialization of the first possibility to be zero. US domestic issues prevent it from making life in the US even more difficult. He rules out the second scenario also by arguing that even if Iran was defeated and forced to give up its nuclear centers, what would the US do if the Iranian people rejected this surrender? Would it bomb the Iranian people? Striking at the control centers would not produce a clear outcome because the “enemy does not have an active alternative inside Iran.” The goal of creating “chaos for chaos’s” sake is not something that the US would pursue with its responsibilities. Mohebian writes that the third option, which has the most likelihood among the three, has serious flaws. Which are these centers: political, economic, military, etc? If economic centers are targeted, he argues, then this translates into hitting at public institutions which would not produce the desired goal of encouraging the public to rise against the regime. Striking at military centers, even if undertaken for days, would not guarantee their total destruction because of their dispersion around the country. At the same time Iran would not be passive and would attack regional centers thus extending the war into a fully regional, if not beyond, conflict. If nuclear centers are the target of such attacks, then would the Bushehr nuclear power plant which is currently operational be attacked even though there are international standards against it. If Bushehr were attacked, would the fallout from the attack not create a situation worse than the explosion at Chernobyl? If such an attack took place, “Would Iran not retaliate by attacking the Persian Gulf countries?” he asks.

Mohebian concludes that since war is not a realistic possibility, then the reason why threats are made is simply to test the will and determination of the other side. Other reasons are to keep Russia and China on board with the sanctions regime as the alternative to war, test Iranian public opinion and support for the regime, terrorize the regional Arab countries for the purpose of selling them arms, turn Iran into a defensive as opposed to an offensive mode and test the regime’s capacity to absorb crisis.

Mohebbian’s article is published on the supreme leader’s site after the massive deadly explosion at an IRGC missile depot at a time when speculation about Israeli involvement in the blast has been raised by publications such as Time magazine.

Although contrary to other sabotage activities in Iran, the Islamic Republic has tried extensively in this case to negate the possibility of Israel having a hand in this explosion, Western media does not see this possibility farfetched because of Israel’s earlier destruction of the nuclear plants in Iraq and Syria.

This narrative as a response to what the Iranian regime feels are Western threatening activities against it comes at a time when other Iranian leaders have been vocal in their responses. Rahim Safavi, the former Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commander and advisor to ayatollah Khamenei for example recently said that “If any military or security action is taken against Iran, the geography of the battlefield and the management of the battle ground shall be with the Islamic Republic under the supervision of the supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei.” He also added that the Middle East region was in an insecure and unstable and lacking lasting strategic political and security stability.”

Regarding Israel’s possible involvement in the missile depot explosion, Gholam Ali Rashid, the deputy head of Iran’s supreme armed command said, “Mossad, the CIA or any intelligence service no longer have the ability for such an act.” “They have claimed to have had a hand in every natural event during the last thirty years, ranging from the death of a few military men to any natural event.” Regarding militarily threatening the Islamic republic however, he said, “They do not have the ability to do this and this is merely a psychological war and is normally exerted against the Europeans and other countries who they think may not support the US and Israel. Of course we are always prepared and based on the missile power that this great martyr Hassan Tehrani Moghadam has created, we shall destroy all Israeli centers.”

Prior to this, Hassan Firuzabadi and Ali Larijani also had rejected the possibility of Israel having a hand in the explosions at the missile depot.

In his article Mohebian argues that military threats are not new to Obama’s administration and existed earlier as well. He says Iran carried out a missile firing exercise in late 2009 as a way to sour the Israelis from rejoicing the Yum Kippur holiday and celebrations.

He says the West views Iran to be a multi-ethnic society which it tries to use against Iran. Elsewhere in the article he says that “Western media strengthened the 2009 protests in Iran,” notably not attributing the protests to be Western launched or inspired, something that Iranian propaganda routinely claims.

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