Saturday, February 19, 2005

Iran Prepares for Invasion as Tensions with U.S. Rise

Borzou Dargahi, The Globe and Mail:
Iran has begun publicly preparing for a possible U.S. attack, announcing efforts to mobilize militia recruits and making plans for the kind of scattershot warfare that has plagued U.S. troops in neighbouring Iraq, officials and analysts say.

"Iran would respond within 15 minutes to any attack by the United States or any other country," said an official close to the conservative camp that runs Iran's security and military apparatus, speaking on condition of anonymity. ...

Iranian authorities say they, too, are preparing for war. Newspapers have announced efforts to increase the number of troops in the country's Basiji militia, now seven million strong, who were deployed in human-wave attacks during the Iran-Iraq war. ...

A Western military expert based in Tehran said Iran is sharpening its ability to wage guerrilla war. "Over the last year they've developed their tactics of asymmetrical war, which would aim not at resisting a penetration of foreign forces, but to then use them on the ground to all kinds of harmful effect," he said. ...

"Right now it's a psychological war," said Nasser Hadian, a University of Tehran political science professor who recently returned from a three-year stint as a scholar at New York's Columbia University. "If America decides to attack, the only ones who could stop it are Iranians."

It is an open question whether young Iranian men -- more materialistic than those who battled Iraq in an eight-year war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives -- would fight with enthusiasm against the United States.

Ali, a 28-year-old who runs a small advertising firm and describes himself as a staunch nationalist, said veterans of the Iraq war have been neglected. "I see all the men who went to the front and fought are damaged and ignored and all those who didn't are the ones running the country," he said. "I love Iran and I'm no friend of America, but I won't fight."

Hamid-Reza, a 23-year-old clothing store manager who lost relatives in the Iraq war, said he would fight the United States, but feared Iran would be no match for it.

"What will I do?" he asked. "Get inside an inner tube and go fight against the American battleships in the Persian Gulf?"

Iran's army includes 350,000 active-duty soldiers and 220,000 conscripts. The elite Revolutionary Guard numbers 120,000, many of them draftees. There are 70,000 in the navy and air force.

The armed forces have about 2,000 tanks, 300 combat aircraft, three submarines and hundreds of helicopters. There are at least a dozen Russian-made Scud missile launchers, of the type Saddam Hussein used against Israel during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and an undetermined number of Shahab missiles.

But Iran's antiquated conventional hardware, worn down by years of international sanctions, would be little match for high-tech U.S. wizardry, outside military experts and Iranians concede.

Still, Iran could create trouble for Washington and the world.

Its spy agencies have extensive overseas experience and assets, experts say. The highly classified Quds forces are believed to have operations in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkey, the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and North Africa, as well as Europe and North America, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Within minutes of any attack, Iran's air and sea forces could threaten oil shipments in the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman. Iran controls the northern coast of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway through which tankers leave the Persian Gulf. ...