Alireza Nader writes: Iran’s response to Israeli or U.S. air strikes is likely to feature unconventional tactics that would not necessarily lead to battlefield successes, such as defeat of the U.S. Fifth Fleet. But its strategy could theoretically achieve an overall political and psychological victory.
The Islamic Republic’s reaction would incorporate lessons learned from the eight-year Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s and the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 — two of the defining conflicts of the late 20th century. The Gulf War was the longest and deadliest modern Middle East conflict. And Hezbollah, with aid and arms from Iran, fought the longest modern war with Israel. Iran would almost certainly also factor in past U.S. military operations in the region.
Despite their boasting, Iranian leaders are well aware that they cannot defeat the U.S. military in a face-to-face conflict. But as Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel demonstrated, battlefield losses (or draws) can be turned into psychological victories. The Islamic Republic has devoted substantial information and media resources to fight a psychological war (jang e ravani). Hezbollah was able to withstand the Israeli military and shoot missiles into Israeli cities throughout the conflict — and thus convince many Arabs that it had won.
Iran could again try to claim a victory simply by withstanding an assault and retaining much of its nuclear know-how and technology, even if it sustained significant losses. But Israel and the United States have also learned from the 2006 Hezbollah war. Regardless, any war with Iran could be long, costly and ultimately unsuccessful in eliminating Iran’s nuclear drive. [Continue reading…]