WASHINGTON — There is a reason American military officers express grim concern over the tactics used by Iranian sailors last weekend: a classified, $250 million war game in which small, agile speedboats swarmed a naval convoy to inflict devastating damage on more powerful warships.
In the days since the encounter with five Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz, American officers have acknowledged that they have been studying anew the lessons from a startling simulation conducted in August 2002. In that war game, the Blue Team navy, representing the United States, lost 16 major warships — an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious vessels — when they were sunk to the bottom of the Persian Gulf in an attack that included swarming tactics by enemy speedboats.
“The sheer numbers involved overloaded their ability, both mentally and electronically, to handle the attack,” said Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, a retired Marine Corps officer who served in the war game as commander of a Red Team force representing an unnamed Persian Gulf military. “The whole thing was over in 5, maybe 10 minutes.”The good news about all this is that Lt.Gen. Van Riper does not actually command the Iranian Navy. As far as we know. Who knows what he's doing in retirement, actually, and Iranian Lord of the Seas might be a good gig.
The incident happened as the US vessels passed through the Strait of Hormuz, which separates the Arabian peninsula and Iran, Pentagon officials said.
US sailors came close to opening fire, unnamed officials told CNN.
The White House on Monday warned Iran against "provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident".Abu Muqawama walked into a coffee shop this morning and saw Barbara Starr on the television explaining this weekend's nonsense about Iranian naval vessels threatening U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz.* There is going to be a lot said about what this "means" and the way in which Iran is flexing its muscles in what it considers to be an "Iranian Lake" (rather than an international waterway). But we don't do strategy here at Abu Muqawama, preferring as we do to focus on tactics. So this would be a good time, then, to provide a link to this piece by Fariborz Haghshenass on Iranian naval tactics. Haghshenass is the nom de plume of a former Iranian military officer who often writes on Iranian military capabilities.** This "explainer" piece is a good one:
Iranian naval swarming tactics focus on surprising and isolating the enemy’s forces and preventing their reinforcement or resupply, thereby shattering the enemy’s morale and will to fight. Iran has practiced both mass and dispersed swarming tactics. The former employs mass formations of hundreds of lightly armed and agile small boats that set off from different bases, then converge from different directions to attack a target or group of targets. The latter uses a small number of highly agile missile or torpedo attack craft that set off on their own, from geographically dispersed and concealed locations, and then converge to attack a single target or set of targets (such as a tanker convoy). The dispersed swarming tactic is much more difficult to detect and repel because the attacker never operates in mass formations.
In wartime, Iranian naval forces would seek to close the Strait of Hormuz and destroy enemy forces bottled up in the Persian Gulf; therefore speed and surprise would be key. Iranian naval forces would seek to identify and attack the enemy’s centers of gravity as quickly as possible and inflict maximum losses before contact with subordinate units were lost as a result of enemy counterattacks. Geography is Iran’s ally. Because of the proximity of major shipping routes to the country’s largely mountainous 2,000-kilometer coastline, Iranian naval elements can sortie from their bases and attack enemy ships with little advance warning. Meanwhile, shore-based antiship missiles can engage targets almost anywhere in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. To achieve the latter capability, and to improve the survivability of its shore-based missile force, Iran has devoted significant efforts to extending the range of locally produced variants of a number of Chinese shore-based antiship missiles such as the HY-2 Silkworm and the C-802 (from 50 to 300 kilometers and from 120 to 170 kilometers, respectively). It has also introduced the use of helicopter-borne long-range antiship missiles.
To ensure that it can achieve surprise in the event of a crisis or war, Iran’s naval forces keep U.S. warships in the region under close visual, acoustic, and radar observation. The Iranian navy commander—Rear Adm. Sajad Kouchaki, one of the architects of the country’s naval doctrine—recently claimed that Iranian submarines continually monitor U.S. naval movements, frequently at close range, and have even passed underneath American aircraft carriers and other warships undetected. Iranian UAVs also frequently shadow U.S. carrier battle groups in the area.
In my view, the Iran program halted in 2003 because of the massive and initially successful American use of military power in Iraq. The United States offered no “carrots” to Iran, but only wielded an enormous stick. This increased the Iranians’ desire to minimize the risks to themselves, and so they halted programs that could unambiguously be identified as a nuclear weapons program. They were guarding themselves against the exposure of a weapons program by US or Israeli clandestine intelligence collection, and were not trying to signal the United States that they were looking to negotiate. They did not publicly announce this halt because if they did so, they would be perceived as weak within Iran, and within the region. By continuing the enrichment program, they kept the weapon option open.Such a response is not surprising, nor is it necessarily all that fanciful. Charlie is not so willfully blind as to deny that a massive invasion of your next-door neighbor might be cause for some nuclear soul searching. But it does beg the following question: if that's what the Iranian leadership learned from the invasion, what have they learned from the occupation?
Democratic members of the various intelligence committees saw the NIE (or a summary or a verbal report or something) and went ballistic. Footnotes and dissents are one thing, but withholding a report whose primary conclusion is 180 degrees contrary to years of administration innuendo produced a rebellion. Somebody who got briefed must have threatened something pretty serious if the NIE didn't see the light of day.Joe Klein doesn't disagree, but says,
it also may be that the intelligence community was waiting for the definitive information that made this a "high" degree of certainty estimate rather than a "moderate" degree estimate.But what really has Charlie riled up is the possibility (probability?) that Drum is right on this:
This NIE was apparently finished a year ago, and its basic parameters were almost certainly common knowledge in the White House well before that. This means that all the leaks, all the World War III stuff, all the blustering about the IAEA — all of it was approved for public consumption after Cheney/Bush/Rice/etc. knew perfectly well it was mostly baseless.Awesome. Love the OVP. It's really irritating when entire offices of the US government have beliefs that are totally not falsifiable. Would anything convince them that Iran and put its weapons program on the back burner? No? Bugger.
These groups don't have the popular support in Lebanon that Hezbollah boasts. But that also means they have no "red lines" of violence they will not cross. And, while Hezbollah wants to play an expanded political role in the Lebanese state, the Sunni extremist groups would like nothing more than to see the collapse of the state into anarchy and civil war -- truly a worst-case scenario both for Lebanon's fragile democracy and for regional security.
Earlier this year, one such group, Fatah al-Islam, incited three months of clashes with Lebanese security forces around the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr el-Bared. During a recent congressional hearing, the assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, David Welch, characterized the fighting as "extraordinary, unexpected." He also emphasized that the threat had been dealt with. "Today, the only armed militia in Lebanon is Hezbollah," he said.
In fact, many analysts had predicted violence involving emerging Sunni radical groups "in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south." While promoting their own interests in the power vacuum created by the Syrian military withdrawal in 2005, some of America's closest allies in the Lebanese government and nearby Saudi Arabia and Jordan are believed to have supported the growth of the Sunni extremist groups. Moreover, thanks to a steady stream of Sunni militants from Iraq -- the types responsible for the most horrific attacks there -- continued growth is expected for the foreseeable future. At least, as long as the U.S. continues to look the other way, and as long as U.S. efforts to help the Lebanese military confront such groups are viewed with suspicion.For the lighter side of the Lebanon crisis, meanwhile, read this article. (Thanks, Seth.)