Iran's Military Situation (1)

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INTRODUCTION

Since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, and particularly since the defeat of Iraq in the second Gulf War, the popular press in the West, the Arab world, and Israel, as well as more academic publications and policy-makers have been addressing the issue of the scale, nature, and quality of Iran's rearmament program. According to these accounts, the IRI has been on an arms-buying binge over the last two years intended to make it the most powerful nation in the Persian Gulf and the second most powerful nation in the Middle East after Israel. Similarly, it is believed to be very determined to acquire all kinds of weapons of mass destruction. (2)

More recent articles have addressed the potentially adverse consequences for the West of the massive flow of dual-use technology into Iran and express worry that the West is witnessing the rise of another Iraq. (3) The United States is very worried by the prospect of resurgent Iranian military power and two years ago Bush Administration launched a diplomatic effort aimed at preventing other Western states from providing Iran with the wherewithal to develop a sophisticated defense industrial base. (4)

Whether Iran's forces in the future will be used as the spearhead of an "imperialistic" Islamic ideology cannot be answered one way or the other with any degree of finality. However, a heavily armed Iran would most likely fight as a result of the unresolved dispute with Iraq. Iran shares the determination of the West and its local Arab allies to see the downfall of Saddam Husayn and to hobble Iraqi military power. This attitude is not conducive to improved Iraqi-Iranian relations. Competition with Turkey for influence in Central Asia could conceivably produce a clash. (5)

Finally, massive economic failure coupled with depressed oil prices could lead to Iranian threats or pressures against the resource-rich but weak Gulf states. (6) In other words, in the latter part of the 1990s a heavily armed and regionally preponderant Iran faced with tremendous economic problems might be akin to Iraq on the eve of its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The fact that these scenarios could take place makes Iran a potentially destabilizing force in the medium and long-term. (7)

Like Iraq--whose veterans chose to flee instead of fighting in the Gulf War--Iran is a nation exhausted by eight years of sanguinary war and almost unimaginable personnel losses. Many of the country's seasoned veterans were either killed or maimed in Iran's last large-scale make-or-break offensive in front of Basra in January 1987. In the last year of war, Iran had difficulty finding enough volunteers to go to the front and those who were sent were of very low quality and no match for the Iraqi units. Furthermore, many of Iran's surviving battle-hardened veterans, who had fought an infantry-intensive war with low technology, are not capable of using the more sophisticated weapons making their way into Iran's order of battle. They will need years of retraining and familiarity with these weapon systems in order to be able to conduct combined arms operations using armor, artillery and air assets.

On the other hand, one can take too sanguine a view of Iran's rearmament program. Shireen Hunter ascribes nothing but the most benign intentions to Iran's recent foreign policy activism and its rearmament drive. She argues that Tehran's rearmament is motivated solely by motives of self-defense. Furthermore, she states, "Militarily, it [Iran] is weaker than all of its neighbors." (8) This assertion no doubt would come as a surprise to the militarily weak states of the Arabian Peninsula. These monarchies formed the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981 to counter what was seen as the Iranian Islamic menace. Despite billions of dollars spent on Western weapons, none of these peninsular countries have developed militarily effective forces and the Gulf War against Iraq starkly highlighted their collective military weakness and their absolute need to rely on outside forces. …

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