The Art of War
Asymmetric warfare, tactics and weapons have been used throughout recorded history. Fifteen hundred years ago, the Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote, “If the enemy is superior in strength, evade him. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared. Appear where you are not expected.” This concept of exploiting an adversary’s weaknesses while maximizing your own strengths has been and continues to be at the heart of warfare.
Today, unfortunately, in American defense circles when we talk about asymmetric warfare we almost always think of it in terms of something someone else is doing to us. We may be strong, but we are also stiff, ponderous and predictable. Others are weak, but they are nimble, quick and creative. We react, others take the initiative.
It is time we remembered that we too are capable of practicing asymmetric warfare. Case in point – Iran. Iran has many weaknesses. Rather than defaulting to policies which limit our options for responding to Iranian provocations to missile strikes and bombing runs, let’s take a few moments to catalog Tehran’s vulnerabilities and how to make the most of them.
Weakness – Economy
President Trump has already quite properly seized on this. Iran’s economy is a basket case. The nation is massively dependent on the profits from sales of oil and natural gas abroad to maintain its military and keep its radical, clerical regime in power. Without this revenue, the government of Iran cannot begin to pay its bills or continue to provide public services. Millions of Iranians will cease to be paid, and entire agencies will shut down.
Grab ahold of this weakness and exploit it for all it is worth. Shut down completely Iranian oil and gas sales, not simply by imposing sanctions but by physical measures as well. Deny Iran access to banking systems anywhere in the world. If the ayatollahs want to live in the world of 600 AD let them.
Weakness – Naval Power
Iran has a navy composed of small craft and submarines designed primarily for actions in and around the Persian Gulf. The United States Navy and allied navies control the oceans of the world. Anytime we want we can make it impossible for Iranian vessels or vessels bound to and from Iran to move without our consent. That time should be now.
We have already seen the British seize an Iranian vessel bound for Syria in Gibraltar. This should become the norm. All freedom of maneuver for Tehran to exploit efforts to evade sanctions should vanish.
Weakness – Air Power
Iran has an air force with only limited capability to even protect its own air space. It has no ability to safeguard the movement of its aircraft outside of Iran, and yet it relies heavily on a number of well known “commercial” airlines to conduct illegal and covert activities worldwide. Take away this capability.
No Iranian aircraft on the planet should move without our knowledge or consent. When possible we should unilaterally intercept, and force down Iranian planes involved in illegal activities. In other cases, we should work with allied governments to close airspace, seize aircraft and render Iran’s “airlines” incapable of movement outside Iran.
Weakness – Hezbollah and the Quds Force
We typically think of Hezbollah and the Quds Force as Iranian strengths, because they provide Tehran with the capacity to stage attacks across the globe against American and allied targets. Outside of pariah states like Venezuela, however, these networks only exist to the extent we tolerate them. Like cockroaches, they must hide in the shadows.
Turn on the lights. Make it a priority of American intelligence to hunt down and destroy Hezbollah cells and their Quds force partners wherever they are on the planet. Pull in the Department of State, the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense as needed. Where Hezbollah and Iranian operators can be identified and prosecuted send them to jail. Where expulsion is more doable, send them home to enjoy life in a crumbling economy. Where appropriate mark them for direct action by U.S. special operations forces.
Take Tehran’s worldwide terror network down everywhere it exists.
Weakness – Corruption
The ayatollahs profess faith and purity. The reality is that they and the creatures that keep them in power are getting rich off the backs of the enslaved Iranian people. Vast sums of money belonging to this kleptocracy are stored around the world, and many of Iran’s state enterprises are really cash machines for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the mullahs.
Tear this enterprise apart wherever it exists. Make it impossible for Iranian state enterprises to do anything outside of Iran. Find and seize every cent belonging to anyone complicit in the oppression of the Iranian people.
Bankrupt the regime. Let the mullahs live on the faith they so loudly profess.
Weakness – the People
When we think of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 we think of the Americans who were held hostage for 444 days. The Iranian people have now been held hostage by this mad regime for forty years. Deny the ayatollahs the capacity to disguise this fact or to warp the perceptions of this great people.
Turn up the volume. Make it a priority of the United States Government, through every means at our disposal, to blast into Iran the truth about what is happening in the world, the actions of the clerics in Tehran and who is really responsible for a crumbling economy and the continuous threat of war.
We have vast resources with which to make it physically impossible for the leaders of the regime to block news of the outside world. We have truth on our side. Let that truth be known, and let it do to Iran’s theocracy what it did to the Soviet totalitarian regime.
When and if Tehran chooses to seek direct military confrontation with the United States we are more than amply prepared to respond in devastating fashion. We ought not, however, rush to use our conventional military capabilities and begin a war that may prove much more difficult to conclude than to begin. We can, without breaking a sweat, inflict devastating damage on the Iranian regime.
Let’s do so. We are strong. Iran is weak. Make them pay for it.