Iran has organized several Islamic groups with separate interests in an informal alliance to counter U.S. military and political forces in the Middle East. The UK newspaper, The Guardian, quoting a lengthy study on Iran’s Networks of Influence from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), concludes Iran’s “third party capability” has become Tehran’s weapon of choice. The article clearly states “the balance of effective force” lies with Iran. This supposedly exists because of Iran’s strategy of commitment to using “asymmetrical warfare with non-state partners thus avoiding traditional state-on-state conflict.”
While countering well-organized armed and motivated Islamic partisan groups admittedly is never an easy job, it is a field of warfare with which the U.S, is well acquainted. It is easy to fall into the trap that the American military is relatively limited to what The Guardian and others refer to as conventional warfare capabilities and techniques.
In technical terms conflict between the U.S. and the various Islamic groups is clearly a political military matter that has to be fought on both fronts. This is where the Iranian position in the IISS study falls short. To begin with, Iran already is in a committed effort to counter U.S. sanctions against Iranian nuclear weapon development. It appears, therefore, that bellicose claims by the IISS study regarding any vulnerability of the U.S. in the Middle East are aimed to influence Washington – and the public in general – of the determination of Iran to pursue attaining whatever they want at any cost.
The problem, however, is that Iran would have to be counting on the United States not to unleash its massive nuclear or even conventional capability to halt Iran’s drive to become a nuclear power. The implication that Washington would become so involved in a complicated war with all the Iran-supported Islamic groups and ignore the larger problem of the development of an Iranian nuke is illogical – to put it mildly. It would appear that the IISS study simply seeks to suggest that Iran can seriously counter American involvement in the Middle East or at least create that impression for its anti-American readers.
The IISS study states that Iran’s control over the various groups is simply as extensive as their financial leverage over each of them. That leverage is said to be controlling and not simply as “third party proxies.” While this may be a strength as conceived by the study, it also is an obvious weakness. If Iran’s powerful wealth source is diminished (oil export capability), its financial value to Tehran’s acolytes drops precipitously. If the funding of the various radical dissident groups is key to Iran’s regional power, the targeting for the U. S. and the West is obvious.
The essential question is whether Washington has the will to take on the anti-American, radically pro-Islam groupings in the Middle East in this fashion and to this extent. The volatility of the region has been on full display during the recent “invasion” of Syria by NATO member Turkey. In this instance we have seen the battlefield evolution of cooperation among Turkish, Russian and Iranian forces with the United States sticking by its Kurdish allies and their important oil fields in Syria. Meanwhile several of the Western European nations (all members of NATO) have their own regional interests – and operations. At a time of such extensive political division internally in the U.S., the question must be asked whether the American electorate is willing to take on such a complicated and deadly indefinite commitment.
The fact is that the IISS study may be right for the wrong reasons. It’s not that the American military capability could not handle the complicated political military situation in the Middle East. The United States has considerable and bloody experience in such conflicts. If the situation demanded it, the always versatile U.S. forces ultimately would overcome the military opposition no matter its form. The real issue is whether the American voters would care to have their country so involved. The role of Israel and its independent actions is key. The Iranians would have thought of that too.