Iran’s Response to a Military Strike

Among the consequences of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, we often hear about Iran’s fearsome response capacity, which at its most potent include its proxies (Hezbollah, Hamas and militia cells in Iraq and potentially Afghanistan); its long-range missiles (capable of reaching Israel); its asymmetric and irregular assets abroad (think terrorist attacks); and the ability to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipping. Sam Roggeveen was the first person I remember who directly challenged a number of these assumptions. Eugene Gholz recently expressed skepticism about the oil transport angle.

Now Robert Farley builds on a post by Galrann about the range of likely Iranian responses which adds even more common sense to the discussion. The point being, just because Iran could unleash a devastating wave of symmetric and asymmetric counterattacks, that doesn’t necessarily mean they would. In fact, there would be a very serious strategic calculation to be made in order to strike the right balance between deterring future attacks while avoiding the risk of excalation. If you believe — as I do — that Iranian strategists have demonstrated themselves to be rational and clever, then it stands to reason, as Farley argues, that their response to any potential military scenario will be calibrated as well.

This is not an argument in favor of a military strike, mind you, but rather an argument against hysterical exagerrations of the actual threat posed by Iran, by both sides of the debate. In fact, by assuming an irrational Iranian strategic command that will either impetuously launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack should it gain weapons status and/or impetuously launch retaliatory strikes should it be prevented from doing so, the two sides of the debate make the same mistake of not paying very close attention to the Iranian strategic command.

More World Politics Review