Leaks, Drones, Mystery Attacks: US-Iran Tensions Boil Hot, But… « Breaking Defense
TEL AVIV: In a rapid-fire series of events, Iran has reportedly rolled large numbers of missiles into the open, potentially signaling to American forces they can overwhelm them if necessary. Elsewhere, its drones have reportedly attacked Saudi Arabian oil facilities, and American B-52s were shown yesterday taking off from a base in the Persian Gulf. Back in Washington, plans for moving up to 120,000 troops to the region are leaked by seven Trump administration officials to the New York Times.
President Trump, reacting to the Times report, said today the US has not “planned” to send troops to Iran. “I think it’s fake news, okay? Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
That’s the current state of play between the US, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and her regional allies.
Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei called on the Revolutionary Guards to “prepare fully” and called on the army “to prepare for the worst scenario against America and all the countries in the region where American bases are located if Washington decides to go to war.” According to Arab news outlets, Iran has deployed its ballistic missiles, some of them openly to the Americans intelligence sensors, as part of this show of power.
According to Israeli sources, Iran sent a message to all neighboring countries that it would damage the infrastructure and military bases in every country from which American forces operate to attack Iran, and that Tehran had deployed missiles capable of hitting any target in neighboring countries with military forces involved in the war.
According to the same sources, thousands of missiles were deployed throughout Iran, and the message to the United States is that it will not be able to destroy all targets in Iran at once, and they will not be able to prevent Iran from launching missiles.
The Israeli sources noted that the Iranian target list does not rule out civilian targets and ports in the area.
How is Iran signaling its intentions? The Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese news agency known to be well connected to Hezbollah, was the first to report the attack on the oil ships in the Persian Gulf. Two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and a Norwegian ship were damaged over the weekend near the Persian Gulf in what Saudi Arabia claimed Monday was an “act of sabotage.”
A top Israeli intelligence expert says the Iranians at this stage are showing “great caution.” Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, head of the independent Israeli Institute for Strategic Studies (INSS), former military attaché to the US, and head of the IDF’s intelligence directorate, said neither the Iranians nor the US want a war but “things can easily get out of control, as it happens very frequently between Israel and the Hamas in Gaza.”
Yadlin added that if worst comes to worst, the Iranians have three main tools with which to act – armed speed boats that carry automatic weapons, ballistic missiles, and drones carrying explosives.
In an assessment he prepared shortly before the current crisis began, he said Tehran seeks to exact a cost against the United States following a year in which it relied on “strategic patience” in the hopes of receiving compensation from the European countries after American sanctions were imposed.
According to Yadlin, both sides are putting tough conditions on any return to negotiations, but both seem to understand that the path of dialogue may be the least dangerous. Since recent developments demonstrate the potential for escalation that could be significant for Israel’s security, “the Israeli security cabinet must agree on a policy planning in the short-term, medium-term and long-term.”
Yadlin says that Iran’s difficulties with the US have escalated and “Iran’s attempt to establish and build advanced military capabilities in Syria with Israel was a stinging failure,” leaving them with far fewer options.
Since 2018, the Israeli air force has conducted “many more” than 200 strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, mainly facilities that were built to upgrade the 140.000 Iranian-made rockets Teheran supplied to the Hezbollah terror organization in Lebanon.
For its part, Iran has sent a message to Israel and the US by allowing groups in Gaza to use the new Badr-3 rocket during the massive attack on Israel earlier this month.
The new rocket supplied by Iran carries a 551-pound warhead and boasts a range of more than 37 miles.
Iran is capable of supplying an even more advanced version of the Badr. According to reports, this upgraded rocket carries a warhead with a proximity sensor that causes it to explode 30 meters above the ground. The warhead has 1,400 metal fragments to strike everything in a radius of 1,150 feet.
According to Yair Ramati, former head of the Israeli ballistic missiles defense directorate, “what pops up in Yemen can easily find its way to other places like Lebanon.”
In his assessment, Yadlin says that Iran has embarked on a three-pronged strategy: It strives to force European countries to consolidate and institutionalize the mechanism for compensation for American sanctions. To preserve its national honor and deter the US, Iran aspires to exact a price from the United States and its ally Israel. To neutralize the Saudis and their allies, Iran threatens Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Iran also has a range of possible military actions, from attacking American soldiers in Syria and in Iraq through proxy organizations, firing rockets or carrying out terrorist activities by organizations from Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip against US interests in the Middle East or against Israel.
“It should be noted that Iran operated in the 1980s against the Marines in Beirut – through Hezbollah – and claimed the lives of hundreds. Iran is also accused by the United States of responsibility for the killing of 500 of its soldiers in Iraq after the Second Gulf War, through Shiite militias directly linked to Tehran and operated by it,” Yadlin says.
Yadlin points out Washington’s warning to ships operating in the Gulf of attempts to attack tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. On May 12, first reports were received from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia about attacks on merchant ships and oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. No one took responsibility and no significant damage was done, but the move likely has ties to Iranian groups operating with a low signature, as a hint of capabilities.
Yadlin assess that a military clash between Iran and the US – in the Gulf, Iraq or Syria, or the blocking of the Straits of Hormuz – does not directly affect Israel, but such developments would have indirect implications. “The chances that the Iranians will leave Israel out of the war, if it develops, are low.”
Meanwhile, the US has deployed a Carrier Strike Group, a Patriot anti-missile battery, at least four B-52s and an amphibious transport dock to the region.
But even as all the hardware and people line up across the region, there are indicators that neither side wants this to get out of hand.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after talks with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Sochi on Tuesday that the US “fundamentally” did not want war with Iran, adding the usual warning: “We have also made clear to the Iranians that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion.”
Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a tweet that, “We don’t seek a war, nor do they.”
And Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Seyyed Abbas Mousavi said Monday that the incidents were “alarming and regrettable.” But somebody tried to blow up those four tankers and attacked the Saudi oil facilities. To what end? Is this designed to show the US that Iran is unafraid of the sanctions and set the stage to new nuclear negotiations? It wouldn’t be any stranger than much else that has transpired in the last few months.