Stopping Iran’s Missile War on Saudi Arabia

Nov. 10 2017

This weekend, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile at Riyadh, which was successfully intercepted by the anti-missile system provided to the Saudis by the U.S. The strike is part of the bloody civil war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their allies are trying to drive out the Houthis and their allies and restore the internationally-recognized government—thus preventing Yemen from becoming another satellite of Tehran. Michael Knights writes:

Since the Saudi-led intervention began in March 2015, Houthi rebels have fired hundreds of short-range tactical rockets and missiles into Saudi Arabia, along with at least 30 longer-range ballistic missiles. The vast majority of these strikes have . . . targeted Saudi border towns and military bases, resulting in thousands of civilians wounded or displaced. Other types of systems have also been used in large numbers, including unguided Qaher-1 free-flight missiles launched at targets up to 250 km inside Saudi Arabia, particularly King Khaled Air Base and the adjacent Khamis Mushait Military City. . . .

Iran has a long history of helping foreign militant allies with missile programs, providing Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad with expert support operatives and a series of rocket and missile systems. More to the point, Iran has openly acknowledged its military assistance to the Houthis. . . .

For Iran, providing missile and other military support to the Houthis is a no-brainer. At very little cost, its Revolutionary Guard can strengthen ties with a regional ally and demonstrate its ability to threaten Saudi Arabia, and perhaps the UAE and Qatar as well, where vital U.S. bases lie just outside the current range of Houthi missiles. And if the rebels manage to hit a crucial U.S. or allied target, the Iranians are confident that the Houthis will pay the price, not them.

At the tactical level, the Revolutionary Guard is well aware that every missile attack drains Saudi capabilities, since a Houthi missile costing at most $1 million must be intercepted by Patriot missiles costing $2-3 million each. Continued attacks could even force the Saudis to develop another axis of expensive missile defenses in addition to the set required to defend itself against Iran across the Persian Gulf. The Revolutionary Guard is also learning valuable lessons about how its own missiles might perform against U.S.-provided defenses. For all these reasons, the missile war needs to stop.

Knights suggests how the U.S. can help make this happen by tightening the arms blockade on Yemen, providing intelligence and air support to Saudi Arabia, and other measures.

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More about: Iran, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen

Iran’s Defeat May Not Be Immediate, but Effective Containment Is at Hand

Aug. 20 2018

In the 1980s, the U.S. pursued a policy of economic, military, and political pressure on the Soviet Union that led to—or at least hastened—its collapse while avoiding a head-on military confrontation. Some see reasons to hope that a similar strategy might bring about the collapse of the Islamic Republic. Frederick Kagan, however, argues against excessive optimism. Carefully comparing the current situation of Iran to that of the Gorbachev-era USSR, he suggests instead that victory over Tehran can be effectively achieved even if the regime persists, at least for the time being:

What must [an Iran] strategy accomplish in order to advance American national security and vital national interests? Regime change was the only outcome during the cold war that could accomplish those goals, given the conventional and nuclear military power of the Soviet Union. Iran is much weaker by every measure and much more vulnerable to isolation than the Soviets were. . . . Isolating Iran from external resources and forcing the regime to concentrate on controlling its own population would be major accomplishments that would transform the Middle East. . . .

It is vital to note that the strategy toward the Soviet Union included securing Western Europe against the Soviet threat and foreclosing Soviet efforts to pare America’s allies, especially West Germany, away from it while simultaneously supporting (in an appropriately limited fashion) the Solidarity uprising in Poland and the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. It is not meaningful to speak of a victory strategy against Iran that does not include contesting Iranian control and influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq while strengthening and hardening the Arab frontline states (including Oman and Qatar) against Iranian influence.

Syria is Iran’s Afghanistan—it is the theater in which Iranian forces are most vulnerable, where Iranian popular support for the war is wearing thin, and where the U.S. can compel [Iran] to expend its limited resources on a defensive battle. Iraq is Iran’s Poland—the area Iran has come to dominate, but with limitations, and a country Iran’s leaders believe they cannot afford to lose. The U.S. is infinitely better positioned to contest Iran’s control over Iraq than it ever was in Poland (and similarly better positioned in Syria than it was in Afghanistan).

A long-term approach would focus on building a consensus among America’s allies about the need to implement a victory strategy. It would deter the Russians and Chinese from stepping in to keep Iran alive. It would disrupt the supply chain of strategic materials Iran needs to advance its nuclear and conventional military capabilities. And it would force Iran to fight hard for its positions in Iraq and Syria while simultaneously pressing the Iranian economy in every possible way. Such a strategy would almost certainly force the Islamic Republic back in on itself, halt and reverse its movement toward regional hegemony, exacerbate schisms within the Iranian leadership and between the regime and the people, and possibly, over time, and in a uniquely Iranian way, lead to a change in the nature of the regime.

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More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Soviet Union, U.S. Foreign policy