The Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Focus discounts the rumors of the attempted assassination of Lebanese Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Shaykh Hassan Nasrallah. More interesting to the Terrorism Focus was the announcement that Hassan Nasrallah had appointed his cousin Hashim Safi Al-Din (chairman of the Hezbollah executive office) as his personal successor in the event of an assassination. The Terrorism Focus had this analysis:
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Although Hezbollah said it was “unaware” of the succession report and failed to comment on its merit, the choice of Al-Din as a successor seems highly plausible, as Nasrallah himself was the former chairman of the executive office before becoming Secretary General and the position seems a training post for future leaders of the organization (Daily Star, October 16).
The announcement also had a broader political relevance, as it followed Israel’s announcement it was ready to use “disproportionate force” in the event of a future war against Lebanon (Ha’aretz, October 4). In this sense, Hezbollah sent the message that even the assassination of its leader would not succeed in permanently weakening the organization (Al-Arabiya, October 14). Hezbollah’s declarations included a more general warning to Israel regarding a “big surprise” awaiting them in the event of a future attack, as well as a more specific threat to avenge the assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh (Al-Bawaba, October 8; Al-Akhbar, October 8).
A Wall Street Journal article reports that the new administration will be forced to pick between building irregular war capability or building up conventional war capability. According to the article, the U.S. government’s current financial condition will not allow both.
The WSJ does a good job explaining to the public an issue that has been debated in defense circles for several years. One excerpt –
The two competing schools of thought each warn that making the wrong decisions now could imperil U.S. national security down the road. The military officials who favor buying advanced weapons believe that failing to invest in those systems today could leave U.S. forces ill-equipped to fight a modernized Russian or Chinese military in the future. Conversely, advocates of expanding the size of the ground forces argue that the military will be unable to meet the troop demands of the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to say nothing of conflicts elsewhere in the world, unless the Army and Marines recruit tens of thousands of additional troops.
The final decision will ultimately fall to the next administration, which will have to prioritize how to divvy up what may be a significantly smaller defense budget. Neither the Obama nor the McCain campaign has tipped its hand on whether to focus on asymmetric conflicts like Iraq or possible large-scale conventional wars.
Representative John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House subcommittee on defense appropriations, has declared the U.S. government can’t afford the 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would like to add by 2012.
Analysis:The services need a large infusion of money to replace and upgrade equipment. The Air Force is operating a fleet of aircraft that may be the oldest since World War II. Army and Marine Corps armor, vehicles, and other equipment have been depleted and fatigued by operations in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq since 2003. Current defense spending is approximately 4% of gross domestic product; under Jimmy Carter – no defense hawk – defense spending was approximately 4.7%. The United States must maintain the capability to fight both a conventional nation-state foe (Russia, China, Iran) and irregular or fourth-generation war against non-state actors (al-Qaeda and its progeny) and countries using proxies against American interests (Iran’s IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah). Unfortunately, much of the fight for funding for assets needed for conventional (F-22 fighter, satellites, and the Army’s $160 billion Future Combat System) and irregular foes (troops and facilities to train and house them, transport aircraft, ground vehicles) will be based on politicians advancing the causes of various defense contractors who seek to supply those items.
Acting IRGC commander Mohammad Hejazi has told reporters that Iran is able to defend its borders. Brig. Gen Hejazi said, “IRGC forces have the determination and experience to guard Iran’s national interests.”
In the same article, the IRGC Navy commander noted the growing strength of the IRGC naval forces which should concern U.S. forces and shippers. Admiral Morteza Saffari said that Iran’s navy has been reorganized and is ready to defend the nation against all threats.
“Iran’s naval forces will make sure that the enemy will live to regret any act of aggression against the Islamic Republic,” said Admiral Saffari.
Analysis:The possibility of retaliation by Iran after a raid is a very real threat that U.S. forces must take into account. While U.S. forces could probably strike into parts of Iran near the Iraq border successfully, the United States would then be faced with the prospect of three problems:
Political problems with the Iraq government led by Shiites sympathetic to Iran
Retaliation by IRGC proxies inside Iraq where U.S. facilities and forces offer nearby targets
Retaliation by the IRGC Navy, especially against shipping in the Persian Gulf. Iranian naval forces possess anti-shipping missiles and other potent weapons that can inflict significant damage.
Several bits of information about the IRGC came from various sources in the past few days:
Asia Times Online speculates the recent US raid into Syria was a dress rehearsal for US forces to attack IRGC training camps in cross border raids.
The Associated Press quotes Gen. Hossein Hamedani saying that Iran is self-sufficient in weapons production and is supplying arms to “liberation armies” in the region. The AP identifies Hamedani as “the deputy commander of a volunteer militia” affililated with the IRGC.
Two armed Iranians were confronted by an Iraqi quick reaction force in Iraq’s Wassit province. One was killed and the other captured according to Voices of Iraq (Aswat al-Iraq). The captured Iranian admitted plans to conduct armed operations in Iraq.
Iran is a current threat to the United States opines Timothy J. Geraghty in the New York Post. Colonel Geraghty commanded the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983 when Iranian sponsored terrorists struck his unit with a truck bomb, killing 241 Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers.
Iranian doctors have saved the life of Hassan Nasrallah according to Sky News citing a report in the Iraqi news media.
Concerns about Israeli assasination of Nasrallah has prompted Lebanese Hezbollah to designate a successor according to The National website. Nasrallah’s cousin, Sayyid Hashim Safei al Deen, who heads Hezbollah’s executive branch would take over for Nasrallah. The National reports it is unclear whether al Deen’s ascension would be permanent or only temporary until a permanent leader would be selected.
In the current issue of Proceedings, the journal of the U.S. Naval Institute, Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired) who commanded the Marine unit stuck by Shiite extremists recalls the attack on October 23, 1983 that took the lives of 241 Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers.
Iran’s role in the attack is not in doubt. In 2004, Iran built a monument to the Lebanon suicide bombers in the Behesht-E-Zahra cemetery in southern Tehran. Col Geraghty writes that Iran will mark today’s anniversary at the monument with a gathering of people who will probably include some dressed as suicide bombers. Missing from this year’s gathering in Tehran will be Imad Fayez Mugniyah, an Iranian sponsored terrorist who helped promote the wide spread use of suicide bombs including having a direct role in the Marine barracks bombing. Ironically, Mugniyah was assasinated in Lebanon in February 2008 with a car bomb, one of his favorite weapons.
Col Geraghty accurately concludes that Iran’s hand in fighting US forces in Iraq with the use of sophisticated weaponry including the Explosively Formed Penetrator should come as no surprise – Iran has been at war with the US for decades:
In reality, Iran has been waging war against the United States for more than a quarter-century, from the 1979 hostage crisis and the Marine barracks bombing in 1983 to providing sophisticated weaponry to Sunni and Shia insurgents in Iraq. Iranian mullahs have chosen to wage a radically aggressive campaign to create and accelerate instability throughout the region by using their proxies, many of whom are non-Shia.
A recent Christian Science Monitor article about Sunni and Shiite computer hackers attacking web sites affiliated with the opposing sect mentioned the IRGC’s cyberwar capability. Mustafa Alani, director of the Center for Counter-Terrorism at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Council stated that Iran’s “Revolutionary Guard have their own group of hackers.”
Denial of service attacks such as those mounted against web sites associated with al Qaeda described by the Christian Science Monitor article could be an indicator of a more robust cyberwar capability possessed by the IRGC. Some of the attacks are described to be “complicated” and “well organized.”
Cyber warfare is a capability any military force needs to have. But the IRGC, with its history of deceptively fighting using proxies that provide it the cover to deny involvement in attacks or other aggresion, would find cyber warfare a very useful tool.
The BBC reports that a two year long drug interdiction operation codenamed Titan has resulted in the detention of 111 people in Colombia and other locations. Among those detained in Colombia are three men believed to be funneling funds from drug operations to Lebanese Hezbollah.
Bill Roggio reports in The Two Malcontents blog that Iraqi forces have captured seven IRGC members in two recent incidents. On Monday, 20 October 2008, Iraqi police captured three Revolutionary Guards and their guide in the city of al Kut, the capital of the Iraqi province of Wassit. The Wassit province borders Iran and has long been a passageway for Iranian forces entering Iraq.
Earlier on 18 October 2008, Iraqi border police captured four Revolutionary Guards in the Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. The four IRGC members were in military uniform and armed.
As has been reported by the New York Times and others, the Combating Terrorism Center based at West Point has released a report, Iranian Strategy in Iraq: Politics and “Other Means” that addresses Iran’s intervention in Iraq. The report and its supporting documents are available at the CTC website.
I am continuing to study the report and will analyze it further in posts later this week. For now, it is very clear that the report’s conclusions match much of the analysis in The Intelligence Wars: Lessons From Baghdad. Also, some of the information used by the authors of the report came from the work of the Strategic Counterintelligence Directorate.