June 28, 2008 / 10:04 AM / 12 years ago

FACTBOX: What could Iran do if pushed in conflict?

(Reuters) - Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Iran would impose controls on shipping in the vital Gulf oil route if attacked and warned of reprisals against any attacker or its allies, an Iranian newspaper reported on Saturday.

Speculation has mounted that Iran could be attacked over its disputed nuclear program after a report said Israel had practiced such a strike. The United States has said it wants a diplomatic end to the atomic row but has not ruled out force.

The U.S. military could unleash superior military force but analysts say Washington may struggle to prevent Tehran from hitting back in Iraq and elsewhere.

Following are some tactics Iran could employ, including unconventional or “asymmetric” methods, that have either already been used by Iranian forces or blamed on Iran in the past:


During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the two OPEC states sought to knock out each others’ oil exports. Iran’s military mounted hit-and-run raids on oil tankers and other shipping in the Gulf. Experts say the Revolutionary Guards, the ideologically-driven wing of Iran’s military, were a driving force in developing such tactics, often involving small speedboats mounted with a missile and which stood a better chance of evading detection. The Guards have in the past warned its “martyrdom-seeking” volunteers could cause havoc in the Gulf’s strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway.


Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said Iran would strike U.S. interests in the region if pushed. Iran’s military has said it has missiles that can sink “big warships” and others with a range to hit targets across the Gulf, which could include U.S. bases in Qatar and Bahrain, although military experts say U.S. anti-missile defenses could stop such rockets. Iran’s longest range missile, the Shahab 3, can reach Israel.


Washington accuses Iran of backing militants in Iraq, which Tehran denies. Western diplomats say Iran could allow weapons to flow across the border to Iraq and add to problems for U.S. troops. U.S. officials say Iran has used elements in the Mehdi Army, led by firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in the past to weaken the Iraqi government and boost its influence. Iran has historical ties with Shi’ite Muslim groups in Iraq’s government because some of their leaders were exiled in Iran. Analysts say it is unclear how much sway Iran has over policy-making.


Iran says it wants a stable neighbor to its east in Afghanistan, but Western officials say weapons have crossed the border from Iran and reached the Taliban, although they say this may be partly because the area is already full of weapons held by well-equipped drugs smuggling gangs. Shi’ite Iran is vehemently opposed to the strict Sunni views of the Taliban and almost went to war with Afghanistan when the Taliban were in power. But analysts suggest Iran might assist its sworn enemy if that meant hurting the United States during any conflict.


Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Guards’ commander-in-chief, suggested in Saturday’s interview that Iran’s regional Islamic friends, which include Lebanon’s Shi’ite militia Hezbollah, could strike Israel if Iran came under attack. He did not refer to Hezbollah directly but said those in Lebanon’s Shi’ite heartland of south Lebanon would not sit idle. The United States blamed Hezbollah for the 1983 bombing of its marines barracks in Beirut that killed 241 soldiers. Jafari also suggested members of Hamas, the Palestinian group which receives Iranian funds, could respond, although he did not specifically name the group.


Iran was blamed by the West for helping mastermind some of the kidnappings of U.S. and other foreigners during the 1975-1990 civil war in Lebanon. The Iran-Contra Affair involved selling arms to Iran while it was fighting Iraq, in return for Tehran’s assistance in releasing hostages held by Lebanese groups. In an added twist, profits from the arms sales were used to fund anti-Communist rebels, the Contras, in Nicaragua. The dealings were exposed in 1986.

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