The Illusion Of National Security
General (r) Mirza Aslam Beg writes about changing strategic patterns in the Middle East and West Asia and how the US and Israeli military might is being threatened by simple and inexpensive weapons of war.
Intelligent machines like the drones and the cruise missiles that recently hit Saudi oil facilities demolished the myth of security which the multi-billion dollar US ‘Iran dome’ air defence system was to provide.
With one stroke, it has exposed the vulnerability of eight American military bases in the Middle East region and all the oil producing facilities of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries.
That is the reason that the “locked and loaded’ threat of Trump was rejected by saner elements who didn’t want “American forces acting as mercenaries to Saudi Arabia.” Iran is equally vulnerable as it is facing the “economic war” sanctions and other embargos.
The Israel-Hezbollah war of 2007 is one such example where the American Iron Dome air defense system was defeated by free flight rockets launched by Hezbollah. As a result, Israel lost the war. The above-mentioned incidents expose the vulnerability of high-tech expensive weapons against simple and inexpensive ones.
It is reported that the Houthis have been successful in bringing down 22 drones and cruise missiles from a distance of about 1,000 kilometres. Abqaiq was struck 18 times while nearby Khurais was hit four times.
I still remember when on President Clinton’s order in 1998 the Americans fired cruise missiles from a distance of 1,200 kilometres to target Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Afghanistan. Around 70 of these missiles were successful in hitting the target area while the remaining 100 fell over Pakistani territory; and many of them being in good condition, were picked-up by Pakistani technicians who did the reverse engineering on them to develop the prototype of the Tomahawk missiles.
Only the Americans, the Iranians and the Pakistanis have this technology. Pakistan is now working to increase its range to the farthest reaches of Indian territories.
Now, Pompeo saying that “our mission is to avoid war with Iran and we are sending more troops to the region to deter aggression,” is a statement meant to fool the Arabs by providing them with a false sense of security. In reply, Iran warned the US by saying that “we have stood tall for the last 40 years. If any country attacks Iran, that country will become the battle ground”. The situation is explosive at the moment.
On the other hand, our soft diplomacy has emboldened the Indian army chief to threaten hitting strategic targets in Pakistan, while we are content with seeking clarifications on such outbursts.
The Arabs have no hope of getting any reliable defence to protect their vulnerable assets. Instead, they should fight their own wars. The United States (US), after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, appears ready to reach out to Iran to accept a more restrictive agreement.
The Americans are saying that the Iranians, suffering from the sanctions of the economic war, “have, no doubt, orchestrated a threat to the flow of the Gulf oil by causing pain to the US and their Arab allies. Now it would be foolish to counter this escalation with an escalation that would mean choosing between an unwise escalation or a humiliating climb down.”
Nevertheless, defensive measures would continue to be taken by the adversaries. For example, the US military cyber command carried out a strike against military computer systems used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to control rocket and missiles launchers. Any miscalculation in this explosive situation would blow up the entire region into a conflagration of uncontrollable dimensions.
One can be sure that Israel would jump into the foray and this move would invite strong retaliatory actions by Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. And the weapons of war would be missiles, rockets, drones and suicide bombers numbering in the thousands to break the will of the adversary.
Israel would be the main target and its very existence may be threatened by one wrong decision. Trump appears ready to take some risks that would signal a catastrophic situation for the region, and this could be his long-term objective.
Israeli defence analysts, namely Uzi Rubin and Eran Etzion, say that Iran has developed long range missiles and drones with precision guidance systems that are capable of hitting strategic targets.
They also believe that Iran has deployed these weapons close to Israeli borders and at several places in the Middle East, which has fundamentally altered the region’s strategic balance in favour of Iran. The eight US military bases in the region are now vulnerable.
In addition, Hezbollah alone is capable of destroying part of Tel Aviv which can prove to be a game changer. They would need only 200 such systems to stop Israel’s ability to wage its own war. This is the reason that Trump is now trying to meet Rouhani to find a peaceful solution to this complex situation.
Trump’s best friend Modi would be facing similar challenges, and so would the Jehadis from all parts of the world who are trying to reach out in support of the Kashmiri freedom fighters. Any decision in this connection would be made on a regional level rather than in Washington.
For now it seems that better sense has prevailed, as is evident from Pompeo’s statement when he said, “US want to give diplomacy every chance to succeed.”
The days of strategic domination over West Asia are over. On the other hand, Rouhani has decided to attend the UN General Assembly session to unfold his “Hormuz Peace Endeavour”. This is a sagacious and timely move.
The stark realities of the recent past must be remembered and are as follows:
- The Stinger missiles made the Soviets pull out of Afghanistan in 1987.
- The Green Arrow anti-tank missiles in the hands of the Bosnian Muslims in 1995 forced the Serbs to retreat.
- The free flight rockets launched by Hezbollah in 2007 led to the defeat of Israel.
Precision guided missiles and drones are now in the hands of Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and perhaps the Houtis of Yemen, which has also changed the strategic balance of the entire Middle East region. Pakistan has clear options of maintaining the strategic balance in its favour rather than relying on its atomic prowess.
The author is former Army chief of Pakistan.