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Possible Scenario Of Iranian Preemptive Attack To Control Gulf Waters – Analysis


By Riad Kahwaji

Iran has demonstrated in its recent war games in the Arabian Gulf region that it has developed its missile capabilities in various areas, which gives Tehran considerable offensive capabilities that would require its opponents to remain constantly on high alert to avoid a major “Pearl Harbor” scenario. The distance between the Iranian side of the coastline (on the east) and the Arabian side (on the west) varies. It narrows on the edges and widens in the middle. However, it places some of the United State’s most important military facilities in the region within range of Iran’s cruise missiles and artillery rockets.

Iran claims that its Noor and Al-Qader surface-to-surface anti ship cruise missiles have a range of 200-km with high accuracy. It also claims that these missiles are undetectable by radar. It has also built the Zilzal-3 artillery rocket with a range of 250-km. It is hard to ascertain Iranian claims with the absence of independent verification. But it appears that with every exercise the moral and self-confidence of the Iranian military, especially the Revolutionary Guards, grows greater.


To many regional analysts, the heightened military moral and rhetoric in Iran should be a cause of concern to the West, especially with the increased influence of the Revolutionary Guards on the central government. Iranian military commanders are now confident enough to make public threats to the U.S. Navy. On January 3, 2012, the commander of the Iranian Army General Ataollah Salehi dared the U.S. aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to return to the Gulf waters. He said: “We advice the aircraft carrier that crossed the Strait of Hormuz to the Sea of Oman not to return to the Persian Gulf.” He added: “The Islamic Republic of Iran does not intend to repeat its warning.”

While the focus of the West and their allies over the past few years has been Iran’s growing ballistic missile capabilities, its arsenal of other missiles, which is as serious and deadly, has not received as much attention. Known anti-ballistic missiles defense systems such as the Patriot and THAAD are hardly effective against cruise missiles and artillery rockets. Israel stood helpless in the summer of 2006 against Iranian-supplied artillery rockets used by Hizbullah to pound Israeli settlements and bases. The sophisticated anti-ballistic missile system operated by Israel could not protect against the rocket threat. Israel has just procured a low tier defense system known as Iron Dome to deal with rocket attacks by Hizbullah from the north and Hamas from the south – but this system remains untested in a conflict setting.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain is 250-km from the Iranian coast, while the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters at Camp As Sayliyah and the nearby U.S. Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) in Al-Udaid air base in neighboring Qatar are just under 250-km. The U.S. Army Central (ARCENT) base in Kuwait is less than 120-km from the Iranian coast. So, Iran does not really need to resort to its ballistic missiles to hit any of the U.S. bases and other strategic coastal targets in the region.

Iran technically can launch a surprise attack with cruise missiles and artillery rockets at all U.S. bases and naval assets in the Arabian Gulf region. Such an attack would be really deadly if missiles and rockets were launched in large numbers in a way to saturate the targets and render defense counter-measures at the bases or the warships useless. So, if Iran decides to close the Strait of Hormuz, as it has repeatedly threatened over the past few weeks, it would likely do it along with a stunning all-out attack to sink as many naval ships to the U.S. and its allies in the region and to hit the runways at air bases and other strategic sites along the western coastline of the Arabian Gulf. This would shock and temporarily impair Iran’s opponents and confine any subsequent naval warfront to the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean, and allow Tehran to keep the strategic passageway closed and under its full control – for a long while at least.

The Iranian regime would likely carry out such a bold attack whenever it feels that sanctions and international isolation have reached a tipping point and the country’s economy is about to collapse. Even though such an attack would invite massive U.S. retaliation and put it at war with its Arab Sunni neighbors, the Iranian regime could see it as an acceptable zero-sum-game risk. Also, Iran would likely launch such an attack in retaliation to an Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities. Iran would possibly fulfill few important objectives in such an audacious attack, such as:

  • It would buy itself more time for its nuclear program to become fully militarized, especially if it has some secret nuclear sites still undetected. Most Iranian leaders seem to follow the North Korean example that nobody would dare attack a country that possesses nuclear weapons.
  • The regime would silence Iranian opposition and assert its control.
  • Tehran would assert its status as a superpower to the countries of the region, and the Shi’ites worldwide.
  • Iran will gain a huge bargaining card with the closure of the Hormuz Strait and establishing full control over it. Barring one sixth of the daily world oil exports from passing through would possibly put the U.S. and the international community under strong pressure and enable Tehran to reach its long sought grand bargain with the West.
  • Iran would hope a successful surprise attack on its western front would scare its neighbors to the north and east from aiding the anticipated U.S. retaliation, which would confine the war to the southern naval front.
  • Iran will count on the Eastern powers, such as China, Japan and India to pressure the U.S. to end the war to allow the flow of the Gulf oil which they largely depend on for their economies. Tehran will present itself as a victim that was forced into this action, and work on gaining allies in the east with the hope of widening the war to be global.

The general belief amongst most Iranian leaders is that the regime would only collapse if the country is successfully invaded by a foreign power, which they believe is very hard and too costly for the U.S. to do under the current circumstances. Analysts and officials of the regime often describe the U.S. in their writings and speeches as a weakened and fading power. They view the U.S. military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as failures to Washington that exhausted its forces. They also belief the current global financial crisis would prevent America and Europe from waging a prolonged costly war against a strong adversary such as Iran. So, Tehran would seek to bring a quick end to the war through a United Nations mediated cease-fire that would spare the regime and present it as a hero for standing up to the world’s super power.

If history has taught humanity one thing and that is to always expect the unexpected, especially when the survival of a regime of a very proud and confident nation is at stake. Imperial Japan and the way it willingly entered the war against an adversary its commanders knew in advance was much stronger and could beat them, should always remain a lesson to nations and armies worldwide. The fate of countries always hangs on the risks and calculations taken by their leaders at times of conflict. Over-confidence in technology can be fatalistic, as Israel learned in the 2006 Second Lebanese War. Weapons seen by the West as obsolete, like artillery rockets, could prove very devastating in a surprise massive attack by Iran that will also use other asymmetrical capabilities like suicide attacks by speed boats and torpedo assaults to sink as many warships in the Gulf waters as possible to drain the naval capabilities of the U.S. and its allies and deny them the use of air bases. The positioning of the forces for the U.S. and its allies should take into consideration a preemptive attack by Iran, and hence should be moved deep to the west (in Saudi Arabia towards the Red Sea) or south (in Sea of Oman). Also the regional missile defense system should be immediately expanded to include counter-measures against artillery rockets and cruise missiles. The question everybody, and especially Iranians, would be debating in the case of Tehran pursuing this deadly adventure would be: “How far would and could the U.S. be willing to go to have a decisive victory in a war with Iran?” Let’s hope the world will never know.

Riad Kahwaji, CEO, INEGMA

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INEGMA is a Free Zone Limited Liability Company based in Dubai Media City, in the United Arab Emirates. Established in 2001, INEGMA was set up to provide media organizations, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, militaries and governments of the Middle East, and international private companies with various services related to military and strategic affairs.

10 thoughts on “Possible Scenario Of Iranian Preemptive Attack To Control Gulf Waters – Analysis

  • January 6, 2012 at 6:31 am

    Thank you for your report.
    Well, I only have one comment.
    If you are honest and respect your ancesters and our human history and every ones origin name, for God sake, please dont call the Persian Gulf other name.
    It has been Persian Gulf for all history.You or any one else can not, and don’t have right at all to change the origin name of Persian Gulf.

  • January 6, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Im thinking the U.S. Navy will position 4 or 5 other Carrier Battlegroups in and around the Indian Ocean in reserve. I’m sure the Pentagon understands how serious its next Persian Sea deployment is going to be.

    I also think that its as good a time as ever to cut the head off the snake. If Iranian leadership decides to attack our armed forces, we should target the Iranian leadership at all levels and completely wipe them out.

    Lets see what grows back because it cannot be worse than the snake we know now.

    • January 8, 2012 at 1:15 am

      That is an awesome fire power! Do you know how much firepower you are talking about?

  • January 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Nice analysis

    Fact of the matter is : US dooes not know Iran’s “kung-fu”. US has only warred against third rate powers most of them equipped with soviet era weaponry, never against an opponent that had an indigenous military industry.

    They do not know exact features and behavior of those weapons. Iranians can modify and reprogram their weapons at will.

    US only moves when odds are at 99 to 1, especially with a war of choice. With such a situation, I cannot see how US could even contemplate a scenario with Iran – they’re unable to secure some towns in Afghanistan and wanna take on Iran ?

    • January 8, 2012 at 1:13 am

      Wake up! History tells us that Iran is as good as Irak! Iranian Kung Fu is as good as Irak’s Kung-Fu was. You also say, “Iran can modify and reprogram their weapons at will.” Please wake up, you can modify whatever you can think but technologically speaking Iran is light years behind the USA. So stop day dreaming and see the real facts…

  • January 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    I don’t know of an Arabian Gulf. Did you mean Persian Gulf? Apart from this mistake i enjoyed the artical.

  • January 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Of the 56 Muslim nation states Iran is the only one that follows Islamic principals to a far greater extent than the Western colonies of Arabia,Gulf emirates,Jordan,etc.However the people on the Arab streets are all for the Islamic Repuplic of Iran.Iran is a truly independant soverigion state-that is what the West can not stomach.

  • January 6, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    A reasonably good analysis of the situation.However, some issues needa greater understanding of the situation. Acquiring a capability or downing the odd US Drone is a different thing and undertaking an all out attack to any of the US targets or other Gulf states would be sure HARAKARI for Iran.
    I agree with the assessment that Iran’s primary objective of all Sabre rattling is to gain Time to acqire greater Nuclear Capability. Nodoubt it wants to avoid ‘Total Strangulation’ and therefor these Deterring Moves.
    US understands that any Physical intervention, howsoever limited it may be can/ will spiral out of contrl. In the existing Economic Depression the World and US in specific can not afford a blockade even for a limited period of Oil flow from the Gulf.
    Iran controls this bargaining chip and realism must prevail in the WEST not to PUSH / CORNER Iran to a level that out of frustration it resorts to initiation of military option.
    We should pray that sanity prevails in all quarters otherwise the disaster would be BEYOND ANY IMAGINATION.

  • January 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Aslam, I agree with you but the warmongers do not see rationalism because their underlying problems blinds them to confrontation. I can myself envision an escalation sometime later this year. The possibilities are that it will lead to widespread conflicts that may be devastating. If it does, it will lead to a gross
    destruction and mass genicide, the world have not witnessed so far.

  • January 8, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Excellent analysis but partial toward Iran! Lets put things straight! If Iran attacks the US the retaliation will be from NATO. That means an all out attack from the World’s principal powers. Iran’s military is not up to par with Western Technology. The first wave of Cruise and Tomahawk Missiles which may last from 36 to 72 hours will destroy all marine and air ports, all military installations, all mayor infrastructure, and all communication hubs. It will send Iran to the stone age. That is only with the US military machinery and not counting NATO. The Straight of Hormuz will be close for less than a week because NATO will open it. Then after this initial wave that would have establish control and supremacy over iranian air space the NATO alliance will take over and invade iranian sovereign territory and establish a massive beachhead that will control and protect the Persian Gulf. Iran will have to withstand attacks from Irak, Afganistan, and from the Sea.

    Iran will be strangled without any recourse than total rendition!

    Sadam’s military was the 12th in the World and did not last! Currently Iran is the 12th Army and will be like reading the same book again and again!

    The US have not forgotten the incident of the US Embassy in Theran and the hatchet have not been buried! So Iran beware, you can run, you can hide but you will not escape from that one.

    To finalize, we have to understand that the US has a MAD policy as the last stance which is a checkmate-Mutual Assure Destruction!

    Therefore, at the end of the day, Iran is a country with a third world country mentality dreaming a forgone greatness that will NEVER come back. Democracy, freedom of thought, and respect toward others are not in the current iranian dictionary. That is sad because I personally know that iranian people are great people!


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