Wednesday, January 12, 2022

TIL: Iran is Winning

"Isfahan is half the world"
From 1977 03 29 Iran

When the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, most Americans barely noticed. We were too busy dealing with Covid-19. Not even the clear and present danger to our democracy could focus out attention. Still, the danger we face in Central Asia and the Middle East is not gone. Who was the big winner from the American experience in Afghanistan? It was Iran. And Iran is likely to extend its winning streak.

In "The New Yorker," Robin Wright says Iran is "a longtime rival that is better armed and more hard-line than at any time in its modern history."

Zohar Palti, the former director of intelligence at Mossad, said, "The problem with Iran’s nuclear program is that, for the time being, there is no diplomatic mechanism to make them stop. There is no deterrent. Iran is no longer afraid." Wright goes on, "Additional steps—including weaponizing the enriched uranium, marrying it to a warhead, and then integrating it with a delivery system, such as a missile—are required to field a bomb."

That brings us to what I learned today about Iran's missile program. Wright spoke with Kenneth (Frank) McKenzie, Jr., a Marine general from Alabama, who heads U.S. military operations across the Middle East and South Asia.

Under Trump, hostilities between the United States and Iran escalated. They peaked in 2020, when Trump ordered the assassination of General Qassem Suleimani, the revered head of Iran’s Quds Force, the √©lite wing of the Revolutionary Guard.
Five days later, Iran fired eleven ballistic missiles—each carrying at least a thousand-pound warhead—at Al Asad Airbase.
The lesson of Al Asad, McKenzie told me, is that Iran’s missiles have become a more immediate threat than its nuclear program. For decades, Iran’s rockets and missiles were wildly inaccurate. At Al Asad, “they hit pretty much where they wanted to hit,” McKenzie said. Now they “can strike effectively across the breadth and depth of the Middle East. They could strike with accuracy, and they could strike with volume.”
Iran can fire more missiles than its adversaries—including the United States and Israel—can shoot down or destroy. Tehran has achieved what McKenzie calls "overmatch"—a level of capability in which a country has weaponry that makes it extremely difficult to check or defeat. "Iran’s strategic capacity is now enormous," McKenzie said. "They’ve got overmatch in the theatre--the ability to overwhelm."
The difference between Iran’s reach in 2016 and in 2021 is “simply remarkable,” a senior naval intelligence officer told me.
Iran is gambling that it can harass the United States into eventually withdrawing from the entire Middle East, as it did from Afghanistan.

The United States persevered for twenty years in Afghanistan. It might persevere another twenty (or fifty or whatever) in Iraq and its other bases in the Middle East. But Iran has been there for millennia. For much of that time it has been the empire that ruled its neighbors. If it plays the long game, it's hard to see why it can't rule again. The question for the US isn't whether it will retreat from the entire Mideast. It's whether it can retain any influence after it inevitably does.

About that photo at the top...It's from a 1977 visit I made to Iran. Isfahan then was five hundred years old. Young by Persian time scales. The Persian Empire had a history stretching back 2,500 years. Faulkner said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." That's true for the American South. It's even more true for Iran.

When Shah Abbas the Great became ruler of Persia's Safawid dynasty in 1587, he chose Isfahan as his capital and undertook to make it eclipse all other cities. During his reign he built so many palaces, mosques, gardens, bridges that the inhabitants boasted: “Isfahan nesfe Jahan”—”Isfahan is half the world.”

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