Missile Attack
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Iran's weekend massive drone, cruise missile and ballistic missile attack on Israel has now been covered in the global media, with the headlines announcing that 99% of the barrage was shot down by Israeli, U.S. and other friendly air defense systems. The question these media pose is what will be the Israeli response, as if that were a matter strictly to be decided by Prime Minister Netanyahu's cabinet.

In fairness, I note that The Financial Times has also published a front page article setting out what it considers to be the Iranian perspective on the attack, namely that it was successful insofar as it demonstrated their country is not shying away from direct military confrontation with Israel and is confidently prepared to prosecute a full scale war if it comes to that. See "We're crazier than you realize": Iran delivers its message with attack on Israel. Tehran believes calibrated missile and drone barrage is enough to restore deterrent and bolster image."

However, the Iranian position is much more nuanced and contains far greater threat not only to Israel but also to the entire United States presence in the region than the FT suggests. I say this on the basis of an analysis provided on last night's edition of the Vladimir Solovyov talk show on Russian state television by a regular panelist, Semyon Arkadievich Bagdasarov, who is a leading Russian specialist on the region.

For those who wish to see and hear Bagdasarov's 14 minutes on air in the original Russian, click on the link here (minutes: 27 - 41).

In what follows I offer a brief biographical sketch of Bagdasarov so that the seriousness of his remarks can be better appreciated. Then I will summarize what he said on air.

Aged 69, Bagdasarov was born in Central Asia in the Ferghana Valley, which passes through Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Accordingly, he has the proper birthright to his position since 2014 as director of the think tank called the Center for the Study of the Countries of the Near East and Central Asia. However, Bagdasarov reached this academic plateau after passing through a succession of military and civilian government posts, including the 5 years starting in 2007 as a Duma member from the 'For a Just Russia opposition party of Sergei Mironov, which might be described as slightly to the Left of the ruling United Russia party.

Bagdasarov's professional education was in a military academy and he ultimately retired with the rank of colonel. He then moved into government service first at the regional level and then as an expert to the Duma, to which, as I said above, he was later elected.

In line with what the FT article has said, Bagdasarov calls the Iranian attack on Israel a limited strike intended as a warning, but also yielding both specific tactical and strategic results.

On the tactical side, the swarming of drones was intended to activate the Iron Dome and other levels of Israeli air defense and to reveal the location of their component parts as well as to deplete the Israeli stock of relevant missiles.

Per Bagdasarov, Israeli claims to have shot down 99% of the incoming barrage should be taken with a grain of salt. The Iranians' key targets in the attack were the Israeli air force base in the south of the country from which the Israeli strike on Iran's consulate in Damascus was launched two weeks ago and a military intelligence compound which had prepared that deadly strike. The actual extent of damage from Iranian missiles remains to be evaluated.

Bagdasarov explains that the Iranian attack was 'limited' because it consisted of rather slow moving drones and of missiles with small warheads. These were not Iran's most advanced and lethal attack materiel, which has been held in reserve for any possible Round Two.

How many drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles does Iran have? Bagdasarov says no one knows exactly but it may well be 10,000 or more and includes several hundred highly advanced missiles which also have multiple warheads and so are very difficult to defend against. Over the past 20 years, Iran has bet its defense budget on missiles and drones, and it has a large-scale serial production of both. Meanwhile, Iran's regional allies also have large stocks of these weapons, some of which are also fairly sophisticated. In particular, Hizbollah in Lebanon may have 1500 high quality missiles in its arsenal.

At the strategic level, Iran demonstrated its ability to coordinate a missile and drone attack on Israel with its regional proxies so as to maximize the threat coming from all directions.

Iran used the attack to achieve a political and military objective that has long eluded it. Teheran has now issued threats against Persian Gulf states to bomb any and all that allow the Americans to use their air space or otherwise facilitate Israel's possible revenge attack on Iran from their territories. These states all fear a war and have now agreed to Iran's demand. In effect, this negates decades of U.S. unchallenged domination in the Gulf.

Iran has specifically threatened the U.S. regional command in Qatar and the base of the 5th fleet in Bahrain.

The latter point is reflected in Biden's latest urging restraint on Israel. Washington has understood that its forces in the region are now hostage to whatever Netanyahu may do against Iran as follow-up to this weekend's barrage.

Furthermore, at the threat level, Iran has a still unused but clearly visible ace in the hole: its ability at will to blockade the Straits of Hormuz and thereby cut off nearly all export shipments of gas and oil from the region. The Straits are just 50 km wide and are easily controlled by Iran's anti-ship missiles ashore. Such a closure would create havoc on global energy markets. We were reminded of Iran's dominant position there several days ago when they captured a container ship owned by an Israeli millionaire which was traveling through and directed it to their own coast.

And what about Israel's alleged plans to attack Iran's nuclear installations? Bagdasarov insists that this is an impossible objective. Firstly, because the Iranian nuclear program is distributed among 200 centers spread across the vast country and many of these locations are in desert areas buried under 40 meters of sand. The Israelis might only destroy a couple of the best known nuclear centers. Secondly, because to reach their targets in Iran, the Israeli jets would require in-air refueling by American tankers, and it is scarcely credible that Biden will give his consent considering how the U.S. regional bases are under threat.

Iran fired this time only on military objects, but if they use not 300 but 10,000 missiles and drones then Israel will be obliterated. Hizbollah alone have 1,500 advanced missiles. Iran surely has real missiles and drones that are still more powerful. No one knows exactly how many. Over the past 20 years Iran placed its bets on drones and missiles. In the assortment, they have some very sophisticated multi warhead missiles that are unstoppable.

Later in the program (at 1 hour 36 minutes) a military commentator who is a frequent panelist on the Solovyov show, Lt General (retired), Yevgeny Buzhinsky, head of the Center of Applied Military Research of Moscow State University, seconded the estimation of Bagdasarov that this was just a warning, a PR exercise by Iran. As for the shoot-down, he noted that with its S400 and other systems Russia has probably the best air defense in the world, and yet they strain to reach the 99% interception that Israel has blithely claimed.

As host Vladimir Solovyov commented at the opening of the program, the principal fact is that the Iranians did it. They spat on the U.S. and its allies, and they just did what they believed was necessary. In consequence the world 'built on rules' counts for nothing.