Iran Could Hold U.S. Attention in Middle East for Decades

By Dan Parsons
The new military strategy that was recently adopted by the Pentagon calls for a shift to the Pacific. But as tensions with Iran escalate, the Middle East is expected to remain the primary focus for years to come.
Analysts with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C., think tank, said that Iran's saber rattling could mean the United States might have to revise its strategic presence in the region.
Options for dealing with such a future were laid out in “Outside-In, Operating from Range to Defeat Iran’s Anti-Access and Area-Denial Threats,” which CSBA released Jan 17.
Mark Gunzinger, a CSBA senior fellow and co-author of the report, said Iran could have a nuclear bomb within two years. The country's regime also is expected to seek more accurate precision-guided missiles that could threaten U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf, he said.
“That would significantly change the way we conduct an operation against Iran,” he said. “No one claims to be able to kill every ballistic missile fired at U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, especially if hundreds or thousands are fired in repeated salvos. Some may get through and if those few have a nuclear warhead, they could have devastating effects.”
Without suggesting the U.S. strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, Gunzinger said “the best option is to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability to begin with.”
Currently, the U.S. Air Force’s stealthy B-2 bombers are the only aircraft capable of destroying the heavily fortified underground bunkers where Iranian scientists are furthering the nation’s nuclear technology. The report suggests a fleet of 100 of next-generation bombers will be needed to deter and counter the Iranian threat.
The United States has had a robust military presence in and around the Persian Gulf since the Gulf War. The military bases from which the U.S. military currently operates were designed to counter a massive cross-border invasion by the Soviet Union.
"The bottom line now is that we assume the U.S. military will need to fight to maintain its freedom of action in the region,” Gunzinger said.
In another decade, Iran’s long-range weapons will be more technologically advanced. Though Iran currently has ballistic missile capability, its technology is limited in range and accuracy.
“That’s the Achilles’ heel of their ballistic missile armament right now, as they get longer [range], they get less accurate,” said Christopher Dougherty, a report co-author and CSBA research fellow.
But Iran is trying “very hard” to develop longer-range ballistic missiles that could strike southern Europe, Israel or other U.S. allies in the region as part of a “coercive, cost-imposing strategy” against U.S. intervention, Gunzinger said.
Moreover, nations that currently host U.S. military bases may think twice about allowing them to stay if their cities are in the crosshairs of Iranian missiles, Dougherty said. Easy-to-access bases that the U.S. Air Force could exploit at short notice are needed to strike Iran’s interior in the event of conflict, according to the report.
Gunzinger said it may even be necessary to remove the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet from its homeport in Bahrain, if that country came under threat of more-advanced Iranian missiles.
Safely out of range of Iranian ballistic missiles at staging bases or afloat in the Arabian Sea, U.S. long-range strike platforms could blind the enemy and achieve superiority over air and sea, the report said. It also called for increased long-range surveillance capabilities and a reinvestment in nuclear-armed submarines, unmanned aerial vehicles and missile-defense technology.
Many of the report’s suggestions mirror the scenarios that are being discussed at the Pentagon as part of the Air-Sea Battle concept, which is viewed as the framework for future Pacific operations.
The Obama administration has set the military on course to focus on the Pacific and a rising China as the wars of the past decade end. But even as the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert discussed that strategy Jan. 10, he was more immediately concerned with Iran.
“If you ask me what keeps me up at night, it’s the Straits of Hormuz,” Greenert said at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security to promote a new study about U.S. capabilities for countering China. 

Topics: Missile Defense

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