Friday, March 17, 2006

General John Abizaid, CENTCOM commander, on Iran in his testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee. Full text here:

"The situation with Iran is tense, and the possibility for miscalculation with U.S. forces remains high. CENTCOM forces in the region continue to watch Iran carefully to prevent any destabilizing activities that contribute to internal Iraqi or Afghan frictions, or threaten regional stability. Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons capability is particularly troubling. Iran seeks “creeping normalcy” that will permit international acceptance of its nuclear fuel cycle, while buying time for potential covert nuclear activities. We believe that Iran's declared objective of self-sufficient nuclear fuel production is coupled with the ulterior goal of weapons production. Iran’s withdrawal from the IAEA’s Additional Protocol or the NPT could decrease the timeline necessary to produce a weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically increase instability in the region and could pressure other countries in the CENTCOM AOR to consider acquiring such weapons.

Iranian-sponsored activities in Iraq continue to be unhelpful. Iran is pursuing a multi-track policy in Iraq, consisting of overtly supporting the formation of a stable, Shia Islamist-led central government while covertly working to diminish popular and military support for U.S. and Coalition operations there. Additionally, sophisticated bomb making material from Iran has been found in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq.

While generally thought to be for defense, Iran continues to build a credible military capable of regional power projection. It has the largest military capability in the region and a record of aggressive military action in and around the Arabian Gulf. Its power projection capabilities stem primarily from its navy and ballistic missiles. Iran’s military consists of over 350,000 personnel with an additional 300,000 trained reserve/Basij Forces that could be mobilized in times of crisis. The Iranian Armed Forces include two distinct, parallel military organizations – the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Regular military forces. Each controls its own ground, naval, air, and air defense forces and equipment.

In addition to defending against external threats, the IRGC also focuses on an internal security mission and is the lead Iranian agency for supporting terrorism. Competition between the IRGC and Regular forces for limited resources and competing chains of command make Iranian military intentions difficult to decipher. This heightens our concern for the potential for miscalculation with U.S. forces in the region.

Iran’s ground forces are arrayed across the country with the majority of combat power along the Iran-Iraq border. The Iranian navies continue their rapid growth. The IRGC Navy has been developed primarily for the Strait of Hormuz scenario in which Iran would attempt to "internationalize" a conflict by choking off oil exports through the Strait. To disperse large quantities of recently purchased small boats, high speed missile boats, torpedo fast attack craft, and midget submarines, Iran has embarked upon an expansion project for naval bases throughout its littoral. Asymmetric military strategies and naval force modernization, a key national priority, enhance Iran’s capability for power projection in the region.

The IRGC Air Force maintains control over most of Iran’s ballistic missiles and rockets. The accuracy and reliability of its rocket systems vary, but Iran is capable of targeting all Gulf States, the Arabian peninsula, Israel, and U.S. and Coalition forces in the region with little warning.

In addition to Iran's conventional and ballistic missile capabilities, another lethal aspect of Iran's power projection is its ties to regional and global terrorism. Iran remains on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism and provides extensive support to the Lebanese Hezbollah and several Palestinian rejectionist groups. Along with this support comes influence. Additionally, Iran's own intelligence elements are stationed throughout the CENTCOM AOR and beyond and are trained and prepared to execute terrorist attacks at the direction of Tehran.

As the diplomacy surrounding Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons plays out, CENTCOM will continue to vigilantly monitor Iran’s conventional force posture and maintain a strong naval, air, and ground capability to deter Iran from attempts at further destabilizing the region. "

Hat tip: SGT. Garth Gehlen, U.S. Army.

Okay, now we have the "official" CENTCOM plug on Iran, delivered via the White House's filters. What's YOUR assessment? Instead of just being a mouthpiece for CENTCOM (yes, I got the email too), do we not have a responsibility to analyse their statements? Do you think that Iran's nuclear program represents a current, clear and present danger? Or is this something that's being overblown right now, and that should be addressed primarily through diplomacy on the international stage, using non-prolif experts instead of rattling sabers?

As far as Iran's military build-up, do you not agree that the country's past history with Iraq and the U.S. suggests a need for a strong military? Or do you suggest that Iran just trust the US govt to "do the right thing" and not have a military sufficient to protect its borders?
hi J.

Well, I'm not sure I read Abizaid's statement on Iran here as alarmist but a mix of fairly well known data points -at least to the defense community- in a cautiously noncommittal way the brass and CIA like to approach oversight committees with the " official" view on "X".

I excerpted this part of the Congressional testimony because it fit well with other recent posts on Iran, it was timely for mt needs. It's a press release, quite clearly, of information already in the public domain. That it is being released selectively by email (though I'm not sure how "selective" hundreds of bloggers really is) doesn't really change much from past public affairs practice. It is certainly better in my view than where, in the old days, they picked up the phone and called just a few reporters.

I'd also add that bloggers are free to contact CENTCOM and ask questions and do some actual reporting. I know I do. I email a lot of other entities and individuals too and solicit information.

Iran in my view is riven by an internal power struggle, one faction of which actively seeks a direct conflict with America or Israel for its own purposes. I do not think assembly of an easily deliverable nuclear weapon is *imminent* but it is easily forseeable if the process is not somehow interrupted or delayed. Miniaturization, nuclear lenses and such are hard things but having been done elsewhere they can be done in Teheran.

Ultimately, I think Iran will get the bomb but years from now is a better outcome than in the next year or two.
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