TEHRAN (Press Shia) – An American political analyst based in Washington said Iran’s retaliatory strike against a US base earlier this month showed Washington’s “inability to fully or even substantially protect its personnel from massed” ballistic missile attacks.
“The response of the Guards (IRGC) was not asymmetric but did show another weakness of the American armed forces: the inability to fully or even substantially protect its personnel from massed ballistic missile attacks,” Dr. Dennis M. Nilsen told Press Shia in an interview.
Following is the full text of the interview.
Press Shia: On January 8, Iran’s Armed Forces launched missile strikes on a US base in western Iraq in retaliation for the US assassination of the prominent Iranian commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani. What is your take on the attack?
Nilsen: Although President Trump postured before the American public that he had sufficient and immediate reason to order the assassination, it is clear that this act was contrary to all international law, which demands a formal declaration of war before commencing hostilities, and the United States Constitution (Article One Section Eight), which grants the authority to declare war to Congress and Congress only. Despite the chasm separating our two countries, General Soleimani was an outstandingly effective adversary to Daesh and the other Salafi and Wahhabi groups which have been striving to overthrow — with the covert backing of the (Persian) Gulf monarchies — the governments of Iraq and Syria since 2011. President Trump, in ordering the death of the general, claimed that the action was preemptive and that by so doing he was avoiding the future deaths of American servicemen which would have occurred due to strikes currently being planned by General Soleimani. However, did such a threat exist, our president should have first approached Iran with this grievance through diplomatic channels, and if left unsatisfied, should have approached Congress with the information he possessed with a request for a declaration of war. Thus, this attack was illegal from both an international and a domestic point of view. It was unilateral and likens President Trump to a mafioso boss more than to a head of state.
Why was it really done? There are two possibilities which I see: 1) President Trump acted in order to severely disrupt the fight against the Salafists and thereby weaken the Resistance against the Zionist State; 2) He wished to strike against an enemy he deemed to be of sufficient danger and skill and whose continued existence would threaten American military personnel — and American foreign policy ambitions — in the Middle East. The idea that he wished to provoke an outright war against the Islamic Republic in order to remove the only military threat to Israel in the area is not tenable, both because the American economy cannot sustain it and because he would be inviting intense domestic political opposition: Americans are tired of overseas military adventures, despite the great love all have for the armed forces. My guess is that the president wished to disrupt the ability of the Iranians to wage an asymmetric war against American forces, but with the unintended consequence of weakening — albeit temporarily — the Resistance against the Salafis and Wahhabis, and also of strengthening Iranian resolve against him. Possibly, very possibly, this effect was intended — would the American president wish to strengthen Salafis? — but only because it would serve the interest of his allies (Israel and the Sunni monarchies). An Orwellian mindset is not foreign the American strategic thinking.
As to a war, since both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu know of Hezbollah’s alliance with Iran and that any attack against Iran itself would have meant the launching of tens of thousands of missiles from southern Lebanon into Israel by the Resistance, an outright war was not an option. The Israeli Prime Minister can brag all he wants about the Iron Dome missile defense network, but in the end, if Hezbollah decided to attack, nine in ten missiles would get through and cause significant damage to the Zionist State. Thus war was not sought.
In seeking to obtain a short-range good — albeit unverified to the American public — President Trump openly committed an assassination of a general officer of foreign uniformed service, and thus further showed American contempt for the rules of war and diplomacy.
Press Shia: Iran fired 16 ballistic missiles. US forces failed to intercept them and could only watch and wait for impact, according to American websites and reports. The attack highlighted US missile defense vulnerability. How could this change equations in the future?
Nilsen: The attacks of the IRGC in Operation Martyr Soleimani against Ayn al-Asad Airbase (Al Anbar Governorate) did not cause any deaths but did result in several wounded servicemen and substantial material destruction. The fact that the airbase was defenseless against the missile attack is significant as it shows the great vulnerability of American forces to the strategic and tactic ballistic missiles of the IRGC. Iran could have fired substantially more missiles at the airbase without advanced warning and completely destroyed it, but chose to retaliate in a limited manner while giving advanced warning to the Iraqis in order to demonstrate the precarious position of American forces in the (Persian) Gulf. The way the attack was done shows clearly that Iran did not wish to initiate a war but rather wished to avenge General Soleimani, insofar as material damage could ever atone for the loss of a man’s life.
The equation of supposed American predominance on the battlefield, accepted in the past, has now been shown to be overly simplistic and one-sided. While the Americans do possess an offensive capability greatly superior to Iran’s — and to all countries in the region — their defensive capability against ballistic missile attacks has been shown to be substantially lower than accepted in the mind of much of the American public. This brings to the land forces a vulnerability already recognized in American warships in the Persian Gulf: susceptibility to massed missile and fast boat attacks conducted by the IRGC.
Americans have gotten so used to the idea that their armed forces outweigh all others in all aspects that casualties are expected to be slight to non-existant. This strike showed how erroneous this thinking is.
Press Shia: Later, US officials confirmed that eleven American troops were injured in the strike despite prior claims by Washington that no one was hurt. The scope of destruction was so extreme and is now becoming clear. Why did President Donald Trump attempted to downplay the attack and said, “All is well”? Why do you think the US failed to respond?
Nilsen: President Trump did not respond to the missile attacks because he did not want a war to erupt, a war which, in light of the warning of Hassan Nasrallah, would have meant an attack by Hezbollah on the Zionist State, as well as massed missile attacks on American land, air and naval forces in the (Persian) Gulf region. Neither American nor Israeli missile defenses would have been able to stop most of the missiles getting through to their targets. Such a war would be mean political suicide and his defeat in November of this year, and thus Trump stood down; he could not sell it to the American public in any way, and it would easily be seen on which country’s behalf this war would be fought — Israel. Thus he said, “All is well.”
Press Shia: Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei said last Friday, “The day the missiles of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps crushed the US base is one of the days of God. The Guards’ response was a major blow to America’s fearsome superpower image”. What do you think? Do you believe that it was a historical turning point as it was the first and only direct attack on the US since World War II?
Nilsen: I believe Ayatollah Khamenei said this with good reason, if by a “day of God” he meant a triumph of reason over unreason. The superpower image of America was severely damaged long ago in Vietnam and showed to the world and to the Americans themselves that asymmetric warfare is not something that can be successfully waged by an overpowering conventional armed force. However, this lesson was obviously lost on the current generation of American political and military leadership, who led the disastrous invasion of Iraq and met with the same response as the Viet Cong gave their forebears. The response of the Guards was not asymmetric but did show another weakness of the American armed forces: the inability to fully or even substantially protect its personnel from massed ballistic missile attacks.
In this respect it was a turning point, but not because American forces were directly attacked by Iran. The American public has so far bought the explanation that there were no casualties at the airbase because of a combination of the incompetence and backward equipment of the Iranians. However, since Iran gave advanced warning of the attack and that in fact the base was defenseless against such an attack, it is clear that a turning point has been reached strategically, from both a military and political perspective.