Iranian Missile Movements; Open Source Versus Technical Intelligence

(NBC) U.S. officials: Iran official OK’d attacks on American military. Quoting,

One U.S. official said Iran usually conceals the missiles and components when delivering them to the Houthis. These missiles are visible to overhead surveillance, leading to concerns Iran could attempt to launch missiles from the dhows. There are some indications they have mobile launchers on board, as well, one of the officials said.

Technical collections of the intelligence community are usually more informative than open source, except in one way, the gauging of intentions. But this quote is good for intentions:

…the Iranian regime has told some of its proxy forces and surrogates that they can now go after American military personnel and assets in the region, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.

The  dhows may contain onboard launchers, as opposed to launchers for shore deployment. The IRGC have an operational suicide doctrine, which differs only in philosophy from the suicides of Islamic terror.  It is justified as a practical weapon, to be used when there is no alternative. In  challenge to U.S. naval power, this is now the case. Unlike the land launches by Houthis against the USS Mason, where the attackers could vanish, a dhow launch is a form of suicide.

So the argument of US official: Iran has moved missiles to Persian Gulf, based on deniability, is  compromised. It will become irrelevant if a missile is actually launched from a dhow. It would define the divide between Iran’s secular and religious components as more stark than even the imprisonment of Rouhani’s brother implies.

That argument also assumes the Iranians want a demonstration of success to motivate their suicide crews. The attack on the Mason did not provide this, because the attack did not reach the point of saturation of the Mason’s radar. But a close-in suicide attack, engaging the Phalanx CIWS system, has a  chance of causing at least minor ship damage. A swarm attack could do more.


“The intelligence is real,” said a senior Democratic congressional official briefed on the intelligence, “but the response seems wildly out of proportion.”

The deployment of a carrier strike group is appropriate. If the dhow threat becomes actual versus potential, as indicated by a missile launch, the best defense/deterrent is rapid elimination of the dhows.

The threat against U.S. land forces is not so easily countered. The strength and composition of these forces is not intended for large engagements. The isolated locations of U.S. forces within Iraq, combined with air power, provide some protection against concentration of opposing forces. But  freedom of movement, in small units in counterinsurgency operations, would go to zero.

The Kurd Referendum; Implications for U.S. Policy offers a prediction, from September 29, 2017, that centers on the Kurds. They may yet play a role; read down. But there are so many ways the cake can crumble:

…Unless Brinton’s sequence can be averted, the U.S. position will become untenable. The nature of extremists could make resolution impossible. The curtain on this conflict rises perhaps a year, or a bit more, from now.

Quoting from Trump wants U.S. military in Iraq to ‘watch Iran’: CBS interview,

The far west locations of the bases provide some insulation against sectarian strife. But how Iraq will fall apart is as hard as predicting how a goblet will shatter when dropped.

    • For a clean break into a few large pieces, the bases are an asset.
    • Bases are useful if there is enough coherence to request U.S. assistance, but the U.S. response would have to be massive.
    • With total shattering, and  many sharp pieces, the bases become “Mortarvilles”, exposed to grinding attrition.

Plan to Defeat ISIS Part 3; 1000 Troops to Kuwait; New Doctrine, outlines a doctrine that provides an alternative with some functionality in a non permissive environment. Quoting,

…None of these had geopolitical goals of the type pursued by the U.S. All of the above are characterized by the temporary seizure of territory. They were ephemeral. They offer suggestions as to how the U.S. can project power into a region with weak or nonexistent states, and hostile non-state forces:

    • Deploy very, very quickly.
    • Accomplish the objective, but without the usual finality or thoroughness.
    • Get out before non-state forces can react to the presence.

This “Doctrine of Ephemeral Deployment.” is not new. Von Clausewitz thought of it some time between 1816 and 1830.

While the U.S. military has the unique ability to maintain a presence in hostile environments, such as Afghanistan, it may be in circumstances that prohibit achievement of  foreign policy goals. If continued presence in Iraq is required, it may be necessary to dispose of constraints that stem from the concept of Iraq as a state in political balance:

  • Reluctance to support Kurdish autonomy, if not independence.
  • The idea that Sunni nationalism is in all forms a bad thing.

The current dilemma provokes an idea to be explored in the games of counterfactual history: U.S. foreign policy goals are too rigidly guided by strategic doctrine, to the neglect of opportunity and practicality.





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