Iranians commence ‘Great Prophet 5’ war games

In the wake of a nuclear summit in Washington, D.C., and a counter-nuclear summit with various non-aligned nations in Tehran, the Islamic Republic of Iran has begun a three-day military exercise in the Persian Gulf called “Great Prophet 5.”

In the lead-up to the military exercise, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that President Obama’s nuclear summit amounted to “atomic threats against Iranian people.” The Pentagon’s comment that the option of a military strike on Iran “remains on the table,” and Secretary of Defense Gate’s misconstrued “memo” to the White House have done nothing to appease Khamenei’s paranoia of a US or Israeli strike on Iran.

With rhetoric in both countries heating up — and the coy non-commitment of the Chinese and Russians over a new sanctions regimen — the West’s policy options are shrinking. In light of recent events, however, policy makers must not overestimate the significance of these war games.

Professor Stephen Walt’s recent blog entry on the Great Prophet 5 reminds us that US defense capabilities (even under their current strain) dwarf any Iranian show of force. He references statistics from the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, showing the vast differences by the numbers:

Gross Domestic Product (GDP):

United States — $13.8 trillion

Iran –$359 billion

Defense spending (2008):

US — $692 billion

Iran — $9.6 billion

Military personnel:

US –1,580,255 active; 864,547 reserves (very well trained)

Iran — 525,000 active; 350,000 reserves (poorly trained)

Combat aircraft:

US — 4,090 (includes USAF, USN, USMC and reserves)

Iran — 312 (serviceability questionable)

Main battle tanks:

US — 6,251 (Army + Marine Corps)

Iran — 1,613 (serviceability questionable)


US — 11 aircraft carriers, 99 principal surface combatants, 71 submarines, 160 patrol boats, plus large auxiliary fleet

Iran — 6 principal surface combatants, 10 submarines, 146 patrol boats

Nuclear weapons:

US — 2,702 deployed, >6,000 in reserve

Iran — Zero

Although these statistics are valuable in identifying the conventional military power of both nations, they do not address the unconventional means by which the Iranians could exercise force in the Gulf. For a good analysis of how Iran could use unconventional military force to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, see Caitlin Talmudge’s article titled “Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of Hormuz.”

One particularly effective unconventional asset is Iran’s state-sponsored support of terrorism. While this has been well documented for quite some time, the DoD’s recent unclassified report to Congress has announced that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ shadowy Qods Force is establishing a presence in Venezuela (Arms Control Wonk has some great analysis of the DoD report here). Will the Obama administration consider this a tacit violation of the Monroe Doctrine, as Republican Congressman Thadeus McCotter has argued? Via Facebook, Rep. McCotter argued that the Monroe Doctrine was “being shredded” and that border security was deteriorating as a result of this action.

And what about the recent Israeli claim that Hezbollah is now in control of SCUD missiles? If these missiles were delivered by the Syrians (with the quiet support of Iran), will the Israelis feel a greater need for preemptive action in the region?

When reflecting on current events it’s easy to compare the art of diplomacy to poker. With each round that goes by, the risk increases as each player has more money (and prestige) on the line. When it’s time to finally reveal one’s cards, the best players have been thinking about the endgame since the ante was placed. The question is, which nation has been playing its cards with an identifiable endgame in mind?

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  • Martin says:

    The article is incomplete in its analysis in my humble opinion. Indeed, it only relies on raw statistics of each army’s stock of assets. The problem with that kind of approach is that it doesnt take into account any factual data relative to the nature of the war theatre one would have to base its war efforts on. Indeed, a great part of the US assets mentionned are totally irrelevant, since only a fraction of them could be deployed on the iranian battlefied because of the total absence of neighboring states willing to host the US ground or air forces into their bases, and use them as launch pads. Thus, for a start, we can instantly bar thousands of the USAF aircraft mentionned, while we can retain every air, naval and ground element of the iranian army, which will have the enourmous advantage of fighting a defensive war and launch their assets from home – a home 2 fold bigger than iraq, and covered by a natural strategic barrier that is a chain of montains. Same for hundreds of chinese designed, state of the art, layered coastal defenses of AShMs along more than a thousand kms of Persian Gulf shores, against which most USN ship cannot defend themselves in the event of saturation attack salvos. You can also bar most of the tanks of the US army which will be impossible to deploy in great numbers so long as the USN is interdicted far away from the shores for the aformentioned reasons. And thats not counting a massive mine laying operation by Iran, which would put considerable burden on the hands of the mine clearing elements, assuming they can reach the waters of the Gulf. Analysts estimate that the USN could even lose an aircraft carrier in the process of supporting the massive air campaign needed to pave the way for an occupation of the southern coast of the country, the only way to plan concrete ground ops for ground forces. The use of nukes is of course out of the picture because of obvious geopolitical fallout. Plus, the articles statistics are missing a critical entry : Iran ballistic arsenal.
    As a matter of fact, a wide array of advanced and accurate theatre ballistic missiles of various types and ranges deployed nationwide and repeatedly deemed impossible to pinpoint with enough precision by US intelligence for suppressive cruise missile or air strikes, dispersed in a 1.6 million square kilometres country with a topology such as Iran’s, present by the thousands, very well camouflaged into the terrain, and aided by an equivalent number of decoys. These missiles will be able to deal punitive and devastating blows to any invading forces, and at their current state of development and deployment, ABM systems in the US forces are not a sufficient umbrella to counter salvos after salvos of dozens, if not hundreds, of these missiles. No need to have a Phd or a West Point distinction to deduce from this simple analysis, that, as massive and overwhelmingly superior as the american arsenal can be to its iranian counterpart, starting a one on one comparison to evaluate the balance of power between the two nations, if deprived from any sense of realistic vision of the logistical limitations that such complex geostrategic and geopolitical parameters imply for even the worlds 1st military power, and the subsequent lenght and cost that will inevitably arise, is void from any true form of credibility.

  • Render says:

    Martin: I agree completely that the Professor Walt’s analysis is incomplete and very obviously so to anybody with access to the web.
    The 525,000 active military personnel that Professor Walt mentions are actually reported by the 2006 IISS study as 545,000 personnel. Professor Walt seems to have lost 20,000 Iranian soldiers somewhere along the line. One would hope that its not one of the Iranian Army Commando divisions or some of the IRGC’s independent armored units.
    Professor Walt has also greatly minimized the size and potential effectiveness of the Basij (or “reserves”


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