Lies, damn lies and statistics
Turns out that Trump and the Pentagon were lying. Again. This time about the true impact of the Iranian counter-strike on US forces in Syria. First they claimed that there were no injured U.S. personnel, only to eventually have to fess up that 34 soldiers had suffered traumatic brain injury (which Trump “re-classified” as a “headache”). Then they had to admit that it was not really 34, but actually 50!
According to some sources, not all U.S. personnel were hiding in bunkers and some were deployed to defend the base perimeter. Whatever may be the case, this adds yet another indication that the Iranian counter-strike was much more robust than originally reported by the Empire. In fact, Iranian sources indicate that following the strike, a number of wounded casualties were flown to Israel, Kuwait and Germany. Again, we will probably never find out the full truth about what happened that night, but two things are now certain:
The Iranian attack was extremely effective and it is undeniable that all the US/NATO/Israeli forces in the region are now exposed like sitting ducks waiting for the next Iranian strike.
Uncle Shmuel has had to dramatically under-report the real extent and nature of the Iranian counter-strike.
Now, let’s be clear about the quality of the warning the U.S. personnel had. We now know at the very least the following warnings were received:
Warning through the Iraqi government (whom the Iranians did brief about their intentions).
Warning through the Swiss authorities (who represent U.S. interests in Iran and whom the Iranian did brief about their intentions).
Warning through the US reconnaissance/intelligence capabilities on the ground, air and space.
And yet, in spite of these almost ideal conditions (from the point of view of defense), we now see that not a single Iranian missile was intercepted, that the missiles all landed with very high accuracy, that the U.S. base itself suffered extensive damage (including destroyed helicopters and drones) and that there were scores of injured personnel (see this article for a detailed discussion of the post-attack imagery).
If we look at this strike as primarily a “proof of concept” operation, then it becomes pretty clear that on the Iranian side what was proven was a superb degree of accuracy and robust ballistic missile capability, whereas on the U.S. side the only thing this strike did was to prove that the U.S. forces in the region are all extremely vulnerable to Iranian missile attack. Just imagine if the Iranians had wanted to maximize U.S. casualties and if they had given no warning of any kind – what would the tally be then?! What if the Iranians had targeted, say, fuel and ammo dumps, buildings where U.S. personnel lived, industrial facilities (including CENTCOM’s key logistic nodes), ports or even airfields? Can you imagine the kind of hell the Iranians would have unleashed against basically unprotected facilities?!
Then ask yourself why Trump & Co. had to lie and minimize the real scope of the Iranian attack. It is pretty obvious that the White House decided to lie and to present the strike as almost without impact because if it had admitted the magnitude of the strike, then it would also have had to admit to the total powerlessness to stop or even to meaningfully degrade it. Not only that, but an outraged U.S. public (most Americans still believe the traditional propaganda line about “The Greatest Military Force in the History of the Galaxy”!) would have demanded a retaliatory counter-counter-strike against Iran, which would have triggered an immediate Iranian attack on Israel which, in turn, would have plunged the entire region into a massive war which the U.S. had no stomach for.
Contrast that with the Iranian claims which, if anything, possibly exaggerated the impact of the strike and claimed that 80 servicemen were injured (I would add here that, at least so far, the Iranian government has been far more candid and less inclined to resort to crude lies than the U.S. has). Clearly the Iranians were ready for exactly the kind of further escalation that the U.S. wanted to avoid at almost any cost.
So what really took place?
There are two basic ways to defend against an attack: denial and punishment. Denial is what the Syrians have been doing against the U.S. and Israel every time they shoot down incoming missiles. Denial is ideal because it minimizes your own casualties while not necessarily going up the “escalation scale”. In contrast, punishment is when you don’t prevent an attack, but when you inflict retaliatory counter-strike on the attacking side, but only after being attacked yourself. That is what the US could do against Iran, at pretty much at any time (yes, contrary to some wholly unrealistic claims, Iranian air defenses cannot prevent the US armed forces from inflicting immense damage upon Iran, its population and infrastructure).
The problem with punishing Iran is you are dealing with an enemy who is actually willing to absorb immense losses as long as these losses eventually lead to victory. How do you deter somebody who is willing to die for his country, people or faith?
There is no doubt in my mind that the Iranians, who are superb analysts, are fully aware of the damage that the U.S. can inflict. The key factor here is that they also realize that once the U.S. unleashes its missiles and bombers and once they destroy many (if not all) of their targets, they will have nothing else left to try to contain Iran with.
Here is how you can think of the Iranian strategy:
If the U.S. does nothing or only engages in symbolic strikes (say, like Israel’s strikes in Syria), the Iranians can simply ignore these attacks because while they are very effective in giving the Americans (or the Israelis) an illusion of power, they really fail to achieve anything militarily significant.
If the U.S. finally decides to strike Iran hard, it will exhaust its “punishment card” in that counter-attack, and will have no further options to deter Iran.
If the U.S. (or Israel) decides to use nuclear weapons, then such an attack will simply give a “political joker card” to Iran saying in essence “now you are justified in whatever retaliation you can think of”. And you can be darn sure that the Iranian will come up with all sorts of most painful forms of retaliation!
You can think of the current US posture as “binary”: it is either “all off” or “all on”. Not by choice, of course, but these conditions are the result of the geostrategic realities of the Middle-East and from the many asymmetries between the two sides:
Country US US Iran
Air superiority yes. yes. no
Combat capable ground forces no. yes
Willingness to incur major losses no yes
Short and secure supply lines no yes
Prepared for major defensive operations no yes