The dangers of Iran’s military mistakes

The dangers of Iran’s military mistakes

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The damaged Konarak after the friendly fire incident in the Gulf of Oman. (AFP)

The Iranian navy last week announced that 19 sailors had been killed and 15 wounded in a “friendly fire” incident, when its support vessel Konarak was hit by a new anti-ship missile being tested by the Jamaran frigate during drills in the Gulf of Oman. Iranian state TV said the incident took place off Bandar-e-Jask in southern Iran after the Konarak had towed a practice target to its destination but failed to move far enough away.

It is noteworthy that the Iranian leadership has remained silent about the number of fatalities and the reasons for the incident. It has not released video footage to indicate how the fatal mistake happened, even though Iran usually documents its naval drills exhaustively, raising further suspicions about the reality of the incident.

A few months before this, in January of this year, Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian jetliner shortly after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. In the three days following this incident, regime officials repeatedly denied any involvement, claiming that human error by the pilots or aviation personnel might have caused the plane to crash. As evidence of the regime’s culpability mounted, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced that a missile had been fired mistakenly and hit the plane.

Video footage of the incident recorded by Iranian citizens and subsequently uploaded to social media demonstrated, however, that the plane had been hit by two missiles, rather than one, prompting the regime to admit that it had shot down the airliner. Regime officials refused to hand over the black boxes from the destroyed plane.

After the Ukrainian jetliner was downed, the media in Iran blamed a lack of coordination between Iran’s air defense forces and the airport’s command center. However, the media was not brave enough to put the regime in the dock and hold it accountable for the incident.

It is also clear from last week’s naval incident that, while the IRGC is the primary subject of attention in analyzing the regime’s military capabilities, the army, which supersedes the IRGC in importance when it comes to the navy’s management, suffers from the same shortcomings.

While it was believed that the army, whose long record extends back to the Pahlavi era, would have the expertise and proficiency to avoid disastrous and lethal mistakes of this nature, the latest incident shows that such faith in its capabilities was over-optimistic. It is possible that this is because the “revolutionary” regime does not trust the regular army, fearing that it may harbor covert loyalties to the former Pahlavi leadership, so it withholds funding and training. This has led to a situation where the IRGC’s budget is three times that of the army, even though the army is three times larger than the IRGC, meaning the latter is effectively receiving money that should be going to the army.

There are also rumors within the Iranian regime that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in his capacity as supreme commander of the Iranian armed forces, has transferred commanders from the IRGC to the regular army to ensure it remains loyal to the theocratic regime.

But where does the danger lie?

These Iranian military fiascos indicate several important matters, the main one being that they could be repeated in the future. This poses a grave danger to international navigation and the civilian areas close to where military exercises are conducted. Also, the weaknesses in the technical aspects of Iran’s military hardware cannot be used to allow the regime to shirk its responsibility for its hostile acts at home and overseas.

The danger does not only lie in the regime’s shoddy, low-standard technology and its dependence on numbers over quality hardware when it comes to warfare, but also in the mindset that controls the handling of these weapons. This mindset is dominated by ideological and sectarian tendencies.

The fact that the regime delivers missiles and drones to affiliated militias in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon also helps us understand the aims of the regime when it comes to military development and drills, most of which are offensive. This contradicts the regime’s claim that its missile program is defensive.

It is possible that the ‘revolutionary’ regime does not trust the regular army, so it withholds funding and training.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

In light of the troubling current realities in the region and considering the nature of the ruling government in Tehran, how is it possible that the international community can allow Iran’s regime to continue to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs? What are the guarantees ensuring there will be no more disastrous “mistakes” committed by Iran?

These concerns should be addressed by the international community and, in particular, the P5+1 group ,which legitimized Iran’s nuclear program by granting it the right to enrich uranium. This has increased to 20 percent enrichment and, even with the nuclear deal’s restrictions, Tehran will still be able to develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads within 10 to 15 years.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami
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