Pentagon: Iran Expands Use of Proxies

Hagel shortens public version and for first time calls Iran strategy ‘defensive’

Iranian army air force / AP
May 2, 2013

Iran’s terrorist-backing government is expanding the use of proxies around the world to carry out its military policies, according to a Pentagon report.

Tehran also continued building ballistic missiles and appears on the way to flight testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015, according to a brief summary of the annual Report on the Military Power of Iran.

However, the report to Congress for the first time states Iran’s military doctrine is "defensive," a significant shift reflecting the more soft line policy views toward the theocratic state held by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The public portion of the first report to Congress under Hagel also was sharply curtailed this year from the four-page, unclassified assessment released in April 2012, to five paragraphs for the latest unclassified executive summary of the report dated January 2013.

Pentagon spokesmen initially said the five-paragraph executive summary was classified as "for official use only" and would not be released. A spokeswoman for the office of the undersecretary of defense for intelligence later made a copy of the new assessment available to the Washington Free Beacon.

Hagel came under fire for his views on Iran during his Senate confirmation battle. It was disclosed during hearings that the former senator opposed unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran over its illicit nuclear program. As a senator he voted against labeling Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization. And in 2006 he dismissed a military strike against Iran as "not a viable, feasible or responsible option."

As defense secretary, he has adopted the Obama administration policy that all options are available for use against Iran.

On the use of surrogates, the report says Iran is expanding economic and security agreements with members of the nonaligned states in Latin America and Africa, a reference to Iran’s growing relations with oil-rich Venezuela under the regime of the late leftist leader Hugo Chavez.

"Iran plays a growing role outside of the [Persian] Gulf and Levant with a full spectrum of military capabilities that includes the use of non-state actors, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shia groups and the Taliban," the report said. "Iran’s principles of military strategy are based on deterrence, asymmetrical, and attrition warfare."

On military doctrine, the report says Iran adheres to a "defensive" military doctrine that is designed to "slow an invasion; to asymmetrically target its adversaries’ economic, political, and military interests; and to force a diplomatic solution to hostilities while avoiding any concessions that challenge its core interests."

The report’s release comes amid a joint U.S.-Israeli covert action program designed to disrupt and slow Iran’s nuclear program, which the International Atomic Energy Agency has said contains elements of covert weapons development.

Additionally, the report comes as Israel debates whether to conduct military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, many of which are spread around the country in hardened or underground bunkers.

The report says Iran continued to threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway between the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman that is a transit point for an estimated 20 percent of the world’s oil.

U.S. military officials have said Iran is capable of shutting down the strait but not keeping it closed to shipping traffic.

"Iran also has threatened to launch missiles and support terrorist reprisals against U.S. interests and regional allies in response to an attack," the report said.

Iran’s main covert military forces are the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force, set up in 1990 to "provide arms, funding and paramilitary training to extremist groups,’ the report said.

"We assess with high confidence that during the past three decades, Iran has methodically cultivated a network of terrorist and militant groups capable of targeting regional and extra-regional targets," the report stated. "IRGC-QF is Iran’s principal interlocutor to Hezbollah."

Iranians supplied deadly armor-piercing bombs to insurgents in Iraq with little or no response from the U.S. or allied militaries in Iraq during the major portion of the war in the country.

The Iranians also are supplying weaponry to the Taliban in Afghanistan even though the Islamist Afghan fighters are primarily Sunni Muslims while Iran’s rulers are rival Shias.

According to defense and intelligence officials, the Qods force has been covertly supporting the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad against rebel forces seeking to oust him.

Iranian Islamist militants helped establish a pro-Assad militia called Jaysh al-Shabi, which has been described as a Syrian equivalent to Iran’s Basiji, a domestic paramilitary force. Jaysh al-Shabi also is similar to Hezbollah in terms of its relationship to Tehran.

On Iran’s nuclear program, the Defense Intelligence Agency-drafted report follows the U.S. intelligence community’s controversial 2007 position that Iran has not decided to build nuclear arms, only the technology and expertise to do so. A 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded Iran halted all work on nuclear arms in 2003. A recent IAEA report said the agency has evidence of continued work by Iran on nuclear weapons past 2003, including high-speed electronic detonators and high explosives used in nuclear bombs.

"Iran continues to develop technological capabilities applicable to nuclear weapons," the report said. "It is proceeding with uranium enrichment and heavy-water nuclear reactor activities in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and also continues to develop ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons."

On missiles, the report said that since the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq war Iran has been developing and deploying missiles "to counter perceived threats from Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East and to project power in the region."

"With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States by 2015," it states. That assessment was unchanged from the 2012 report.

Iran’s long-range missiles are the main reason the Pentagon is building a time-phased missile defense shield in Europe, along with NATO allies. The system included both sea- and ground-based missile interceptors and radar and other sensors used to track and target enemy missiles.

Hagel recently announced the Pentagon is canceling the last phase of the missile defense system that would have fielded an improved long-range interceptor capable of hitting an Iranian ICBM. The SM-3 Block IIB missile was canceled amid calls from Russia for legal restrictions on such interceptors in the European defense shield.

The 2012 report said Iran was supporting both the government of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and insurgent groups.

Last year’s report also said Iran was providing military and communications support to the Assad regime in Syria and probably military trainers.

The Iranian military also "trains Hezbollah and Palestinian extremist groups at camps throughout the region," the 2012 report said. "Iran provides funding and possibly weapons to [the Palestinian terrorist groups] Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip."

Missile developments from last year’s report include deployment of short-range missiles with maneuvering precision-guided warheads, extended range versions of the 620-mile-range Shahab-3, and a new 1,242-mile-range missile called Ashura.

The test in 2008 of a multi-stage space launcher was described as "a test bed for developing long-range ballistic missile technologies," the 2012 report said.