What if the Iranians get too big for their Britches?


Recently there  have been suggestions that the Iranians are hoping to provoke an all-out conflict with United States,  ostentatiously harassing our warships in the Gulf,  ( Iran today bragged that they have 112 new speed boats to  harass our navy in the Gulf)

sailors abducted by Iran

American sailors abducted by Iranians after allegedly  straying into Iranian waters in the Gulf. Humiliated they were but John Kerry was good  with  that.


ignoring US sanctions by shipping oil to Venezuela, constant pinprick attacks against American troops in Iraq,  and massive hate and propaganda tirades against the Americans… not just the government, but the American people as well. It almost seems as if the Iranian regime is trying to force feed their people into a hate frenzy against the United States. It is eerily similar to the hate sessions in the George Orwell ‘s book, 1984.

Going against the US in a conventional war would seem to violate common sense. Why would a third-rate military power take on the United States?  Moreover, a toe to toe slugfest against the US seems a dramatic departure from their traditional way of War

Iran navy hit

Operation Praying Mantis  where the US m navy destroyed a good part of the Iranian Navy in 1987.

(more of that in later post). One reason is that the prior conduct of the US responding to Iranian provocations since 1987 has been tepid and often downright cowardly. The Iranians have a deep belief that the Americans can be easily bluffed. They often, in social media, bring up the” body bag syndrome”. Like Saddam they have convinced themselves that the US military is a paper tiger. I Recently received a twitter txt message from “Abbas, ” incensed by my less than favorable views of Mullah Iran,  in which he sent me a picture of our inglorious departure from Saigon, with added text calling me a Jewish poodle.”   This is typical of what Raphael Patai calls the Arab mind.  The abrupt departure of the Marines from Beirut in 1984 was another “fact” which embedded the picture of the Americans as dramatically risk averse in Arab and Iranian minds. A claim to which we would, in recent history, have to admit they have evidence to back it upsaigon


A second even more critical reason for the Iranian fool hardy provocations is the overwhelming Iranian hubris. Any outside observer, having spent any time in Iran, has commented on this cultural attribute of the Iranian personality. All nations have some amount of hubris and tend to overestimate their military. We certainly have and continue to do so. Without belaboring the point, I would suggest reading the book, Knowing One’s Enemies by Ernest R. May.  However, the Iranian hubris is palpable and often tinged with extreme arrogance, especially when they believe they have the upper hand. The story of the “student” takeover of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 is a prime example of that, especially as chronicled by the American Military attaché Colonel Leland Holland and others held for 444 days. The US state Dept, after assisting the Islamic regime to come to power by withdrawing support to the shah, finally came to their senses as indicated in this message sent from the US embassy after fruitless attempts to parley with the Khomeini regime, “Their outlook is a function of their history and the solace most Iranians have found in Shi’a Islam. They place a premium of survival. They are manipulative, fatalistic, suspicious, and xenophobic.” (quote from the book Twilight War by David Christ) . Iranian xenophobia was mentioned several times by the American ambassador to Iran William G Sullivan, and it was primarily directed toward the Americans. Certainly, I found that to be true when I toured there in 1968 and   1969.


Often American and Western military analysts underestimate Middle Eastern militaries, and then when they demonstrate a degree of proficiency, the pendulum seems to swing in an opposite direction. The experts then tend to overestimate their capabilities. In assessing the Iranian military, we should keep this in mind. They are not less courageous or intelligent than any other nation, nor are they particularly gifted in martial capabilities.  The Iranian record in conventional warfare is less than sterling, even in the Iran-Iraq war…. In which only their three to one advantage in population enabled them to hang on to a very dubious peace.( and because they were the beneficiaries of American training for years.)  As Charles Tripp and Sharam Chubin put it.  “Self-absorbed and utterly confident, revolutionary Iran provoked a war for which it impudently failed to prepare for, but, once embarked on, embraced with characteristic zeal. It defined it as a clash of supreme metaphysical values rather than national wills.”  

Iranian troops

Iranian Artesh troops ( regular army)

Despite some semi hysterical fears , Iranians will not march to Mecca and Medina, and their tenure as overlords in Iraq and Syria is in fact  declining, but they will continue to create dissension and instability in the region, and throughout the world, conniving with rogue states like Venezuela to create  dissention and chaos. Because of their characteristic hubris and typically Iranian view of Western caution as weakness, they will quite likely precipitate wars they did not intend. Western indifference to their aggressive actions and Iranian thirst for recognition will accelerate Iran’s designs for world power status.


Irabnain t4roops in Syria

Iranian Troops in Syria


As discussed earlier, culture is indeed the key to understanding the politics, daily living patterns and the way of war. Moreover, the near immutability of cultural norms, despite generations of changes in technology, political rule, foreign domination, and the much-ballyhooed “the global village,” can be demonstrated by the observations of Iranian/Persian culture over the centuries.  The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines all saw the Persians as an imaginative enemy possessing imagination, guile, and a disarming ability to suborn factions of their allies. Their ability to turn the Greek city-states into warring factions, using propaganda and diplomacy, was unmatched. Backing up their “soft power” were a variety of different approaches to war using their ponderous armies, “that drank the rivers dry” as they passed, to light detachments of cavalry archers to harass, delay and keep the enemy bewildered and off balance. Darius the Great spoke for all the Persians when he identified himself as the center of justice and righteousness. As Tom Holland in his book Persian Fire, put it, Darius was,  “Closely reflecting how they (Persians) saw themselves. No people had a greater faith in their own virtue.”  Sir Christopher Sykes called them “vain.”

Other observers added that the Persians were susceptible to ridicule, often reacting in a thoughtless manner and given to raging desires of reprisal and revenge. They could tolerate foreign cultures but at the same time viewed them with contempt. They used this tolerance to undermine their enemies by cunningly using their own traditions against them.  A more modern example of this is Islamist terrorists using the liberality of western civilization to operate freely within them. Another specialty of the Persians was intelligence, and psychological warfare.  Peter Green in his masterful book, The Greco- Persian Wars.  writes of the terror warfare used by the Great Persian King, Xerxes, “hoping by the magnitude of his arrival to strike the Greeks with terror before his arrival.” The Persians, long before Lawrence of Arabia and the Arabs, understood the importance of “winning wars without battles.” Unlike the Greeks, who often buried their heads in the sand, (like the West today), they were alert to shifts in public sentiments and smelled weakness. After the COVID -19 political circus abates, hopefully  we can get serious about more serious threats to  US security.


About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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2 Responses to What if the Iranians get too big for their Britches?

  1. Connie Piper says:

    Your blogs are coming at a GREAT time, dear Tex. I can’t wait to read this; I just printed it:) I loved the last one you wrote about the Shah. No wonder Iran does not like us. I wish things would have been handled a LOT better back then and we probably wouldn’t have these horrible problems NOW with Iran!

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