Iran believes through the use of fourth generational warfare, which invokes a heavy toll on the US, Iran could end the hostilities fairly quickly in their favor. “The fourth generation of war uses all available networks-political, economic, social and military to convince the enemy’s political decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly" (ONI, pg10) Fourth generational warfare also targets the population of its adversary not by bombs and missiles, but by psychological means. This is could be done by inflicting a heavy death toll onThe author also believes that Iran may target other Gulf states:
US military personnel which would be shown via the 24/7 news coverage we have come to expect.
The question is how would Iran carry out this fourth generational warfare? Being that this war would be carried out by US forces solely through attacks by air and sea, Iran cannot depend on carrying out a low intensity conflict which causes a great amount of casualties over time. This usually occurs only when the adversary has placed ground troops on foreign soil and the occupied country uses the advantage of knowing the terrain and local support to launch attacks at times of their choosing. War with the US would not offer this opportunity, Iran would need to inflict as much damage on the US in a short period of time hoping the US and perhaps its allies would ask for a truce. As mentioned earlier, Iran does have the capability to carry this out and would have too if they wanted any chance to succeed as the war would surely escalate. Iran could of course prevent an escalation by not retaliating, or by doing so covertly at a later date. But based on Iran’s military buildup, rhetoric, and perceptions of the US strategic power in the Middle-East, it would be a stretch to conclude that one, Iran would not immediately retaliate leading to an escalation, and two, Iran would not retaliate with all its might against a far superior force.
It is for these reasons I believe the hypotheses which states: “Iran’s reaction to an attack by the US would be to use all means at its disposal including their large arsenal of missiles, asymmetric warfare, regular forces, and economic/political disruption methods that would cause large amounts of devastation, casualties, economic disruption, and fear; in the hopes that the enemy would lose the support of its citizens and allies, thus forcing them to end the confrontation; Iran would use all means at its disposal to accomplish this goal rather quickly as they would try to avoid an extended conflict” is credible and has a likely chance of occurring if the United States were to commence an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The question must be asked again, would Iran attack GCC states if the US attacked Iran? The common perception which is similar to Molavi’s response is this would all depend on what Iran perceives to be the GCC countries complicity to the US attack. The answer based on recent history should be obvious. The Iranians would likely believe, most if not all the GCC states directly or indirectly assisted the US. Why would this be the case? The State Department cables that were obtained and released by Wikileaks shows Saudi Arabia asking the US to “cut of the head of the snake” (Iran) before they are able to obtain nuclear weapons. If there was ever any doubt of Saudi Arabia tolerating an attack on Iran, this was put to rest after the cable leaks.
Secondly, we have seen over the past 18 months a major acquisition of US weapons by Saudi Arabia, UAE, and others throughout the Gulf, the most recent acquisition being bunker busting bombs by the UAE. These countries are purchasing these weapons with only one threat in mind, and that threat is Iran.
If Iran were to launch attacks against these installations, the one that needs to be mentioned according to Afshin Molavi is “Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq Plants” located in Saudi Arabia. With a capacity of producing 7 million barrels per day, the facility is the primary oil processing site for Arabian extra light and Arabian light crude oils. A successful attack on this facility would cause long term damage to Saudi Arabia and its oil production. If Iran were to retaliate according to the hypothesis of this paper, then it is a sure bet they would strike Abqaiq. Furthermore, if the US were preventing Iran from exporting oil, Abqaiq could become a priority target.
But could GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia offset any negative affects Iran has on the oil supply? According to Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia “Saudi Arabia has so much (spare) production capacity- nearly 4 million barrels per day- that we could almost instantly replace all of Iran’s oil production.” (Tait, pg1) Saudi Arabia also has another option, one which they previously carried out during the first Persian Gulf War. As a precautionary measure before military action commenced in 1990-1991, “the Saudis had stored huge quantities of oil outside the warzone.” (Freedman and Karsh, pg343) There are two points that would need to be addressed before Saudi Arabia repeated history, first we are assuming that Saudi Arabia would be informed of any pending attack and done so in a time frame that allows them to remove a good amount of oil from the Persian Gulf. Secondly and more importantly, if the US were to attack Iran, they would want to do so achieving complete surprise. A major indicator for Iran of a pending US attack would be seeing the Saudis store oil outside the Gulf region. For these reasons, it is unlikely Saudi Arabia would repeat what they did during the lead up to the first Persian Gulf War.