Monday, September 24, 2007

Keeping an Eye on Us

According to a senior Iranian military official, Tehran is monitoring U.S. troop movements with "satellites and other technology" and those forces would be within range of Iranian missiles, "if an attack was launched."

The comments were reportedly made by Yahya Rahim Safavi, identified as a senior advisor to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Savavi's remarks were published by Iranian newspapers on Monday, and quickly recycled by Reuters, with little regard for context or accuracy. Consider his claims about Iran's advanced intelligence systems and missiles, reprinted by the wire service:

"Iran has now a strong intelligence system and missiles. We are closely watching the foreigners' moves in neighbouring countries by highly advanced satellite technology and advanced radars. If they enter our airspace or our territorial waters, they will get a fair response," Rahim Safavi said.

While Tehran has attempted to improve its intelligence network, it still lacks an indigenous imagery capability. Without its own satellite, the Iranians must rely on commercial products, or imagery that can be procured from other providers, such as Russia and China. Obviously, the quality of commercial imagery has improved dramatically over the past decade, and Russian and Chinese platforms could provide high-resolution images of American facilities in the Middle East.

But there are limitations on what Iran can obtain--and how it can be utilized. The U.S. can easily "buy up" regional coverage by commercial satellites, hindering what Tehran can glean from those platforms. The availability of Russian or Chinese imagery can remedy that problem (to some degree), but it's not the same thing as having your own satellite, with your own team of trained imagery analysts who can spot minute changes in potential targets.

The value of that capability cannot be overstated. Press reports indicate that Israel was receiving new images of that suspected Syrian nuclear facility every 90 minutes, allowing imagery analysts to develop an extensive "baseline" on the complex, and identify changes as they occurred. Information gathered through imagery analysis was (apparently) a key factor in Israel's decision to attack the facility, believed to house nuclear material shipped from North Korea.

Iran's existing imagery system probably allows for "area" targeting of large installations (such as ports and airfields), as well as population centers. But it's doubtful that Tehran has enough high-resolution imagery--or the analytical expertise--to allow precision strikes against high value targets within those complexes.

Not that it really matters. Those missiles Rahim Safavi referred to are notoriously inaccurate. Iran's various SCUD variants have a CEP (circular error probability) of more than 3,000 feet, and their longer-range Shahab-3s--capable of hitting Israel--are no more accurate.

Not surprisingly, an "extended-range" version of the Shahab-3 was on display during Iran's latest military parade, held just hours before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad departed for New York. With a reported range of 1,000 miles, the "new" Shahab-3 variant is capable of reaching targets throughout Israel. However, press reports (including the Reuters dispatch) failed to mention that missile displayed Sunday suffers from the same accuracy problems as other Shahab-3 variants, it's proven unreliable as well. Not exactly a weapon that holds Israel--or our forces in Iraq--at high risk.

But Tehran's latest boast is consistent with previous propaganda claims. Faced with the possibility of a U.S. or Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities, Iran has issued grandiose statements about its military capabilities, statements that, more often than not, have little basis in fact. But, with a compliant MSM, such proclamations achieve their intended goals, creating an exaggerated "image" of Iran's defense capabilities, and raising doubts (among western elites) about the effectiveness of our own, potential military action against Tehran.

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ADDENDUM: In fairness, some elements of Iran's intel network are effective, most notably its SIGINT system. With stations located on peak elevations, Tehran's SIGNT operators can effectively cover much of Iraq, the Persian Gulf and southern Turkey. Unfortunately for the Iranians, we know where the stations are, and they wouldn't last long in a U.S. air campaign. Iran also gains useful intelligence from its HUMINT operatives in Iraq, although we're having greater success at targeting those assets through our on-going troop surge.

3 comments:

F said...

You have to wonder just what Yahya Safavi hoped to accomplish with his statement.

Did he hope to discourage US or Israeli attacks? Unlikely, as our military probably knows as well as (or better than) he does just what Iranian intelligence and military capabilities are, and if they do not, listening to the boasts of a senior Iranian advisor hardly add much in the way of actionable intelligence to our knowledge base.

So did he hope to build the confidence of the Iranian military? Possibly, although a look back at their battle tactics against the Iraqi army indicates that they don't lack confidence as much as they lack common sense.

The only other purpose of such a boast would appear to be a hope to influence western media outlets. And it comes as no surprise that he succeeded admirably at that. That's a sorry commentary on our journalists, but not a surprising one. Pitiful. F

gr8scott said...

I say bomb Iran now and grab Ahmadinejad when he leaves the U.N. complex.

Michael said...

My concern is whether the Iranians possess the so-called Sunburn missile technology. Last I heard our military were still developing countermeasures against this weapon.

If Iranians have Sunburns and try to launch them against our ships in the Gulf or the Mediterranean, we might see a lot of dead US servicemen, satellite technology or no.