There’s a common phrase used throughout the US military, BLUF. Bottom line, up front. While I’m not a fan of the service’s irritating habit of attaching an acronym to everything, I do like how BLUF cuts through excessive verbiage and unnecessary rhetoric. Those four letters simplify things, and as another four-letter military acronym will tell you (KISS: Keep it simple, stupid!) simplification is key to victory.
So when you're talking Tehran, the BLUF is this: Iran, for all their blustering, is nothing more than a paper tiger.
A few months back, Iran announced a brand new fighter aircraft, the Saegheh (Lightning). Normally that type of story is ho-hum in the defense and security community, as the development of new military hardware is a fairly routine occurrence-- news-in-brief material at best. The Ayatollah’s P.R. machine understood this, so they embellished, claiming that Iran’s first domestically manufactured fighter aircraft was “more powerful” than the American F/A-18 Superhornet.
Thus, the propaganda message that Iran was trying to send was delivered via global media: “We can manufacture fourth-generation fighter aircraft, and we can use them to defend our airspace.”
Of course on closer examination, the Saegheh turned out to be a piece of junk left over from Vietnam-- a modified version of one of the F-5 Tigers that we sold Iran before the fall of the Shah in 1979.
And that story, in a nutshell, exposes Iran’s utter impotence on the world stage. They desperately want to be a global player-- the alpha-male in the Middle East, a political and military force to be reckoned with. But, because they lack that type of reach and influence, they lie and exaggerate to make their dreams of hegemony appear more real.
Their snatch-and-grab of 15 British military personnel wasn’t so much a seizure of sailors as it was a kidnapping of headlines. Past experiences, such as the first Iranian hostage crisis, the Chinese spy-plane incident, and the North Korean attack on the USS Pueblo, have taught the Iranians that we will not go to war over a few captives, but will instead negotiate for their release. Through that calculus, Iran can pull stunts like the British Sailor incident without tangible (read: military) repercussions. It allows Iran to project strength, or at least the appearance of strength, by sending the message: “We can kidnap Coalition troops, and we dare the West to stop us.”
John Noonan has been published in The Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and National Review, and was a contributor to the Encylopedia of World War I and World War II. He blogs at www.op-for.com.