The Iran crisis will show Russia and China the West still has no answer for 'hybrid warfare'

  • In World
  • 2019-07-13 16:39:19Z
  • By The Telegraph

The current crisis with Iran has lessons that will resonate well beyond the shores of the Gulf.

Countries like Russia and China will see in it the attestation of their belief that the West currently has no answer to hybrid warfare, the blend of military and civilian actions for political effect.

Iranian naval forces are very weak militarily, comprised mostly of machine gun-toting raiding craft and a few frigates which, if they deployed in anything other than a peaceful way, would be destroyed by the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet.

So instead Iran is employing hybrid warfare, which renders largely irrelevant 'hard' military power and which shows up how inadequately prepared the West is to meet such challenges.

Hybrid warfare mixes conventional and unconventional military forces with disinformation, assassination, economics, manipulation of social media, use of religion, plus other state-sponsored activities that seek to undermine an enemy without engaging in 'traditional' war.

The current Gulf crisis is a test-case in how to counter Western hard power, a point not lost on Moscow or Beijing.

Proponents of hybrid war choose not to fight to Western strengths. This sometimes causes outrage amongst our politicians, but is common sense and sound military strategy.

Iran, Russia and, increasingly, China are very good at operating in the structural fractures afforded by liberal democracies wedded to conventional military power. "All these people are thinking much more unconventionally now than they used to be," warns Bob Seely MP.

Politically Britain is siding with the EU over sanctions on Iran whilst attempting to remain militarily close to the US. "Strategically we're in a very considerable bind," Mr Seely says.

Iran wants to bring as much diplomatic attention as possible to its plight and can destabilise the Middle East at will in order to do so.

Military action by the US or Britain could be met by Iran covertly internationalising the crisis as quickly as possible. Gulf shipping could be attacked, or proxy forces across the Middle East could strike Western forces in Iraq, Syria or Yemen.

Iranian politics is not singular and hierarchical, but instead has rival power centres.

"When you're dealing with the people who handle the proxies and asymmetrical warfare, you're not necessarily dealing with the Iranian parliament, rather the Revolutionary Guards who are a culture unto themselves and somewhat separate from other elements of the Iranian political state," Mr Seely says.

All of which shows the need for a post-Brexit Grand Strategy, according to David Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff.

"We're meandering around, being buffeted by various risks and crises, and no-one really knows what our strategy and purpose in the big wide world is."

And he has a warning for Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson.

Either in the Gulf or more broadly, "whether or not it's by design, the new Prime Minister will be tested in the next six months.

"What worries me, is that most [politicians] are very ill-prepared for that challenge.

"They are all are rather haughtily over-confident about being up to it before the event. It's only afterwards they realise it's not quite so straightforward and that cautious Generals like me might be right after all."


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