The Florida Keys War
by Chris Oakley
Adapted from material originally posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the previous chapters of this series we explored the causes of the Florida Keys War; the course of the war itself; and the war’s impact on the subsequent course of human history. In this segment we’ll discuss the battle for Bandar Abbas and the involvement of so-called "rogue states" like Syria and Venezuela in supporting Tehran, as well as Iran’s Scud missile campaign against America’s coalition partners in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
Half A League Onward: June-September 2002
News of the Iranian army’s defeat at Abadan struck the Tehran government like a sledgehammer. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his top military advisors had been certain their troops would emerge victorious-- what could have gone wrong? Recriminations were flying through the air almost as fast as the bullets which had been fired during the struggle for that city; to add insult to injury, Iran’s top intelligence agents had picked up signs that US and allied forces were about to make a frontal assault on Isfahan, one of the country’s most important industrial and cultural centers. For all of Ahmadinejad’s bluster in public, behind closed doors he was terrified of the prospect of Isfahan being occupied by those he considered ‘infidels’.
In reality, the Iranians had been duped by a well-orchestrated psychological warfare operation aimed at distracting them from the coalition forces’ real target: Bandar-e Abbas. Knowing that an all-out push to take Isfahan would result in heavy casualties and leave the allied southern flank vulnerable to an Iranian counterattack, General Franks instead to chose to aim the brunt of the blow at Bandar-e Abbas, which in addition to occupying a crucial strategic position on the Straits of Hormuz was also a trade and transport hub for Iran.
The deception campaign worked so well that Iranian forces didn’t even realize Bandar-e Abbas was the real target of the coalition ground forces until it was too late. On June 16th, 2002 American and British attack helicopters, backed up by five squadrons of fighter jets and two ECM1 aircraft, started attacking Iranian naval patrol boats in the Straits of Hormuz using "fire-and-forget" missiles2. The ECM planes had been included in the strike at General Franks’ request, as he was concerned about ensuring that both the fixed-wing aircraft and helos committed to backing up allied ground assaults on the city had the maximum possible protection against both hand-held and fixed enemy SAM launchers.
Almost simultaneously with these attacks, allied infantry and armored divisions seized Qeshm Island in a surprise amphibious landing and started mounting similar assaults on the mouth of Bandar-e Abbas’ harbor. Iranian regular army personnel and Revolutionary Guard battalions quickly launched a counterattack, and within an hour a number of small but intense firefights were in progress in the harbor area.
Coalition anti-SAM measures weren’t totally foolproof; one-fifth of the helos and one fourth of the jets involved in the initial assault on the Iranian port were shot down, mostly by Swedish-made RBS 70 laser-guided missiles. Nevertheless, US and British marines succeeded in gaining a toehold in the city’s harbor, and by the end of that day additional allied units were coming ashore strengthen that hold.
The coalition powers and Iran weren’t the only countries that had a great deal invested in the battle for Bandar-e Abbas; some of the weapons used by the Iranian armed forces had been made in China, and the PLA general staff in Beijing was anxious to see how their hardware would perform in actual combat situations. In Syria, which viewed Iran as a potential ally in its ongoing feuds with Israel and Iraq, President Bashir el-Assad was huddling with Syrian intelligence officials to see if some way could be found to "upset the apple cart", as it were, in regard to America’s strategic position in the Mideast; a coalition defeat at Bandar-e Abbas, he felt, might be a good start towards achieving such an end.
Hugo Chavez also wanted to see Iran prevail; he enjoined his ambassador at the UN to submit resolution after resolution that expressed solidarity with the Iranian armed forces and called for the US-sponsored coalition to withdraw its troops from Iran at once. While these resolutions were all swiftly voted down, they greatly boosted the morale of the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Tehran. On a more practical front, Chavez helped Ahmadinejad get around the international arms embargo against Iran by setting up a secret pipeline that funneled arms and spare parts to Tehran from Venezuela through third-party nations that were neutral or even sympathetic to the Iranian cause.
In the meantime, allied field commanders were pondering their next move. While some favored an all-out drive on Shiraz, one of Iran’s major economic and agricultural centers, the majority of coalition senior officers felt that in strategic terms it would be more sensible to bypass the city, as General MacArthur had done with certain Pacific islands during World War II, and let it wither on the vine so to speak. This notion was particularly in vogue with the Iraqi general staff, who felt a direct thrust on Shiraz might endanger their army’s defense of Abadan. Thus it was decided that allied ground forces should make a feint toward the nearby city of Ahvaz, making it seem as if they were going to mount an offensive on Shiraz, while the real target of their next blow would in fact lie elsewhere....
In early July of 2002, Iraqi armor and special forces units began a two-pronged thrust at Ahvaz. Convinced that this signaled the first phase of a major allied offensive from the north to capture Shiraz, Iranian regular army divisions and Revolutionary Guards quickly moved to halt the supposed assault. Almost simultaneously Iranian air force reconnaissance planes detected what seemed to be preparations for an airborne invasion of the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr.
But the supposed paratrooper drop was a ruse-- and the Iranians fell for it hook, line, and sinker. The campaign to take Bushehr would actually be conducted by US and British armored battalions, backed by elements of the Australian SAS. The airborne forces would be saved for the task of securing critical mountain passes north of Bandar-e Abbas and cutting off Iranian thrusts to retake that city. Elements of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, backed by the US 1st Air Cavalry and British and French paratroop brigades, would be deployed in a four-pronged assault on these on these passes; in the meantime, the tank forces, along with various infantry elements, would breach the defensive perimeter around Bushehr.
Not until two of the mountain passes north of Bandar-e Abbas had fallen into US hands would Ahmadinejad’s field commanders realize what General Franks was up to, and by then momentum had shifted considerably in favor of the coalition forces.3
Approximately 3 weeks after the Iraqi drive toward Ahvaz began, the allied armored invasion of Bushehr got underway; the port was taken despite heavy resistance, and three days after its surrender coalition ground forces had Shiraz fully surrounded. Now there was little to do except starve Shiraz out and wait for its defenders to capitulate; once that came to pass, allied commanders could start seriously thinking about the capture of Isfahan...
Against this backdrop of allied triumph, though, came the tragedy of the first Scud missile attacks to happen in the Persian Gulf since the end of Desert Storm. For weeks Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the clerics who served as the power behind his throne, had warned that Iran would not hesitate to use its missile arsenal against the allied nations if they intervened to force Tehran to comply with the UN; now those warnings were coming true as the air over dozens of cities and hundreds of military installations across the Middle East was split by the wail of emergency sirens.
It started late on the afternoon of August 17th, 2002 when a pair of Scuds hit the Qatari capital of Doha, killing over a hundred civilians and injuring nearly 300 more.4 Further attacks that day were, fortunately, thwarted by batteries of US Patriot missiles, but the strikes nonetheless brought home the danger in which the United States and its Persian Gulf allies would find themselves as long as the war went on. In the weeks that followed, similar strikes would be carried out against Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. There was even a brief flurry of Scud attacks against Pakistan, which ended when the Pakistani army fired off a few missiles of its own in the direction of Tehran and Qom.
But the largest round of Scud volleys would be directed at Iran’s spiritual archfoe, Israel. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had vowed to "wipe Israel off the map"5 if it co-operated with the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program or force the handover of the men who planned the 9/11 attacks, and he intended to start by destroying the Israeli capital, Tel Aviv.
The Israeli Defense Forces had other ideas, however, and anti- missile batteries were immediately activated around all of Israel’s major cities. Ahmadinejad’s vaunted campaign to level Tel Aviv would prove to be a flop; not only did the IDF have US-made Patriots at its disposal, but it also possessed two homegrown missile defense systems of its own, the laser-guided THEL and the radar-directed Arrow, that were more than a match for any Scud. In the initial Iranian Scud bombardment of Israel on August 21st, to name just one example, eight out of every ten missiles fired were blown out of the sky before getting anywhere near their intended targets-- and those that did land on Israeli soil usually did so well away from where they were supposed to strike.
Far from being the great Islamic triumph the mullahs had first envisioned, the Scud strikes were making them and their nation a laughingstock in the eyes of the rest of the world. It was no joke to the Israelis, however, who were threatening retaliation if the strikes lasted much longer. Israel’s defense minister even publicly admitted for the first time that his country had nuclear weapons and hinted that it was prepared to use them if worst came to worst. Had he made good on that threat, the United States’ Middle Eastern partners in the coalition would have been in a very difficult (to say the least) position both politically and diplomatically.
Fortunately, however, US diplomatic efforts convinced the Israeli government to restrain itself from crossing that threshold, and their forbearance was rewarded as the Scud bombardments gradually started to peter out. The missile strikes gradually started to peter out, and by the spring of 2003 they would stop altogether. Of course, the fact that 90% of the Scuds launched kept getting shot out of the sky by Israeli ABM batteries might have had some small degree of influence on the Iranians’ decision to abandon this particular tactic...
In September of 2002, as the US Congressional elections were in their home stretch and the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks drew near, President Bush called a special meeting of his senior foreign policy and military advisors to review White House plans for the postwar administration of Iran. That meeting would prove one of the most contentious of his first term as President....
To Be Continued
1Electronic countermeasures. Such planes are routinely used to jam enemy electronics systems in modern combat.
2I.e., air-to-surface missiles designed to automatically track and destroy their assigned targets without the aircraft which launched them having to be in the target's line of sight, thus permitting the aircraft to move on to its next mission or-- if necessary --escape to safety.
3According to Amnesty International, at least three of those commanders were severely tortured as punishment for their failures; two later committed suicide.
4Ironically a third missile, which turned out to be a dud, landed just a few yards from al-Jazeera’s main broadcast facilities.
5Quoted from a speech delivered before the Iranian parliament on June 8th, 2002.