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March 31, 2017 6:53 am

Is Iran a Paper Tiger?

avatar by Ariel Ben Solomon /


The launch of an Iranian Emad intermediate-range ballistic missile. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. – Iranian officials often boast about their military technology and their ability to destroy Israel. But are these claims accurate?

Iran’s military is in much worse shape than is commonly believed, and is overextended in Syria, according to experts who spoke to This might also mean that an American or Israeli attack against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear and military sites could be easier to execute than many believe.

And since the election of Donald Trump, there has been evidence that the Iranian regime is behaving and speaking more carefully.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) published a report in March that noted that Iran had pulled back from its recent provocations against US Navy vessels, and even stopped making public threats to sink ships in the Persian Gulf.

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“The slogan ‘death to America’ has disappeared almost entirely from the official discourse of regime spokesmen, including Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, as have public burnings of the American flag,” according to the report.

Yigal Carmon, the president and founder of MEMRI, told that recent Iranian claims of domestic development of military technologies are “complete nonsense.” The only serious concern, he said, is the country’s acquisition of North Korean missiles.

Carmon said that Iran imports North Korean missiles and renames them to give the impression that they were domestically developed. Every few weeks, Carmon explained, Iranian media outlets publish baseless stories about the supposed success of their military technology programs. In one notable episode from January 2013, Iran’s Space Agency announced that it had sent a monkey into space — yet pictures of the monkey before and after the “mission” did not match up.

“Iran does not create any quality military equipment, they only are able to buy from abroad,” said Carmon. He added that when it comes to threatening US ships, “all they are able to come up with is suicide speed boats.”

Carmon also pointed out that the Iranians once “displayed what they claimed to be domestically built submarines, but when we saw the picture that they put out, we saw that the size would be good for the Baltimore aquarium.” Further, in January, Iran conducted a failed ballistic missile test.

Based on all of this evidence, Carmon does not think that Iran poses any real challenge to the US or Israel.

“If the US or Israel attack Iran’s nuclear sites and military targets, it will be a done deal,” he said.

“Look at the figures,” Fox News columnist Jonathan Adelman, an international studies professor at the University of Denver, wrote in February. “The American GDP of over $18 trillion is more than 40 times the GDP of Iran ($450 billion). … Given all this, the fear of Iran getting nuclear weapons still remains real. But even more real is the notion that the biggest power in the world, plus three significant regional powers (Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia), could handle Iran if they would put their minds to it.”

Furthermore, Iran has stretched its resources in recent years by spending $6 billion annually in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, according to Bloomberg News. Iran did get some financial relief, however, through a $1.7 billion payment from the Obama administration that many believed represented “ransom” for the release of several American hostages in March 2016. It also received sanctions relief under the nuclear deal with the US and other Western countries.

Dr. Harold Rhode, a distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a former US Defense Department official, told that while America is strong both militarily and internally, Iran and North Korea “appear strong, but are weak and rotten inside.”

Rhode pointed out that while Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, its government is systematically destroying the country by ignoring domestic problems such as a water crisis. According to a study published in March 2016 by the London-based NGO Small Media, Iran “faces an unprecedented crisis of water resources that threatens to render vast swathes of the country near-uninhabitable within the coming decades.”

Another domestic challenge is Iran’s rampant opioid drug problem. Rhode speculated that Iranian authorities could crack down harder on drugs, but refuse to do so in order “to keep the people preoccupied so they don’t concern themselves with overthrowing the government.”

“Do we need to have a massive invasion [of Iran]? No. We must show that this regime cannot do what is necessary to keep themselves in power,” Rhode said, articulating what he believes the American and Israeli approach should be.

MEMRI’s Carmon said that there are alternatives to “actual physical attacks” against Iran, such as electronic warfare. Rhode, too, said that there are many options short of putting troops on the ground, including trying to bring about regime change.

“We live in very stable societies [and] we expect changes to come slowly, but that is not how it works in totalitarian societies like Iran,” Rhode said. “The moment the people see the regime has lost its ability and willingness to keep itself in power, the regime will topple very quickly, as happened to the shah in 1979. The shah was not willing to do what was necessary to put down the rioting.”

Iran, Rhode said, is “potentially a paper tiger,” and “our job [is] to encourage regime change.”

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