While the focus of the current US authored stand-off in Syria has been on how the superpower Russia will react to the anti-Syrian strikes threatened by Donald Trump, much less is being said of what Iran will do in response to this new level of US aggression. An illegal US attack on Syria is as much a blow to Iranian prestige as it is to Russian pride, not least because Iran is much closer to Syria geographically than Russia is.
Thus far, Iran has not taken its war against terrorism beyond direct fights with Takfiri groups, whether in Syria or Iraq. However, depending on the scale and scope of US aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic, it could trigger a response from Iran that could in the long term be far more powerful than the timid responses Russia has thus far pseudo-threatened.
Unlike Russia, Iran is able to mobilise not only regular military troops in the region but groups highly mobile/agile irregulars taken from groups like the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) in Syria and Iran and the friendly Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. In this sense, the more that the US digs into the Syria, the more Iranian allied militias could make life a living hell for the imperialists in ways that could be more effective in the long term than that of a traditional military ground force.
The heterodox fighting techniques often employed by Popular PMUs and Hezbollah often involve attacks on infrastructure, the mobilisation of civilian volunteers in expressions of rage and acts of resistance, as well as skill levels in hand to hand or close combat situations and urban warfare. In such areas, these pro-Iranian groups are often superior to western regulars.
Very rarely has a regular army been able to achieve a tangible military victory over a guerrilla group. The French lost to guerrilla fighters in Indochina and Algeria, the US lost in Vietnam, the British ultimately lost their empire because of an lack of resources to fight insurgencies and the US failed to subdue Iraq, mainly because of local guerrilla units, some with no previous military experience.
Compared to many mid-20th century irregular forces, the PMUs of Iraq and Syria and their Lebanese ally Hezbollah are better trained, better equipped and more experienced. The tactics of the PMUs and Hezbollah are in many ways a hybrid force that combines the agility of a guerrilla militia with the discipline of a regular army.
Because the PMUs and Hezbollah are friendly with and often coordinate with Iran, they also have at their disposal, the protection of a major power should this become necessary. Such groups could also ostensibly rely on modern Iranian military hardware in their prolonged retaliation against western aggression. In this sense, except for nuclear weapons and Russians cutting edge tanks and aircraft, Iran has more diverse tools in its military toolbox than either Russia or the US have in the region.
While an Iranian response to US aggression therefore may not be as immediate as a Russian response, assuming Russia decides to take a tougher line against US aggression, in the long term Iran’s holistic responses could be far more effective. This is largely due to Iran’s ability to effectively utilise its regional assets to strangle the life out of a long term US war of aggression against its Syrian ally.
Russia is able to deliver more powerful nuclear payloads than any other country on earth, but in the Middle East, Iran could orchestrate a ‘death by one thousand cuts’ scenario to any country that stands in the way of its allies and in so doing, prove itself to be the most effective and diverse fighting force in the region.