Sunday, April 29, 2012

2012 is going to be an Interesting Year

The insurgency in Syria is becoming increasingly militarized as government forces will have to demonstrate they can rebuild their legitimacy after clearing and holding insurgent territory (to use the parlance of the U.S's Afghanistan strategy).  A daunting task considering how much of that legitimacy has already been lost through the (mis)use of force.

The overwhelmingly-Sunni nature of the insurgency has drawn cross-border support from populations in Lebanon and Iraq. In Iraq this has coincided with a power-grab by Tehran-backed Maliki which is now threatening the countries fragile cohesion. This is most acute in the north where Iraqi-Kurdistan has openly threatened to declare independence.

While this is unlikely in the short term, it underlines the emerging split in greater-Kurdistan which threatens to drawn in a host of countries. Turkey is increasingly aligning itself with the KRG and President Barzani who they see as essential to marginalizing armed-PKK activity inside Turkey. To this end they may be willing to support Kurdish independence inside Iraq. The PKK, eager to ensure their survival, has been working to improve their ties with Iran and Syria.

This gradual slide by Baghdad toward Tehran is a key part of the GCC's growing fear of a Shia arc of conflict that needs to be checked by an aggressive foreign policy in Syria. The confrontation over Abu Musa is an example of the security-fears of the Gulf Arab States.

What we're seeing is the emergence of opposing blocs with Turkey, the GCC, the Syrian-insurgency, the KRG, Iraqi/Lebanese-Sunnis, and non-local supporters like the U.S, and Western Europe on one side, with Iran, the Syrian-government, Baghdad, the PKK, Hezbollah, and non-local supporters like Russia. This is by no-means a monolithic group, but is accurate enough IMO to represent a loose conceptual framework.

I don't know what's going to happen in 2012, but I know something is going to happen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Google Earth Imagery

GE has updated their imagery available of Persian Gulf Islands including Abu Musa, Sirri, and Qeshm.

Check it out to see the evolution of military fortifications on these islands. The high quality of the imagery is astounding.

Second Edit - April 17
Looking over Abu Musa some more, I continue to be amazed by the high-quality imagery of such an important strategic location, especially given the recent tensions between Iran and the UAE over their ownership.The HQ imagery is somewhat of a double-edged sword as it poses just as many questions as they answer.

One example of that problem is this fighting position in the south-west portion of the island. It ostensibly looks like a conventional AAA position common to the island; it is equipped with a raised concrete pad and is adjacent to a number of small ammunition storage and crew pits. Upon closer inspection though, this concrete pad is unique in that it has two distinct entry points, with what appears to be tracks leading up to the pad.(turns out, this isn't that rare of a feature on AAA sites.) More importantly, the weapon on the concrete pad looks nothing like a Zu-23-2 or GDF-series; its appearance is more reminiscent of a recoilless rifle mounted on a Jeep although it is difficult to tell for sure. This raises the question of which of the other AAA positions around the island are actually coastal defence weapons, and more broadly it raises questions about how Iran intends to fight back an amphibious assault on the beaches of Abu Musa because they've certainly prepared for such a contingency.

First Edit

Abu Musa
The island's port has seen significant construction between 2006 and 2011. This includes a fort that shares several design features with the forts on the Iran-Afghanistan border such as circular turrets located at opposing corners. To the east is another fort, this time within a security perimeter, indicating high-value of some sort; a trench connects the building to a second fenced-off area with several dome objects within them. GPS jammers perhaps, or other communications or EW devices? To the west of the large fort is another building that is somewhat obscured by dirt; perhaps an attempt at deception, or maybe the IRGCN has adapted what we in the northwest call a 'living roof' and are now going the eco-sustainable route for power-projection. West of this is a blue shed and boat-ramp identical in design to the dry-docks used by the Iranian military elsewhere. A substantial jetty provides protection for a fairly substantial fleet of HSPBs, including a decent number armed with navalized rocket launchers. North of the jetty is a large building of indeterminate purpose. Any guesses on what this might be, mundane or otherwise?

Abu Musa port facilities

Two different examples of Iran-Afghanistan border forts

The south-eastern tip of the island has seen the construction of a wide array of beach defenses and defensive fortifications. Unsurprisingly, they are placed to defend against the most likely direction of an amphibious assault to seize the islands. The sheer quality of the imagery available on Google Earth illustrates just how much Iran has turned the island into a pin-cushion; there are trenches cut into the top of earthen revetments connected to pillboxes and other fighting positions. Bunkers and strongpoints are set at regular intervals. Further inland are pre-prepared firing positions with attached bunker, likely for rockets, ASCMs, or other artillery. AAA positions, often with protected fighting positions and control centers, dot this area.

The HAWK battery that was transferred to the island in the 90s appears to have been reactivated in some form or another and there are now a handful of support buildings and networking cables.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Outlook for this Spring

In the short term, the Arkenstone will continue its focus on the Iranian ground forces ORBAT. This means renewed satellite IMINT analysis combined with exploitation of Persian-language sources. Unfortunately though, beyond a small update to the 88th AD I do not expect to be able to publish any detailed pieces because yet again I find myself embroiled in an independent research project as part of my degree; over the next ten weeks I will study the Libyan and Syrian civil wars and complete a detailed analysis of the tactics and strategies of pro/anti-government forces. I'm really excited about it because it's allowing me to revisit many of the themes I first explored when I came to college and started doing security studies like COIN, 4th generation and net-centric warfare, as well as develop some of my more recent academic research about Iran (like the need to buck-pass to local powers like Turkey and Saudi Arabia).

Here's to wishing for an "Army Day" parade this year with plenty of high-quality photos from Tehran and the provinces!