Is a US invasion of Iran feasible?

Suppose some time in the near future the US government was considering an invasion of Iran ,say, in order to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Is a successful invasion feasible?

IMO in any practical sense it is not feasible. I think the US would probably destroy the Iranian airforce and any concentrated Iranian formations quite quickly. However the Iranians will probably wage a large-scale guerrila war to defend their country. Even if the US were to capture the major cities I think the level of casualties would be unacceptably high and the country nearly impossible to occupy for the following reasons:

1)Iran is larger than Iraq and has a lot more people.

2)Its terrain is a lot more mountaneous than Iraq and so more suitable for guerilla warfare.

3)Iran has the advantage of examining the recent war to see what works and what doesn’t work against the US military. You can bet their planners are carefully examing the guerilla tactics used both during and after the main war and planning to use them on a far larger scale if the US attacked.

4)Iran is not under UN sanctions and they can stock up on those weapons that will be most useful to them like night-vision goggles and anti-tank missiles. They will be a lot better equipped than the Iraquis.

  1. It’s hard to see where the launching pad would be. The logical country would obviously be Iraq. but it’s hard to see any Iraqi government allowing a US invasion of Iran from Iraq. If the US tried it anyway it would probably lead to a full-scale Shia revolt in Iraq.

  2. The UK would probably not join any such war and the US will be even more short of troops than in Iraq today.

I think a more sane strategy would be to do a decapitating strike on their leadership. It would also be rather useful to take down the bulk of their elite Revolutionary Guard. This would be more productive, if regime overthrow was the main goal. Less hard line factions could then sort out the formation of a new government. (I mean, it worked in Afghanistan and Iraq, right?)

I envision a crippling bombardment of their nuclear weapons development facilities in the very near future. Especially if they do not comply with snap inspections. Any more than that will require troop numbers unavailable any time in the very near future. At least, not soon enough to interdict their headlong pursuit of atomics.

By “leadership,” I am referring to their council of Mullahs. President Khatami seems to be doing everything a good man possibly can in his situation.

“I think a more sane strategy would be to do a decapitating strike on their leadership”
How exactly would this work? A US attack would probably rally the population around the current leadership. Iran is not Iraq where a majority of the population hated the regime and wanted it gone. Even then the US needed a full-scale invasion and occupation.

Not if they’re all dead.

There is a huge portion of the population that is sick of the Mullahs. I’m not saying this strategy would be the wisest thing for America to do (far from it), this is merely my own projection of what could feasibly be accomplished in the near term.

I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of people who’re quite concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and willing to bomb the crap out of them to stop it. Remember, the Shihab-4 can reach parts of southern Europe. I doubt much of the Mediterranean region is too pleased with that prospect.

Here’s an article:

Iran has something Iraq lacked - a credible alternative government. It’s also got a lot more freedom, and an educated young population.

There is almost no possibility that the U.S. would engage in an Iraq-style invasion of Iran. A decapitation strike, maybe. Attacks on nuclear facilities, maybe.

But the ultimate answer in Iran is internal change - something that was impossible in Iraq. I could see the U.S. supporting rebellions with money and covert arms or something, or even direct military strikes at retaliatory forces. But even this is highly unlikely.

More likely is some action aimed at the Mullahs to make it clear that their rule must end.

Invasion doesn’t necessarily have to be followed by occupation. If the goal is simply to prevent them from being nuclear capable all the US would have to do is destroy their ability to produce nuclear weapons.


I think it would be a serious mistake to assume that opposition to the hard-line mullahs means that Iranians would support a US attack. I think it’s much more likely that they would rally around their government if the US attacked.

“Not if they’re all dead.”
And this is very difficult to achieve and pretty much impossible with just airpower. Did the US succeed in killing the top leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan through airstrikes?

“Iran has something Iraq lacked - a credible alternative government”
Pretty much all the political factions in Iran support a nuclear option AFAIK. So even if there is some kind of internal change it doesn’t mean that Iran will give up the nuclear option.

“More likely is some action aimed at the Mullahs to make it clear that their rule must end.”
Like what?

In any case what I wanted to discuss was the military feasibility of a full-scale invasion. Is it even possible at a politically acceptable cost?

“If the goal is simply to prevent them from being nuclear capable all the US would have to do is destroy their ability to produce nuclear weapons.”
This assumes that the US knows the location of all the facilities which is unlikely. Besides what if the same regime regains power after the invasion and continues its attempt to obtain nuclear weapons? Is the US going to invade Iran at periodic intervals?

Just like the proverbial 40 lawyers in a bus at the bottom of a lake, the Arak site and underground facilities at Natanz might be a “good start.”

If the Iranian projects are so benign, why are they intentionally hardening the production sites by burying them under massive earthen burms?

What Iraqi government ? 

I think the US learned that invading is easy... controlling is not. I think to gain political kudos most US presidents will resort only to bombing campaigns which keep reporters away from combat and are more "distant". Makes killing people easier.

US military if not bogged down in Iraq would easily wade thru Iranian conscripts. Modern war isnt the strong point of middle eastern countries. Casualties would happen of course... but Bush doesnt seem to care about details.

Taking out just the leadership of Iran, which is in effect a rather sizeable clerical clique that extends well beyond the actual ruling council, would be essentially impossible to do in any surgical way.

Also, as noted, though the rulers of Iran are popular with a minority, it is a much larger minority than those that supported Saddam in Iraq. Further there are real indications that even some of those who loath the regime would still tend to rally around the government if threatened from abroad, no matter how much it stuck in their craw - certainly folks like Khatami probably would.

Could the United States conquer Iran? Certainly. Could they hold it? At an almost certainly uglier cost than Iraq, yes, probably. Would it be worth it? I sincerely doubt it.

  • Tamerlane

Depends on what the US’s goals are. If it’s like Afghanistan, just push out the old regime and after that what happens happens, it’s easy. Send in the troops, bring them out as soon as you’ve won. Put all the power in the hands of the elected legislature and Khatami.

Actually, I would bet on Israel acting before the US to prevent Iran from getting nukes.

Sort of like we did in 1953 to get rid of Mossadegh? That certainly turned out well in the long run, didn’t it? :rolleyes:

Although Iran is fundamentally dissimilar to Iraq, I think we learned one lesson that would apply to the theoretical invasion discussed here: The people we want to “liberate” will not be very glad to see us.

Nukes notwithstanding, Iran is modernizing and Westernizing at a pace that would have been unthinkable when Khomeini was still alive. This is their doing, not ours, and it has less to do with our military might than with that wacky unrestrainable Internet thingie. They were the first to go the “Islamic theocracy” route, and consequently the first to see that it kinda sucks. Really, our military might would be much better trained on those treacherous Newfoundlanders… well, that’s a whole 'nother thread.

Sure it is “doable;” stupid as heck, but doable.

Oddly, this has always been one of the American contingency plans. You see in the early days of the COld War, the fear was the Soviets would not pull out of northern Iran (occupied as Persia during the War). The Americans applied pressure in the then-new UN to drive the Soviets out.

Anyway, ever since then the Americans have always had it in the back of our minds that we might have to fight to save Iran from the Russians.

Now, turning to the present day…

The Iranian military is just another conscript force. It can be knocked off. Maybe three days for the IRIAF and another two for its two navies (anyone remember PRAYING MANTIS?).

We would then spark internal disorder among religious minorities. Our airpower would cut the Central Government off from its ability to control things outside the capitol. Airstrikes would force the leadership to lay low, further complicating the command-and-control situation.

Modern units would soon be out of supply and immobile. More basic units would be without central direction. The stage would be set for the Americans to invade (on the west for oil, on the south for political targets) and then defeat the local defenders in detail.

This gets you to the gates of Tehran.

(I recall the story of how to catch a porcupine. You throw a washbasin over it and sit on the washbasin until you decide what to do next. This has some application to an army surrounding a very large, very upset city.)

Still, it would be doable. Real stupid though.

I have to agree. We haven’t demonstrated a great deal of success in killing top leadership using air power.

We could easily invade Iran however it would require using all the troops we have in Iraq right now.

Besides. I don’t think we will invade Iran any more than we would invade North Korea. Our troops are pretty well occupied these days

“More basic units would be without central direction. The stage would be set for the Americans to invade (on the west for oil, on the south for political targets) and then defeat the local defenders in detail.”
The problem is that you don’t really need central direction for guerilla warfare. Think of what is happening in the “Sunni triange” today except on a much larger scale with better equipment and more suitable terrain. In addition you would probably get heavy street-by-street fighting in the big cities. The fighters will be probably be out of uniform and conducting hit-and-run attacks from amongst the local population so defeating them “in detail” will be very hard.

I expect the US would be able to capture the cities but controlling the country will be almost impossible. unless there is a big expansion of the army ;  you would need half a million troops at least and even then casualties will probably be in the thousands or even tens of thousands in the first  year alone.


Everything is so doable for the “military experts” here.

If everything is so “doable”, how do you explain the difficulties in Iraq? The weekly and almost daily dead US soldiers?