Washington, June 20 : Possible US military strikes or a shooting war with Iran if Teheran doesn't bend to the will of the international community on its nuclear programme will have severe consequences, military analysts have warned.
The Christian Science Monitor quoted them as saying that Iranian forces are no match for American technology on a conventional battlefield, but Teheran has shown that it can bite back in unconventional ways.
Iranian networks in Iraq and Afghanistan could imperil US interests there; American forces throughout the Gulf region could be targeted by asymmetric methods and lethal rocket barrages; and Iranian partners across the region - such as Hezbollah in Lebanon - could be mobilized to engage in an anti-US fight, the CSM said.
Iran's response could also be global, but the scale would depend on the scale of the US attack, analysts have said.
"One very important issue from a US intelligence perspective, the Iranian reaction is probably more unpredictable than the al Qaeda threat," said Magnus Ranstorp at the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College in Stockholm.
"I doubt very much our ability to manage some of the consequences," said Ranstorp, noting that Iranian revenge attacks in the past have been marked by "plausible deniability" and have had global reach.
"If you attack Iran you are unleashing a firestorm of reaction internally that will only strengthen revolutionary forces, and externally in the region," he said.
Though the US military has since early 2007 accused Iran's Qods Force - an elite element of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) - of providing anti-US militias in Iraq with lethal roadside bombs, and of training and backing "special groups" in actions that allegedly has cost thousands of lives.
Even Admiral William Fallon, who publicly opposed a US strike on Iran before he resigned in April, dismissed Iran as a military threat.
Analysts said that Iran has a number of tools to take pride in taking on a more powerful enemy. "This is not something they are shying away from," said Alex Vatanka, a Middle East security analyst at Jane's Information Group in Washington.
Any US-Iran conflict would push up oil prices, and though Iran could disrupt shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf, its weak economy depends on oil revenues.
But nearby US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf provide a host of targets. Iran claimed last October that it could rain down 11,000 rockets upon "the enemy" within one minute of an attack and that rate "would continue."
Further, Israel is within range of Iran's Shahab-3 ballistic missiles, and Hezbollah claims its rockets - enhanced and re-supplied by Iran since the 2006 war to an estimated 30,000 - can now hit anywhere in the Jewish state, including its nuclear plant at Dimona, the CSM said.
Closer to home, Iran has honed a swarming tactic, in which small and lightly armed speedboats come at far larger warships from different directions.
Iran could target the US; too, depending on the magnitude of any US strike. "Iran's capacity for terror and subversion remains one of its most potent levers in the event of a confrontation with the United States," the CSM said, adding that success in delaying Iran's nuclear programmes could backfire.
If "US and world opinion were so angered by the strikes that they refused to support further pressure against Iran's nuclear ambitions, then prevention could paradoxically [eventually ensure] Iran's open pursuit of nuclear weapons," the report concluded.