Seeking to expand the breadth of such a war could also help Tehran save face if, as seems likely, severe blows are dealt to its war machine.
Appearing helpless in the face of an offensive by a small state like Israel would severely damage the image of the regime among the population beyond the inflicted material loss. But losing in battle to a coalition of several states including the world’s sole superpower could be used to turn a defeat into a domestic propaganda victory that revolves around the survival of the regime.
Iran is relatively better positioned for something like this than Saddam was in 1991, at least in the sense that the nuclear program is seen as a more legitimate cause among Iranians than Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was among Iraqis.
Iran could claim that the U.S. Air Force took part in the strikes, or at least that it provided logistical support to the waves of Israeli fighter jets. Such involvement, in their thinking, would justify attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and the Gulf region, inviting American retaliation.
Tehran will be betting on the following as a plan to avoid the toppling of their regime:
First, the declared and internationally to-be-accepted objective of an Israeli/American strike is to stop Iran from going nuclear, much like the declared objective of Desert Storm was to liberate Kuwait. Toppling regimes is something that coalitions weren’t supportive of in 1991 and won’t support in the coming war.
Second, Iran has mastered the ways of guerrilla war. They may be justified in their belief that if their surrogates in Lebanon and Iraq can continue to survive Israel’s attacks or disrupt post-invasion efforts, then their own similarly trained forces in the IRGC would be able to perform even more spectacularly. The chaos could be multiplied if accompanied by simultaneous escalations against U.S. forces in Iraq and against Israel.
Furthermore, Iran believes it has a better organized and more loyal military than Saddam had in 2003 and that its nuclear and vital command-and-control facilities are considered more challenging targets than Saddam’s were.
The Tehran regime has chosen to set itself on a crash course with the rest of the world. They know war is coming and they hope they can escape with minimal damage to the regime.
A dictator’s mentality sees anything else as expendable.