Thursday, November 3, 2011

Who wants to bomb Iran?

Or, given recent media reports, I suppose the better question is, "Who doesn't?" Because there seems to be a line forming to do just that.

Israel (not surprising):

Over the past several days, Hebrew media reports have been engaged in intense speculation regarding a possible imminent Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to have made a veiled reference to the issue again on Tuesday, when he told the Knesset that Israel may have to protect its vital interests alone, while other reports focused on comments by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who stated this week that difficult decisions were “keeping him up at nights,” without elaborating further.

Israel is believed to have a fully prepared plan to launch such a strike, which would likely involve at least several hundred aircraft.
Multiple aerial routes are theoretically available for Israeli aircraft to reach targets in Iran. In all those paths though, the jets would likely have to either neutralize or evade radar systems of other countries along the route, as well as face the potential fallout that could follow an intrusion of foreign airspace.

Israel also possesses the advanced midair refueling capabilities required for carrying out sorties over multiple Iranian targets situated between 1,500 and 2,000 km. away from home. Possible targets could include uranium- enrichment sites at Natanz and Qom, the uranium- conversion plant at Isfahan, and a heavy water reactor in Arak suspected of being used to pursue a plutoniumbased nuclear arms program, as well as additional facilities.

But getting there is only half the story.

The air force, which according to foreign reports has gone on dry runs to practice such an attack on previous occasions over the past decade, would first have to neutralize Iran’s aerial defense capabilities, blind Iran’s radars, destroy command and control centers and paralyze Iran’s own air force for a while, before overcoming fortifications and special aerial defense measures placed by the Iranians around their nuclear sites. The operational challenge is vast.

The Air Force would in effect have to take temporary control over sections of Iran’s airspace before being able to target nuclear facilities, some of which are hidden in mountains or deep underground.

The mission would require the use of powerful bunker-busting bombs, as well as possible repeated strikes to ensure success.

According to a Newsweek article from September, the US has already transferred 55 such bombs to Israel.
Both Power Line and Barry Rubin are skeptical of this report.  Rubin:

First, Israel has decided not to attack Iran–a point I’m making due both to direct knowledge and direct statements, a few of them made publicly, by those involved in the debate. The reasons for this decision make sense but I won’t list them here to save your time.
Second, there is no new development to prompt such an attack. On the contrary, all of the reports have been about the slow pace of Iranian progress toward obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons. There is no urgency in such an operation.
Third, all the reasons for not attacking Iran are stronger than ever. Israel can expect little international support, the moves toward radicalism in Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Turkey (plus a heightened risk-taking by a shaky Syrian regime) make the environment for such an attack far more dangerous for Israel than a year or two ago. And again there is no vital incentive for launching such an attack.
Fourth, the Jerusalem Post article doesn’t even say that Israel is thinking of attacking Iran but only that there is a plan in place for doing so and that Israel’ military is practicing such an operation. Of course that’s what should be happening but that doesn’t mean an attack is imminent any more than did such practicing in previous years. The Haaretz article says that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has asked the cabinet to make such an attack. If that’s true there’d be a lot more leaks and since Netanyahu not so long ago persuaded the cabinet not to do it that also sounds doubtful. But again, even if true that wouldn’t be an imminent attack but a start for a new round of debate.
Rubin goes on to list some of the reasons for not attacking:
–An attack would not stop Iran’s program but only delay it while guaranteeing that Tehran would be in a state of war with Israel and far more likely to use nuclear weapons.
–There’s no sense in hitting Iran unless it is on the verge of obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons (a situation that would offer some different targets from those available today).
–Israel has gone for the kind of strategy used by the United States in the Cold War. It is building up both missile and plane forces that would simultaneously provide an effective attack on Iranian facilities and launchers plus the most effective possible defense against Iranian attack.
–Keep in mind two key points: Iran is far less likely to attack Israel with nuclear weapons than many people in the West think (I’ll explain that another time) and Iran needs a fair number of simultaneous firings to launch a serious attack (easier to detect if being planned and requiring far more than one or two nuclear weapons).
–Israel simply cannot depend on U.S. or European support for such an operation and for weathering the dangerous aftermath. 
Duly noted.

Now the US (not surprising) and Britain (not ... wha ... what? Britain?):
Britain's armed forces are stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran amid mounting concern about Tehran's nuclear enrichment programme, the Guardian has learned.
The Ministry of Defence believes the US may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities. British officials say that if Washington presses ahead it will seek, and receive, UK military help for any mission, despite some deep reservations within the coalition government.
In anticipation of a potential attack, British military planners are examining where best to deploy Royal Navy ships and submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles over the coming months as part of what would be an air and sea campaign.
They also believe the US would ask permission to launch attacks from Diego Garcia, the British Indian ocean territory, which the Americans have used previously for conflicts in the Middle East.
The Guardian has spoken to a number of Whitehall and defence officials over recent weeks who said Iran was once again becoming the focus of diplomatic concern after the revolution in Libya.
They made clear that Barack Obama, has no wish to embark on a new and provocative military venture before next November's presidential election.
But they warned the calculations could change because of mounting anxiety over intelligence gathered by western agencies, and the more belligerent posture that Iran appears to have been taking.
Hawks in the US are likely to seize on next week's report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is expected to provide fresh evidence of a possible nuclear weapons programme in Iran.
The Guardian has been told that the IAEA's bulletin could be "a game changer" which will provide unprecedented details of the research and experiments being undertaken by the regime.
One senior Whitehall official said Iran had proved "surprisingly resilient" in the face of sanctions, and sophisticated attempts by the west to cripple its nuclear enrichment programme had been less successful than first thought.
He said Iran appeared to be "newly aggressive, and we are not quite sure why", citing three recent assassination plots on foreign soil that the intelligence agencies say were coordinated by elements in Tehran.
Yes, I’m sure that the Obama administration won’t attack Iran before the next election, but not because they’re afraid of politicizing a new war.  They’re afraid of losing what’s left of the progressive base they’ve begun to assiduously court through Obama’s new class-warfare rhetoric.  Launching another war after Obama’s intervention in Libya and his drone strikes in Yemen would probably be the last straw for many of them, even if it would be the right thing to do.  If Iran is truly close to developing nuclear weapons, the extremely lousy option of military strikes might very well be the right thing to do, especially after the discovery of the Iranian military plot to conduct terrorist attacks in the US.  However, if that’s the right thing to do, then get it done before the Iranians have a chance to defend against it, and leave the electoral cycle out of the strategic consideration.
As Ed also points out
Gee, who was it that tried to tell us that the Iranians were throwing everything they had at developing nuclear warheads?  George Bush.  Who was it that said that Iran had stopped working on that project in 2003?  Why, it was the IAEA, along with the CIA in their now-infamous National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, which Democrats used to paint Bush as a warmonger.  That included a backbencher in the US Senate named Barack Obama, who once derided the very notion of a “tiny” Iran being a threat to the US.

As President, however, Obama seems to be singing a much different tune [...]
I've supported bombing Iran sine 1979.  Force is the only language thugs like the mullahs understand.  Ironically, we had a chance to peacefully stop the mullahs from getting the bomb back in 2009, if we had just supported the Iranian opposition.  But Obama was so desperate to reach a deal with the mullahs that he refused.  An extremely bad miscalculation on his part.

But if these rumors are true, give Obama credit for recognizing one of his major policies is a failure and moving to correct it.  That is rare in politics.  If he has flip flopped on this -- and only his next actions will make clear if he has -- it should be celebrated, not ridiculed.

Count me in the camp of Michael Totten:

If Barack Obama ends up striking Iran while George W. Bush gave it a pass, lots of people, myself included, will have some mental adjustments to make.

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