Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The bombing of Iran -- hypothetical considerations

The above article, written by Dan Williams for Reuters is entitled “Analysis – Israel rethinks anti-Iran warnings.”

A while back I posted a note arguing that Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if US negotiations with Iran failed. Have I already been proved wrong? I’ll quote a few passages from the Williams article and comment below.

“. . . Suddenly, the Iranian "existential threat" seems to have receded from Israel's horizon.

“It began with a bombshell Sept 18 newspaper interview in which Defence Minister Ehud Barak asserted that a nuclear-armed Iran could not destroy the Jewish state. Similar public remarks followed from the general in charge of all military operations.

“Even hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman now sounds skittish about his government's long hinted-at willingness to go to war rather than see an enemy get the means to make a bomb.

“’God forbid -- there's no need to attack anything,’ he told Israel's Channel Two television on Monday.

“While Israeli officials insist that ‘all’ options remain available for tackling their arch-foe, few dispute that Barak -- the top strategist, alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- has taken a new rhetorical tack as major world powers prepare to revive negotiations with Tehran on Thursday . . .

“Short on the forces necessary to deliver permanent damage to Iranian nuclear sites, the Israelis hope the new talks will work, one official said -- or, failing that, eventually trigger U.S.-led military intervention. ‘The last thing we need to do right now is to distract from the diplomacy with the kind of threats that Iran can point to as 'proof' that they, not us, are the endangered party,’ the Israeli official said. . . .”

“A unilateral Israeli attack could draw reprisals on U.S. Gulf assets, further testing already strained ties between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. Should Iran cut off oil exports, Israel may find itself blamed for a new global crisis. . . .”

"The idea that Israel can do the world's dirty work is under serious review. Sufficient follow-up support just isn't there."

“. . . Barak said that Israel . . . could deter or fend off any future attack by a nuclear-armed Iran.

"’I don't think we are on the brink of a new Holocaust,’ he said, clashing openly with Netanyahu's repeated likening of today's Iran to Nazi Germany on the eve of World War Two.

“. . . Netanyahu said he saw ‘eye to eye’ with Barak. The Prime Minister's Office denied that there had been any change to Israeli strategising on Iran. . . .”

As defence minister to Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, Barak was cautious on warmaking. According to a security cabinet official at the time, Barak argued against the 2007 sortie that destroyed an alleged Syrian atomic reactor, calling it hasty. Barak's aides denied that, and the fact that the air strike happened points, at the very least, to his ability to close rank. . . .”

“Iran is dead set against recognising the Jewish state and has numerous, distant, fortified and -- in the case of an uranium enrichment plant disclosed last week -- hidden nuclear facilities.

"Barak's thinking on Iran definitely appears to have sway, for now," said an Israeli security official who is not aligned with the Defence Ministry. . . .”


If we assume, for purposes of discussion, that Iran has deadly intentions toward Israel and has a nuclear armed missile, where in Iran would they launch it? If you look at a map, the shortest distance from Iran to Israel is over Iraq. Would Iran risk retaliation from the US by sending its missiles over American’s ally, Iraq? Perhaps not. If they move their launching site far enough north to avoid flying over Iraq, they would have to send it over Turkey, Syria, and perhaps Lebanon or Jordan to get to Israel.

If they move their launching site far enough south to avoid sending it over Iraq, they will have to send it over Saudi Arabia and Jordan to reach Israel. Saudi Arabia has been a traditional enemy of Iran. Could Iran negotiate a deal with the Saudis and Jordan to destroy their mutual enemy, Israel? Perhaps, but if the Saudis and Jordan did, they would risk antagonizing the US. Would they risk that?

But perhaps Ahmadinejad will argue that he has looked into Obama’s eyes, and Obama blinked, convincing him that the US will NOT retaliate if Iran sends its missiles over Iraq.

So even after Iran gets its nuclear weapon and a missile to transport it, launching it in the direction of Israel is not without its problems. And one mustn’t forget that many of North Korea’s test launches fell far short of their intended targets. Would Saudi Arabia or Iraq feel so confident in Iran’s technological capability that they would have no concern that a missile launched toward Israel not fall short and hit Saudi Arabia or Iraq?

But how does Israel view all these possibilities and have they truly taken their threat of bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities off the table? If I were in charge of defending Israel, I would not take too much comfort in Iran’s over-flight difficulties. All the nations under discussion are more or less enemies of Israel.

Notice also that by seeming to back away from its Anti-Iran threat, Israel is doing its part in assisting the diplomatic process. Let the diplomacy be entirely about Iran’s nuclear weapons and not about an impending threat from Israel. Let Iran be seen as the belligerent nation and not Israel.

Also for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that diplomacy with Iran fails, and Iran continues developing nuclear weapons. If Israel then decided to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, all the over-flight problems discussed above would have to be dealt with by Israel. So how would they do it?

One way would be to fly over Saudi Arabia and assume the Saudis would not retaliate; which would probably be a safe assumption. They would certainly complain, but probably not retaliate. Could the Israelis fly over Saudi Arabia without Iran getting wind of it in advance? I don’t know.

Sending a force down the Red Sea and around the Saudi Arabian Peninsula is another possibility, but that might be even harder to do without being observed.

Another possibility would be to cross Syrian airspace. They could then cut across the semi-independent Kurdish territory. The Kurds are not fond of the Iranians and might very well be encouraged to look the other way.


Would Israel be justified in bombing Iran? Assume that you are in charge of a nation (Israel) and if another nation (Iran) expresses maniacal hatred towards you, threatens to destroy you and begins building a weapon to do just that, will you choose to let it happen or will you choose to destroy that weapon before it can be used against you?

There are other possibilities of course, you might against all existing evidence “hope for the best.” Surely, you might hope, no nation would deliberately destroy your entire nation. Against that you might recall that in the middle of the twentieth century, a group (German Fascists) with quite a lot in common with the political elements of Radical Islam attempted to do the equivalent of that and made considerable progress.

You might also hope you could rely on your ally, the US, to protect you against Iran (there is a hint of that in the Williams article), but some American administrations have failed you in the past. The Obama administration might be another. Are you willing to risk Israel’s existence on the assumption that it is not?

You might also think that no rational human being would bomb Israel out of existence, but do you really think that Ahmadinejad meets that description?


Does the Dan Williams article provide any reason to retract my argument that Israel will attack Iran if negotiations (to get them to stop building nuclear weapons) fails? Iran hasn’t withdrawn its threat against Israel. It is still (according to supposedly reputable intelligence reports) building its nuclear weapons. In fact the British think Iran is very close to completing these weapons (see ). So, no, I don’t believe that anything in the Williams article is cause to change my opinion. If the US did the job then Israel wouldn’t have to, but I don’t think the present American administration has the stomach for something like that.

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