Friday, June 27, 2008

If Israel attacks Iran, what would the U.S. do?

James Gordon/Creative Commons
The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, like these F-14B Tomcats, means that Israel would require a U.S. green light to fly in and attack Iran.

If Israel attacks Iran, what would the U.S. do?

A note from Radarsite: Another thorough and insightful analysis of the looming Iranian nuclear crises, this time from JTA. It appears more and more likely that some form of military action will indeed be taken against Iran within these next six months, either from Israel or the US, or some combination of both -- most likely, an Israeli strike with American support and possible American follow up. With the pacifist left still screaming that "Bush lied and thousands died" in Iraq, are we prepared for that inevitable furious liberal backlash?
As usual, our enemies are both internal and external, both our own homegrown Chamberlainesque pacifists and the crazy Iranian mullahs. - rg

Hat tip to Susan Kaminski
Cross posted from

By Ron Kampeas
Published: 06/24/2008

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- As the question of an Israeli attack on Iran edges from if toward when, a new question looms: What would the United States do?
The question is preoccupying not just the White House but the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns, although neither would address
A number of neoconservatives in Washington, known for their closeness to the Israeli defense establishment, now predict that Israel may strike between the election in November and the inauguration of the next president on Jan. 21, if only because that’s a time when Israel can count on U.S. support.

"Israel would be unlikely to do it before the U.S. election," said John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is close to the pro-Israel community in the capital. "But after the election and before the inauguration would be a window."

Israeli officials will not name a date, but some have grown more pronounced in recent weeks about the increased prospect of a strike should Iran develop nuclear weapons capability.

"A year from now Iran will be very, very close to the completion of its first nuclear bomb," Ephraim Sneh, a member of Israel's ruling coalition, said earlier this month at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. "I may predict that there is -- will be no government in Jerusalem which would allow it to happen."

Asked to predict what the buzz would be at the May 2009 AIPAC policy conference, Sneh said, "If we are alone we will have to act alone. This will be the subject of May ’09."

Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli transportation minister, said this month that an attack would be "unavoidable" if Iran had the bomb. As Mofaz also is the top Israeli negotiator in the U.S.-Israeli strategic dialogue, his remark suggested that he is confident of U.S. support for an Israeli attack.

Bolton says that is not an unreasonable conclusion with the current administration.
"From past policies, they know that Bush holds a favorable view of Israel's right to self defense," Bolton said of Israeli officials.

Israel's closeness to Bush has led Bolton and fellow neoncons such as William Kristol to predict that Israel may time its strike before Inauguration Day on Jan. 21, 2009, particularly if U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the putative Democratic nominee, wins the presidency.

"The thing that makes an Israeli strike more likely is when any U.S. politician gets up and says Iran can be contained," said Michael Rubin, a colleague of Bolton's at the American Enterprise Institute and an alumnus of the Bush administration's Pentagon policy unit on Iran.

Obama argues for tough diplomacy with Iran -- carrots of engagement backed up by sticks of increased sanctions -- and insists that such diplomacy may yet contain the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Even in the case of a victory by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has adopted a posture on Iran closer to that of the Bush administration, Israel is likelier to trust the backing of the Bush administration in case of a strike, Bolton said.
"You can't predict what a new president will do with accuracy," he said.
Any Israeli attack on Iran almost certainly would first need a green light from the United States. Airspace over eastern Turkey and Iraq, controlled by the United States and one of its closest allies, would be the likely flight path from Israel to Iran.

"You would absolutely need permission and the IFF codes," said Jonathan Schanzer, the director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center, referring to the electronic Identification Friend or Foe codes that combat planes need to cross international airspace.

Schanzer, whose group is allied with the Republican Jewish Coalition, is a Bush administration alumnus, having worked at the Treasury Department as an intelligence analyst.

Orde Kittrie, an Arizona State University expert on Iran and proliferation, said Israel likely would expect U.S. backup following a first strike against Iran because the Jewish state alone could not sustain the required extended attack on Iran.
"You'd have to send several waves" of air attacks, Kittrie said. "It's not clear the Israelis have the capacity for more than one wave. The Americans do have the capacity."

Rubin, who has researched the consequences of an attack for a bipartisan U.S. Senate panel considering its consequences, said an attack would require at least 1,400 sorties -- well beyond Israel's capacity.

"It's not out in the open like Osirak," the Iraqi nuclear reactor Israel destroyed in 1981, he said. "It's all over the place. It might take more than one sortie to strike" some targets. "You'll have to go after the military structure, take out the means for retaliation."

Israel lost the element of surprise after the 1981 strike, Rubin said, and now Iran and other Persian Gulf states have sophisticated anti-aircraft systems.

The difficulties notwithstanding, Israel seems determined to signal to the West that it is considering a strike on Iran.

Last week, The New York Times reported that the Israeli military held an exercise this month involving more than 100 combat aircraft flying up to 900 miles -- the distance between Israel and Iran. Helicopters also conducted pilot rescue exercises.
The Bush administration alumni interviewed agreed that the administration likely would back Israel in the eventuality of an attack. But they were quick to add that the administration also is cognizant of the dangers: terrorist attacks by Hezbollah terrorists, Iran’s proxies, in the Middle East and beyond, as well as missile strikes by Iran.

The most threatening element is a broader conflagration involving the United States, which has some 150,000 troops in Iran’s neighbor, Iraq.

"The biggest danger is that Israel will think it can start the job and leave the United States to finish it," Rubin said.

Bolton said that available Western intelligence on Iran does not adequately predict the outcome of a strike, leaving open the danger of an enraged – and still nuclear capable – regime in Tehran.

"You could have a successful military strike that destroys the conversion facility at Esfahan only to find there's another conversion facility 100 miles away," Bolton said, referring to the process that creates weapons-grade uranium. "You could have the risks and downsides of nuclear attack without breaking the cycle."

The White House and the campaigns would not talk about such a prospect beyond issuing generic defenses of Israel's right to self-defense, but it is clear there are concerns.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, is touring Israel this week on a surprise visit. And senior advisers to both campaigns signed on to a report last week calling for an urgent dialogue between Israel and the United States on Iran -- a dialogue that would address the prospect of military action in dealing with the Islamic Republic's threat.

Among the participants on the panel on U.S.-Israel relations convened by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, were Tony Lake and Susan Rice, top foreign policy advisers to Obama, and James Woolsey, who advises McCain.

"It’s very significant that the key advisers to the presidential candidates signed on to a report that specifically talks about the need and importance for U.S.-Israel cooperation and partnership on the entire range of options regarding Iran," Robert Satloff, who convened the panel, told JTA.

"It is more than just being 'on the table.' It takes it to another level. These are topics that merit at the appropriate time high-level engagement and discussion. It does suggest that these options are legitimate."

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  1. I expect that depending on the US elections, Israel will attack the nuclear sites in Iran Nov/Dec if Obama is elected, and Jan/Feb if McCain is elected.

    Obama would never give the ok to the military to help Israel in an attack on Iran. McCain would. Any help would be done very quietly and without open support, but I wouldn't be surprised if joint air exercises might be scheduled for Aug/Sept.

    Any attack on Iran will cause the UN to issue sanctions on Israel, if Obama is elected (Under McCain or Bush they would be vetoed in the Security Council).

    An attack on Iran's nuclear program would cause a sigh of relief in the nations of the Persian Gulf (even as they condemn Israel for it) and Europe since they all would be under the nuclear umbrella that Iran would be holding.

  2. Thanks Findalis. All good points and I agree completely.

  3. Gloire at Worst Case Scenerio (debka) says in an email that

    " would be sheer recklessness for Israel to send so large a part of its air fleet for a repeat of the Israeli attack on Iran without first demolishing Iran’s air defenses.

    In the attack on Syria, Israel electronically disarmed the Russian-made air defense batteries guarding its reactor. The same systems protect Iran’s nuclear sites. It must be assumed that Iran and the Russian manufacturers learned a lesson or two from the way Israel silenced the batteries in Syria, although Israel will have added new gadgetry too.

    Israel will therefore prefer to use large numbers of missiles to demolish Iran’s nuclear facilities. Some may be delivered by air from a distance outside the range of Iranian fighter craft (most of which are outdated and in bad shape), others from Dolphin submarines. That way, the Israeli Air Force will keep back sufficient aircraft to protect the home front which can expect reprisals from Syria and Iran’s terrorist stooges, Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

    In this sense, the decision to strike Iran’s nuclear sites is tightly bound up with preventive action against the menaces closer to home, Hamas at the very least."

    Also there are signs that Little Satan will not be acting out alone. Most likely Great Satan will join in to launch what Air Force cats sexifully dub a "Comprehensive Strike"

    American Stealth bombers could target Iran’s air defense and anti-ship missile sites scattered around the Gulf, followed by what military analysts call an "Effects Based Operation," as a naval blockade of the Straits of Hormuz backed by anti-missile Aegis class cruisers and destroyers, together with a guarantee of free passage for all non-Iranian oil shipping (thus reassuring the world that energy supplies will continue to flow) may be easily and simultaneously launched.

    Special Ops and airborne forces would seize Iran’s main oil pumping station at Kargh Island and capture or neutralize its offshore oil facilities.

    Air Force and Navy war jets could take out Iran’s extremely vulnerable military and economic infrastructure, including its electrical grid, transportation links, gasoline refineries, port facilities, as well as air strikes against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

    The air strike would target the headquarters of the IRGC's elite Qods force. With an estimated strength of up to 90,000 fighters, the Qods' stated mission is to spread Iran's revolution of 1979 throughout the region. Few tears would be shed by anyone if al Qods magically disappeared.

    Truth is that the Iranian regime is uniquely vulnerable to this kind of campaign. 90% of Iran’s oil production and facilities are sweetly lying in or near the Gulf, and are shamelessly exposed to naval or air attacks.

    With the exception of three Russian built Kilo-class subs (which would have to be killed in the opening days of the campaign - natch), the Iranian navy is tiny and actually quite pitiful.

    Since Iran imports nearly 40% of its gasoline, an air campaign that destroys its refineries and gas supplies would leave the mullahs the regime and its trucks, tanks, and planes starved for fuel in two weeks or even sooner.

    Fears about the UN are actually quite risible - consider - UN can't even bring up Zimbabwe - who has no credible military. Trying 'sanctions' against a democratic member of the UN that acted out in their own self defense interests will bring up way more quizes than it would answer.

    Besides, sanctions are a joke - they never really hurt any gov and would prob be blown out of consideration by other tiny tiny sexy democracies that live in nigh unhinged and intolerant hoods - like SoKo, Taiwan or Nippon.

  4. GSG -- Thanks for those great comments. They are, as usual, filled with valuable info and intelligent analysis.
    Radarsite highly recommends GSG's "Strike Package" article:

  5. I hope Israel does strike, and if so, we should support them in any way necessary. We still haven't repaid Iran for taking our hostages.

    gary fouse

  6. You're right about that Gary. They are due some bigtime payback for a lot of things.

  7. Note to my readers: Notice the new "Interesting Readers" at the end of this article.

  8. I wonder if they are keeping tabs on you or just curious. Interesting though.

  9. It is interesting Findalis. But this isn't the first time Iran has been on. We now have many regular readers from all over the ME.

    Since Radarsite went online last August, we have accumulated over 100 government agencies from the U.S. and abroad who keep track of us on a regular basis. We picked up a lot ME traffic from that Pakistani interview and the follow up article. Most are friendly, some are questionable, and others are probably not friendly to our cause at all.

    But, they are listening to us.

  10. When, i think positively, Israel Nukes Iran's Nuke producing facilities several things might happen:
    Russia and China with some EU countries who are involved with OIL Imports from that Maniac's country will severely react against that action and then cimb back into their closts and silently say " Thank You Israel"..
    The Iranians who are set gainst the current suppressive totalitarian Mullah led regime might just find the Courage to rebel and turn to the Western World for assistance in Gov't change
    and we , the US, need to be AWAKE and act in the Best National and World wide Interest in eliminating the Jumping little Monkey puppett...
    Good post Roger!