4) The Iranians know they’re overmatched and they’re running scared.
Their constant threats to close the Strait of Hormuz remind me of an individual claiming they’ve got a gun that nobody ever sees. Closing the strait is a defensive move, designed to share their pain with as many others as possible. And it will hurt Iran as well as its enemies. The fact that it backfired in 1987 and yet they’re using the same threat again shows how desperate they are.
And by the way, the Iranians can’t use mines to close the strait. The water in the shipping channel is too deep, and the current too fast. Check the chart. It would take an advanced propelled-warhead mine, which the Iranians they haven’t been able to buy or produce on their own.
Iranian bluff and bluster falls into the same category. Notorious for staged demonstrations or outright fakery (remember the Photoshopped ballistic missile launch?), Iranian claims of new world-beating weapons need to be carefully examined before being repeated by the media.
Question for the news anchors to use: Looking at the history of Iranian press releases, what’s their accuracy quotient? What’s the best way to put their threats and boasts in context? How will we know when they’re really serious?
5) To get to Iran, the Israelis are going to have to overfly another Muslim country.
Referring to item number two above, this won’t be just a one-time occurrence. In addition to the strikers and a herd of diverse support aircraft, there will be tanker flights for in-flight refueling, post-strike reconnaissance sorties, combat SAR flights (precautionary, even if no planes are lost), and possibly damaged or malfunctioning aircraft diverting to airfields along the route.
In other words, the Israelis need to rent a corridor through another country’s airspace for several days, possibly as long as a week. Thanks to Wikileaks, we know the Saudis would love to help the Israelis out, but what would their imams say? The Iraqis have no love for their long-time Persian enemies, but what would the man in the street think about planes with the Star of David flying overhead? The Turks and Israelis were on relatively good terms until a few years ago, but it’s been downhill since then.
None of Iran’s neighbors want Tehran to have nukes, but the leaderships of all three countries would pay a heavy political price domestically if they countenanced the Israeli transit.
Question for the news anchors to use: What kind of a deal will Israel need to make to convince one of the three countries (Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) to allow repeated overflights of their territory? It would have to be a secret deal, of course, until Israeli planes were in the air. A major concession on the Palestinian issue? How about Israel shutting down its own nuclear weapons program? Unless they’ve got compromising photos, the Israelis will have to pay something to somebody. Is such a deal already in place?
6) The Israeli F-15I and F-16I aircraft can make it to their targets with sufficient combat margin if they are allowed to refuel inflight before entering Iranian airspace.
See number five above. Israel has eight tankers based on Boeing 707 airframes, and by the way, they bought another one last year. IAI is converting it to a tanker configuration. That makes nine.
Question for the news anchors to use: No question. I’m just tired of reporters and pundits who can’t do the math.
7) Israel can’t convince the Iranian leadership to abandon its nuclear ambitions by bombing just Natanz; even bombing the entire nuclear weapons infrastructure may not work.
Bombing only Natanz will just piss the Iranians off, not that they need any incentive. Destroying the nuclear infrastructure only works if the Israelis can do it easily and without paying a heavy cost, militarily or politically. Demonstrating such complete superiority sends the message, “We will never let you finish. If you try to rebuild, we can come back any time we want.”
I call this the “Hiroshima effect.” Even faced with the horrific destruction of the first atomic bomb, the Japanese military leadership couldn’t really grasp the implications. It took a second weapon to make them understand that this wasn’t a fluke, that their enemy could now literally devastate Japan. Even then, there were hard cases who wanted to continue fighting. The Israelis face the same problem in getting the Iranian religious leaders to abandon their quest.
Iran really, really wants the bomb. It has paid a heavy price for its nuclear weapons program, in political and economic terms, and in talent and treasure. Cue the irony buzzer. If Iran had put the same effort into rebuilding and modernizing its oil industry (still recovering from the Iran-Iraq war), they’d have a world-class economy and a lot more (oil-based) friends in the world. Lucky for us they decided to build the bomb first.
Question for the news anchors to use: The Iranians are always trying to use their oil as a weapon. What if Israel ignored the nuclear sites and instead bombed oil refineries and loading terminals? How long would it take for the oil-poor Iranian economy to collapse? Would that make the Iranians yell “uncle?”
I don’t know how close the Iranians are to creating a nuclear weapon. It’s possible they don’t know themselves. Scientists have lied to dictators before. The Israelis are doing their damnedest to find out. So are we, although there are a lot of juicy questions there. Are we sharing what we know with the Israelis? How about the Israelis with us? Do we know what they consider a red flag?
The greatest danger is to consider the issue only in military terms. Like many modern conflicts, the results are likely to be one-sided, but unsatisfying.
Given that the real targets are the minds of the Iranian leaders, the outcome is less than certain. Also, given the heavy political cost Israel would have to pay, domestically and internationally, the Israelis will only go if they feel they are in imminent danger, and that no other course will remove the threat to their existence.
This is a big issue. Bad information could lead to a bad decision. We all need to study up.
Larry Bond is a New York Times best-selling author and wargame designer. Persian Incursion (with Chris Carlson and Jeff Dougherty), published in the summer of 2010 by Clash of Arms games, is a political-military board game that explores the consequences of an Israeli air campaign against Iran. Exit Plan (with Chris Carlson), to be published in May by Tor books, is the third book in the Jerry Mitchell series, and involves the Iranian nuclear weapons program.