Sunday, June 13, 2010

Saudi to Israel: Clear for takeoff?

One of the big stories that seems to have gone relatively quietly into the abyss this week is the fact that Saudi Arabia has apparently given Israel overflight clearance to strike Iranian targets believed to be involved in the development of nuclear weapons. Reports state that Saudi Arabia has even exercised the standing down of air defense units along its northern border to ensure that Israeli aircraft are able to pass through the region unmolested. Of course, Saudi Arabia has been quick to deny the reports, but their denials weren't all that convincing.

OK, since Israel seems hell-bent on blowing up whatever facilities they think are involved, even though the Western world has never actually proven that Iran is developing nuclear weapons (after all, such weapons are clearly meant to only be possessed by non-Muslim people in the Middle East, or at least that's the way they're being treated), I thought it might be interesting to analyze some of the potential factors related to such a strike.

Point 1: Iran will have to rely heavily on its fighter force to defend itself. Apart from the Tor-M1E (SA-15 GAUNTLET) TELARs sighted near Natanz, Iran lacks any credible SAM defenses capable of deterring a modern fighting force. That puts the onus on the Iranian Air Force to prove that it can defeat what Israel throws at it. Saudi Arabia may have already given Iran an unintentional (or intentional? That'd be amusing to consider...) signal as to when to expect such a strike: all they have to do is monitor the status of Saudi Arabia's air defense network. Bottom line: if you know its coming and you still can't stop it, you may need to reconsider a few things. Like, I don't know, buying Su-30s or J-10s instead of acting like the world's aeronautical laughingstock sticking twin tails on an F-5.

Point 2: One of the purported targets for Israeli fighters is the Bushehr reactor complex. Now, I'm not entirely sure of what they'd hit it with, or how much material is inside, but it seems to me like bombing a nuclear reactor sitting right on the Persian Gulf is a relatively stupid idea. There is a risk for contamination if it isn't done exactly right. That could make gas prices shoot into the stratosphere quicker than a SPRINT ABM (which is pretty damn fast for those of you wondering what the hell that thing is).

Point 3: Speaking of gas prices, if I'm Iran, I've got teams ready to mine the Strait of Hormuz the minute the first bomb hits. The point here is that anyone who thinks Iran is going to sit idly buy and get bombed is delusional. Yes, their air defense network doesn't really scare anyone, but you can bet they'll lash out in all kinds of interesting ways, most of which will probably have a negative impact on the price of gas. Israel gets away with a lot of stuff on the international stage, like pretending to be a US ally while shipping arms to China, but if they are perceived as the reason why people are getting hammered at the pump they might find themselves with fewer friends for a while. There's also the missile force to consider: a possible Iranian response would be to salvo a ton of ballistic missiles at Israel.

Point 4: This has the potential to backfire in epic fashion. I can think of two obvious ways in which this could explode in Israel's face. First off, let's say they aren't completely successful. Jets are shot down. Pilots are captured. Talk about a propaganda boon aircraft fragments bearing the Star of David paraded through Tehran would be for the extremist elements in Iran and the rest of the Middle East. Secondly, some of the potential targets might be hardened, but they aren't necessarily isolated hundreds of miles from civilization. When Iran and Israel bombed Iraq's reactor complex in 1980-81 (pretty ironic, huh), the site wasn't active. Iran's facilities are all believed to be active. This could possibly result in the spread of radioactive material after an attack. So, say Israel blows up all of the sites it wants to blow up, but then a lot of material gets spread around as a result. Does Israel really want to have to deal with the political fallout from that scenario?

Point 5: This could also explode in Iran's face in just as epic a fashion. Ahmadinejad talks a big game, but what happens to the way Iran, particularly its military capability, is perceived if Israel just flys in there and blows stuff up? "We will defeat any aggressors...we are ready to defend..."...yeah, but what if the Israelis prove that you can't, and you weren't? Then what?

Nobody really knows what's going on in Iran. Nobody really knows if Saudi Arabia will actually let the Israelis fly over to blow stuff up, although it certainly seems that way regardless of any political "denials". What we can state is that any military action is going to have some significant effects on that part of the world. Iran may have no choice militarily but to pretty much sit there and take it, but they won't sit there sulking after the bombs stop dropping.

Now, somebody who knows more about such things than I do chime in and tell me if blowing up all of these nuclear-related sites could actually spread nasty things around in Iran and into the Persian Gulf. Because at the end of the day, it would seem to me that mining the Persian Gulf or playing terrorist could turn out to be the least of the region's problems after this type of airstrike.

And why the hell doesn't Iran just leave the NPT and the UN and give everyone the finger anyway? Then they legally can do whatever they want with nuclear weapons, and it makes military action a lot tougher to justify.


Anonymous said...

Israel have already destroyed an active Syrian reactor in the Deir ez-Zor region, in 2007

Anonymous said...

Great Post

i think this is the only balanced post i have ever seen n the internet on this topic.

Keep up the Good Work

What would Israel feel once dozes and dozens of Missiles start falling on them talking away the image of a powerful regional power capable of defeating its enemies away with them.

or Iran starts opens support to Iraqi or Afghan extremist in their fight against USA coz of their support to Israel.

koxinga said...

Re point 1, Iran is deliberately underfunding IRIAF and instead, it prefers to fund its missile programs. Make no mistakes, the flyboys in IRAIF would love to get themselves some SU30s or J10s. But their mullahs think otherwise and perhaps rightly.
It's not going to stop a American or Israeli air-strike if they are committed. Given a choice between a expensive air defense system and lobbing missiles at Israel....

Anonymous said...

> Now, somebody who knows more about such things than I do chime in and tell me if blowing up all of these nuclear-related sites could actually spread nasty things around in Iran and into the Persian Gulf.

No, not yet. Or at least not very much. What you have to worry about is bombing a nuclear reactor that's been running for some time and has accumulated a fair amount of fission products.

If, after Bushehr gets up and running, it were to be bombed, that would be a significant radiological deal. But bombing a uranium isotope separation facility would be no more than a local medium hazard.

PS860 said...

Moscow is probably silently hoping for a strike, be it Israeli or US or both, on Iran. Russia would probably be the biggest winner if the oil prices skyrocket. The arms exports to Iran are only part of the Russian interests in the region and I don't pretend to understand half of the political game.

nico said...

One of the few posts on the subject that's lays it out in a realistic and objective manner.Great job! I always wonder about the environmental impact of these strikes. Yellow cake isn't too bad but if you hit Bushehr, that's another story. Could it turn into another Chernobyl? The only story I have seen on this subject was one by Fed. of American Scientist, written about a nuke strike on Iran's facilities, it wasn't pretty.Huge contamination across most of the country and also it's neighbors. Which is another question: if Isreal strikes, how do you tell Pak, India, China,oh sorry,we were scared of Iran so it was necessary to send into the atmosphere all this crap? Sorry for the fallout, don't blame us, blame Iran? Nobody knows for sure what will happen when bombs fall on these facilities. I think who ever makes the call better worry about fallout and just the political kind.

Anonymous said...

Iran's military doctrine was tested in last Lebanon war. It seems to accomodate total air superiority of the enemy.
Shuts down landing sites of the enemy with rockets. Fights close proximity combat, in order to make close air support less effective.

Unknown said...

It all comes down to how fast you can clean up a mess you create - BP may be a lousy example but if you think about it Kuweit was lit up after the Iraqis pulled-out but all was well in a relatively short period of time.

Sean O'Connor said...

"Shuts down landing sites of the enemy with rockets. Fights close proximity combat, in order to make close air support less effective."

Yeah, but none of that helps them to fend off an Israeli airstrike.

Anonymous said...

They have dedicated RPG and MANPADS team on bikes - DEELLLLLLLLTTAA FORCE!! to take on all aggressors!

nico said...

Just a few questions I like to think about:

1. Impossible really to know the answer but what is going to be the trigger point for the Israelis? What happens if the Iranians keep dragging this out? what happens if they get close, they get all the components but never test a nuke? Do the Israelis attack anyways? I think one thing that nobody ever talks about from the Israeli perspective is the human dilemma: "do you want to be the Premier that let the Iranians get the bomb under your watch? and you did nothing about it?" I don't think you want to go down in Jewish history being that guy. Personally I don't think we should ignore or forget this point.

2. All the scenarios I have read seem to imply 3 days to a week of conflict. Am I the only person that believes this is crap?

3.Same goes for targets, 6 to 12 to about a couple hundred? I hope the military at least knows how many targets are out there.

4.It always seems like Iran's only response is to close the Strait of Hormuz. Why do I have a bad feeling we are going to be badly surprised when they try something else? Like I don't know, attack a gas terminal? Attack targets in Europe or US with sleeper cells? Could they invade the southern part of Iraq? How much armor and troops do we have to protect Iraq? or Afghanistan? Unleash Hamas and Hezbollah? These are just the easy ones to think about, I am sure there are many more unsuspecting ones.

5. Long term, wonder what the Chinese are going to think and do when we take out one of their strategic partners? without really asking them and not really caring anyways. I think they just might continue and expand their defense spending. Couple of Chinese carriers,anyone?

In my previous post, I wondered about the environmental impact oil spills, chemicals (weapons)?, yellow cake and radioactive material have been taken into consideration or not when talking about a strike. I hope the military have looked into this because sure doesn't seem to me like the politicians or so called experts have.

Anonymous said...

> Now, somebody who knows more about such things than I do chime in and tell me if blowing up all of these nuclear-related sites could actually spread nasty things around in Iran and into the Persian Gulf.

There are several ways to take out an NPP/NFPF (Nuclear power plan/nuclear fuel production facility). Without out going into details, the aim is to strike at the supporting infrastructure in the facilities, thus forcing a shut-down in production. Striking active reactor compartments or nuclear fuel production areas is too high of a risk for long term radiological contamination. Luckily these types of facilities have very similar layouts/designs, and thus the critical nodes are well known. If these sites have radiological leaks after a strike, it would be due to poor targeting rather than any inherent risk in striking that type of facility.

nico said...

to Anonymous:

When you say support structures would be targeted, do you mean like the cooling towers,generators...that kind of thing?

Gemfinder said...

Great post.

Closing the strait is a Persian bluff. Short term, Iran needs it open far more than we do. We have a balanced economy, alternative supply sources, and a large short-term oil reserve. We could last many months with the strait closed (though painfully), while Iran would collapse. They won't do it.

Much more likely, as other commenters have mentioned is that Hezbollah's mideast-only gloves come off.

The most likely outcome is probably this: Israel does the strike, it succeeds handily, Iran retaliates, but only against Israel, and only through its proxies, e.g Hezbollah.