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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

'A warning to Iran'

Time Magazine reports a slightly different version of Israel's attack on that Iranian weapons convoy that was headed for Gaza via Sudan back in January. In this version, there was only one air attack and the US was notified but did not participate.
The sources revealed exclusive details about the bold air attack on what they said was an Iranian weapons convoy, which had been transporting rockets and explosives destined for Gaza during the Israeli assault on the small Palestinian territory. They denied earlier news reports that U.S. aircraft had been involved in the attack on the arms convoy as it crossed at night through the Sudanese desert heading for Egypt's poorly guarded border. "The Americans were notified that Israel was going to conduct an air operation in Sudan, but they were not involved," a source said. He denied prior claims by a U.S. television network that a ship and a second convoy were destroyed. "There was only one raid, and it was a major operation," he said, adding that "dozens of aircraft" were used.

F-16 fighter-bombers carried out two runs on the convoy, while F-15 fighter planes circled overhead as a precaution in case hostile aircraft were scrambled from Khartoum or a nearby country. After the first bombing run, drones mounted with high-resolution cameras passed over the burning trucks. The video showed that the convoy had only been partially damaged, so the Israelis ordered a second pass with the F-16s. During the 1,750-mile (2800 km) journey to Sudan and back, the Israeli aircraft refueled in midair over the Red Sea.

The bombing raid came after an intelligence tip-off. In early January, at the height of Israel's assault on Gaza, Israel's foreign intelligence agency Mossad was told by an informant that Iran was planning a major delivery of 120 tons of arms and explosives to Gaza, including anti-tank rockets and Fajir rockets with a 25 mile range and a 45 kg warhead. With little time to plan the operation, naval vessels and helicopters were rushed to the Red Sea in case Israel had to rescue a downed pilot, and the plan was rushed through. "The Israelis had less than a week to pull this all together," a source said.

The Iranian shipment was bound for Port Sudan. From there, according to the security sources, the Iranians had organized a smuggler's convoy of 23 trucks that would take the weapons across Egypt's southern border and up into the Sinai. Hamas would then take charge of the weapons and smuggle them into Gaza through the tunnels unscathed by Israeli bombardments.

It was a route used occasionally by Hamas, but never before on such a large scale, sources said. "This was the first time that the Iranians had tried to send Hamas a shipment this big via Sudan — and it is probably the last," he said. Several Iranians were killed in the raid, along with Sudanese smugglers and drivers, the source claimed. "No doubt the Iranians are checking back to see who might have leaked this to the Israelis," he said.
Read the whole thing.

There are a number of points in this version that are worth highlighting. First, the fact that Israel was able to carry out a raid of this scale at the height of Operation Cast Lead puts the lie to stories that were broken last summer about how Israel had 'only' a limited number of fighter jets with which to carry out an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The rumor last summer was that the 100 fighter jets that carried out an exercise over the Mediterranean were nearly all the working fighter jets Israel had. If it was true, it is apparently not a limitation.

Second, it's 875 miles to Sudan. It's about 900 miles to Iran via the long route. That's not a very significant difference. If last summer's exercise proved it could be done as an exercise, the raid in Sudan proves that it can be done for real. With midair refueling.

Third, the whole operation was put together in less than a week with a war going on elsewhere. If Iran thinks that it can get Hezbullah and Hamas to run interference for it to - for example - install the Russian S-300 anti-missile defense, it now needs to consider that it may be mistaken.

While this account differs from the earlier accounts that I posted, the key here is that the mission shows that Israel has a credible response to the Iranian nuclear threat. While it may not be able to wipe the program out entirely, it is clear that Israeli jets can reach Iran and drop their loads - at least so long as the S-300 is not installed. That could cause significant damage to the Iranian nuclear program. And that should be keeping Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad (pictured above with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir) up at night.


At 9:23 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

The Likud-led government which is to be sworn in this evening, will make eliminating the nuclear threat from Iran its top priority. While the West is interested in the "peace process," Israel has a more pressing concern.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger LB said...

Norman - one can only hope, but I have a hard time trusting Bibi after Hebron and Wye, etc.

In any case, a true hard line will piss off our enemies, showing their true colors - which will not change world opinion, but maybe more Israelis will realize the nature of our neighborhood.

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Carl, thanks for this. I hope Bibi turns out to be the guy I watched on Nightline 25 years ago (?!), and not what he is rumored to be....


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