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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The 'likely scenarios'

JPost's Yaakov Katz lists three 'likely scenarios' that could result from the talks between Iran and the P-5 + 1 powers that are scheduled to start on Thursday.
The first is that the dialogue fails and the EU, Russia, US and China decide to impose tough sanctions on Iran, particularly in the energy sector and supply of refined fuel, a measure believed to be capable of having a real effect on the regime. Israel would then have to give the sanctions time, to wait to see if they are effective.

The second scenario is that the US and Iran reach a deal under which the Islamic republic is allowed to continue enriching uranium at low levels for energy purposes but would have to agree to new supervision measures and to keep all of its international obligations. If this happens, the Obama administration will likely laud the deal as a major diplomatic success - particularly in the absence of one with North Korea - and would effectively tie Israel's hands.

The third scenario is that the talks will fail, the world powers will not agree to impose sanctions and Israel will be left to decide whether or not it will strike Iran. This would likely happen sometime around spring 2010.
I look at the second or third scenarios as most likely, but I don't believe that the second scenario ties Israel's hands. I don't believe Iran will keep any deal made under the second scenario (they've already lied to the UN three times) and if that happens, I don't believe Israel will wait for permission from anyone to strike. It's too late for that.

Over the weekend, Anthony Cordesman published a lengthy article in the Wall Street Journal that set out Israel's military options and their likelihood for success. Cordesman was very pessimistic.
At best, such action would delay Iran's nuclear buildup. It is more likely to provoke the country into accelerating its plans. Either way, Israel would have to contend with the fact that it has consistently had a "red light" from both the Bush and Obama administrations opposing such strikes. Any strike that overflew Arab territory or attacked a fellow Islamic state would stir the ire of neighboring Arab states, as well as Russia, China and several European states.

This might not stop Israel. Hardly a week goes by without another warning from senior Israeli officials that a military strike is possible, and that Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, even though no nation has indicated it would support such action. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to threaten Israel and to deny its right to exist. At the same time, President Barack Obama is clearly committed to pursuing diplomatic options, his new initiatives and a U.N. resolution on nuclear arms control and counterproliferation, and working with our European allies, China and Russia to impose sanctions as a substitute for the use of force.


Most analyses of a possible Israeli attack focus on only three of Iran's most visible facilities: its centrifuge facilities at Natanz, its light water nuclear power reactor near Bushehr, and a heavy water reactor at Arak it could use to produce plutonium. They are all some 950 to 1,000 miles from Israel. Each of these three targets differs sharply in terms of the near-term risk it poses to Israel and its vulnerability.

The Arak facility is partially sheltered, but it does not yet have a reactor vessel and evidently will not have one until 2011. Arak will not pose a tangible threat for at least several years. The key problem Israel would face is that it would virtually have to strike it as part of any strike on the other targets, because it cannot risk waiting and being unable to carry out another set of strikes for political reasons. It also could then face an Iran with much better air defenses, much better long-range missile forces, and at least some uranium weapons.

Bushehr is a nuclear power reactor along Iran's southwestern coast in the Gulf. It is not yet operational, although it may be fueled late this year. It would take some time before it could be used to produce plutonium, and any Iranian effort to use its fuel rods for such a purpose would be easy to detect and lead Iran into an immediate political confrontation with the United Nations and other states. Bushehr also is being built and fueled by Russia—which so far has been anything but supportive of an Israeli strike and which might react to any attack by making major new arms shipments to Iran.

The centrifuge facility at Natanz is a different story. It is underground and deeply sheltered, and is defended by modern short-range Russian TOR-M surface-to-air missiles. It also, however, is the most important target Israel can fully characterize. Both Israeli and outside experts estimate that it will produce enough low enriched uranium for Iran to be able to be used in building two fission nuclear weapons by some point in 2010—although such material would have to be enriched far more to provide weapons-grade U-235.

Israel has fighters, refueling tankers and precision-guided air-to-ground weapons to strike at all of these targets—even if it flies the long-distance routes needed to avoid the most critical air defenses in neighboring Arab states. It is also far from clear that any Arab air force would risk engaging Israeli fighters. Syria, after all, did not attempt to engage Israeli fighters when they attacked the reactor being built in Syria.


Israel would, however, still face two critical problems. The first would be whether it can destroy a hardened underground facility like Natanz. The second is that a truly successful strike might have to hit far more targets over a much larger area than the three best-known sites. Iran has had years to build up covert and dispersed facilities, and is known to have dozens of other facilities associated with some aspect of its nuclear programs. Moreover, Israel would have to successfully strike at dozens of additional targets to do substantial damage to another key Iranian threat: its long-range missiles.

Experts sharply disagree as to whether the Israeli air force could do more than limited damage to the key Iranian facility at Natanz. Some feel it is too deeply underground and too hardened for Israel to have much impact. Others believe that it is more vulnerable than conventional wisdom has it, and Israel could use weapons like the GBU-28 earth-penetrating bombs it has received from the U.S. or its own penetrators, which may include a nuclear-armed variant, to permanently collapse the underground chambers.

No one knows what specialized weapons Israel may have developed on its own, but Israeli intelligence has probably given Israel good access to U.S., European, and Russian designs for more advanced weapons than the GBU-28. Therefore, the odds are that Israel can have a serious impact on Iran's three most visible nuclear targets and possibly delay Iran's efforts for several years.
Read the whole thing.

Cordesman is correct when he says that at best an Israeli will strike will delay Iran's nuclear capability and not destroy it. However, I don't believe Iran will retaliate, except possibly by sending Hezbullah and Hamas terrorists to attack Israeli targets. With the domestic unrest in Iran, I don't believe it will risk dedicating its own troops to fighting a war against Israel or against American troops in Iran. I also believe that Iran fears that any retaliation from it would be met by Israeli strikes from afar using Jericho missiles and Saar class submarines.

Further, I don't believe it will be possible for Iran to rebuild quickly. Between Iran's internal unrest and its inability to provide its own refined oil products (and I would bet that the refineries that the Chinese are building for Iran will be targets - they should be easy to take out), I don't believe Iran will have the resources to rebuild quite as quickly as everyone else seems to think. I believe that a 3-5 year setback (which is what most estimates of the damage of an Israeli attack that I have seen give as an estimate) could easily become a 10-15 year setback, by which time it would be a whole new ballgame.

Besides, if Barack Obama is defeated in 2012, the odds are that the next President will be much more sympathetic to Israel's needs (it can't really get worse, right?). And any Israeli strike on Iran that's even moderately successful will prevent them from building a nuclear weapon before 2012.

I prayed well yesterday. I'm feeling confident that God is on our side.


At 7:42 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - with an EMP attack, Iran's ability to acquire a working nuclear weapon can be delayed for decades - not years. And that gives Israel something it doesn't now have - lots of time to deal with the threat later when there is far more advanced technology to cope with a WMD threat whether from Iran or any one else on the horizon.

Israeli policymakers will probably decide an EMP option is the least riskiest and most effective way to stop Iran from getting a bomb for a long time. I believe it will happen when the world least expects Israel to strike.

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I believe that Israel MUST (assuming it attacks at all) destroy as must of the Abadan refinery complex as possible as part of its strategy to delay any Iranian nuke production for as long as possible. Such a plan offers several advantages:

1. It is easy to hit - land-based and sub-launched cruise missiles with dozens or hundreds of sub-munitions could destroy large parts of the complex...after all, you're dealing with petroleum and its refined products and by-products, all of which are highly inflammable. Iran has no missiles capable of shooting down these missiles, so it is riskless from the standpoint of Israeli casualties or POWs. It also preserves the full complement of Israeli F-15s for offensive and or defensive actions vs. Iran and others, including follow-up attacks on the nuclear facilities not destroyed or disabled in any attack that would occur in conjunction with attacks on Abadan.

2. It would cut Iran's future income that is available to finance further enrichment of uranium and development of rockets significantly by three actions:

a) they will have to import a lot of gasoline, diesel and other refined products to be back at square 1;

b) they won't get to square one, because the moment that the refinery (or a large part of its capacity) goes up in smoke, its economy will suffer, which means less tax revenue; and

c) they will have to spend a lot of money to rebuild it...knowing all along that any day of the week a repeat attack could occur, or some type of sabotage that looks a lot like an accident.

3) The biggest reason to do this is to foment unrest and to force the regime of the mullahs out by way of internal opposition. Yes, in the very short term there will be an upswing of Iranian nationalism that the mullahs will capitalize upon...but then a lot of people will realize that it is the fault of the mullahs that Israel struck - but for the nuke development and the threats against Israel, Israel would be friendly (and was, as proven in the Iran-Iraq war, during which Israel supplied Iran - yes, headed by the mullahs) with critical munitions and electronics, plus valuable intelligence.

As for using an EMP weapon, I am certain that it would be very effective from a military/technical point of view. Politically, however, I don't think that Israel can afford to be the first to cross that line when it is not engaged in active hostilities against a target nation. Not when there are other options available (such as an air raid, sabotage, etc.). By doing so, Israel would open itself to nuclear attack, specifically including an EMP attack that would cripple the entire nation and pave the way for a 2nd Shoah within days to weeks.

Risks? Well the biggest one is that everyone in the world (except oil sellers and refiners) would be ticked off at Israel due to far higher prices for oil and refined product. But all of these prices will go up (at least short term) whether Abadan is destroyed or not, and virtually no nation will (publicly) side with Israel in the event of ANY attack. SO, IMHO, the risks are about the same for Israel whether Abadan is attacked or not, but the rewards are much higher if it does such an attack. Since Israel probably only has one shot at this (from a political P.O.V.), it might as well do it right.

At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman i hadn't considered and EMP attack, is Israel capable of carrying that out? I am not a military planner but i would think it would be best to attack irans government first and at the same time knock out irans command and control. Then destroy their military bases. Then you can take your time destroying the nuclear capacity.


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