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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What would Iran do?

What kind of explosions would we see in the event that Israel attacks Iran's nuclear program? Retired US General James Cartwright has told the New York Times that the Iranians have become masters of 'escalation control.'
While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program. “The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

Both American and Israeli officials who discussed current thinking on the potential ramifications of an Israeli attack believe that the last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its territory. Their analysis, however, also includes the broad caveat that it is impossible to know the internal thinking of the senior leadership in Tehran, and is informed by the awareness that even the most detailed war games cannot predict how nations and their leaders will react in the heat of conflict. Yet such assessments are not just intellectual exercises. Any conclusions on how the Iranians will react to an attack will help determine whether the Israelis launch a strike — and what the American position will be if they do.


If Israel did attack, officials said, Iran would be foolhardy, even suicidal, to invite an overpowering retaliation by directly attacking United States military targets — by, for example, unleashing its missiles at American bases on the territory of Persian Gulf allies. “The balance the Iranians will try to strike is doing damage that is sufficiently significant, but just short of what it would take for America to invade,” said General Cartwright, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A former Israeli official said the best way to think about retaliation against Israel was through a formula he called “1991 plus 2006 plus Buenos Aires times 3 or 5.” The reference was to three instances in the last two decades when Israel came under attack: the Scud missiles sent by Saddam Hussein into Israel in 1991 during the first gulf war; the 3,000 rockets fired at Israel by Hezbollah during their 2006 war; and the attacks on the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish center in Argentina in the early 1990s. Those attacks each killed 100 to 200 people, wounded scores more and caused several billion dollars of property damage. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the north had to be evacuated from their homes to bomb shelters or further south during the 2006 war.
JPost adds:
Arieh Herzog, who recently stepped down as head of the Defense Ministry’s Homa Missile Defense Agency, told the Post that while there “is no such thing as 100 percent defense,” the Arrow missile defense system is fully operational and capable of providing an adequate defense against Iran’s Shahab and Sajil ballistic missiles, in an interview marking his retirement several weeks ago after a 12- year term that will appear in full in Friday’s paper.

“The Iranians have the ability to launch barrages and that is an important part of their capabilities,” he said.

“But we are prepared and have the ability to intercept those barrages if they are launched.”
The Times quotes a retired Israeli general (they don't say if it's Herzog) who best sums up the thinking here.
But there is a broad Israeli assessment that Iran’s response to an attack would be limited.

“If Iran is struck surgically, it will react — no doubt,” said the former Israeli official, echoing Mr. Barak’s comments last year. “But that reaction will be calculated and in proportion to its capabilities. Iran will not set the Middle East on fire.”

“Is 40 missiles on Tel Aviv nice?” the official asked, summing up the Israeli calculus. “No. But it’s better than a nuclear Iran.”
And that's the bottom line of people's thinking here.

There will be an attack on Iran between now and November 6. It could come sooner (not today - it's pouring here) and it could come later. But there will be an attack on Iran. The question is whether the Americans or the Israelis are the attackers. So far, everyone seems to be assuming it will be the Israelis.

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