Weakness invites war (& “The coming attack on Iran”)

February 29, 2012


* WSJ: Is the Obama Administration more concerned that Iran may get a nuclear weapon, or that Israel may use military force to prevent Iran from doing so? … In a single sound bite, Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey managed to tell the Iranians they can breathe easier because Israel’s main ally is opposed to an attack on Iran, such attack isn’t likely to work in any case, and the U.S. fears Iran’s retaliation. It’s as if General Dempsey wanted to ratify Iran’s rhetoric that the regime is a fearsome global military threat.

* If the U.S. really wanted its diplomacy to work in lieu of force, it would say and do whatever it can to increase Iran’s fear of an attack. It would say publicly that Israel must be able to protect itself and that it has the means to do so.

* The general is not a freelancer, so his message was almost certainly guided by the White House. Like most of Obama’s Iran policy, General Dempsey’s comments will have the effect of making war more likely, not less… Weakness invites war, and Dempsey has helped the Administration send a message of weakness to Israel and Iran.

***

* Tod Lindberg: The United States and Iran have been on a collision course since the Iranian revolution in 1979, when elements of the newly proclaimed Islamic Republic took U.S. diplomats and Tehran embassy personnel hostage. U.S. relations with Iran have been bad ever since.

* “The situation in which the United States finds itself vis-à-vis Iran has acquired a logic of its own. And that logic points to U.S. military action against Iran within the next 12 months. It’s not that attacking Iran is a good option; it’s that all the other options are worse.”

* “The only real hope is that the current much-expanded debate in the United States, Israel, and Europe over a military move against Iran – a marked change from just a few months ago, when even well-informed observers mostly dismissed the idea of a U.S. attack – will finally succeed in deterring Iran from pursuing its nuclear weapons program. The chances are slim.”

* If it’s a nuclear suitcase bomb that concerns you, Tel Aviv is not the only place about which you might be concerned.

***

* Lee Smith: “The White House has put the squeeze on Iran with a serious sanctions regime in the past few months. But for Israel, it may be too little, too late.”

 

CONTENTS

1. “Containing Israel on Iran” (Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2012)
2. “The President has been given a false choice on Iran” (Edward Luttwak, WSJ, Feb. 20, 2012)
3. “The Coming attack on Iran” (Tod Lindberg, Weekly Standard, Feb. 21, 2012)
4. “Israel: Iran will have U.S.-range missile in 2-3 years” (Reuters, Feb. 22, 2012)
5. “Beat the clock” (Lee Smith, Tablet magazine, Feb. 23, 2012)
6. “Israel tests ‘doomsday’ sub for strike on Iran” (London Sunday Times, Feb. 26, 2012)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach six articles concerning the tense situation with Iran. (Because of a heavy work schedule, I don’t have time to write much commentary myself this week.)

The authors of three of these articles, Lee Smith, Tod Lindberg and the writer of the editorial at The Wall Street Journal, are subscribers to this email list.

Incidentally the Associated Press reported yesterday (citing an unnamed senior U.S. intelligence official as their source) that officials in Jerusalem have let it be known that Israel has decided it will not give advance warning to the U.S. if it decides to launch a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites.

The pronouncement, said to have been delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, is likely to set a tense tone ahead of talks next week in Washington between senior visiting Israelis (including Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak) and American officials, including President Obama, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser, and the director of national intelligence. Top U.S. lawmakers say they will try to close the “trust gap” that has developed in the last three years between Israel and the Obama administration.

While the disagreement between the U.S. and Israel apparently continues to deepen, the International Atomic Energy Agency has announced that Iran has increased its uranium enrichment at the new fortified underground Fordo installation.

Others believe that contrary to the appearance that the U.S. and Israel have sharp differences on the Iranian question, a successful Israeli mission would require American assistance which, if revealed in detail, could prove embarrassing to Washington.

-- Tom Gross


ARTICLES

GENERAL DEMPSEY SENDS A MESSAGE OF U.S. WEAKNESS TO TEHRAN

Containing Israel on Iran
General Dempsey sends a message of U.S. weakness to Tehran.
Editorial
The Wall Street Journal
February 21, 2012

Is the Obama Administration more concerned that Iran may get a nuclear weapon, or that Israel may use military force to prevent Iran from doing so? The answer is the latter, judging from comments on Sunday by Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

Appearing on CNN, General Dempsey sent precisely the wrong message if the main U.S. strategic goal is convincing Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. He said the U.S. is urging Israel not to attack Iran – because Iran hasn’t decided to build a bomb, because an Israeli attack probably wouldn’t set back Iran by more than a couple of years, and because it would invite retaliation and be “destabilizing” throughout the Middle East.

“That’s the question with which we all wrestle. And the reason we think that it’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran,” the General said, referring to a possible Iranian response to an attack. “That’s been our counsel to our allies, the Israelis. And we also know or believe we know that the Iranian regime has not decided that they will embark on the capability – or the effort to weaponize their nuclear capability.”

In a single sound bite, General Dempsey managed to tell the Iranians they can breathe easier because Israel’s main ally is opposed to an attack on Iran, such attack isn’t likely to work in any case, and the U.S. fears Iran’s retaliation. It’s as if General Dempsey wanted to ratify Iran’s rhetoric that the regime is a fearsome global military threat.

If the U.S. really wanted its diplomacy to work in lieu of force, it would say and do whatever it can to increase Iran’s fear of an attack. It would say publicly that Israel must be able to protect itself and that it has the means to do so. America’s top military officer in particular should say that if Iran escalates in response to an Israeli attack, the U.S. would have no choice but to intervene on behalf of its ally. The point of coercive diplomacy is to make an adversary understand that the costs of its bad behavior will be very, very high.

The general is not a free-lancer, so his message was almost certainly guided by the White House. His remarks only make strategic sense if President Obama’s real priority is to contain Israel first – especially before the November election.

This might also explain General Dempsey’s comments that the U.S. doesn’t believe Iran’s regime has decided to build an atomic bomb and that it is a “rational” actor, like, say, the Dutch. This would be the same rational Iran that refuses to compromise on its nuclear plans despite increasingly damaging global sanctions, and the same prudent actor that has sent agents around the world to bomb Israeli and Saudi targets, allegedly including in a Washington, D.C. restaurant.

Iran doesn’t need to explode a bomb, or even declare that it has one, to win its nuclear standoff. All it needs to do is get to the brink and make everyone believe it can build a bomb when it wants to. Then the costs of deterring Iran go up exponentially, and the regime’s leverage multiplies in the Middle East and against American interests. General Dempsey’s assurances obscure that military and political reality.

Like most of Mr. Obama’s Iran policy, General Dempsey’s comments will have the effect of making war more likely, not less. They will increase Israel’s anxiety about U.S. support, especially if Mr. Obama is re-elected and he has a freer political hand. This may drive Israel’s leadership to strike sooner. Weakness invites war, and General Dempsey has helped the Administration send a message of weakness to Israel and Iran.

 

THE JOINT CHIEFS HAVE SAID A MASSIVE, SUSTAINED AIR CAMPAIGN WOULD BE NEEDED TO SET BACK THE NUCLEAR PROGRAM. NOT SO.

The president has been given a false choice on Iran
By Edward Luttwak
The Wall Street Journal
February 20, 2012

As the pros and cons of attacking Iran’s nuclear installations are debated, Americans are confronted by equally confident but contradictory assertions about the possible scope of Iran’s retaliation or the impact on the stability of the regime. Some hope the possession of nuclear weapons will moderate Tehran’s fanatics. They argue that’s what happened with China under Mao Zedong. Others note that extremism has never been reduced by empowerment.

And so the debate continues inconclusively while Iran’s nuclear efforts persist – along with daily threats of death to America, Israel, Britain, Saudi Arabia’s rulers, and more.

Yet everyone seems to assume the scope of the attack itself is a fixed parameter – a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that some fear to take and others dread to leave undone. That, by all accounts, is exactly how the issue was framed when the debate started in the last years of the second George W. Bush administration. This is misleading. The magnitude and intensity of an attack is a matter of choice, and it needs to be on the table.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and their planners offered President Bush only one plan, a full-scale air offensive with all the trimmings – an air war rather than an air strike. While the plan was never publicly disclosed, its magnitude was widely known, and I have learned some of the details. Instead of identifying the few critical nodes of a nuclear-weapon program, the target list included every nuclear-related installation in Iran. And to ensure thorough destruction, each target was accorded multiple aiming points, each one then requiring a weapon of commensurate power, with one or more to follow until bomb-damage assessment photos would show the target obliterated.

That plan elevated the attack to a major operation, with several hundred primary strike sorties and many more support sorties for electronic suppression, refueling, air-sea rescue readiness, and overhead air defense. Given all those aiming points and the longest possible target list, casualties on the ground could run to the thousands.

And this was only the lesser part of the suggested air war, with many more targets, sorties and weapons justified by preliminary “Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses” attacks. In the name of not risking the loss of even one aircraft, planners put every combat airplane in the Iranian air force on the target list.

There was no distinction between operational aircraft and those in inventory and long immobilized by the lack of replacement parts. All 45 venerable F-14s, the youngest delivered in 1979, made the list, even though at least half have not flown in years. The same was true of geriatric F-4s mostly without engines, ex-Iraqi Mirages, and HESA Saeqeh, a clumsy local modification of the F-5. Some 2,000 antiaircraft guns were also on the list although most are mere machine guns, as well as some dozens of antiaircraft missiles, only a few of which could be operational given their great age.

The overall bill for this assault was thus hugely inflated into a veritable air armada that would last weeks rather than hours, require more than 20,000 sorties, and inevitably kill thousands of civilians on the ground.

With this, the Joint Chiefs made quite sure they would not be thrust into a third war as Iraq and Afghanistan were already consuming American military strength and burning through the Pentagon’s budget.

But this war planning denied to the president and American strategy the option of interrupting Iran’s nuclear efforts by a stealthy overnight attack against the handful of buildings that contain the least replaceable components of Iran’s uranium hexafluoride and centrifuge enrichment cycle – and which would rely on electronic countermeasures to protect aircraft instead of the massive bombardment of Iran’s air defenses.

That option was flatly ruled out as science fiction, while the claim that Iran’s rulers might be too embarrassed to react at all – they keep telling their people that Iran’s enemies are terrified by its immense might – was dismissed as political fiction.

Yet this kind of attack was carried out in September 2007, when the Israeli air force invisibly and inaudibly attacked the nuclear reactor that Syria’s Assad regime had imported from North Korea, wholly destroying it with no known casualties. To be sure, an equivalent attack on Iran’s critical nuclear nodes would have to be several times larger. But it could still be inaudible and invisible, start and end in one night, and kill very few on the ground.

The resulting humiliation of the regime might be worthwhile in itself – the real fantasy is a blindly nationalist reaction from a thoroughly disenchanted population. In fact, given the probability that an attack could only delay Iran’s nuclear efforts by several years, the only one worth considering at all is the small, overnight strike.

 

THE COMING ATTACK ON IRAN

The coming attack on Iran
When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, something’s gotta give.
By Tod Lindberg
The Weekly Standard
February 20, 2012

The United States and Iran have been on a collision course since the Iranian revolution in 1979, when elements of the newly proclaimed Islamic Republic took U.S. diplomats and Tehran embassy personnel hostage. U.S. relations with Iran have been bad ever since. The focus in recent years has been the Iranian program to develop a nuclear weapon, but the backdrop is Iran as a growing regional threat, not only to Israel and to U.S. and allied interests in the Persian Gulf region, but also to the many Sunni governments of the Gulf, which fear an increasingly powerful Shiite government in Tehran.

Meanwhile, Iran props up the Assad dictatorship in Syria, meddles in Lebanon through the Hezbollah militia, supports the radical Hamas regime in Gaza, and seeks to expand its divisive clout in neighboring Iraq, a task made easier by the decision of the Obama administration to end the deployment of U.S. combat forces there. The picture that emerges is of an Iran that is not so much a problem but the problem of the broader Middle East, eclipsing even the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Iranian nuclear program is now variously estimated to be less than a year to three years away from a bomb, notwithstanding the U.N. Security Council-approved sanctions on Tehran, as well as tougher sanctions the United States and Europe have imposed. Iran also has a robust missile program underway. The Israeli vice prime minister recently disclosed that Tehran is working on a missile with a range of 6,200 miles, enough to reach the United States. Israel and other potential Middle East targets are already within range of Iranian missiles, as is Europe: The potential threat from Iran has served as a mainstay in the case for the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe, as well as Israel’s system. Add a murky plot disclosed last year to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by blowing up a Georgetown restaurant – a terrorist attack on American soil that would have killed many Americans – and you have a serious problem that is quickly growing worse.

What will the United States do in response? The situation in which the United States finds itself vis-à-vis Iran has acquired a logic of its own. And that logic points to U.S. military action against Iran within the next 12 months. It’s not that attacking Iran is a good option; it’s that all the other options are worse. Policymakers and commentators who think we will have other, pacific approaches are in my view mistaken. The only real hope is that the current much-expanded debate in the United States, Israel, and Europe over a military move against Iran – a marked change from just a few months ago, when even well-informed observers mostly dismissed the idea of a U.S. attack – will finally succeed in deterring Iran from pursuing its nuclear weapons program. The chances are slim.

Iranian persistence in pursuit of a nuclear weapon is the heart of the problem. Senior Obama administration officials arrived in 2009 thinking that a major part of the Iran problem was the lack of diplomacy in the George W. Bush administration. Obama’s predecessor steadfastly rejected any opening toward Iran in the absence of evidence that Tehran was abandoning its nuclear weapons ambitions and complying with its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions. The Obama administration accordingly reached out to Iran. The implicit terms of the bargain were that, in exchange for compliance, Iran could look forward to an end to its international isolation and the milder sanctions then in place, renewal of diplomatic relations with the United States, and an opportunity for integration into the world economy and the investment (particularly for development of its oil resources) such a reopening would bring.

The assumptions underlying this policy change present a view of the world and an attendant approach to policymaking that characterize the Obama administration. The first element is the conviction that U.S. hostility can produce only hostility in return. Whatever may have justified American hostility in the first place, the result over time could only be a vicious circle. As George Mason’s Colin Dueck has noted, a consistent theme of Obama’s foreign policy has been accommodation – a gesture on the part of the United States toward its erstwhile adversaries in the hope of reciprocation and the emergence of a way out of the snare of mutual hostility.

A second element is the view of Iran as a rational actor. Put aside talk of “rogue states,” let alone the old “axis of evil”: The Iranian government would respond, in this view, to incentives positive and negative – carrots and sticks. If the cost of continuing its nuclear program is elevated and promises to keep mounting the longer Iran persists, and if the benefit from abandoning the program would be considerable in terms of reintegration into the world economy, one could reasonably expect Iran to give up its program.

The Obama administration’s early overture to Iran was worth a try (though not to the point of turning its back on the Iranian “Green Revolution” movement that took to the streets following fraudulent elections in summer 2009). But Iran has not budged in the face of tightening sanctions, nor does it appear to value reentry into the world community as highly as the security gains it believes a nuclear weapon would provide. This does not necessarily make Iran “irrational”; it may simply mean that Iran’s rulers calculate costs and benefits differently from Americans and Europeans.

In this context, the Western rumors of war in early 2012 could be construed in part as the last peaceable attempt to persuade Iran to change course. It appears to be failing. The Iranians want a nuke and appear to be pressing ahead as fast as they can.

The United States and its allies have said repeatedly that an Iranian nuclear weapon is “unacceptable.” One must ask: Why? There are two responses to this question. The first is that the Iranian regime is so dangerous, internally unstable, and ideologically inflamed that it might use a nuclear weapon if it had one, specifically against Israel. If not a missile, then a suitcase. If not directly, then indirectly through surrogates closer at hand.

What, then, about Israel’s undeclared but widely acknowledged nuclear arsenal, which would surely be unleashed in reprisal? Perhaps there are those in Iran who would be prepared to pay such a price for the destruction of the Jewish state. Surely the rhetoric of the Holocaust-denying Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling for the annihilation of Israel is not reassuring. Iran might well be deterred from using a nuclear weapon against Israel by the prospect of nuclear retaliation. But what are the chances that it won’t be? Is one chance in five over the next 20 years an acceptable risk? Precise calculation of such a risk is impossible. Yet it may be worthwhile, even at considerable cost, to attempt to reduce the likelihood of a low-probability, high-impact event to zero at least for some period of time. This view is understandably more prevalent in Israel than among Americans – though if it’s a suitcase that concerns you, Tel Aviv is not the only place about which you might be concerned.

A more common worry among American analysts is the possibility that if Iran gets the bomb, Saudi Arabia will want one as a deterrent. Perhaps Iran’s neighbor Turkey will as well. From there, who knows? The fear is that Iran is the tipping point to a so-called polynuclear Middle East, which might easily extend into Central Asia. The stability of such a situation is highly open to question. If one state in the region goes on nuclear alert, all the other states will follow suit (as, likely, would the United States, Russia, and China). The regional nuclear arsenals in question will likely not be large, and each state will feel a certain “use ‘em or lose ‘em” pressure in fear of being attacked first. The chance of such fears leading to catastrophe – well, once again, it is incalculable, but it is not zero. Deterrence theory, even on the assumption that all of the states involved seek only to deter the others from attack, is not at all reassuring in such a scenario.

A polynuclear Middle East would be a potential second-order effect of an Iranian bomb. One could address it by trying to dissuade other states in the region from going nuclear through the extension of security guarantees. How credible they would be is another question. Would Saudi Arabia feel reassured under an American nuclear umbrella? A Pakistani nuclear umbrella? Would such an exercise in “extended deterrence” make sense to Americans?

Another undesirable second-order effect would be a nuclear-armed Iran’s throwing its weight around regionally. The Iranian government’s pernicious influence already extends well beyond its own people. An Iran that feels more secure, indeed immune from attack, would likely increase its demands on its neighbors. During the Cold War, the term “Finlandization” described a nominally independent state’s devolution under pressure to a near-satrapy of the Soviet Union. How well would the Gulf states bear up under pressure from a nuclear-armed Iran? In 2010, certainly in response to the Iranian threat, the United States began to double the size of its naval base in tiny Bahrain, home to the 5th Fleet. How welcome a presence will the United States be if Iran has the bomb and “uses” it to coerce other states in the region?

The United States (and Israel) could still, presumably, try to deter Iran both from the actual use of a nuclear weapon and from its use as an instrument of coercive diplomacy. Articles and study groups have explored the possibility of living with a nuclear Iran. Unfortunately, they generally flow from the premise that the United States must seem strong and resolute to Iran. Exactly how strong and resolute the United States and its allies will seem once Iran, in defiance of the top foreign policy priority of the United States and its allies, has tested a nuclear weapon is a question that answers itself. There is already a broad perception in the Middle East, shared by Israel and its Sunni neighbors – whose intelligence services and senior officials seem to get along rather well on matters in their mutual interest – that U.S. influence in the region is declining. They suspect this is a matter of deliberate U.S. policy. Of course, not only in the Middle East now but also in other places at other times, U.S. influence has appeared to many to be on the wane until the United States has acted emphatically to demonstrate otherwise. The United States could do so now by preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But without question, Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon would mark the effective end of U.S. credibility in the region (at least until the United States did something even more dramatic to reassert it).

As recently as a year ago, Israelis usually framed their concern about a nuclear Iran in terms of these two second-order effects: a neighborhood full of nukes and an emboldened Iran. It seemed to me then that there was a sense of hesitation on their part, almost embarrassment, about bringing up what was really foremost in their minds, which is the existential threat they believe an Iranian nuclear weapon poses to them. This was problematic, as I’m not sure a war over second-order effects is worth risking if the immediate danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon isn’t self-evident.

By now, however, Israelis have found the – is it courage? forthrightness? – to speak up about the existential danger they personally perceive. I don’t think an Iranian nuclear weapon poses an existential danger to the United States or most of the rest of our allies. Iran is not Nazi Germany. But one can hardly fault Israelis for taking Iran personally. And the fact that an Iranian nuclear weapon is more dangerous to Israel than to any other American ally does not mean Iran is or should be exclusively an Israeli problem. Iran, at this moment, may in fact be relatively weak, not strong, as the former head of Mossad, Efraim Halevy, contends. If the Iran-backed Assad regime in Syria collapses, it will be a serious blow to Iran’s position. But an Iranian nuclear weapon would represent a substantial increase in the power of a dangerous regime. That’s a matter the United States and its allies around the world cannot ignore and must not acquiesce in.

If you say something is unacceptable, you are either bluffing or are obliged to do what you can to stop it. Increasingly tight sanctions have not worked, nor blandishments. Western capitals have come round to interpreting Iranian offers to talk further on the subject, as Iran recently proposed, as playing for time while the weapons program enters a decisive stage. In fact, the recent experience of India and Pakistan going nuclear may suggest to Tehran that the quickest way out from under sanctions is nothing other than a nuclear test: Iran will be more powerful, and the world will have to adjust. What happens, then, when sanctions have not worked as time is running out?

Both the United States and Israel believe they have viable military options against Iran. Neither promises to be capable of destroying the Iranian nuclear program altogether. Degrading the program substantially, however, and delaying it potentially for years are within the realm of practical achievability. Obviously, the United States has vastly more military resources it could bring to bear on the task than does Israel. But Israel needs nothing material from the United States in order to attack Iran, nor does it need the permission of the United States.

Of course, the United States may be able to punish Israel for striking Iran against the wishes of the United States. We could, potentially, reduce military assistance to Israel, deny access to parts for weapons systems, scale back military and intelligence cooperation, or cease to protect Israel at the United Nations Security Council as the inevitable resolution condemning the attack comes forward. We could also, in advance, threaten Israel with any and all of these and other consequences. It would be surprising if the United States were not currently engaged in a policy of dual containment or “pivotal deterrence”: We promise Israel that we will dissuade Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon while threatening Israel with abandonment if it acts on its own. Israel would have to be prepared to pay a price for taking military action, and it might be high.

But if Israel perceives a truly existential threat from the Iranian nuclear program, as it appears it does, then Israel may be willing to pay a very high price indeed and at the moment of truth, tell the United States as much. (Our subject here is not U.S. domestic politics, so we will bracket and set aside the question of the viability of the U.S. making good on its threat to punish Israel.) At some point – perhaps sooner, but at the latest as Israel’s F-16s are, so to speak, revving on the tarmac – the United States must confront a very basic question: If someone is going to strike Iran, who should that be?

Sheerly from the point of view of military effectiveness, the answer must involve the United States. The Israelis know this. Our allies know this. We know it. And they know that we know, etc. Iran, once struck, will certainly want to respond. But even if the strike comes solely from Israel, will Iran confine its response to action against Israel? If not, then we are likely to find at a minimum our vital interests placed at risk. We would have to respond militarily to any attempt to, for example, shut down the Strait of Hormuz, to say nothing of an attack on a U.S. warship.

These considerations militate in favor of a U.S. decision to attack Iran should sanctions fail to dissuade the Iranians from further pursuit of a nuclear weapon. So does the fact that we already seem to have edged into a state of covert bellicosity with the Iranian government: dead scientists, mysterious explosions, Stuxnet. So does the regrettable fact that the threat of military force has entered our diplomacy only very recently; this has permitted the Iranians to dismiss the credibility of a military option, paradoxically increasing the likelihood of its necessity if we mean what we say when we say “unacceptable.”

Of course Israel would rather see the United States attack Iran than do so on its own, and not only for reasons of military effectiveness. But if an unattacked Iran is a nuclear-armed Iran, the latter would amount to a crippling failure of U.S. policy (always an option, I suppose). If an attack takes place and the United States is uninvolved, we are nevertheless unlikely to avoid involvement in the ensuing conflict. Our collision with Iran is imminent.

 

“IRAN WILL HAVE U.S.-RANGE MISSILE IN 2-3 YEARS”

Israel: Iran will have U.S.-range missile in 2-3 years
Reuters
February 22, 2012

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel believes that within 2-3 years Iran will have intercontinental missiles able to hit the United States, an Israeli minister said in remarks aimed at raising awareness of the threat it believes a nuclear Iran would pose to the world. Analysts now estimate the longest range of an Iranian missile to be about 2,400 km (1,500 miles), capable of reaching Tehran’s arch-enemy Israel as well as Europe.

But Israel has also been keen to persuade any allies who do not share their view of the risk posed by Iran that an Islamic Republic with atom bombs would also threaten the West.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s assessment, in an interview with CNBC, was in line with an unclassified U.S. Defense Department report in 2010 that estimated Iran may be able to build a U.S.-range missile by 2015. “They (the Iranians) are working now and investing a lot of billions of dollars in order to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles,” said Steinitz, a former chairman of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee.

“And we estimate that in two to three years they will have the first intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the east coast of America. So their aim is to put a direct nuclear ballistic threat ... to Europe and to the United States of America,” he said in English.

Israeli intelligence services keep a close eye on Iran, whose nuclear program Israelis see as a mortal threat, and are widely believed to have been behind a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel also has spy satellites.

Steinitz’s remarks coincided with stepped up U.S. efforts to persuade Israeli leaders that there is still time for diplomacy to keep Tehran from building a nuclear weapon and growing concerns Israel might opt to strike Iran pre-emptively. Three weeks ago, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said Iran had been working on developing a missile capable of striking the United States at a military base rocked by an explosion that killed 17 Iranian troops in November.

Yaalon, who is also minister of strategic affairs, said the base was a research and development facility where Iran was preparing to produce or develop a missile with a range of 10,000 km (6,000 miles).

 

“BUT FOR ISRAEL, THIS STILL FALLS WAY SHORT OF THE MARK”

Beat the Clock
The White House has put the squeeze on Iran with a serious sanctions regime in the past few months. But for Israel, it may be too little, too late.
By Lee Smith
Tablet magazine
February 23, 2012

From an American perspective, it seems that the White House has finally gotten serious about bringing the Iranian nuclear program to a halt. After President Obama’s policy of engagement came up empty, the administration, pressed by Senate leaders, finally implemented sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and the Iranian energy sector on Dec. 31 and then leveled more sanctions against the bank earlier this month. The sanctions have sent the Iranian currency into freefall.

The squeeze continues: This month, Congress pressured the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, which provides tens of thousands of financial institutions with a system for transferring money around the world, to block Iranian institutions from using the service. SWIFT announced last week that it “stands ready to act and discontinue its services to sanctioned Iranian financial institutions as soon as it has clarity on EU legislation currently being drafted.”

From the American point of view, all this is a clear sign, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said recently that “The United States … does not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us.”

But for Israel, this still falls way short of the mark.

If you want to understand how the Jewish state sees the nascent Iranian nuclear arms program, you need to stop thinking like a superpower with vast resources that inhabits a virtual island several thousand miles from the Persian Gulf – and start thinking like a tiny state with limited resources, formed in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and within ballistic missile range of Iran. You’re going to go along with your American patron as far as you can, but in the end, you’re going to keep your own counsel.

***

Last month at the annual Herzliya conference, which brings Israel’s top political, military, and security echelons together with their colleagues from around the world, the majority of Israeli officials and analysts I spoke with said they believe the sanctions have come too late. Perhaps five years ago, economic suffering might have forced the Iranian regime to reconsider its plans.

But now with Iran enriching uranium to 20 percent, moving it closer to producing weapons-grade uranium, and even Panetta admitting that the Iranians are a year away from building a nuclear weapon, there are two choices: Either accept that the Islamic Republic has joined the nuclear club, or bomb the country’s nuclear facilities in the hope of setting the program back, at least by a few years. If it’s become increasingly clear to Israel that the Obama Administration is not going to take military action, the question is: When does Israel pull the trigger?

Some experts make the case that Israel’s war against Iran’s nuclear program is already well under way. “Over the last decade Israel has spent a lot of money to prepare for all sorts of options on Iran,” David Wurmser, formerly Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser, told me this week. Such options include computer worms, like Stuxnet, and covert operations, like the assassination of nuclear scientists and sabotaging military installations, as well as possible commando raids and air raids.

Now the head of a consulting group called Delphi, which has a few sensitive projects in Israel, Wurmser says it is crunch time for Israeli leaders. He’s seen a marked shift in Israel’s security establishment over the last few months. Perhaps the surest sign is that President Shimon Peres, not typically perceived as a hawk on Iran, has begun warning that a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and is “a real danger to humanity as a whole.” Said Wurmser: “It’s not just about Bibi and his historical legacy anymore. He doesn’t need to be a leader in a Churchillian mode, because the consensus on attacking Iran is broad based.”

Up until last summer, Wurmser told me, the overriding sentiment among Israeli leaders was to give the Americans time. “Some thought that the sanctions might work, while others merely wanted to be patient in order to manage the White House in the aftermath of an attack,” he explained. But for Israel, there are other timelines to consider besides Iran’s ability to manufacture a bomb. In addition to its own budgetary concerns, most significant for Israel is Iran’s defensive capability, including advanced Russian anti-aircraft systems that the Iranians reportedly purchased a few years ago. Wurmser contends that “the Russians never actually sold that system to Iran, or anything that was significant.” However, Moscow’s decision to take a strong stand against the United States by backing Iran’s client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, indicates that Russia is moving more aggressively against Israel and the West – and Jerusalem is sensitive to such geopolitical shifts.

Wurmser is among the few analysts who thinks that Israel is capable of setting the Iranian program back. But he believes the operation isn’t going to look like what people expect. Wurmser points to Israel’s history of innovative warfare and says it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the same pattern in a strike against Iran. “We might see really weird things, like one-way drones, Doolittle-raid type stuff, where pilots return but the planes don’t. That would mean ditching some really expensive aircraft but you need to consider what are the out-of-the-box crazy things Israeli planners might think of. No one thought Entebbe was possible, or that F-16s could be used to attack Osirak [Iraq’s nuclear reactor].”

That is, to understand what Israel might do, don’t think like a superpower. “The American debate over Israel’s ability to hit Iranian facilities is dominated by analysts who come from the U.S. Air Force,” said Wurmser, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer. “There the idea is the utter destruction of infrastructure. And so their question is whether Israel can hit hardened targets. But you don’t need to.”

Instead, according to Wurmser, the issue is whether Israel knows precisely what targets to hit in order to destroy Iranian centrifuges. “If they’re not powered down properly, the cascade is destroyed. So, presumably Iran has hardened the power supplies and put generators in tunnels. But you don’t need to destroy the tunnels, only seal them off so that the lack of air shuts down the generators. It’s sort of a sophisticated way of putting a banana in a tail pipe.”

As Wurmser sees it, what Israel needs to make an attack work is not ordnance, but intelligence, which is what the Israelis have been gathering in their ongoing covert war against Iran, assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists and sabotaging military facilities. “The Israelis have mastered an intelligence loop,” said Wurmser. “The intelligence provides a target, like a nuclear scientist; and the Iranians respond by hardening other sensitive targets, which restarts the intelligence process, like a constant interactive circle.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer, is far less confident of Israel’s ability to gather intelligence in Iran: “It is beyond Israel’s capacity to sustain a team inside Iran. There are problems with visas, security. They could bring in people on a short-term basis, run conservative operations and meetings, and bring some supplies in, but I’m not 100 percent convinced that all the attacks can be traced back to some type of Israeli effort.”

Some of the assassinations of Iranian scientists, Gerecht believes, were likely carried out by domestic opponents of the regime, perhaps working in tandem with Israel. And the major explosion at an advanced missile-research center in the desert near Tehran in November might well have been an accident. “The Iranians are extremely careless,” he told me. “We know it by watching them at war, how they handle the production of machinery and war materiel, how they handle themselves in clandestine operations. What they have going for them is that they just persevere.”

Gerecht says that the Israeli officials he’s spoken with contend that the “unnatural events” occurring inside Iran are indeed a sign that the war’s already begun, but Gerecht is skeptical. “In the big scheme of things, these operations are not that impressive, given how far advanced the Iranian program is. Like almost all covert operations, it’s too little, too late: They don’t have the scale to effect a program like this. In some sense, these operations signal the absence of war. They’re not doing it to soften Iranians for a big attack. It’s operational procrastination. When you don’t want to get involved in a military conflict, you go to covert action and special forces.”

Of course, it may also be that Israel’s secret war is also a psychological operation, destined to drive the regime to distraction and force its hand. And of late, Iran has warned that it will take preemptive action if its interests are threatened. If the Iranians do act out,

Israel might enjoy the luxury of being well-prepared for a hot conflict it doesn’t actually initiate.

 

ISRAEL TESTS ‘DOOMSDAY’ SUB FOR STRIKE ON IRAN

Israel tests ‘doomsday’ sub for strike on Iran
By Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv, and Bojan Pancevski
The (London) Sunday Times
February 26, 2012

A secret Israeli submarine capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles is undergoing sea trials in a further sign of mounting tensions with Iran.

The Tannin (which means alligator in Hebrew), built in a shipyard in Kiel, northern Germany, will be delivered to Israel later this year and will be used to provide “second strike” capability against Iran in the event of war.

“Israel’s doomsday weapon revealed,” splashed Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper last week, saying the vessel was equipped with extra large torpedo tubes capable of carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

The 223ft Dolphin class submarine, the largest built in Germany since the second world war, cost £466m, a third of it paid by the German taxpayer in war reparations.

Israel already has the means to deliver nuclear weapons through its air force, Jericho long-range ballistic missiles and three older Dolphin-type submarines.

As its airfields would probably come under attack in a future war and the Jericho missiles are also vulnerable, the submarine would provide the option of launching a second strike.

The diesel-electric powered Tannin is undergoing tests by German shipbuilders Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, and will join the older German-built craft already in service.

Israel’s existing submarines have propulsion systems that require them to surface frequently to recharge their batteries. But the Tannin, according to defence sources, will be fitted with a new propulsion system that will enable it to remain submerged for up to three weeks without refuelling.

This will allow the Tannin and two sister vessels, which will be delivered by 2013, to mount a permanent patrol off the Iranian coast. Although the hull is German-built, all communication systems in the submarine and the secret electronic warfare systems are Israeli-made.

The deal to build the submarines was signed by the Social Democrat government of the former chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2005.

Angela Merkel’s conservative-led government later tied the deal to concessions in the Palestinian territories and subsequently put it on hold when Israel failed to meet its demands.

Her surprise decision to give the delivery the go-ahead is widely seen in Germany as a gesture of support for Israel and its ever more likely confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency were refused permission to visit the Parchin military base, 18 miles southwest of Tehran, last week after satellite images suggested that high explosive tests for nuclear weapons were being conducted there.

But American intelligence agencies, including the CIA, believe that Iran’s leadership has yet to resolve whether to give a warhead design programme the go-ahead.

The New York Times reported yesterday that they believe there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a bomb.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.