There's been quite a bit of speculation about this recently, fueled by the Israeli and foreign press. Is something in the works?
Let's examine the real versus the unreal.
Given that the Iranians have been talking about genocide towards the 'Zionist entity' with ever increasing frequency, the Israelis would be fools if they hadn't had contingency plans and the training that goes with them in place for some time now. And the Israelis aren't fools.
To the Iranian regime, as with the Nazis, the destruction of the 'Zionists' is an ideological policy aim rather than a necessary part of any war strategy. As such, the ayatollahs are not rational actors. And one day, after they obtain nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, Khamenei or his successor is going to wake up one morning, convene the Council of Guardians and announce that today is the day they're going to fry the Jews. The Twelver sect that dominates Iran's Shi'ites tells them that the Hidden Imam will return to rule the world in the wake of exactly that sort of apocalypse.
What the Israelis see is that the so-called international community's response to this, by and large, is to spend a little bit of rhetoric on it and mount a few anemic 'sanctions' that aren't being honored for the most part anyway, per the wishes of President Obama and our State Department. And even that much is only due to concerns about the flow of Persian Gulf oil.
So the Israelis understand that essentially, they're pretty much on their own, particularly with Barack Obama in the White House.
The media fueled frenzy can be understood as just that, and it's happened before. But what's also true is that just like the lead up to the Six Day War, the Israelis appear to be taking certain steps that signal they may be getting ready to move.
One of these steps was the introduction of Avi Dichter, former Shin Bet chief into Israeli PM Netanyahu's security cabinet. He's replacing outgoing Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i, who will leave next week for Beijing to be Israel’s next ambassador to China.
Dichter used to be a Kadima MK,but resigned his seat and his affiliation with Kadima in order to make the move.
His security credentials are impressive, but there's a deeper connection most non-Israelis aren't aware of.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack, PM Benyamin Netanyahu and Avi Dichter all served together in Israel's elite Army unit, the Sayeret Matkal. In other words, there's a bond there of blood and fire and of working together on military operations. The Sayeret Matkal's motto is the same as Britain's renowned Special Air Service (SAS): 'Who dares, wins.'
And they've proven it time and again.
Dichter's entry into Netanyahu's special security cabinet strikes me as assembling an old team together for a mission in enemy territory, which is exactly what the Sayeret Matkal specializes in.
Even more to the point, the furor in the Israeli press and the statements of a number of Israeli politicians can only be seen as preparing the groundwork with the Israeli public. Civil defense preparations are in progress, outgoing home front defense minister Vilnai made a statement telling the Israeli public and the press that Israel was prepared for a 30 day war, and Ehud Barack went public at the same time reminding people that dealing with a nuclear armed Iran could be even more devastating. They appear to be preparing the Israeli people for an upcoming war:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday discussed the timing of a possible military strike on Iran, saying, "it would be much more complicated, much more dangerous and much more expensive - to deal with a nuclear[-armed] Iran in the future."
Barak, speaking to the Knesset plenum, added that discussions surrounding the issue are unprecedented in their thoroughness.
"In all the wars and peacemaking in Israel's history, there is no issue that has been dealt with in such depth as Iran has," he said.
Addressing the media attention on the issue, often critical, the defense minister added, "the decision to attack Iran, should the time come, will be made by the government and not by groups of citizens nor editorials."
During secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's recent trip to Israel, Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu told the press, in Panetta’s presence, that, “with our very existence, we do not put our faith in the hands of others, even our best friends.”
Is this mere sabre rattling? I don't think so.
As I've written before, the Israelis have a limited window of action. The P5+1 talks are at a standstill and all the talks and sanctions haven't stopped Iran's illegal nuclear weapons program. Nor will they.
All they done is allowed the Iranians to buy time while the centrifuges spin and to work on hardening their nuclear facilities towards the point where they will becoming increasingly difficult to strike at.
And then there's the problem of Barack Obama.
President Obama has not been noted for his cordial relationship with Israel or its leaders, to say the least. At present, with a difficult election campaign underway, President Obama is making a lot of pro-Israel noises. But once the election is over, whether President Obama is re-elected or not, he will be free to revert to his natural tendencies.
At present, he has let the Israelis know quite plainly that he is against a strike, partly because deep down he appears to feel that a nuclear armed Iran is not a problem and partly because he may want the option of using an American strike on Iran as an 'October Surprise' to help his re-election should he need it.
So the Israelis have, essentially, a window of less than 80 days if they're going to strike at Iran's nuclear weapons facilities.
Could the Israelis pull it off successfully? Nothing in war is certain, but there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that the IDF is capable of severely crippling Iran's nuclear weapons program and setting it back for years if they decide to do so. The U.S. would certainly be capable of doing it far more neatly and effectively, but that isn't going to happen unless President Obama is behind in the polls and needs it to bolster his re-election efforts.
And the Israelis are certainly not going to depend on the Obama Administration.
I speculated some months ago on what an Israeli strike might entail, and it is worth revisiting again:
The obstacles frequently cited are the sheer distance involved, the amount of planes needed, the need for mid-air refueling, the tough Iranian air defenses and the danger of retaliatory strikes from Iran and from Iran's proxies Hezbollah and Hamas.
A couple of years ago I analyzed what an Israeli strike on Iran might look like, and it was interesting to see an echo of some of that thinking recently from Hans Rühle, a leading German security expert who was head of the planning department of the German Defense Ministry between 1982-1988.
In an article in Die Welt, Rühle stated that in his opinion, a well planned Israeli attack could significantly set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program by perhaps a decade or more.
I personally see that as a bit optimistic, but at least five years is a certainty and a much longer time is certainly possible depending on what gets hit.
Rühle and I agree that rather than a huge air armada of over a hundred planes, the Israelis would use smaller groups of 25 or 30 planes, each armed with two GBU-28 or GBU-37 bunker busters. I think the Israelis would likely proceed a strike with a cyber attack to blind and confuse Iran's radar and missile defenses as they did in Syria. Even though the Syrians had something Iran doesn't, the advanced Russian S - 300 missile defense systems, the Israelis were able to blind and baffle them easily. The Israelis might even possibly mount an EMP attack using a Jericho III missile, which would destroy Iranian communications, computer networks and electronic controls.
The Israelis have one large advantage in an air attack they didn't have before. The most direct route planes would likely take to their targets in Iran is over Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The Iraqis have no air defenses at this time and now that U.S. forces have withdrawn from Iraq, the U.S. has no part in defending Iraq's air space, so the road is wide open.
As for the Saudis, they would have no objections whatsoever to Israel taking out Shi'ite Iran's nuclear program. They've already signaled as much.
Using a smaller number of planes would allow greater flexibility in mid air refueling from Israel's fleet of 9 U.S. made tankers, and also allow attacks to be made in waves against specific targets while other planes refuel. Rühle suspects that the Israelis have configured additional planes as tankers. I know for a fact that Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is currently working on converting a recently-acquired Boeing 707 for use as a super tanker, with delivery scheduled to the IDF by mid year. Never underestimate the Israeli genius for improvisation.
[ed note: the 707 tanker is now operational, and according to one of my sources the IAF has more than one]
Nor is Israel's arsenal limited to F-15's and F-16's armed with bunker busters. The Israelis have state-of -the art drones available like the jumbo jet sized Eitan, which can carry a one ton payload and fly for 48 straight hours, their fleet of nuclear-capable Dolphin subs, each capable of firing Jericho II and III missiles with great precision and their land based Jericho III's with a range capable of reaching Iranian targets.
Rühle sees the primary nuclear targets as the nuclear plant at Natanz, the conversion facility in Isfahan, the heavy water reactor at Arak and the major weapons and munitions sites in Parchin. In addition, he notes the deep underground enrichment facility at Fordow near Qom and Iran’s nuclear plant at Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf:
Rühle writes that surveillance “information about Natanz is solid,“ adding that the “project has been observed from satellites and from the location from 'Israeli tourists.'”
He added that Israel strongest bunker buster bombs GBU-28 could destroy the roof of the facility. If the damage is not sufficient, a second GBU-28 could be launched to complete the aim of destruction.
According to Rühle, Israel’s successful obliteration of the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 laid an important precedent. He writes that “many experts believe “ that strikes against Iran’s nuclear operations could set back the program 10 years, or possibly longer, based on present knowledge.
The fighter plane requirement would entail 20 F-15 machines each accompanied with two GBU-28s. He estimates that Israel’s air force has over 87 F-15 planes at its disposal. The conversion Nuclear Technology Center of Isfahan, which is largely vulnerable to attack because its buildings are not underground, could be eliminated with GBU-27 bombs. Isfahan converts the yellow cake process into uranium.
The least difficult challenge for Israel’s air force is the heavy-water reactor Arak, observes Rühle. The above-ground facility could be razed with 10 GBU-10 bombs, wrote Rühle. The strike would require 10 F- 16 fighter jets.
According to Rühle, the most difficult obstacle to destroy is the underground Fordow enrichment plant. He notes that special team forces would have to attack the facility.
The alternative would be to strike the tunnel openings with GBU-28 bombs to plug the entry points for a period of time.
The complex Parchin site remains beyond the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and it is unclear how many bombs it would take to destroy the over 100 buildings, many of which are buried underground. Nuclear warheads are believed to be worked on in the Parchin plant.
Most people I've talked to in a position to know these things agree with Rühle's analysis of the targets involved.
I would also add that the use of tactical nukes would make sites like Parchin and Fordow uninhabitable,let alone unusable for quite some time. And a strike on Iran's refineries and oil infrastructure along the Persian Gulf and especially at the oil terminus at Kharg Island would insure a long period of freedom from an Iranian threat because it would eliminate Iran's abilities to finance these sort of toys for many years, and perhaps even involve regime change as Iran's economy goes into free fall. Call it the ultimate 'sanction' if you like.
In the same piece, I discussed reasons why Iran's proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas might confine their support to rhetoric and token displays rather than all out war. If anything, the new Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt's desire to keep things quiet while they consolidate control and obtain a crucial IMF loan and Hezbollah's military involvement in Syria make it even less likely now that they would get actively involved in an Israel-Iran war.
Hezbollah in particular has a great deal to lose, since they are now essentially controlling Lebanon's government and the Israelis have made it quite clear that the restrictions the IDF fought under in 2006 that involved largely holding off from hitting Lebanese targets in areas not controlled by Hezbollah aren't going to apply in the future if a war breaks out again.
In a great many ways, if Israel decides to strike Iran and eliminate a genocidal threat the timing now works in their favor. It is not going to be an endeavor without cost or risk, but it will be infinitely less costly and risky than attempting it later.
I'd personally pay particularly close attention the first two weeks of October. The Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are over, and the weather that time of year is normally right for this type of operation.
The Iran issue is not going to be dealt with via negotiation, sanctions or diplomacy. Unlike much of the west, the Israelis understand that, because they're looking at the monster close up.
Don't be surprised if they decide to defend themselves and take that monster on.