Preparing to bomb Iran? 6

What was the Israeli Air Force doing in Romania when one if its helicopters crashed on July 26, killing six of its airmen?

The crash itself is distressing, but the answer to the question is good news: the IAF was rehearsing for an attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

This report comes from DebkaFile:

The Israeli Air Force had been drilling high-risk attacks on precipitous cliff caves similar to the mountain tunnels in which Iran has hidden nuclear facilities. The crash occurred in the last stage of a joint Israeli-US-Romanian exercise for simulating an attack on Iran. Aboard the helicopter were six Israeli airmen and a Romanian flight captain. …

Iran has given up on adequate air and missile defense shields for its nuclear sites and in the last couple of years has been blasting deep tunnels beneath mountain peaks more than 2,000 meters high for housing nuclear facilities. There, they were thought by Tehran to be safe from air or missile attack.

The American and Israeli air forces have since been developing tactics for evading Iranian radar and flying at extremely low-altitudes through narrow mountain passes so as to reach the tunnel entrances for attacks on the nuclear equipment undetected. The drill in Romania took place at roughly the same altitude and in similar terrain that a US or Israeli air attack would expect to encounter in Iran.

For such strikes, special missiles would be used that are capable of flying the length of a tunnel, however twisty, and detonating only when its warhead identifies and contacts its target.

The entire maneuver is extremely hazardous. The pilots must be exceptionally skilled, capable of split-second timing in rising from low-altitudes to points opposite the high tunnel entrances without crashing into the surrounding mountain walls.

The Israeli helicopter is reported to have flown into a cloud patch hanging over its simulated target and crashed into a steep mountainside, while the second helicopter flying in the formation avoided the cloud and continued without incident. Israeli and American Air Force pilots are instructed, when encountering cloud cover of the target, to go around it. At all times, they must have eye contact with their target.

The accident revealed to military observers that the Israeli Air Force is practicing long-distance flights not only by bombers, but also heavy helicopters, such as the “Yasour” CH-53, which would require in-flight refueling. These practice flights have been taking place in cooperation with Greece and Bulgaria as well as Romania, whose distance from Israel of 1,600 kilometers approximates that of Iran. American air bases in Romania and Bulgaria participate in the drills.

Good to know, but the information that the US is participating in the exercise, and the fact that it is being reported – albeit through news of a disaster – makes us wonder if the point of publishing it is to frighten Ahmadinejad and the mullahs rather than actually prepare for a strike. Is it really likely, we wonder, that Obama has decided to take military action against Iran?

Charles Krauthammer seems to think it possible and even probable. The administration, he says, is “hardening its line”. And he sees a growth of determination among Western states and Arab states to stop Iran forcibly from becoming a nuclear power.

He gives these reasons in his column in Investor’s Business Daily:

Passage of weak U.N. sanctions was followed by unilateral sanctions by the United States, Canada, Australia and the European Union. Already … Iran is experiencing a sharp drop in gasoline imports as Lloyd’s of London refuses to insure the ships delivering them.

Second, the Arab states are no longer just whispering their desire for the U.S. to militarily take out Iranian nuclear facilities. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington said so openly at a conference three weeks ago.

The UAE ambassador[‘s] … publicly expressed desire for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities speaks for the intense Arab fear approaching panic, of Iran’s nuclear program and the urgent hope that the U.S. will take it out.

It is true that the UAE ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, was heard to be pleading or at least arguing for military action by “an outside force”, but his government hastily denied that he meant it. There was no denial, however, that his country regards Iran’s nuclear program as a grave and imminent threat.

There is also a rumour, not mentioned today by Krauthammer, that Saudi Arabia would be willing to look the other way while Israeli planes flew through its airspace on a mission to bomb Iranian nuclear installations.

But what of American participation in such a raid? Krauthammer goes on to say:

Third, and perhaps even more troubling from Tehran’s point of view, are developments in the U.S. Former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden suggested last Sunday that over time, in his view, a military strike is looking increasingly favorable compared with the alternatives. Hayden is no Obama insider, but Time reports (“An Attack on Iran: Back on the Table,” July 15) that high administration officials are once again considering the military option.

Here is part of what Time had to say:

[Secretary of Defense] Gates … told Fox News on June 20. “We do not accept the idea of Iran having nuclear weapons.” In fact, Gates was reflecting a new reality [sic – shouldn’t it be “realism”?] in the military and intelligence communities. Diplomacy and economic pressure remain the preferred means to force Iran to negotiate a nuclear deal, but there isn’t much hope that’s going to happen. “Will [sanctions] deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability?” CIA Director Leon Panetta told ABC News on June 27. “Probably not.” So the military option is very much back on the table. …

Intelligence sources say that the U.S. Army’s Central Command, which is in charge of organizing military operations in the Middle East, has made some real progress in planning targeted air strikes — aided, in large part, by the vastly improved human-intelligence operations in the region. “There really wasn’t a military option a year ago,” an Israeli military source told me. “But they’ve gotten serious about the planning, and the option is real now.” Israel has been brought into the planning process … because U.S. officials are frightened by the possibility that the right-wing Netanyahu government might go rogue and try to whack the Iranians on its own.

There’s a lefty explanation! If whacking the Iranians is now considered a good thing to do, why would it be bad, or “going rogue”, for the Israelis to do it? Note the insistent mention that Netanyahu’s government is “right-wing”. Right-wings are, of course, on the edge of roguery at all times in the assumptions of the left.

One other factor has brought the military option to a low boil: Iran’s Sunni neighbors really want the U.S. to do it. When United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba said on July 6 that he favored a military strike against Iran despite the economic and military consequences to his country, he was reflecting an increasingly adamant attitude in the region. Senior American officials who travel to the Gulf frequently say the Saudis, in particular, raise the issue with surprising ardor. Everyone from the Turks to the Egyptians to the Jordanians are threatening to go nuclear if Iran does. That is seen as a real problem in the most volatile region in the world: What happens, for example, if Saudi Arabia gets a bomb, and the deathless monarchy there is overthrown by Islamist radicals?

Message to Time: The “deathless monarchy” IS radically Islamist. The Saudis are, however, Sunni radicals who fear the hegemony of Iranian Shia radicals. So their ardor is not really surprising at all.

For the moment, the White House remains as skeptical as ever about a military strike.

Ah, we thought so!

Most senior military leaders also believe … a targeted attack on Iran would be “disastrous on a number of levels.” It would unify the Iranian people against the latest in a long series of foreign interventions. It would also unify much of the world — including countries like Russia and China that we’ve worked hard to cultivate — against a recowboyfied US. [There’s a coinage for you!- JB].  There would certainly [?] be an Iranian reaction — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, by Lebanese Hizballah against Israel and by the Hizballah network against the U.S. and Saudi homelands. A catastrophic regional war is not impossible.

Of course, it is also possible that this low-key saber-rattling is simply a message the U.S. is trying to send the Iranians: it’s time to deal. … But it is also possible that the saber-rattling is not a bluff, that the U.S. really won’t tolerate a nuclear Iran and is prepared to do something awful to stop it.

So our question remains: is it likely that Obama will even consider the bombing of Iran?

We hope with ardor that Iran’s nuclear capability is knocked out soon by military force. It would be best of course if the US and Israel acted together. But if the US under Obama’s weak leadership holds back, may Israel strike alone – soon, and to devastating effect.

Cobwebs of conjecture 3

Saudi Arabia has given Israel permission to fly through its air space to bomb Iran?

So says this report by Hugh Tomlinson in The Times (London):

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal. …

Defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.

To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert.

That may be hard to believe, but the next part is plain incredible:

“The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” said a US defence source in the area. “They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren’t scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department.”

If this is true, what the heck is Israel waiting for?

Skeptics know that when sources remain unnamed, deniability is maintained.

The story continues:

Sources in Saudi Arabia say it is common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing,” said one.

Which doesn’t mean they will say nothing afterwards. We expect that if Israel were to fly through Saudi space and bomb Iran, Saudi Arabia would vote in the (disgusting) UN to condemn it, along with all the rest.

The report kindly informs Iran in advance exactly what the targets will be:

The four main targets for any raid on Iran would be the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the gas storage development at Isfahan and the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Secondary targets include the lightwater reactor at Bushehr, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium when complete.

The targets lie as far as 1,400 miles (2,250km) from Israel; the outer limits of their bombers’ range, even with aerial refuelling. An open corridor across northern Saudi Arabia would significantly shorten the distance. An airstrike would involve multiple waves of bombers, possibly crossing Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Aircraft attacking Bushehr, on the Gulf coast, could swing beneath Kuwait to strike from the southwest.

Now come the suggestions of uncertainty.

Passing over Iraq would require at least tacit agreement to the raid from Washington. So far, the Obama Administration has refused to give its approval as it pursues a diplomatic solution to curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Military analysts say Israel has held back only because of this failure to secure consensus from America and Arab states. Military analysts doubt that an airstrike alone would be sufficient to knock out the key nuclear facilities, which are heavily fortified and deep underground or within mountains. However, if the latest sanctions prove ineffective the pressure from the Israelis on Washington to approve military action will intensify.

Really and truly? Israel will put pressure on Obama?

It would be nice if this story were true, but we think it has been spun out of cobwebs of conjecture and stuck together with the chewing gum of rumour:

Israeli officials refused to comment yesterday on details for a raid on Iran, which the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has refused to rule out. Questioned on the option of a Saudi flight path for Israeli bombers, Aharaon Zeevi Farkash, who headed military intelligence until 2006 and has been involved in war games simulating a strike on Iran, said: “I know that Saudi Arabia is even more afraid than Israel of an Iranian nuclear capacity.”

In 2007 Israel was reported to have used Turkish air space to attack a suspected nuclear reactor being built by Iran’s main regional ally, Syria. Although Turkey publicly protested against the “violation” of its air space, it is thought to have turned a blind eye in what many saw as a dry run for a strike on Iran’s far more substantial — and better-defended — nuclear sites.

Israeli intelligence experts say that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are at least as worried as themselves and the West about an Iranian nuclear arsenal. …

Israeli newspapers reported last year that high-ranking officials, including the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have met their Saudi Arabian counterparts to discuss the Iranian issue. It was also reported that Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, met Saudi intelligence officials last year to gain assurances that Riyadh would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets violating Saudi airspace during the bombing run. Both governments have denied the reports.

It may be that the Saudis used The Times to send an indirect message to Israel that the air corridor would be clear for them, in which case they would have chosen this means so they could later deny having given any official permission, and feel free to condemn Israel’s action after it had been taken.

But more than anything else, it’s that “agreement of the State Department” that makes the tale impossible to swallow whole.