Will Israel Strike Iran?

Posted in Israel / Palestine , Iran | 10-Jul-08 | Author: W. Thomas Smith Jr.

[This article – by WSN contributor W. Thomas Smith Jr., which includes comments by WSN global editor-in-chief Dieter Farwick -- was originally published at Human Events, 09 Jul 08]

In a recent piece for the Washington Post, Israeli commentator Yossi Melman writes: “No decision to attack Iran has been made in Israel” and it is “a matter of at least one year” before any decision will be made.

Melman’s words seem enough to convince the editorial staffs of publications like the Post and the Nation. But sources inside the U.S. intelligence and Defense communities are telling us, there is an increasing “probability” that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) will soon strike Iranian nuclear facilities. The strikes – if they take place – will be far more extensive than that which occurred during the strike against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility in 1981. The new strikes will target much more than just the nuclear sites. The extent to which America will or will not provide support will depend on multiple variables. And the strikes will not be over in a single night.

“To hit the number of targets the Israelis need to hit with their force structure would require several days,” Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney (U.S. Air Force, ret.), former assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force, tells HUMAN EVENTS. “If they did it in a night – with, say, 100 airplanes – they’d probably inflict significant damage to Bushehr and other facilities, but it would be more difficult to hit the deep bunkers at Natanz.”

But, McInerney adds, the problems associated with an air campaign that goes beyond 24 hours is “it becomes more difficult politically because you’ve got to have more people complicit in terms of airspace requirements, etc.”

Nevertheless, a multi-phased campaign lasting several days is what the current plan looks like according to analysts and insiders.

One intelligence community source tells us, “The campaign will last more than a few days, perhaps up to a week or more.” And it looks as if the operational green-light will be given at some point within the next few months before any window of opportunity closes that would prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon (a reality that could come to pass within six months to a year – perhaps sooner in a crash-building program – according to a MEMRI interview with International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Dr. Muhammad El-Baradei).

One former Defense Department official says he believes a strike against Iran’s developing nuclear infrastructure might be “a bad idea because of Iranian national pride in the program: it's likely to strengthen the regime without accomplishing any strategic objective.”

He adds, “The only way to deal with these guys is to hit the regime itself, hard, and leave the nukes alone for the moment.”

Others say hitting the nuke sites is part of a much broader plan that will facilitate regime change.

“It’s not just the nuclear sites,” Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely (U.S. Army, ret.), former deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Pacific, tells HUMAN EVENTS. “It’s regime target sites.”

According to Vallely, the approximately 75 regime targets on the tier-one targeting list – updated daily – includes Iran’s command-and-control, the country’s air defense network, the various Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps units and positions, as well as the nuclear sites. There are many targets beyond those on the tier-one list.

Without getting into specifics, the current plan calls for a “takedown” that may be supported by U.S. air and naval forces in the both the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighters and refueling tankers will be running back-and-forth through U.S. Central Command–controlled air corridors. Mossad agents and Iranian (anti-government) operatives will help coordinate the strikes from the ground. Meanwhile, home-based Israeli ground forces (with helicopter support) will reinforce defenses in northern Israel and on the Golan Heights; prepared for the possibility of defensive cross-border operations against Hizballah in southern Lebanon and perhaps operations inside Syria along geographic points where – in recent weeks – two Syrian mechanized-infantry divisions have been reinforced. Other Israeli ground and air assets will reinforce Gaza positions.

If the Iranians – in retaliation for strikes against their facilities – make a move against American forces in the region, or if they try to shut down the Strait of Hormuz (the strategically vital waterway between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman) as they have threatened to do, U.S. forces will “unleash hell and more than complement what the Israelis are doing,” says Vallely.

McInerney says, “The Iranians may try to shut down the Strait, but they are deathly afraid that we’ll get involved.”

An intelligence source says, “Iran’s provoking the Americans into the game is exactly what Israel wants, because overwhelming U.S. airpower would be able to finish the job in very short order.”

McInerney agrees, adding, “That’s why I believe if the targets are going to be hit, we need to be the ones to do it.”

Some experts contend such a strike “must be” before the U.S. presidential elections because the Israelis know that any operation prior to the elections would give plausible deniability to either one of the American presidential candidates. After the election, it would be difficult for the president-elect to deny knowing because of the access and leverage held by a president-elect. Others say it may be after the election, but before the inauguration because if Barack Obama is elected the Israelis fear he would not support any form of military action against Iran, whereas the Israelis are confident in both John McCain’s support of Israel and in his willingness to use military force – either directly or indirectly – in support of Israel.

In a recent article for Middle East Times I explained how Iran's frequent threatening of Israel and the United States, its covert operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, its recent military-political victories in Lebanon (through its proxy army, Hizballah), a newly signed defense pact with Syria, and – most important – its nuclear ambitions; may be forcing the West's hand.

During the first week in June, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly told Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda that "influential nations should get ready for a world minus the U.S." We know Ahmadinejad frequently threatens to "wipe Israel off the map," Moreover, his surrogate deputies, like Hizballah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah, often call for the "deaths" of America and Israel.

The same week Ahmadinejad made his comments to Fukuda, the IAF conducted a massive military air-exercise over the Mediterranean, flying and refueling over a distance roughly equal to that which would be required in a strike against Iran.

Israel isn’t just saber-rattling. “The only one thing worse than Israel’s having to launch an attack against Tehran's nuclear facilities is an Iranian nuclear bomb,” Brig. Gen. Dieter Farwick (German Army, ret.), the former director of Germany's military intelligence office and the current editor-in-chief of World Security Network, tells HUMAN EVENTS. “An Iranian nuclear bomb would trigger a nuclear arms race in the broader Middle East. Still any attack against Iran should remain a last resort; and timely, limited negotiations should be given a last chance."

Closed-door negotiations are continuing. But so is Iran’s nuclear program, its president’s threats, and an uncertain American political landscape: Which is why – in Israel’s mind – chances, opportunities, and certainly time may be running out.

The big question remains: if Israel with it’s current force structure attacks Iran with only a nod – and very little direct support – from the U.S., can the Jewish state pull it off successfully.

“Yes, but the timing of this thing is important,” says Vallely. “The Israelis know that politically they have to do it this year, because they and we don’t know who is going to be the U.S. president next year. They also know this thing has to be done as a regime change. If they want this to be successful – and they do – they can’t just go in and only take out the nuke sites.”

The stakes for Israel go beyond any operational success or failure; for as IAF Col. Ziv Levy told Bob Simon in a 60 Minutes interview earlier this year, Israel cannot lose: “The first war we lose, Israel will cease to exist.”

Mr. Smith is a contributor to Human Events. A former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor, he writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq and Lebanon. He is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. E-mail him at wthomassmithjr@yahoo.com.