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More rumors of a strike at Iran by Israel

1 July 2008

Summary:  more rumors of a strike by Israel at Iran, more in in a long string of rumors.  Israel is sending signals of some kind to Iran.  Does Iran fear an attack, or hope for one?  Would a strike at Iran strengthen Israel’s geopolitical position, or destroy it?  We can only guess at the answers.  My guesses about these things are  (1)  Israel will not attack.  (2) If it did, the results would be catastrophic for Israel.

  1. Pentagon Official Warns of Israeli Attack on Iran“, ABC News (30 June 2008) — “U.S. Official Sees Two ‘Red Lines’ That Could Prompt Strike”
  2. “‘Israel Will Not Stand By While Iran Builds the Bomb’“, Der Spiegel (1 July 2008) – Interview with “Isaac Ben-Israel, a former Israeli Air Force general and now member of the ruling Kadima party.
  3. FACTBOX – How might Israel attack Iran’s nuclear sites?“, Reuters (1 July 2008)
  4. (update) “Israel has a year to stop Iran bomb, warns ex-spy“, The Telegraph (29 June 2008)
  5. To see what Iran might do, look at the Millenium Challenge 2002 war simulation.  (thanks for this to Robert Peterson)

This will all look very odd if the National Intelligence estimate about Iran proves to be correct.  It would be nice if the major media would note that these rumors about Iran’s nuke program have little factual support in the public record.  Their failure to do so is similar to the hysteria about Iraq’s WMD’s before the invasion.

Excerpts from these articles

I.  Pentagon Official Warns of Israeli Attack on Iran“, ABC News (30 June 2008) — “U.S. Official Sees Two ‘Red Lines’ That Could Prompt Strike” — Excerpt:

A senior defense official told ABC News there is an “increasing likelihood” that Israel will carry out such an attack, a move that likely would prompt Iranian retaliation against, not just Israel, but against the United States as well.

The official identified two “red lines” that could trigger an Israeli offensive. The first is tied to when Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility produces enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. According to the latest U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessments, that is likely to happen sometime in 2009, and could happen by the end of this year.

“The red line is not when they get to that point, but before they get to that point,” the official said. “We are in the window of vulnerability.”

The second red line is connected to when Iran acquires the SA-20 air defense system it is buying from Russia. The Israelis may want to strike before that system — which would make an attack much more difficult — is put in place.

Some Pentagon officials also worry that Israel may be determined to attack before a new U.S. president, who may be less supportive, is sworn in next January.

II.  “‘Israel Will Not Stand By While Iran Builds the Bomb’“, Der Spiegel (1 July 2008) — “Isaac Ben-Israel, a former Israeli Air Force general and now member of the ruling Kadima party, spoke with SPIEGEL about the limits of sanctions in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. He says Israel is prepared to mount a military strike against the mullah regime if diplomacy fails.”

Ben-Israel: It may be more difficult, but it is possible. We could do it today. There is only one thing that keeps us from acting: The problem can still be solved another way. Only once the critical point is reached will we choose the final option.

SPIEGEL: When will the critical point be reached?

Ben-Israel: The intelligence services will make sure that we know.

SPIEGEL: Iran would not let a military strike go unanswered.

Ben-Israel: Of course they will react, they will launch a few dozen rockets at us, but that’s not so bad. And of course they can set the Lebanese Hezbollah on us. They are better armed than two years ago…

SPIEGEL: … when the Shiite militia seriously shook Israel during the Second Lebanon War.

III.  FACTBOX – How might Israel attack Iran’s nuclear sites?“, Reuters (1 July 2008) – “Following is an overview of Israeli armed forces and the tactics they might employ in any future conflict with Iran.”

This provides little detail on the range and load of Israel’s strike force.  Nor does it discuss Israel’s limited aerial refueling capability.  As of 2006, it consisted of Israel’s current refueling fleet consists of three Boeing 707 air-refueling aircraft and three Lockheed KC-130 tankers — all purchased in the 1970s (source: this article; same info at Wikipedia).

IV. Israel has a year to stop Iran bomb, warns ex-spy“, The Telegraph (29 June 2008) — Excerpt:

Shabtai Shavit, an influential adviser to the Israeli parliament’s defence and foreign affairs committee, told The Sunday Telegraph that time was running out to prevent Iran’s leaders getting the bomb.  Mr Shavit, who retired from the Israeli intelligence agency in 1996, warned that he had no doubt Iran intended to use a nuclear weapon once it had the capability, and that Israel must conduct itself accordingly.  “The time that is left to be ready is getting shorter all the time,” he said in an interview.

Mr Shavit, 69, who was deputy director of Mossad when Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq in 1981, added: “As an intelligence officer working with the worst-case scenario, I can tell you we should be prepared. We should do whatever necessary on the defensive side, on the offensive side, on the public opinion side for the West, in case sanctions don’t work. What’s left is a military action.”  The “worst-case scenario, he said, is that Iran may have a nuclear weapon within “somewhere around a year”.

It is, of course, crazy on the basis of public information about Iran’s nuke program to worry about Iran having a nuke within the next year.  What is going on here?

V.  To see what Iran might do, look at the Millenium Challenge 2002 war simulation.  From Widipedia:

Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps Lt. General Paul K. Van Riper, used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to front-line troops, evading Blue’s sophisticated electronic surveillance network. They also used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue’s ships without being detected. In the early days of the exercise, Red launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles, overwhelming the Blue forces’ electronic sensors, destroying sixteen warships.

The equivalent of this success in a real conflict would have resulted in the death of over 20,000 servicemen and servicewomen. Soon after that offensive, another significant portion of Blue’s navy was “sunk” by an armada of small Red boats carrying out both conventional and suicide attacks, able to engage Blue forces due to Blue’s inability to detect them as well as expected.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

My posts about a strike at Iran by Israel

Esp. note #2!

  1. Is Iran dangerous, or a paper tiger?   (13 November 2007)
  2. Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran  (22 December 2007)
  3. Does reading Debkafile make us smarter, or dumber?  (15 June 2008)
  4. A new story about a possible war with Iran  (21 May 2008) — About the 20 May Jerusalem Post story, originally reported by Army Radio.
  5. “As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon”  (3 June 2008) — About the Fischer story in the 30 May Daily Star.
  6. “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”   (8 June 2008)  — War-talk by a former Defense Minster of Israel.
  7. Der Spiegel: “Israeli Ministers Mull Plans for Military Strike against Iran”  (17 June 2008) — Rumors in Der Spiegel of a strike by Israel on Iran.
  8. Leaks about a possible strike at Iran (are there any hotter issues today?)  (7 July 2008)

Here is the full archive of my posts about a possible strike at Iran by Israel or the US.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Laney permalink
    1 July 2008 4:38 pm

    Has Israel talking itself into a position in which it will be perceived as having backed down if it doesn’t attack Iran? Has the Bush administration?

    And I am intrigued by your observation that Iran may welcome an attack.

    Like

  2. 1 July 2008 5:53 pm

    Ditto Laney’s comments above. Fabius – you’ve been following this quite closely. For the amateurs out there (such as myself), are you seeing any sort of pattern to the announcements? Stratfor, in a bulletin issued today, implied that the Hersh article “Preparing the Battlefield” looks to be part of an “official” leak. In your opinion, are we seeing the outlines of a psy op here? Or just incoherent policy and bluster?
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: I have consistently said — see the posts listed above — that most of this is “signaling” by Israel. Signalling is IMO usually a defective tactic, and easily slides into incoherent policy and bluster — esp. when mixed in with (as in Israel today) domestic politics.

    Like

  3. Robert Petersen permalink
    1 July 2008 7:03 pm

    I am convinced that the United States and Israel has waged a psywar against Iran lasting since at least 2004. But the psywar has now reached a point where it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish between psywar and actual war preparations.

    We might soon reach a point where anything could cause an explosion. I could make a good and convincing case why Israel and the USA should NOT attack Iran (which in any case would almost be beyond Israel’s capabilities), but there is also one good reason why the Israelis and the Americans might attack anyway:

    * Today Iran has an almost intolerable influence in Iran and Lebanon.

    * Iran also is the only country that might threaten the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf.

    Perhaps Bush and Olmert have simply decided Iran is too powerful and would only become even more powerful in the coming years. So they will strike and it is only a matter of timing. I am not sure about this, but as far as I can tell this might be the only good reason why they should strike.

    Sure begins to look like 2002-03 again…We only need Powell back in the UN telling us about yellow cake from Nigeria and you have a complete déjà vu.

    Like

  4. 2 July 2008 12:00 am

    Update: “Israel has a year to stop Iran bomb, warns ex-spy“, The Telegraph (29 June 2008) — Excerpt:

    Shabtai Shavit, an influential adviser to the Israeli parliament’s defence and foreign affairs committee, told The Sunday Telegraph that time was running out to prevent Iran’s leaders getting the bomb. Mr Shavit, who retired from the Israeli intelligence agency in 1996, warned that he had no doubt Iran intended to use a nuclear weapon once it had the capability, and that Israel must conduct itself accordingly. “The time that is left to be ready is getting shorter all the time,” he said in an interview.

    Mr Shavit, 69, who was deputy director of Mossad when Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq in 1981, added: “As an intelligence officer working with the worst-case scenario, I can tell you we should be prepared. We should do whatever necessary on the defensive side, on the offensive side, on the public opinion side for the West, in case sanctions don’t work. What’s left is a military action.” The “worst-case scenario, he said, is that Iran may have a nuclear weapon within “somewhere around a year”.

    It is, of course, crazy on the basis of public information about Iran’s nuke program to worry about Iran having a nuke within the next year. What is going on here?

    Like

  5. 2 July 2008 12:01 am

    Update: To see what Iran might do, look at the Millenium Challenge 2002 war simulation (idea fro Robert Petersen). From Wikipedia:

    Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps Lt. General Paul K. Van Riper, used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to front-line troops, evading Blue’s sophisticated electronic surveillance network. They also used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue’s ships without being detected. In the early days of the exercise, Red launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles, overwhelming the Blue forces’ electronic sensors, destroying sixteen warships.

    The equivalent of this success in a real conflict would have resulted in the death of over 20,000 servicemen and servicewomen. Soon after that offensive, another significant portion of Blue’s navy was “sunk” by an armada of small Red boats carrying out both conventional and suicide attacks, able to engage Blue forces due to Blue’s inability to detect them as well as expected.

    Like

  6. pluto permalink
    2 July 2008 1:31 am

    It’s quite possible that the Israelis aren’t feeling real good about themselve right now after getting kicked around in Lebannon two summers ago so they are rebuilding their own confidence by hitting potential nuclear sites regardless of the actual threat level.

    The North Koreans spent many years and considerable resources toward building a nuclear bomb only to have it fizzle on them. Admittedly the Iranians have considerably more resources because of their petro-wealth but the North Korean stealth nuclear program was very impressive because of its longevity and painstaking research.

    This implies that even if the Iranians get their hands on enough fissionable material to build a bomb they probably won’t have an effective weapon system without a few failures along the way. These testing efforts can be closely monitored (nuclear explosions being fairly easy to detect) and we will have a much better handle on the success or failure of their program at that time. It’s fairly easy to bluster when neither you nor your opponent know if you’ve got a viable weapon system, it’s much harder to bluster after you’ve just failed.

    Of course, if by some chance the Iranians get it right on the first try the Israelis will be panicking in the streets with some justification.

    Responding to Robert Peterson’s comments about the psy-war, the latest Seymour Hersch article indicates that the Bush government is slowly bending their policy away from a direct attack towards attempting to destabilize the Iranian government by arming disaffected minorities. I don’t know much about internal Iranian politics but I do not recall a single instance in recent history where this policy worked so I suspect that we are once again barking up the wrong tree and that this will blow up in our face at some point.

    Particularly because Hersch hinted in his articles that the groups we are arming are fanatical Sunni extremists that might have ties to Al-Quaida. It would be extremely ironic to discover that in our efforts to overthrow yet another government that loathed Al-Quaida that we ultimately wind up supporting the very organization that is our primary target in this idiotic war on terrorism.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: That is what Hersch says. It is all anonymous sources, however. And his last few articles seem pretty speculative. Stratfor suggests that in his recent article is is being used to run a psy op.

    Like

  7. 2 July 2008 4:28 am

    The war between Iran and us is imminent: “US Navy commander says Iranian attempt to seal off Gulf oil passageway would be act of war“, International Herald Tribune (30 June 2008)
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Not only does this not necessarily indicate that war is imminent, it is not even news. Did anyone doubt that attempting to close one of the world’s major oil transit points would be considered an act of war? The papers print these stories when they have empty space between the advertisements.

    Like

  8. 2 July 2008 4:53 am

    I CAN BET $10000 US WITH FABIUS MAXIMUS THAT ISRAEL WILL NOT BE INVOLVED WITH IRAN; IT WILL BE USA AND IRAN WAR. I CAN LEAVE THE $10000 US BET ON ESCROW WITH PROFESSOR NURIEL RUBINI. I DONT KNOW HIM PERSONALLY BUT I WILL TRUST HIM.

    A BIG PROBLEM WITH RUSSIA AND CHINA. CHINA CONSIDER ITSELF A BIG SUPER POWER AND WANT TO HAVE A BIG SAY IN THIS CONFLICT, RUSSIA NEXT DOOR TO IRAN WILL NOT BE HAPPY WITH US TROOPS IN IRAN.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: (1) I don’t bet on my guesses about geoplitics; I don’t make bets with people who bet on their guesses about geopolitics. The local bookie is the next blog down the info superhighway.

    (2) I agree with you that Israel will likely not attack Iran, and have written six posts explaining why. So no basis for a bet there. Prof Roubini might take your bet, as his articles suggest that he considers the odds of a strike at Iran by Israel to be quite high.

    (3) I hope the US will not strike Iran’s nuke infrastructure. I doubt that we will, but my confidence in this guess is far weaker than #2. Unlike Israel, we have the capacity to strike and the resources to do so with minimal risk to our strike force. So no basis for a bet there.

    The US does not have sufficient troops to invade Iran, even if they were not already 120% committed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Like

  9. 2 July 2008 5:57 am

    Evaluating Iran’s missile threat“, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May/June 2008) — “The proposed European missile defense system is intended to guard against a missile attack originating from Iran — yet Iran’s missile capabilities are relatively limited.” Excerpt:

    “The current state of Iran’s ballistic missile program and the expected time frame within which it could achieve intercontinental capabilities can be drawn from recent statements by U.S. government officials, the unclassified portion of the 2007 Iran National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), and data from an April 2006 interview with the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.”
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is life, the fall of old powers and the rise of new ones. In today’s world that new powers are regional hegemons from emerging nations (e.g., China) and petro-Empires (e.g., potentially Russia and Iran). These new powers want the tools that provide security and signify first-rank power. In the 19th century this meant battleships. Now it means milliles and nukes.

    Waging wars to prevent the inevitable seldom works.

    Thanks for posting this article; it look interesting!

    Like

  10. Pode permalink
    2 July 2008 6:12 pm

    “Today Iran has an almost intolerable influence in Iran . . .”

    Freudian slip revealing the truth?

    Like

  11. JKrier permalink
    4 July 2008 6:20 pm

    Hello Fabius
    I must admit, even though I have a lot of strong opinions, this one has me a bit baffled. I tend to agree that it is mostly saber rattling in response to the weak and ineffectual diplomatic offensives that are fading into a well deserved oblivion. What Iran is hoping for is a continuation of diplomacy that is not backed by a serious threat of military action in order to deflect their citizens attention away from the economic catastrophe at home, as well as consolidating their position as THE player in the Middle East.

    Israel knows this so they are doing the heavy lifting of raising a credible threat of a strike.

    Iran wants a strike only if it does not destroy enough infrastructrure to leave their economy in ruins. Even the “Hidden Imam” knows there are limits to power.
    I believe (not sure) that most of the extremely youthful citizenry of Iran is tiring of Sharia law. BUT they will rally to a patriotic cause.

    So I guess it comes down to whether or not Israel believes they can live with a nuclear-tipped neighbor that is constantly threatening their annihilation (don’t forget Jews are still extremely sensitive about the holocaust).

    There is no way the US can stop it even if they wanted to as this is a question of national survival in their minds. So I guess we (The US)have to go along to get along with the decision.
    Either way it is getting scary because it would APPEAR that the Mossad has info showing they are close to a workable (and deliverable) weapon. Forget the CIA as they can’t find their collective a…. with both hands anyway.
    JLK

    Like

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