Why has there been years of “talk” but never an attack?
Despite the frenzied discussion of this issue in the media during the past decade (ever more intense recently), few people realize the simple reasons why an attack by Israel has not yet occurred.
As we understand now by statements (and memoirs) by former officials of the Bush administration (and George W Bush’s own book), the administration had a keen interest in knocking out Iran’s nuclear program, and was very close to doing so. It was Bush who coined the infamous “Axis of Evil” of which Iran is a distinguished member. Iran not only was developing nuclear weapons, but also openly supported terrorist groups in a post 9/11 world and wreaked havoc in Afghanistan and Iraq where there was a heavy US military presence. Especially in Iraq, Shiite Iran played (and continues to play) a dangerously influential role as Saddam’s Sunni regime was replaced by a Shiite one.
During Bush’s second term, as the Iraq war worsened, the administration lost its ability to carry out its strike. Firstly, Bush’s priority was not to buckle or cave on the Iraqi operation and see it through successfully; he did not want to preside over another Vietnam. With the war’s growing unpopularity, this was becoming increasingly difficult, and the last thing Bush was in a position to do was in effect “attack yet another Muslim country”. There was also increasing fear by security and military officials in the US to do anything that would further endanger the troops. While US troops sat in Iraq, they remained the target of Iran’s most credible deterrent. Iran could unleash, trough its Shiite militias (such as the Mahdi army) and its Al-Quds, a large destabilizing effort throughout Iraq including a massive increase in IED’s, advanced long-range anti-tank missiles (which proved so effective under Hezbollah’s command in 2006) and terror attacks. Furthermore, as the economy began to take center stage, and gasoline reached all time highs in the US, it became prohibitive to undertake any action that would further raise oil prices.
Bush may still have been able to overcome all of the above alone, but it was coupled with a virtual death sentence on a US strike on Iran. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, (here for your reading displeasure) declared that Iran had stopped its atomic weapons program back in 2003. It was a shocking statement that flew in the face of many other intelligence reports and statements by officials in the US and elsewhere throughout the previous two years. Their reasons are up for debate, it seemed to be at least partly political (anti-war, anti Bush etc) and partly an overreaction to being wrong about Iraq’s WMD programs. The intelligence community was now overly cautious.
Bush, as he related in his memoir, was stunned. It was now politically impossible for the US to strike Iran. Bush was in hot water (and that is an extreme understatement) for going to war in Iraq when ultimately no WMD’s were found, and that was a decision made when the entire Western World’s intelligence community assured him they EXISTED; certainly now he could not order on attack on Iran’s WMD program when his own intelligence community is now assuring him that it DOES NOT exist. As always, a stalwart immune to the whims of the public Dick Cheney remained committed to an attack, but Bush finally buckled.
Long story short, the US did not strike Iran during the Bush years basically because of this unexpected 2007 NIE report. The administration had undoubtedly planned it for the last year or so of Bush’s term and the report basically shelved it. So what about Israel?
During most of this time, Israel was led the incompetent, dovish and corrupt Ehud Olmert. As we also now know, he asked Bush during those later years of his term in office to please neutralize WMD site in Syria that Israeli intelligence had discovered. Bush answered that he had enough on his plate on the moment (as was explained above), but said by all means “go ahead”. Finally, Bush was able to not only give the infamous “Green Light” but actually prod Olmert into ordering the operation, which was a great success and Israel easily took care of Assad’s nuclear ambitions. Fast forward about 5 years, and have we heard the world community’s gratitude in that now Assad does not posses a more developed WMD arsenal?
So though Bush himself was unable to strike Iran, he would have certainly given the green light for Israel to do so. However, the same miserly Olmert was not the man who would have ordered such an important and courages action; especially not after his debacle called the Second Lebanon War of 2006 (which the author was able to witness up close).
The roles reverse, and the US elects the leftist Barak H Obama, while Israel does herself a favor and replaces Olmert with the articulate and at least patriotic Benjamin Netanyahu. One of Obama’s main points during his race against the honorable Senator John McCain, was that he would “reach out” and engage Iran diplomatically; the last thing this administration would do is strike Iran. In Bibi (PM Netanyahu) however, was a man eager to destroy Iran’s ability to create a second holocaust. The path to Iran was literally blocked by Obama. More on that shortly.
The Paper Tiger
In effect a series of political coincidences have spared Iran from a Western strike on its WMD for over a decade. The result is that it has become one of the most sensationalized and “over-hyped” military actions in history. Meanwhile, Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaded, Libya and Syria bombed freely without a single loss (by NATO and Israel respectively), hundreds if not thousands of targets inside Pakistan have been hit (by NATO), and the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen have been brought down by violent mobs. Meanwhile however, Iran remains unscathed, ever growing in reputation due the West’s refusal to confront it.
Originally, Ahmadinejad must have believed his nuclear program was a great publicity stunt to unite a discontent public behind him. As the Iranian economy collapsed, and a reform movement more interested in jobs, economy and perhaps even some freedom grew around him, he needed a drastic move. In the early 2000’s he must have simply thought it was the best he could do in a bad situation. If the West bombed him, as he probably presumed, he could be hailed as a heroic leader who did not back down from the West and the people would (he hoped) rally behind him. If they DON”T bomb, which was less likely, he wins even bigger… he defied the West and came out on top. Who knows, perhaps he would actually end up with nukes!
But this ironic Olmert-Bush, Obama-Netenyahu pairing spared Iran, and so it has grown into a perceived giant and a regional superpower. Apparently, the West, who on a whim can bomb Qadhafi so easily, stands terrified of Iran even as it openly supports terrorism and develops WMDs. The media has ran with this story, and the more the issue is analyzed, the stronger Iran become in everyone’s mind.
Iran in actuality is no more than a paper tiger, and all will be shocked (starting with the Iranian regime itself) at how easily it is subdued if Israel and/or the West finally attempt it. Its retaliatory options are almost non existent, and I have already described some of this previously here.
How then has Obama Blocked Israel for so Long?
It is no secret Obama is not a supporter of Israel and has had a strained relation with Bibi. However, it is not as many assume, that Bibi requires coordination or even the “Green Light” for an Iran operation from Obama that has stopped him thus far. Though either one of those would be helpful, it is clear that Israel’s Prime Minister would not allow the fanatical Iranian regime from possessing weapons of genocide simply because Obama preferred it. Obama’s blocking has been much more literal.
Since its 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US controlled the entirety of Iraq’s airspace. Though few in the media realized this, it basically made it almost impossible for Israel to strike Iran without US approval. Though Israeli pilots could have happily gone through Saddam’s Iraq, they now could not be ordered to fly through US controlled airspace. Guarding air space is a serious business, and requires decisions made in minutes and seconds. There is no room for politics beyond the established rules of engagement due the very speed of modern jet fighters. Would Israeli planes in the dozens (or perhaps even hundreds) have attempted to fly through Iraq on the way to Iran, the outcome would be unpredictable and probably not good.
This is not a political question where Obama would be asked about a course of action regarding the Israeli flights; it is hard to imagine that even Obama would order US forces to fire at allied Israeli forces whom he knows mean only to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities and return home. However, it would be all over by the time he ever found out, officers on the ground would make judgement calls about the unauthorized fighters. Israeli jets could face this dilemma both on the way to Iran and back. No Prime Minister could make this decision. The truth is that the US literally and physically has protected Iran from am in Israeli strike with its forces in the Persian Gulf and Iraq for the past four years.
The media often cited routes for an Israeli attack on Iran, but they are not nearly as feasible, and they make a difficult operation closer to impossible. Flying completely AROUND Saudi Arabia (and the whole Arabian Peninsula) into Iran from the Persian Gulf is a terrible option. It is foremost, far too long, and doesn’t really avoid the bulk of the Saudi’s forces since they, along with everyone else’s are concentrated on the Persian Gulf.
Going through Saudi Arabia without consent is the next most difficult path, it is also long, and Saudi Arabia counts on the most sophisticated air force and anti-air systems among the Arab States. Even overlooking that (or getting the Saudi’s secret permission since they want a nuclear Iran as much as Israel does), the Israelis again come up through the Persian Gulf.
The Persian Gulf is a military nightmare overcrowded with Navies, anti-air and air forces of a myriad countries in addition to heavy commercial air and ocean traffic. US carrier groups, the British and French navies have a very heavy presence there (in part to stop an Iranian closure of the strait of Hormuz). The Gulf states such as Qatar, UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have their military forces concentrated there, as do the Iranians who vie in control of the vital waterway. The Gulf is subject to complex airspace access rights enforced by many countries, and would be a terrible place through which to enter Iran for any attack.
A norther route existed through Turkey which theoretically Israel maintained good relations with for many years. As Islamic parties have taken controlled over Turkey, relations have drastically worsened, and that route is also no longer feasible.
The best, and shortest route has been and remains directly east from Israel through Iraq to Iran. Not only is it the shortest, but allows strategic entry into Iran at many points along the long Iraq-Iran border where defenses might be weakest. Hitting the Iranian Gulf coastal areas from the north (from “behind”) would be ideal.
Entry into Iraq from Israel can be through Jordan or Syria, both currently options.
The Current Window
In any event, the maddening set of circumstances that have spared Iran an attack on its WMD program have momentarily eased. While Netanyahu is still for the moment in control of his government in Israel, the US has finally left Iraqi airspace wide open. In fact, since the new Iraqi government does not really have much of an air-force currently, Iraq is literally wide open. One cannot imagine a better time for an Israeli strike. Obviously as Iraq, a new “ally” to the US, consolidates its position it will acquire advanced anti-aircraft systems and a modern Western equipped air-force. Within one or two more years, crossing Iraq at will may no longer be a possibility (or at least not as easy) for Israeli fighter-jets.
Syria and Turkey have both penetrated Iraqi airspace with impunity since the US departure. All this undoubtedly has been part of the reason the Israeli rhetoric of an attack has increased. It is of course on one hand, extremely frustrating since the way to attack an enemy is to do so with the greatest element of surprise possible and not to continuously talk about it. It also points to either a government that is simply using the rhetoric as a psychological tool (and so has no intention of really carrying out an attack) or an incompetent one with too many leaks and way too much talking. Neither are appealing.
However, Netanyahu does seem to be noticing the window of opportunity and is exerting pressure internally and externally for action. The event that everyone is waiting for is the November US election. It is obvious to anyone, that the US will be much more receptive (and helpful) to an Israeli strike under Mitt Romney than under Obama. Netanyahu himself is dealing with a possible election in which he hopes to come out with a stronger more stable government.
So it is easy to envision that Bibi is attempting to time a Romney administration with his own new government, made up of ministers that wold back an attack. Such an attack could be a joint US/Israeli action or simply an Israeli action with behind the scenes US approval and support.
The problem is that to try to wait for this Utopian Window risks allowing this one to close forever. Bibi has no guarantee he will win HIS OWN next election, much less any that Romney will win the US one. A second term Obama would be far more problematic to deal with than one trying to APPEAR to be pro-Israel before the election. These thoughts lead you to a catch-22 and must be avoided. Bibi may fear that an attack now, actually would harm Romney’s chances at the election. Bibi must realize that as he so articulately spells out, Iran must not have nuclear weapons. The ideal time need not be found, just A time… as opposed to never.
With the US out of Iraq and Syria collapsing, a better window of opportunity can hardly be imagined. Jordan is currently at peace with Israel and violating its airspace in this mission, though perfectly possible, would put the King (Abdullah) in a bad position. Syria however, which was never in a position to stop the IAF, is certainly in no position do it now as its weary army confronts the Qatari and US backed Salafist rebels. As a stable government returns to Syria, Islamist or otherwise, flying over it would also become more difficult.
The IAF can fly almost directly east, close to the Syrian-Jordanian border (another option is going though Jordan near the border but announcing it was through Syria – sparing the King criticism bust keeping away from Syrian guns) and through wide open Iraq to enter Iran at any point(s) it chooses. The same goes for return flights. This opportunity must not be lost, elections and politics aside, Bibi must seize this historic moment and use the Window of Opportunity before it shuts closed.
The Fallacy of the “Delay” Argument
The only issue remaining is the one viciously being thrown around by every pundit trying to stop an Israeli or US attack on Iran’s WMD. Experts, we are told, declare such an attack would only delay Iran by two, three or four years. Firstly, its axiomatic that destroying their nuclear program (even completely) only “delays” it from being completed. One must assume they started without one… and yet they can build one. Thus it is pretty clear that destroying it even completely, would only “dealy” them since they can acquire one anew.
The argument is absurd on the face of it. Regardless of much of the program is destroyed, it could always be rebuilt. Of course, it would preferable to destroy more of it than less of it, but the same holds true in either case. The point is that countries do not simply have their nuclear programs bombed to shreds and just start again as if nothing happened. These programs are not cheap, they are very expensive, difficult to manage and create a lot of undesired effects (embargoes, strained international relations, being BOMBED…etc).
Furthermore, it is not JUST a nuclear program that gets destroyed, especially in a situation like this where Iran has taken steps to spread and hide much of throughout the country and its security facilities. Radar installations, missile batteries and silos, ant-aircraft weapons, command and control centers, communication infrastructure and many other military installations are targets of the attack we are contemplating. If it is successful, it would be difficult for the current regime to remain in power, much less simply start building a new nuclear program as if nothing happened but simply be “2-4 years behind”.
It is of note that countries whose atomic program has been bombed, have not simply carried on behind schedule as if nothing happened. Israel for example, destroyed Saddam Hussein’s atomic reaction in 1982 and two decades later when he met his doom at the hands of US forces, he didn’t even have a shadow of a nuclear program left.
Finally, IF Iran does continue its program and was simply delayed by a few years, that in itself does not constitute a reason not to bomb it in the first place. You simply bomb it again in another year or two and “delay” it again. In the absurd world that this argument presents where a country is simply delayed by such an attack, Israel can just as absurdly simply keep striking every couple of years. The point is clear, a nuclear Iran will NOT be accepted, and will always be bombed. When that principle is clear, not only would there be no necessity of repeated bombings, but probably not a first one to begin with. It is the West’s lack of conviction in dealing with the issue that emboldens Iran to continue.
The Long Delay has Advantages – if Action is Taken Now
The long delay that has allowed Iran to continue on this destructive path for so many years has a silver lining.
Firstly, by destroying the program now, there is more to destroy. Iran’s investment in money and years at peril is greater, but that will soon inverse if they succeed in obtaining nuclear weapons.
Secondly, the electoral effect may be the opposite of what many believe. If the Israeli attack is successful, Obama may be not be able to take credit for it bur rather be seen ass someone who almost succeeded in blocking it and allowing a dangerous enemy to have nuclear weapons. Romney may be able to capitalize on this. On the other hand, if the attack bogs down or is otherwise unsuccessful, Obama is set to receive blame for not supporting Israel and allowing for this failure; another example of him “leading from behind”.
Finally, by now, the world would be surprised and stunned at the ease of which Western powers can bomb Iran; just as easily as any other Eastern country. Faith in the West will be resumed and the Islamic Sphinx that keeps rising and engulfing more of the world as the West recedes in fear and self-doubt may be (at least for a time) sunk back into the sand.