Thursday, April 12, 2012
Potential War Scenarios Being Examined If Nuclear Talks Next Week Fail
Story taken from
An Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program will probably begin with a rain of Jericho missiles obliterating the heavy water plant in Arak and destroying four small nuclear research reactors at the Nuclear Technology Center in Isfahan.
Simultaneously, 100 Israeli F-16I and F-15I fighter jets will drop huge bunker-busting bombs on attack-hardened nuclear fuel enrichment plants buried in the mountain sides of Natanz and Fordow.
Submarine-launched cruise missiles will seek out targets at a variety of research facilities across Iran.
Some Israeli aircraft will attack Iran’s power lines with special-purpose munitions that use chemically treated carbon fibres to short-circuit transformers and switching stations to knock out Iran’s power grid.
Black Hawk helicopters (possibly taking off from disused Soviet air bases in Azerbaijan) will deposit Israeli commandos, disguised as members of the Iranian military, outside the Parchin military complex near Tehran, and bomb-equipped dogs will penetrate deep into fortified tunnels at other sites.
A wave of cyber attacks will disrupt Iranian computer and anti-aircraft targeting systems.
Such a scenario — played out and predicted increasingly by war game strategists — looms large as the decade-long diplomatic confrontation with Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program appears to be drawing to an end.
Talks between Iran and six world powers — the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany — scheduled to begin in Istanbul next Friday could be the last chance to avoid full-fledged conflict.
If the talks fail, the Middle East could plunge into a regional war before the year is out.
“When Israel identifies a national security threat, it will strike and will strike at great distances,” warns Sam Gardiner, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and war game specialist who was hired by the Swedish Defence Research Agency to study the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Faced with evidence of a rapidly advancing Iranian nuclear program and Iran’s continued disregard of UN Security Council ultimatums to freeze nuclear enrichment programs and grant unfettered access to international inspectors, talk of possible pre-emptive military strikes is growing.
Academics, analysts, military strategists, diplomats and politicians are all reviewing recent reports that depict potential war scenarios and try to assess the implications of an Israeli or U.S. military option.
Quiet diplomacy may be collapsing amid the steadily escalating chorus of threats and counter-threats.
“Containment is not a policy option from the Israeli perspective,” says Col. Gardiner. “The more it becomes a serious policy option for the United States, the more Israel will be pushed to take matters into its own hands.”
And if Israel attacks Iran, even against the wishes of the United States, it could, ultimately, draw U.S. troops into the Middle East to finish the job.
“Israel has a long history of conducting operations without notifying the United States and in some cases defying Washington,” Col. Gardiner says in his Swedish report.
“The United States has a long history of trying to pressure Israel with rebukes, withholding military equipment and even sanctions. None of this has done permanent damage to U.S.-Israeli relations. Israel most likely knows that this is the case now.
“The situation has a quality of inevitability about it. It has the feel of Europe prior to World War I.”
Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution predicted in a report last week, “Unless Iran pauses its uranium enrichment activities, an Israeli or U.S. strike against its nuclear facilities looks likely by next year.”
According to The New York Times, the Pentagon ran a classified two-week-long war game simulation in early March, focusing on the repercussions of a possible Israeli attack on Iran. It concluded an escalating crisis could lead to a regional war.
In the simulation, Iranian jets chased Israeli warplanes after an attack, fired missiles at a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf and killed 200 U.S. sailors.
The U.S. retaliated by carrying out its own air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
“Israel can pull the United States into deploying major air and naval forces into the region to defend its interests and protect the flow of oil through the Gulf,” Col. Gardiner predicted in his study. “If Iran responds even in a very limited way, as it has threatened, Israel can pull the United States into finishing the job on Iranian nuclear sites and destroying Iranian military capabilities.”
Israeli news reports say the country’s security cabinet reviewed an intelligence assessment last weekend that predicted that an Israeli attack on Iran would result in “three weeks of non-stop fighting on multiple fronts” as the result of missile attacks from Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
The conflict, in which Israel would shelter under domestic and U.S. anti-missile defence shields, would cost Israel “fewer than 300” dead, the study said.
That bears out an earlier observation by Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak that Israel could withstand an Iranian counter-attack.
“A war is no picnic,” he told Israeli Radio in November. But he insisted, “There will not be 100,000 dead or 10,000 dead or 1,000 dead. The state of Israel will not be destroyed.”
Not everyone, however, is convinced of the wisdom or ease of an Israeli preemptive strike.
“Even the most brilliant operations researcher can not know, in the case of Iran, the actual quality and precision of Israel’s intelligence, how successful an attack might be, what the reaction of other regional players might be, how long the Iranians and their proxies (Hezbollah, Hamas or Syria) will be capable of and willing to fight, what will be the Israeli public’s reaction to missiles falling on it, and so on,” says Avner Cohen, an expert at the Non-Proliferation Centre at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
“These are all unknowns about which no one can have accurate advance knowledge. One can initiate a war, but it is not possible to know how and when the fire will be put out.”
Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s secret service, the Mossad, created a furor last summer when he publicly accused Mr. Barak and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of pushing their cabinet colleagues to back an attack on Iran.
Shlomo Gazit, a retired Major General who was Israel’s chief of military intelligence in the 1970s, also criticized the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Iran, declaring, “An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear reactor will lead to the liquidation of Israel.”
He insists that while Israel has the power and determination to attack Iran, it lacks the ability to do much more than launch a single massive air strike.
“There is no possibility of Israel continuing with a military effort against Iran that is going to last for days, or weeks, or months,” he says. “Israel … will have a very limited interest and that is to destroy the present nuclear capability of Iran, to reach nuclear devices. Period.”
In later discussions, Gen. Gazit dialed back his predictions of disaster, saying he did not think an Iranian counterattack would destroy Israel.
“It will be no doubt painful, but nothing beyond it,” he says now.
Iran’s response to an Israeli or U.S. attack will be crucial to determining how intense any follow-on conflict will become.
So far, Iranian leaders have threatened to retaliate with missile attacks on Israel and its nuclear sites and this week a senior Revolutionary Guard commander vowed no place in the United States would be safe from retaliation.
Iran has also threatened to choke off world oil supplies by closing the Strait of Hormuz. It could opt for an all-out blitz on U.S. military targets in the Persian Gulf and it could invoke allies such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria to step up attacks on Israel.
But most experts predict Tehran would, initially at least, resort to a low-key response with low level, unattributed, attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets and possibly by supplying weapons and explosives to Taliban insurgents fighting U.S. troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Iran might “play the victim” and offer limited retaliation against Israel in a bid to exploit international outrage to try and weaken international sanctions against it, says Alireza Nader, a policy analyst at the RAND Corp. and co-author of Israel and Iran: A Dangerous Rivalry.
“Iran would almost certainly give the required 90 days notice of its intention to quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and terminate inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency,” says Gary Sick, a former U.S. national security advisor who co-ordinated the U.S. response to the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 and 1980.
In addition to driving up world oil prices by disrupting shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, Mr. Sick says there might also be some “unexplained pipeline explosions in Iraq, possibly by pro-Iranian militias.”
Iranian cyberattacks might disrupt Arab oil loading platforms, further restricting world oil supplies.
“Extremely vulnerable economies, such as the southern European states, could be tipped into bankruptcy,” Mr. Sick says. “But all states would face significant challenges as a surge in transportation and manufacturing costs rippled through all aspects of their industries.
“This is Iran’s true weapon of mass destruction.”
The United States would be determined to bring any conflict to an end as quickly as possible, says Col. Gardiner’s Swedish study.
“This could lead the United States to the decision to make regime elimination the objective,” he says.
“A U.S. president will have to decide whether to passively await casualties or to attack Iranian military capabilities on its own. The United States would probably decide to finish the job on Iranian nuclear facilities and destroy as much as possible of Iran’s capability to project combat power.”
For now, having cobbled together the harshest economic sanctions ever mobilized against Iran, Washington is willing to give diplomacy one last chance.
But Israeli and U.S. officials, while agreed on how much progress Iran has made enriching uranium, are deeply divided over how to prevent Tehran from building a weapon.
A report, published last week by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, quotes a “very senior Israeli security source” as saying: “Americans tell us there is time and we tell them that they only have about six to nine months more than we do. Therefore, sanctions have to be brought to a culmination now, in order to exhaust that track.”