Is Israel really preparing to attack Iran? The New York Times today describes a June Israeli military exercise U.S. officials say "appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran's nuclear facilities." A "senior Pentagon official" said a goal of the exercise "was to send a clear message to the United States" and Europe that Israel was prepared to act militarily if U.S. pressure to stop Iran from enriching uranium continued to fail.
If so, retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner didn't get the message. "The signal I received is that Israel does NOT have the capability to effectively attack Iran's nuclear facilities," Col. Gardiner says.
Gardiner says a 2006 MIT paper by Whitney Raas and Austin Long, "Osirak Redux? Assessing Israeli Capabilities to Destroy Iranian Nuclear Facilities," is a good representation of how Israeli military planners think about targeting.
According to Raas and Long, in a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities Israel would be interested in three targets - the enrichment facility at Natanz, the conversion facility at Esfahan and the heavy water plant at Arak. They say Israel would want to attack these three facilities with a combined total of 36 aircraft.
"Getting 36 bombing aircraft into the targets connects well with the New York Times description of the early June exercise of 100 aircraft," Gardiner says. "Three strike packages of F-15I and F-16I aircraft, escorted by F-15A/C's with other supporting aircraft would be around 100 aircraft."
"An Israeli strike would not be much of a strike," Gardiner says. Israel would hit approximately 100 aim points, single weapons on a single part of the target. "I would call the Israeli strike 'disruptive' rather than 'destructive,'" he says. It has taken three to five years to build the three facilities. "You would have to destroy most of the facilities to come close to setting back the program three to five years."
The US probably thinks in terms of about 10 times more aim points for a similar strike, Gardiner notes.
"President Bush likes beehive analogies," Gardiner points out. " An Israel-only strike would stir up the bees and leave the hives with only limited damage."
If Gardiner's analysis is correct, then Michael Gordon's New York Times article is deceptive, perhaps deliberately so. It's part of a campaign of pressure on Congress and European governments - likely orchestrated with the Cheney faction of the Bush Administration - to forego real negotiations with Iran, and to push towards U.S. military escalation. If we don't act, the Israelis will, the argument will be - neglecting the fact that no Israeli action is possible without a green light from Washington.
Next week, Congress may consider on its suspension calendar a resolution promoted by AIPAC that effectively endorses a naval blockade against Iran - an act of war. If you don't think such a resolution should be rushed through Congress, you can say so here.
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