What if Is­rael strikes Iran from the air?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

With Rus­sia and China slow-rolling any mean­ing­ful Ira­nian sanc­tions, a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion be­ing left out of the cur­rent de­bate about stop­ping Iran’s quest for a nu­clear weapon is this: What could hap­pen af­ter the Is­raeli Air Force (IAF) takes out Ira­nian weapon sites?

Amer­ica, work­ing through the United Na­tions, has been try­ing to ini­ti­ate sanc­tions to stop Iran’s nu­clear weapon pro­grams. Our ef­forts have proven to be rather in­ef­fec­tual but prob­a­bly de­layed im­ports of some ma­jor state-of-the art weapons from Rus­sia, China and North Korea.

But to Is­rael it must ap­pear the world does not take very se­ri­ously two fa­mous words — “never again!”

When the IAF at­tacks, Ira­nian leaders have promised to un­leash their mis­sile force. Some in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles have a high prob­a­bil­ity of get­ting through an­timis­sile de­fenses and hit­ting Is­raeli pop­u­la­tion cen­ters.

The 620-mile-range Ira­nian Sha­hab-3, a de­riv­a­tive of the North Korean No-dong se­ries, is a pow­er­ful and danger­ous mis­sile. Like the V-2 bar­rage on Lon­don dur­ing World War II, in­no­cent peo­ple will suf­fer but the na­tion will sur­vive, and once an in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile in­ven­tory is de­pleted, that threat is over and un­less re­plen­ished, it ends.

In an at­tack against hard­ened Ira­nian ground tar­gets, the IAF will first have to neu­tral­ize Ira­nian air de­fenses, in­clud­ing Iran’s air force. Iran’s cur­rent air or­der of bat­tle in­cludes a mix of Rus­sian, French, Chi­nese and U.S. de­sign sys­tems, though the ac­tual num­ber of com­bat-ef­fec­tive air­craft is a guess be­cause of the lack of spare parts and lim­ited in­sight into the train­ing and tac­tics of Ira­nian fighter pi­lots. How­ever, even older Ira­nian F4s, F-14s, MiGs and Sukhois can make a nasty hash of Per­sian Gulf tar­gets.

So the big unan­swered ques­tion is: What do Rus­sia, China and North Korea do to help their client? Does an IAF at­tack lead them to race in and pro­vide arms to help Iran?

The great un­told story of the Yom Kip­pur War of 1973 was Pres­i­dent Nixon turn­ing on the spigot of U.S. mil­i­tary aid to make sure Is­rael sur­vived, in­clud­ing the strip­ping of U.S. squadrons of jets and send­ing them to Is­rael, al­most overnight. So there is a very real po­ten­tial that the Rus­sians, Chi­nese and North Kore­ans will take a page from his­tory and reequip Iran.

With an IAF strike, the United States will have a huge mil­i­tary role in­de­pen­dent of any in­volve­ment in the ini­tial at­tack be­cause Amer­ica will im­me­di­ately be blamed by Iran and also vil­i­fied in the “Arab street.”

The U.S. Air Force F-22 Rap­tor, the world’s best fighter, will be needed and can make a huge dif­fer­ence. Hope­fully, F-22s can be im­me­di­ately on sta­tion over Iraq, Afghanistan and ev­ery other high value Mid­dle East tar­get. Do we have enough?

Naval air power from air­craft car­rier strikes groups will have their hands full pro­tect­ing sea lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Mine war­fare will be a huge chal­lenge be­cause in­sur­ance com­pa­nies may shut down their tanker clients un­til mines are swept. Al­lied navies and the U.S. Navy also will have to neu­tral­ize a sig­nif­i­cant Ira­nian cruise mis­sile threat, many of which were sup­plied by China.

Do the United States and our NATO al­lies have enough troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to beat back an Ira­nian-in­sti­gated ground at­tack us­ing what­ever fa­nat­i­cal forces they can mo­bi­lize? The num­ber of th­ese forces is any­one’s guess be­cause Iran can pull the trig­ger on a lot of fa­nat­ics, in­clud­ing mo­bi­liz­ing its ter­ror­ist clients, Hezbol­lah and Ha­mas.

So the day af­ter an IAF strike there is the po­ten­tial need for enough U.S. mil­i­tary forces to en­gage the fight si­mul­ta­ne­ously both with con­ven­tional and un­con­ven­tional forces. How long this will go on is a great un­known.

With the very real pos­si­bil­ity of their cit­i­zens be­ing killed in Iran at weapons sites, air­fields and sur­face-to-air mis­sile sites, Rus­sian, Chi­ne­se­and North Korean leaders and their cit­i­zens will not be happy with Is­rael, the United States and NATO. If any or all of those coun­tries de­cide for what­ever rea­son to overtly or covertly help Iran, events have the po­ten­tial to re­ally spin out of con­trol.

But if those three na­tions do not help Iran, and Iran has its air or­der of bat­tle de­stroyed and in­ter­me­di­ate mis­siles de­pleted, then the world and specif­i­cally the Mid­dle East will ul­ti­mately be much safer. And re­gard­less of the ef­fec­tive­ness in stop­ping mil­i­tary weapons flow­ing into Iran af­ter an IAF strike, Amer­ica and Europe will still have a very sig­nif­i­cant, ded­i­cated and smart Ira­nian-in­sti­gated ter­ror­ist prob­lem.

Ed Tim­per­lake is a for­mer Marine Corps fighter pi­lot who re­cently served as di­rec­tor of tech­nol­ogy as­sess­ment for in­ter­na­tional tech­nol­ogy se­cu­rity within the Of­fice of the Sec­re­tary of De­fense.

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