(Author based at Toronto, Canada)
Copyright: Peter Beeching on line
Note: Exclusive analysis for RIEAS from Peter Beeching.
In August, this writer was appreciatively given the opportunity by rieas.gr to discuss the multifaceted issue of Humanitarian Intervention. This month, with no less appreciation, he addresses the issue of attacking Iranian nuclear facilities – by Israel, or by a combination of American and Israeli forces.
The launching point for this discussion was Marco Giaconi’s paper, Attacking Iran, appearing here in August. The reply below can be tentative and speculative at best. As military colleges and generals all acknowledge, plans go off the rails as soon as they are implemented. An attack may be contained or it may even create a regional catastrophe.
In whatever modality considered, it is critical to keep top of mind that geopolitical games involving the principle of balance of power and regional spheres of influence are being played with – potentially – the loss of millions of innocent lives caught, squeezed between the pincers of political masters, domestic and foreign, sitting at computer screens and giving orders from comfortable executive offices. The humanity in all of this will hopefully not become an afterthought.
Iranian American scholars Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh have already brilliantly covered the issue of America’s misguided policies on Iran in the February 2008 edition of Foreign Affairs; The Costs of Containing Iran Washington's Misguided New Middle East Policy.
While researching and writing my riposte to Marco Giaconi’s Attack Iran August paper
(http://rieas.gr/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=718&Itemid=41) appearing here, I was troubled by my lack of technical expertise – having neither served in the military nor ever having flown in anything but commercial airliner as a passenger. So I simultaneously sought out the assistance required, and linked up with an American naval aircraft carrier flier. His comments have been inserted into the body of this essay in italics, to indicate his position relative to my analysis. I have added nothing nor taken anything away from his commentary. The reader is asked to accept verity of this statement, for the identity of the USN pilot (Ret.) cannot be disclosed. But he is authentic. Of course, he speaks from his own experience and training, and does not in any way reflect the views or policies of the American government or its’ military forces.
A former USN Officer commented on the above:
“Mr. Beeching, I read this article and, as you might expect I disagree with the soft approach suggested by the authors. Iran is currently engaged in operations in Iraq resulting in the deaths of US servicemen.They provide a haven, funding, weapons and technical expertise, and help in crossing the border all with the knowledge and approval of the Iranian government. US forces have caught these folks red handed on numerous occasions. At the same time Iran has been an active sponsor of Palestinian terrorists and defied the will of the international community on the issue of their nuclear weapons program, threatening the very existence of Israel all the while. Diplomacy and economic sanctions have not shown any sign of curbing Iran’s behavior therefore I see no possibility the U.S. will proceed as the authors suggest”
It can not be improved upon by a person who has never been to Iran, let alone been born there. Furthermore, Mr. Beeching, I believe that a military strike is well within the capabilities of the Israeli Air Force without the direct involvement of the US other than to clear the airspace necessary for Israeli aircraft to operate. Below I outline how it might be accomplished: The objective of the strike is not to prevent the Iranians from ever completing the development of a nuclear weapon (that would be impossible in one strike) but (1) to set the program back significantly and (2) to serve notice that defense against further strikes is impossible and that any target, be it a nuclear facility or the leadership itself can and will be hit if Iran persists in the development of a nuclear weapon.
In my opinion Israel would not use ballistic missiles in its inventory (not wanting to invite retaliation in kind) but it is possible that submarine launched cruise missiles might be used to augment aircraft. Details are hazy on this subject on the net but I presume that Dolphin-class submarines are now equipped with a cruise missile capable of hitting targets on land. The best use of these would be to strike air defense targets in advance of manned aircraft.
The US must permit Israel to transit Iraq airspace. This is a requirement since other routes are too lengthy and would make the element of surprise much more problematic. I see this as the only role or support that the US is likely or needed to provide. I presume US forces will get out of the way and let them conduct their operations. Even this route entails some time over Jordan or Saudi Arabia. In my opinion the aircraft will transit a bit of western Saudi Arabia and will be left alone by the Saudis. Refueling would take place over eastern Iraq before the fighters go over the Persian Gulf and then into Iraq. The reverse route would be the same and,in an emergency, aircraft could stop at US controlled bases in Iraq.
One of the most challenging aspects of such a long range strike is providing enough gas in the air. Israel has its own tankers fleet and is converting additional 707 aircraft to assume that role. The initial waves of aircraft could fly in formation with the tankers and be topped off before going into Iran. Subsequent waves would also tank before going over the border. With a conservative give of 60,000 lbs, each fighter gets 4K before going in so a tanker will take care of 15 fighters. Tanking should not be required on the way out but presume a standby tanker would be available. Half a dozen 707 sized tankers will do the job.
I postulate that the set of targets would include what air defense systems are necessary to bring down (10 aimpoints), airfields (10 aimpoints plus 8 or so fighters dedicated to suppressing whatever Iranian aircraft get airborne), and finally nuclear targets (total 40 aimpoints) the primary target being the centrifuge facility at Natanz (20 aimpoints) and perhaps four other sites (5 aimpoints each). Total 60 aimpoints from approximately 30 fighters (plus the 8 dedicated air-to-air fighters).
I had considered as a target set Shahab-3B ballistic missiles that might be used in an immediate counter attack but after looking at the range, accuracy and numbers and basing I don’t see this as necessary or practicable.The planning to take down the air defense system is complex and might require some additional aircraft beyond that I have postulated here but I don’t see this as a problem especially if the element of surprise is maintained.
The number of aircraft you postulate I believe is too high. Each bomber would carry 2 or 4 2000 lb GPS or Laser guided weapons. The BLU-109 unit could be used on hardened or buried targets and standard 1000 or 2000 lb weapons for above ground targets.
F15I (15 aircraft) and F16I (30 aircraft) would be used on the more challenging targets and F15C/D and F16C/D (another 30 aircraft) for the rest of the work. Numbers in the inventory are more than sufficient. An IAI Phalcon 707 would control the strike from a position in the northern Persian Gulf and has sufficient range to not require any refueling. The attack would take only about 60 minutes over Iran from the first aircraft in Iran to the last out. The two articles below are pretty close to the mark in my opinion:
The overlapping aircraft carrier deployments now in effect are more a response to Russia/Georgia situation than anything to do with Iran. That is why the extra or early deployed carriers are in the Mediterranean”
USN Pilot, (Ret.)
Peter Beeching’s Position:
In August – last month – Marco Giaconi stated in Attack Iran that “No one, in Europe or even in America is going “to die for Jerusalem”, provided Jerusalem be Jewish.” Let the inspired reader find more on this site at:
[“Europeans may not be willing to die to protect Israel but the U.S. is committed to her defense and that commitment is not just empty words. The author’s assertion that a dirty bomb is the equivalent of a functioning nuclear weapon is absurd. They do have it right on one account and that is that should Iran be allowed to complete development of a usable weapon, its’ use is only a matter of time before it is used. That is the essence of the threat posed by Iran possessing such a weapon. The leadership there has no qualms about subjecting the Iranian people to the counterattack that would quickly and surely come. Iranian President Mahmoud's Ahmadinejad has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” and views the conflagration as precipitating the coming of a Shiite Islamic messiah figure – the Mahdi – which they are busily preparing for. It is obvious that they are not rational actors that will respond to diplomatic, economic or other means of persuasion short of military force” - USN Pilot, (Ret.)]
For, like “Peace in our Time” - or the Argentine assumption in 1982 that the Falkland/Malvinas Islands were not worth the bones of one British grenadier – the obedient will not question wisdom from on High.
On 10 September, it was reported that four American aircraft carriers (Theodore Roosevelt; Ronald Reagan; Iwo Jima; USS Peleliu) – along with their battle fleet groups and the attack submarine Springfield had sailed into harm’s way. (1.)
Significantly, two carriers – the Iwo Jima and the Peleliu are amphibious assault carriers transporting mostly helicopters with Harrier support attack fighters. Both the Roosevelt and Reagan carriers have a combined complement of about 180 fighter aircraft significantly including F18 Hornets, with a combat radius of only 325 miles (approximately). – Which means defending the aircraft carrier group at sea and/or defending or attacking hostile targets close to the shore.
Tomahawk cruise missile launch destroyers including the Monterey, Mason and Nitze, accompany the carrier force – a fleet group split between the east Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Sea – respectively,are close to Israel and Iran. With stand off cruise missiles combined with short combat radius aircraft like the F18, Giaconi’s comment is hardly sustainable except perhaps from Rome. For the American military deployment suggests the intent and capability of both defending Israel and attacking Iran as required.
Would American forces be overstretched with military action already in Iraq and Afghanistan? Of course – their military strategy calls for handling a two front war. Which is why the Israelis would take up the slack by launching an attack against Iran’s sixteen identified nuclear sites (see Giaconi) using its’ strong F15I and F16I fighters for delivering GPS JDAM bunker buster ordinance.
With a range of 4450 km, a low altitude speed of 1480 km/hr and an ordinance capacity of approximately 11T, an F15I could deliver its’JDAM – assuming one per/craft for maximum speed and agility – and return to Israel from an approximate 3,300 round trip into Iran within two hours. (2.) As for the F16I, its’ capabilities are very similar; 4200 km range, low altitude speed of 1440 KPH, with an ordinance capacity of approximately 10,7 T, it is a sibling to the F15I. (3.) The June 1981 Israeli bombing of Iraq’s nuclear plant (Operation Opera) was accomplished with eight F16A s and six F15s flying cover for them (4.)
Israel is known to possess GBU-28 JDAM ordinance – each unit weighing approximately 2.25T and delivered by F-15 aircraft, it is capable of penetrating over 20 feet of concrete or more than100 feet into the ground. (5.) No references to the BLU-113 Triton explosive warhead in Israel’s possession were located, but it would be safe to conclude that it also possesses these enhanced JDAM projectiles. (6.)
According to Wikipedia, Israel’s F-15I fleet is 97 strong; by 2011, its F-16I fleet, 345 (independently confirmed at 344). (7.) With sixteen Iranian nuclear sites identified (see Giaconi), and assuming one JDAM per attack aircraft with four assigned to each target, Israel would have to launch, using the same ratio of aircraft per target as used in Operation Opera, 128 F15Is and 96 F16Is. But while Israel has enough F16s for the job, it would be short 41 F15.s
Solution: Borrow them from the USAF – or allocate the required delivery vehicles from its’own F16I fleet? Wherever the required aircraft come from, there would be a potential attack convoy of 224 aircraft entering Iran under this scenario.
So, if Israel is theoretically capable of handling a preemptive Iranian nuclear site attack independently, why the new presence of American naval and air reinforcements off the Israeli and Iranian coasts? A complicated question – but let’s consider the military side first.
Upon being hit, Iranians are not likely to launch aircraft for anything except defending home soil – in addition to ground to air missile sites already in place. Further, Iran will launch missiles into Israel – most likely it’s’2900 km range capable Shahab-4. (Israel presumably retaliating with Jericho missiles).
Iran has of course played a cat and mouse game with the International Atomic Energy Agency about pursuing nuclear energy only for peaceful electrical generation purposes as permitted under the NPT. Coming out of the Iraqi war experience, Iran has sworn off chemical and biological warfare. It has issued fatwas declaring such are against Islam. But with not only international law on their side to defend against foreign aggression and the Qur’an’s doctrine that every Muslim must defend himself against attack, there is also the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya – lying to advance the interests of the Islam itself. So what weight can be given to Iranian declarations of peaceful intentions?
In all events, American Patriot missiles presently in Israel will be deployed to protect the country from Shahab or other missiles – but to what percentage of accuracy cannot be known. And with American F-18s and Harrier (maximum operating radius, 550 km, and depending upon version) fighters aboard American carriers presently off the Iranian coast, another, more sinister possibility emerges; that the Americans will co-ordinate any Israeli assault with protective interdiction from American carrier based fighters. And possibly a coordinated assault of its’ own against Iran with submarine and missile cruiser launched Tomahawks.
Not to leave out American and Garcia Diego based B-2 and F-111 JDAM- BLU-113 bombing runs. And who can predict – irony of ironies - possibly with low yield tactical nuclear tipped bunker busters to knock out Iranian nuclear sites. (8.) Not mentioned so far is another “attack Iran” strategy entirely different; electrical impulse bombs (e-bombs), which not only cut off power in an area – but would also destroy most machines that use electricity. Generators would be useless, cars wouldn't run, and there would be no chance of making a phone call. In a matter of seconds, a big enough e-bomb could thrust an entire city back years or cripple a military unit. (9.)
An e-bomb warhead as small as 340 kg could be fitted onto a cruise missile and flown to detonate over its’ target area – rolling back time four centuries without the death and destruction of nuclear “alternatives.” (10.) Iran boasts of an unstoppable cavitation Hoot” torpedo – essentially an underwater rocket torpedo which at a claimed speed of 360 kph – four times faster than other torpedoes, would be inescapable by ships. (11.) Which if true, is a variation of an airborne missile like the Exocet which sunk Royal Navy Sheffield destroyers in the Falklands War. But Britain still won the war – from half a world away.
Moving on to that delicate topic of infidels within Islamic lands, Giaconi rightly points out that Persian Gulf Sunni governments would quietly like to see the Iranian government gone. For the Shia “theocracy” (brought in by a citizen vote rather than imposed from Heaven) in Iran regards all wealthy Sunni jurisdictions as corrupt caliphates – Shia Iran’s “take” on the Qur’an threatens the legitimacy of Sunni kings and sheikhs. So while publicly acknowledging that the infidels must be gone, they would quietly acquiesce in letting these same infidels eliminate the present Iranian nuclear programme – making the Gulf a nuclear free zone, as is already desired by regional powers.
Would American and allied forces in Iraq and the Gulf be trapped in the event of an attack upon Iranian nuclear facilities. The same Iranian missiles threatening Western ships can be destroyed by Western missiles before any conflict even begins.
In conclusion, the whole event would of course be no more legal as a preemptive move than was the American “WMD preemptive invasion” of Iraq. There were no WMDs. The Americans were either guided by bad intelligence to justify – as has been claimed - a pre-planned war, come whatever may. Or they were lying. What if, taqiyya aside – the Iranians are telling the truth? They just want nuclear power for electricity to address the day of declining oil revenues and a growing population; 36,553,860 in 1978, the last year of the Shah and 68,251,090 in 2005. (12.)
As for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, under the current Iranian constitution, he is subordinate to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – and will be gone by 2009 anyway.