BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

The September Deadline

Multiple deadlines are approaching our region, and they have the most dire consequences imaginable. President Obama has set September as the deadline for Iran to return to serious negotiations over its nuclear ambitions. In the last week, the Iranians have made some small gestures toward the IAEA, but their public statements are still combative. The G20 nations are meeting in Pittsburgh in late September; Obama intends to forge a unified position among the G20, but will he succeed? Military analysts have been carefully studying what Israel’s “non-diplomatic” options are. The following paragraphs summarize a number of approaches that have been discussed over the last two years.

The Targets
There are three prime targets south of Tehran which are believed to be involved in Iran’s nuclear program. The first is Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges are being installed for uranium enrichment. The second is Isfahan, where, according to the Iranians themselves, a uranium conversion facility has produced 250 tons of gas for the enrichment process. The third is a heavy water reactor at Arak, which may in future produce enough plutonium for nuclear weapons. Israeli officials believe that destroying all three sites would delay Iran’s nuclear program indefinitely.

The Limited Nuclear Option
One option ironically involves the Israeli use of tactical nuclear weapons. Israeli air force squadrons are training to attack Iranian facilities using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters,” according to several Israeli military sources. These weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the atomic bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in WWII. Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open “tunnels” into the targets. “Mini-nukes” would then immediately be fired into the tunnels, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

Missile Strikes
Israel has its own missile arsenal, consisting of Jericho I, II and III missiles. How many of these weapons does Israel possess? According to a report by the US Congressional Research Service, Israel had deployed, by the year 2000, fifty Jericho-I missiles on mobile launchers. The Jericho I has a range of 500 km and a CEP (Circular Area of Probability) of 1,000m, and it can carry a payload estimated at 400 kg. It was intended to carry a nuclear warhead. However, due to Israel’s ambiguity over its nuclear weapons program, the missile is classified as a ballistic missile.

The Congressional Research Service report also stated that Israel has one hundred Jericho-II missiles on underground, wheeled launchers. It is capable of carrying a considerable amount of high explosives (estimated at 1000kg) or a 1 megaton yield nuclear warhead. It uses a two-stage solid propellant engine, meaning it can be launched on a few minutes notice. Its accuracy is unknown, although it can be assumed as accurate as the Jericho I.

It is estimated that the Jericho III entered service sometime in 2008. The Jericho III is believed to have a three-stage solid propellant and a payload of 1,000 to 1,300 kg. It is possible for the missile to be equipped with a single 750 kg nuclear warhead or two or three low yield MIRV warheads. That means one missile can hit multiple targets. It is estimated that it has a range of 4,800 to 7,000 km (2,982 to 4,350 miles). It is believed that the Jericho 3 is inertial guided with a radar guided warhead and silo-based with mobile vehicle and railcar capabilities.

Conventional Attacks
There are three potential routes that Israeli aircraft could fly; each has its own logistical, military and political difficulties and ramifications. The first is up the coast of Lebanon and then through Turkish airspace. The second involves going through a combination of Jordanian and Iraqi airspace. Finally, the option that has received some attention recently, is through Jordanian and Saudi airspace. Israeli F15I squadrons have been reported flying to Gibraltar and back, roughly equivalent to the 2000-mile round trip to south-central Iran. Additional reports have spoken about the “heavy configuration,” consisting of maximum fuel and weapons loads.

Increasingly though, it appears that conventional strikes by aircraft will be unable to achieve the goal of eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat. It is questionable whether Israel has enough of the right kinds of planes to carry out such a mission and strike all three targets. It is further complicated by the hardened facilities they will be attacking – some of which lie under 70 or more feet of concrete and earth. Regardless of which route they might take, it is a mission that can only be flown once.

Red Lines
Anonymous sources in the Pentagon have identified two key “red lines” that could trigger an Israeli offensive. The first is tied to when Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility produces enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. According to the latest U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessments, this is likely to happen sometime in 2009. Obama’s September deadline for Iran to return to the negotiating table may in fact be linked to hard intelligence that has not yet been shared with the public. “The red line is not when they get to that point, but before they get to that point,” the official said. “We are in the window of vulnerability.” The second red line is connected to when and if Iran acquires the SA-20 air defense system it is trying to buy from Russia. The Israelis would want to strike before that system — which would make an air attack much more difficult — is put in place.

Something else?
Of course, there could be permutations on all of the above. Harpoon missiles launched from Israel’s Dolphin-class submarines strike command-and-control centers in the region as the opening blow. A large formation of fighter aircraft makes a feint toward the valuable nuclear facilities at Tabriz in northeastern Iran, drawing away Iranian fighter aircraft. At the same time, a parallel wave of F-15Is uses a combination of laser-guided bombs and “Mini-Nukes” to destroy Arak, Isfahan and Natanz. Jericho III missiles then pummel the Bushehr reactor, and possibly key oil facilities. Targeting oil facilities would put the West on notice: Israel will not allow regimes like Iran rebuild their arsenals with petrodollars.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | 2 Comments