21 February 2012

Redux of Persian Incursion... With the US?

Time's BattleLand blog asks a necessary - but provocative - question: if Israel can't bomb the Iranians out of the nuke business, could the US?

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that attacking Iran’s nuclear sites would, “at best, it might postpone it [Iran joining the nuclear-weapons club] maybe one, possibly two years.” If he’s right – and most U.S. experts concur with his view – the U.S. probably can wound, but not kill, Iran’s nuclear dreams with military force.

But U.S. military experts say Washington could do far more to damage Iran’s nuclear program than Tel Aviv. Israel “has a much smaller air force and further to fly,” says Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution. “I worry most about its ability to robustly deal with Iranian air defenses.”

Jeffrey White, a former analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, says it’s not the initial punch that would set a U.S. attack apart from an Israeli one, but the ability to keep it going. “We have a lot more capability than Israel does, in terms of the number of aircraft, the kinds of attacks we could carry out, and the kinds of ordnance we could put on the targets,” says White, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.

“But more important that anything is that we could sustain attacks. We’ve got B-1s, B-2s, carrier aviation, we might be able to launch out of the gulf states, we’ve got cruise missiles to knock down the air-defense system before we launch,” White says. “We have all kinds of capabilities that Israel doesn’t have.”

But an Israeli attack would not be puny — it could involve, as the Times noted, as many as 100 aircraft. “They could get enough aircraft up there to hit a number of targets,” White says, “but it would probably be a one-shot deal.”

That’s because its smaller military would have to dedicate itself to the blowback sure to come: “The Israelis are pretty creative, but my tendency is to think of it as a one-time event, and then the forces used in that operation would be reconfigured to prepare for anything coming out of Hezbollah or Hamas,” White says. “The real difference is our ability to sustain these attacks,” White says. “I’m thinking it would be an air campaign of attacks lasting days, versus a single operation.”

And it might – if the U.S. were serious about stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons – have to be repeated again and again.

Two things jump out at me here:
1. That repetitive strike paradigm sounds a lot like what we did to Iraq in the '90s.
2. Discussions about striking the nuclear infrastructure focus on how far back we can set them. Has anyone considered that a strike might stiffen the resolve of the Iranian people to complete the project and actually accelerate their progress?

By: Brant

No comments: