[Marxism] Why Bombing Iran Would Mean Invading Iran
marvgand at gmail.com
Fri Mar 2 09:58:30 MST 2012
On 2012-03-02, at 11:25 AM, DW wrote:
> I think the US/Israel axis could do some damage as noted in the Atlantic
> article, with only the "hope" that Iran would back down. But the reaction,
> also noted by the writer at Atlantic could be to hyper accelerate it's
> n-bomb development, kick out all IAEA inspectors *forever* and wage a very
> expensive war against U.S. interests around the world.
Last week's Economist cover story dealt with the tactics and possible consequences of an Israeli attack. The Barak/Netanyahu faction clearly feel the Iranians either won't retaliate forcefully for fear of drawing in the US and its allied oil producers in the Gulf, or if Iranian retaliation does provoke a wider war, so much the better, giving Israel the US-backed opportunity to shake up the deck and definitively settle accounts with the Palestinians, Iranians, and its other enemies in the Middle East. Quite a high stakes poker game they are playing, with the Israeli political and military establishment fiercely divided on how strong a hand they have.
Up in the air
The probability of an attack on Iran’s nuclear programme has been increasing. But the chances of it ending the country’s nuclear ambitions are low
Feb 25th 2012 | from the print edition
Such an attack would be a far more complex undertaking than the Israeli strikes against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 and Syria’s reactor near al-Kibar in 2007. The Iranian nuclear programme looks as if it has been set up with air strikes in mind. Its sites are spread across more than a dozen supposedly well-defended locations.
Israel would probably pay particular attention to the enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow; after them would come the facility at Isfahan that turns uranium into a gas that the centrifuges can work with and the heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, both of which are above the ground. The larger Russian-built reactor at Bushehr would probably escape unscathed; it is less relevant to weapons work and damage to it could spread contamination across the Gulf.
Israel’s main attack force would consist of two dozen F-15Is and 100 F-16Is, variants of American fighter bombers that have been adapted for long-range missions, along with tankers for aerial refuelling, perhaps supplemented by armed drones and submarine-launched cruise missiles. The planes’ most likely route would be over Jordan and then Iraq, which has almost no air defences. Iran is defended, but mainly by Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles of a kind the Israelis have dealt with before. Iran has fighter aircraft, too, but the Israelis are not too concerned about them.
Plans of attack
Israel has at least 100 two-and-a-quarter tonne (5,000-pound) GBU-28s precision-guided bunker-busting bombs and even more of the smaller GBU-27s. Natanz would be vulnerable to these if they struck with sufficient accuracy and in sufficient numbers.
The biggest question is whether an Israeli strike would have any impact on the centrifuge chamber at Fordow, said to be buried 80 metres deep. According to Austin Long, an academic who used to work for the RAND Corporation, if every one of the F-15Is aimed the GBU-28 it was carrying, along with both its GBU-27s, at a single point, there would be a 35-90% chance of over half the weapons arriving at just the right place and at least one bomb would penetrate the facility. So if carried through with impeccable precision an attack on Fordow would have a reasonable chance of inflicting a bomb’s worth of damage.
But even if things went off without a hitch Iran would retain the capacity to repair and reconstitute its programme. Unless Israel was prepared to target the programme’s technical leadership in civilian research centres and universities the substantial nuclear know-how that Iran has gained over the past decades would remain largely intact. So would its network of hardware suppliers. Furthermore, if Iran is not already planning to leave the NPT such an attack would give it ample excuse to do so, taking its entire programme underground and focusing it on making bombs as soon as possible, rather than building up a threshold capability. Even a successful Israeli strike might thus delay Iran’s progress by only three or four years, while strengthening its resolve.
An American attack might gain five years or even ten; it could drop more bombs on more of the sites, and much bigger bombs—its B-2s carry GBU-57 “Massive Ordnance Penetrators”, weighing almost 14 tonnes. Mindful of its greater capability, in May 2008 Israel’s then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, asked George Bush whether America would, if needed, finish the job that Israel had started and stand by its friend no matter what the consequences. Mr Bush, preoccupied with Iraq, turned him down.
Mr Obama, whose relations with Mr Netanyahu are much cooler than were Mr Bush’s with Mr Olmert, says he is “leaving all options on the table”. An American attack thus remains a possibility, and will continue to be one up to the day Iran fields weapons. But America is unlikely to rush into a strike following an Israeli mission. Administration officials suggest that America would aim to stay firmly on the sidelines, though they are resigned to the fact that, however strong its denials, its complicity would be widely assumed. America would, however, respond vigorously to any attack on its own forces, the oil installations of its allies, or shipping.
Despite a lot of huffing and puffing from Iranian commanders about closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 35% of the world’s seaborne oil passes, Iran lacks the ships and firepower with which to mount a conventional blockade. Mines, torpedo-carrying mini-submarines and anti-ship missiles would still allow the Iranians to damage poorly defended tankers. But a spate of such attacks would probably bring an overwhelming response from the carrier groups of America’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain. Iranian action that managed to be more than a nuisance while not provoking a decisive counter-attack by America would require finely judged and innovative tactics.
Nevertheless, to maintain its credibility the Iranian government would feel compelled to retaliate. As well as threatening shipping, it has also said that it will strike back at any Gulf state from which attacks on it are launched. America has bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates; those countries could become targets if Iran chooses to see America as directly implicated in any attack. Iranian strikes on the Gulf states could, in turn, lead America to retaliate against non-nuclear targets in Iran.
Then there are attacks on Israel proper. Although Hizbullah and Hamas may not launch attacks as fiercely as they might have done a year ago, they could still do damage. Iran may also try to hit Israel with its own ballistic missiles, though this would come up against the obstacle of Israel’s missile defences, and could also spur a forthright American response.
A regional conflagration cannot be ruled out. But the biggest downside of an attack on Iran may be the possibility of revived patriotic support for an unpopular and incompetent regime. Even the most virulently anti-regime Iranians today fear that an attack on the country’s nuclear installations could rekindle the revolutionary Islamic patriotism of the Iran-Iraq war, validating decades of paranoid regime propaganda and cementing the Revolutionary Guard’s increasingly firm hold on politics and the economy.
Although such fears may be overdone, so too may be the hopes of some outside Iran that an attack could have the opposite effect, with Iranians turning against the regime. It is true that Iran is embroiled in a power struggle. Parliamentarians have summoned the president for questioning for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Given the level of public disaffection with the regime following a post-election crackdown in 2009 and the economic downturn caused by sanctions, the government can expect only limited sympathy from the public. If retaliatory strikes against shipping, or Gulf oil terminals, or Israel, brought on a subsequent wave of American attacks it might lose even that. This is a reason to expect a relatively restrained reaction to any raid, or one expressed through terrorist attacks far away—such as those mounted last week on Israeli diplomats in New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok.
But discontented though they may be, Iranians are for the most part quite proud of their nuclear programme, seeing no reason why so ancient and grand a nation should not have nuclear weapons. They point out that Pakistan is a far less stable and more dangerous member of the nuclear club than Iran would be, and that Western powers are hypocritical in their tacit acceptance of Israel’s nuclear weapons. Iran, they say, has not launched a war since the 19th century; Israel has never been completely at peace.
This adds to the case that, although bombing could delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it stands little chance of diminishing them; further entrenching them looks more likely. Perhaps, in the time gained by an attack, today’s regime might fall, its place taken by one less committed to nuclear development. But it is also possible that reinvigorated sanctions might convince even today’s regime that the cost of becoming a nuclear power was too high. Coupling sanctions with the threat of an attack may make them yet more convincing—even if, paradoxically, an actual attack would lessen their force.
The sanctions have become so tough, though, only because the world takes the risk of an Israeli attack seriously and it needs an alternative. Sword-rattling can sometimes have its place. But the swords are sharp—and double-edged.
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