Monday, December 12, 2005
Israel's armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran, military sources have revealed.
Not only has this order leaked, but so have the details:
If a military operation is approved, Israel will use air and ground forces against several nuclear targets in the hope of stalling Tehran’s nuclear programme for years, according to Israeli military sources.
It is believed Israel would call on its top special forces brigade, Unit 262 — the equivalent of the SAS — and the F-15I strategic 69 Squadron, which can strike Iran and return to Israel without refuelling.
How likely is it that the most successfully secretive military in the world -- the institutional descendants of the military that destroyed Egyptian air power on the ground in an hour -- has unintentionally spilled the chick peas? If Israel were serious about sneaking up on Iran by March, we would not have read the story in the newspapers. So why are we? (And, no, this pro-forma "angry" denial does not mean a damned thing.)
The Times suggests that Sharon might be wagging the dog:
The date set for possible Israeli strikes on Iran also coincides with Israel’s general election on March 28, prompting speculation that Sharon may be sabre-rattling for votes.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the frontrunner to lead Likud into the elections, said that if Sharon did not act against Iran, “then when I form the new Israeli government, we’ll do what we did in the past against Saddam’s reactor, which gave us 20 years of tranquillity”.
I don't think so. Ariel Sharon is a practical politician, but there is no way that he would leak the details of an Israeli military operation, or undermine Israel's security by gratuitously escalating the crisis with Iran.
No. Israel is quite intentionally signalling various external actors.
Obviously, Israel is sending a signal to Iran, but not to President Ahmadinejad. In all likelihood, Israel hopes to split the Iranian elites and weaken support for Ahmadinejad within the regime. There is some whispered evidence that his position is weakening. If Ahmadinejad's absurd saber-rattling is seen to increase the risk of war, the regime may constrain him.
Apart from probing Iran's domestic politics, Israel is also sending Tehran a more basic message: "Do not screw with us." Or words to that effect. Why? The Iranians have been stirring up trouble among the Palestinian Arabs, and Israel needs to do something about it:
Iran’s foreign minister met leading figures from three Islamic militant groups to co-ordinate a united front against Israel days before a recent escalation of attacks against Israeli targets shattered fragile ceasefires with Lebanon and the Palestinians, writes Hugh Macleod in Damascus.
The minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, held talks with leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah in Damascus on November 15.
Among those who attended the meeting were Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, and a deputy leader of Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for last Monday’s suicide bombing of a shopping mall in Netanya that killed five Israeli citizens.
Today's "leak" may be a brush-back pitch intended to send the simple message, "back off."
The Iranians are not the only audience, however. Israel is also sending a signal to Europe about Russia, which last week signed a contract to sell advanced weapons to Iran, including anti-aircraft missle systems. The Israeli leak is calculated to characterize the Russian weapons sale as having created a crisis:
Russia last week signed an estimated $1 billion contract — its largest since 2000 — to sell Iran advanced Tor-M1 systems capable of destroying guided missiles and laser-guided bombs from aircraft.
“Once the Iranians get the Tor-M1, it will make our life much more difficult,” said an Israeli air force source. “The installation of this system can be relatively quick and we can’t waste time on this one.”
Israel is in effect saying that the Russian weapons sale is forcing Israel's hand and thereby truncating the time available for Europe's Big Three to negotiate a solution. The British are undoubtedly asking the French to use whatever stroke they have with Mother Russia to buy time -- if Paris has any clout at all, expect "delays" in the delivery of the contracted weapons. (Indeed, what are the chances that the Times story was leaked through the British intelligence community for precisely this purpose?)
The Times article is also interesting for its revelation that Israel has intelligence operations in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Cross-border operations and signal intelligence from a base established by the Israelis in northern Iraq are said to have identified a number of Iranian uranium enrichment sites unknown to the the IAEA.
One would think that the Kurds would not be happy that Israel has opened the kimono on this operation in the teeth of Iraq's election campaign. Still, the Iraqi Kurds know that the destabilization of Iran is their last, best hope to secure a reasonable future for ethnic Kurds on the far side of the border. If they have to work with the Israelis and the United States to keep that dream alive, so be it.
N.B.: If the Kurds prove to be the decisive allies in the containment of Iran, it will be because the United States and the United Kingdom have sheltered them for the last fourteen years. After Operation Iraqi Freedom, Israel and the United States have listening posts on Iran's western border, and allies inside the country who have every incentive to bring down the mullahs of Tehran. It remains to be seen whether this palpable strategic asset is worth the cost, but do not discount the possibility that it will be.
I'd be willing to bet that "base established by the Israelis" is a mistaken interpretation. Since Iraq has officially been restored to sovereignty, setting up a base in Iraq would have to be approved by the Iraqi Prime Minister to be legal; otherwise it's a violation of national sovereignty on a grand scale. Harboring Israeli intelligence is pretty bold for a temporary government, isn't it? And with the US there? It'd destroy the infant government's legitimacy (ours too) to allow the 'enemy' to set up a base there. I don't think that an Israeli base is politically feasible, and even if it was done on the sly it wouldn't be leaked on purpose.
Now, information from an American listening post passed onto the Israelis makes infinitely more sense and seems most likely to me. Maybe an American post with Israeli personnel, since Iran is an issue of joint concern.
Dawnfire82 - Could be. I'd bet dollars to donuts that there are American listening posts. However, my guess -- and this is rank, but considered, speculation -- is that the Mossad has very deep connections with the Kurds. After all, they share common enemies throughout the region, including Syria and Iran and (lest we forget) Iraq during the era of Saddam. The Kurds are probably happy to have them, and just need sufficient deniability to protect the government in Baghdad.
I think the Israelis are trying to force the EU and Russia to stop screwing around and act decisively. They are drawing a line in the sand. Basically I hear the Israelis saying: "If Iran's enrichment program is not haulted and dismantled very soon - we are going to strike and there will be war- so take that into consideration when making any decisions with regards to your future transactions/negotiations with Iran." I think it is a smart move - it will bring everyone's head out of those big puffy dipomacy clouds and force them to deal with the reality of the situation. I would not be surprised if our military intelligence is working side by side with Mossad on Iranian intelligence gathering.
It seems to me that Isreal and the US are somewhat 'joined at the hip' when it comes to Iran. If Isreal strikes we will be blamed even if we do not participate. If Iran retaliates, their thousands of SRMBs represent a threat to our bases in Iraq. This leads me to think that when the time comes to knock out Iran's nuclear facilities, we will be involved on a large scale - trying to eliminate their ability to retaliate as well. I just don't see a way we could stay a neutral on this one. Any ideas on this?
Safe to conclude a couple of things:
1) Israel will not attack without US permission and therefore coordination.
2) Israel is unlikely to attack before its own elections. Sharon will not Netanyahu be to his right on the question of Iran
3) Israel would not leak a pending attack, or signal it.
4) Given Ahmadenijad's recent comments, it is not surprising that Israel has increased its bellicosity.
5) Iran is unlikely to launch any attack on Israel or US forces.
6) Iran's objective is regional hegemony and its only real competition is Israel. For the moment, it need not consider Arab opposition, save perhaps Saudi competition.
7) The US through its regional proxies is Iran's competition in the region. The proxies include Israel, but also Egypt, Saudi and increasingly IraQ and Afghanistan.
8) Iran doesn't want a war before it has nukes.
All this would suggest Iran will not launch; nor will the US/Israel.
Unless there is a miscalculation.
Israeli Kurdis cooperation has been kind of an open secret for a while. I read at least two stories referencing it in the New Yorker.
Betting odds: How soon does the KSA buy nukes from Pakistan after Iran gets them? If I were a Saudi potentate, I'd be working overtime to get my hands on some before at near when the Persians get'em; because once they feel safe behind their nuclear sheild, they're going unload a shitstorm of insurgent activity against Israel [natch] but also among any shi'ites in the region, like the once surrounding the oilfields in eastern KSA.
From my blog;
15 September 2005
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his country is willing to provide nuclear technology to Muslim states stating, "Iran is ready to transfer nuclear know-how to the Islamic countries due to their need."
--"Iran's President Says his Regime Prepared to give Atomic Technology to other Muslim States," Boston Herald, 15 September 2005."
Another reason that this issue needs to be dealt with.
Tigerhawk: That's completely plausible, but what I meant by "doing it on the sly." If they want deniability of such an operation, then they wouldn't leak the existence of it on purpose, right?
I don't doubt for a moment that Israel has looked at how they might attack Iran's nuclear program. It just seems odd that Israel would be so public with such threats. Israel's style seems more inclined to state such things in private.
In addition, the problems with an air attack are challenging. The distance from Israel to Iran, refueling, making sure they hit enough targets to make it worth doing, etc... It's quite possible Israel couldn't carry this off alone, so threatening to do it without being able to follow through could make Israel look weak.
Perhaps one of Sharon's opponents leaked it to force the issue.