The "Ifs" Accumulate
Mohamed ElBaradei says the UN is losing track of Iran's nuclear program. Due to a loss in monitoring data, the watchdog agency doesn't know it's exact status. CNN reports:
A report from International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, said that while Iran has cooperated in several areas -- by providing access to declared nuclear material, documents and facilities -- it is withholding in others.
"It should be noted that, since early 2006, the agency has not received the type of information that Iran had previously been providing," the report said.
"As a result, the agency's knowledge about Iran's current nuclear program is diminishing."
One way to rephrase ElBaradei's assessment is that the degree of uncertainty with respect to the status of Iran's nuclear program is increasing. To borrow a metaphor from old World War 2 destroyer versus submarine movies, the target is still being tracked but its position is increasingly inexact.
Israel is probably following the development of the Iranian nuclear program with great interest. But in addition to the uncertainties surrounding the status of the Iranian nuclear program there are further uncertainties about what anyone can do about it. Former Spook looks at Israel's pre-emptive strike options and concludes that inflight refueling challenges and geographical considerations will probably limit any strike package to about 24 aircraft.
Given those limitations, an IAF attack would likely be a "one-time" operation, involving a relatively limited number of F-16Is, F-15Is and KC-707s (with probably no more than 24 strike aircraft). That means elements of Iran's nuclear program might escape serious damage, and could be quickly reconstituted. The problem is further exacerbated by the possibility that Tehran has a parallel, covert nuclear effort, in locations unknown to Israeli or western intelligence.
That's why the Israelis would prefer that the U.S. take military action against Iran. American carriers in the Gulf--and Air Force expeditionary winds based in the Middle East--could launch a sustained aerial bombardment of Tehran's key military and nuclear facilities, reducing survival prospects for key installations, equipment and personnel.
In short, any Israeli pre-emptive strike will have to gamble on getting all the targets on the first and only try. When all the unknowns are factored into the calculation the odds against a complete success begin to mount. The chances of completely knocking back Iran's nuclear program can be roughly estimated as P(i)xS(j). That is, the probability of the ith nuclear facility being correctly identified times the jth probability the strike is a success. The joint probability of complete success is probably pretty low. Hence, Former Spook's assertion that an American strike, which will not only be heavier but repeatable, is the only realistic option for pre-emption.
All this is a fancy way of saying that to rely on Israel to take out Iran is to bet on a long shot. It would be like planning to pay off a vacation you can't afford in the expectation you'll win the lottery. It might happen but it probably won't.
With the prospects of success so low, and America so unlikely to do the heavy lifting, Former Spook argues that Israel essentially has no realistic pre-emptive strike option.
With their own military options limited--and the U.S. seemingly unable to act, it's no wonder that Israel is growing increasingly pessimistic in its outlook. With the world community unwilling to aggressively confront Iran, and with military options apparently limited, planning for "The Day After" may become Israel's policy by default.
With Iran's nuclear program showing ElBaradei a clean pair of heels; Israel impotent and America paralyzed with indecision it is possible that Teheran is home free.