Thursday, November 15, 2007

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.


Blogger Whiskey said...

Maybe, then again maybe not.

Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have NOT been used in war against anyone. That's a long time. More than 62 years in fact.

CAN Israel accept Iran's nuclear weapons? No because Iran can "decapitate" Israel with nukes fired from Lebanon and Syria, and quite possibly destroy most if not all Israel nuclear facilities. Israel does not have nuclear boomers the way we do, their PLANNED purchase of German diesel subs will give them only marginal survivability -- limiting them to coastal waters around Israel.

Israel CAN destroy Iran's nuke threat to it's existence by simply nuking Iran first. They have enough, and likely the reach of missiles, to do it.

There are many arguments for Israelis to do this: 1. it increases Israel's deterrence which is based on military fear, 2. it removes an existential threat, 3. failure to do so will guarantee Israel's being "erased from the map" by IRAN's nuclear strikes.

Nukes had been thought in the Superpower era to be irrelevant. What if they are not, because nukes can be used to defend one's nation?

11/15/2007 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

I don't think Israel will pre-emptively nuke Iran. But there are other roadblocks toIran's victorious progress towards nuclear weapons statehood. The Sunni states are probably more fearful of a nuclear Iran than Israel is. The Sunni states have no nuclear deterrent. No realistic strike options at all. Thus Egypt and Saudi Arabia have promised to go nuclear if Iran goes nuclear. That's not to deter Israel, which already has nukes. That's to deter Iran.

Israel has a bunch of options it can pursue in the short-term. One is to buy real boomers. Or harden their nuclear strike assets. Iran can take out Israel's cities, but they do not have sufficiently accurate targeting to smash hardened silos, let alone subs. Israel can guarantee Iran's destruction in response by making some investments in defensive infrastructure. One scenario: Iran gets the bomb, Israel creates a secure Triad to provide an assured reponse. Now, if only we could convince the Iranians to "tear down the wall" just as the Soviets did things could still end well for everyone. But who knows?

11/15/2007 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger JimMtnViewCa said...

Whiskey has a point.
Another area of contemplation might be the starting point for Isreali jets. Presumably they don't have carrier-ready planes that could launch from US ships. But maybe some other deal could be made that would shorten the required travel distance.

11/15/2007 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger MarkCh said...

What if Israel just went for, say, Iran's oil refineries and gas import or oil export terminals? Could Iran be provoked into closing the Gulf, thereby bringing the US in that way?

11/15/2007 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Another option is an "Israeli" strike with a little bit of help from their friends, e.g. the U.S. There has been some speculation that the recent strike against the Syrian/Nork nuclear facility had some quiet U.S. assistance.

My guess is that Bush is waiting upon developments in the U.S. economy and Iraq security before he takes on Iran. Then there is less downside political risk.

11/15/2007 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger cjm said...

iran already had one "accident" involving their wmd program. i predict they will have a second "accident" that will unfortunately reduce tehran to ashes. luckily, the oil fields won't be affected.

11/15/2007 07:40:00 PM  
Blogger buddy larsen said...

with so much world attention focused on him for such a long period of time, how does El Baradei manage to keep being 'surprised' and keep 'losing control' without anyone ever, if not offering him a smoke and a blindfold, at least asking if maybe he'd mind being reassigned?

11/15/2007 09:52:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Wretchard -- you are missing my point.

What if Israel determines that they won't have enough TIME to do anything?

Procuring Boomers takes decades. No one will sell them and they'll have to build them themselves from scratch -- only the US and the Russians know how to build them, maybe the Chinese if you sort of squint. Hardening silos also many years, as will moving stuff around in a very small country.

Now Olmert is action averse, but fear of a quick strike that destroys/decapitates much of Israel could push him out for someone looking to take action while they can.

Once Iran passes the point of no return they can evade ANY missile defense EVER constructed or possible for decades by putting nukes in Lebanon. Experience with Hezbollah with 5,000 plus rockets raining down on Israel with impunity and unstoppable has been unpleasant. Multiply that by say, 30 nukes destroying most Israeli cities and nuke sites that are known, and you have disaster of Final Solution proportions staring you in the face if you are Israeli. Suddenly you fear for ALL you have and you will do ANYTHING.

Iran conducted the Iran-Iraq War to great destruction of their own people. They sent the Basij, consisting of nine year old boys, in human wave attacks against minefields and machine guns. Built massive martyr fountains spewing red colored water to simulate blood.

There is no MAD for such a regime, not even eventually, and certainly not in the short run which is whenever Iran has enough nukes to strike. Logic says that Iran will attack Israel with nukes to wipe it off the map in a "Final Solution" just as they promised. With a surprise attack likely from Lebanon and Syria that would be unstoppable.

So other nations are nuking-up. They won't have them in time. Once Iran eliminates the only other nuclear nation in the ME, it can then dictate from power/strength (and the wild celebrations in the Arab and let's be honest, European-Leftist-Democrat street). Saudi, Egypt, the Gulf monarchies will be FORCED to surrender (including their nuke programs). Their people will make them, jubilant that Iran has killed most/all Israelis and the implicit threat is that the Jews being wiped off the map can be replicated elsewhere. Since they'll have NUKES FIRST. And Israel will be gone. That's the unspoken reason for Iran to kill all Israelis.

If Israel will want to survive, that is it's people, they will have to kick out Olmert or do whatever, even a coup (which is possible and likely would be supported by the people). What is Israel's downside to nuking Iran's nuke facilities into oblivion:

1. Europe will hate them. Check. Already there.
2. The Left will hate them, around the globe, and call for their extermination. Check. Already there.
3. The UN will once again condemn them and call for their erasure as a nation and people. Check. Already there.
4. Democrats will campaign for their non-existence. Check. Already there.
5. The Arab street will seethe while privately being grateful that the Persians will not rule them. Check. Already there.
6. Leftist Israelis will moan and complain. Check. Already there.

The only question is if Israel and it's people can do what it takes to survive or will be inevitably be wiped out. I hope they can do what they need to in order to survive. I like the Israelis. They are a free people, who don't feel the need to cower and cringe before Big Men, nor offer extravagant and phony hospitality that can turn to hostage taking in a heartbeat, and then cutting off of heads. They have produced much in science and technology, and are an educated middle class society in a sea of poverty and Big Man-ism.

I don't see much downside in Israel nuking Iran first before Iran inevitably does it to them.

11/15/2007 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger John J. Coupal said...

Iranian controlling mullahs seem to be in deep doodoo, with enemies at all sides.

Their main problem also seems to be how, when , and where their demise will occur. So many choices, so many decisions, so many chances for terminal errors before the emergence of Persian rule, even Black Swan chances.

11/16/2007 05:24:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

With the build up of Hezbolah's missile capability, I wonder if the Israelis will have sufficient anti-misssile assets to protect their facilities.

11/16/2007 05:26:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

John J. Coupal said:

"Iranian controlling mullahs seem to be in deep doodoo, with enemies at all sides. Their main problem also seems to be how, when , and where their demise will occur."

That's the big danger with Iran. It's a wounded animal. If you go over to Spengler's website, he makes a compelling argument that the Iranians are facing demographic suicide. Apparently they aren't producing children fast enough for population replacement so their population is aging very rapidly (slaughtered too many of their own children during the Iran-Iraq War??). Also Iran is heading towards an economic cliff because (like Saudi Arabia) their whole economy is based upon selling petroleum which is a finite resource. If they want to become a dominant power in the Middle East, they are obliged to develop nuclear weaponry and fully exploit Shiite Islam. Our task is to convince them either through reason or by force that a new Persian Empire is not an option and that using Islam as a political weapon is a Bad Idea.

11/16/2007 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

I think the consequences of letting the Iranians develop a nuclear weapon--ie an arms race in the unstable Moslem world--are far more severe than the consequences of bombing their facilities now.

11/16/2007 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger engineer said...

I thought the Israeli Daphne's were cruise-missile capable. It was my understanding they they are already sailing around the Cape of Good Hope and operating in the Arabian Sea so a nuclear sea-based deterrent was in place that would only be enhanced by the German subs.

11/16/2007 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

A quote from Philip Bobbitt's Shield of Achilles:

"As one commentator has observed, 'Certainly had Saddam Hussein been possessed of a working nuclear arsenal, the United States would have been far less willing to station half a million troops, a sizable fraction of its air forces, and a large naval armada within easy reach of Iraq's borders,' an observation that will not be lost on most world leaders. The consequence of this development for the projection of conventional forces is profound. It's not so much that nuclear weapons render the promise of security to the citizens of the nation-state unbelievable per se; rather it is that only the possession of weapons of mass-destruction can hope to validate that promise, with the unavoidable result that no nation-state can afford to be without the protection of such weapons, because their conventional forces are utterly vulnerable to threats from the states that do possess these weapons. With the Long War ended, once the nuclear umbrella of the United States ceases to be extended to cover Japan, Germany, and other states against attack, the drive to acquire weapons of mass destruction will become irresistible."

Charles is right about the consequences in the Middle East. While we need to worry about that, we also need to worry about consequences to the global system.

What happens to the ecosystem of states when the dominant player eschews all fig leaves that give modesty to power -- not once, but twice, and thrice, and so on? How might that change the behaviors of the other players? What kind of nested feedback mechanisms will activate in response to the centrifugal actions of the perceived hyperpower, and how will these emergent dynamics affect the pursuit of our Overall Strategic Objectives?

We need to keep these questions in mind. In the front of our mind. The last thing we want to do is secure the Middle East by destabilizing the world. It's not worth it if the cost is an unstoppable tide of adverse coalitionism; paranoia, distrust and resentment will lead, ultimately to defection. If we are forced to give up our preferred strategy of covalence and quarantined competition...

Well, that world would truly suck.

11/16/2007 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger pips said...

Aristide's concern about a global rush to a nuclear option becoming 'irresistible' as a result of US indecision is premature and likely more than a little alarmist. Mid sized states with the means of developing or buying an N option could just as easily be fearful of becoming N targets rather than simple objects of sustained intimidation from more powerful states.

11/16/2007 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

The nuclear duopoly of the Cold War meant any nuclear exchange sent a clear signal to one that could only have come from the other. It was a duplex communications link between two, and only two points.

In a world with multiple nuclear powers, some of which may be nonstate actors things become far more complicated. My ten year old son recently worked out the following problem: how many handshakes are possible between two people in a room? How many between three? How many between four? The obvious graphical solution is to draw connecting lines between the n points: two points a line, three a triangle but four is a square with two diagonals. The number of interactions in a multiactor nuclear world rapidly increases; and this without considering coalitions.

One contingency which has always bothered me is whether the nuclear umbrella would extend to the protection of marginal cases. Japan, for example, has no nuclear weapons but relies on the guarantees of the US. If Tokyo were attacked by an enemy state that would clearly trigger a nuclear response by the guarantor. But if they attacked Sapporo? A terrorist nuclear attack on New York City or LA would unleash an incalculable consequence. But what about one against Wollongong, New South Wales? During an Obama or Clinton administration? States currently under guarantee will realize that certain claims may not be entertained, and there will be an incentive to acquire their own weapons. Only if Japan has its own nukes, for example, can they guarantee a response against a nuclear attack against Sapporo or some other disposable ville.

But I don't think we can put the nuclear genie in the bottle over the long term, however hard we try. And eventually the power of nukes may be superseded by tailored biological weapons, if they are not already. We're probably going to have to wait until an actual event occurs before thinking crystallizes around the proper response. Until then, we temporize.

11/16/2007 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...


Some interesting discussion on the vulnerability of cruise missiles to air defenses at at Defense Industry Daily, suggesting the need for more stealth or speed to enhance penetration odds.

Against Tomahawk-type cruise missiles, Russia's supersonic S-300PMU Favorit's kill ratio is listed as 0.8-0.98, and a US GAO report highlighted a 6-Tomahawk "stream raid" against the Iraqi Rasheed airfield in 1991 that had just a 33% survival rate against far less sophisticated defensive systems.

11/16/2007 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

I hate to harp on this, but it's all about timing.

Whichever regional state in the ME has nukes first and eliminates nuclear rivals has control over others. As such Iran's incentives are all to nuke Israel out of existence (and just as important out of nukes) so it can dictate terms to all other nations in the region.

And essentially reconstitute Darius Empire.

Whoever nukes their only nuke rival first wins.

11/16/2007 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger engineer said...

Wretchard, thanks for the link. That's some good info that I was unaware of. However, it doesn't really address a MAD scenario. The upgraded Iranian air defenses are initially being focused on their nuclear sites and C3I nodes. Nuke-tipped cruise missiles would have a variety of targets that could still kill an awful lot of Iranians and wreck the economy in retaliation for a strike at Israel. It gets back to that unpleasant question that the mullahs may consider the exchange of a lot of dead Persians to obliterate Israel a bargain.

11/16/2007 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger pips said...

Wretchard says while waiting we 'temporize'. presumably lacking other alternatives. Well, the alternative may come upon us sooner than expected. solidly if not cleverly disguised in the mantle of necessity -- the necessity of showing more than just a measured response. Showing that we are really and truly pissed off could, under certain pressing circumstances, have long lasting positive consequences.

It is unclear, at this time, whether the West would ever let a similarily disposed leader anywhere near the seats of power.

11/16/2007 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Wretchard said:

"...eventually the power of nukes may be superseded by tailored biological weapons, if they are not already. We're probably going to have to wait until an actual event occurs before thinking crystallizes around the proper response."

As usual, Wretchard is correct. We have to wait until New York or London disappears. After that happens, the moonbats will be dismissed from the conversation and the real players begin their discussion about the New World Order (think "Congress of Vienna"). This will be a very frightening situation (the Congress of Vienna is a bad precedent).

11/16/2007 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger engineer said...

Ditto Egglant. At the risk of introducing Zombie movie precedent here (no spoilers beyond what you'd see in the trailers), the people trying to repopulate Britain start trying to apply justifiable force when plans go awry but before long the jets are flying in with napalm and it doesn't much whether you have the virus or not if you're in the way of that napalm.

Likewise, if London or New York disappear in a terrorist attack, by the time things settle down (and that might take decades), I'd be unsurprised if a few hundred million people or more aren't dead and most of them will be as innocent as the victims in London or New York. Those are the stakes when nutball governments and NGO's have access of WMD's.

11/16/2007 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have recently revisited the Peloponnesian War. My most striking observation is how often the powers-to-be of both Sparta and Athens, as disparate as they were in political philosophy and organization, made terrible, ill-considered decisions about both their own capabilities and the capabilities and intentions of the other.

In relatively short order these bad decisions led directly to the destruction and disappearance of both these heretofore successful societies.

Sparta and Athens had dealt with each other over hundreds of years during an age when technology advanced very slowly. Would that not be the most predictable situation? If these folks could make such horribly tragic mistakes how foolish would it be to assume that we could know to a certainty the capabilities and intentions of the mullahs?

11/16/2007 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/16/2007 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Peter said:

"I have recently revisited the Peloponnesian War. My most striking observation is how often the powers-to-be of both Sparta and Athens, as disparate as they were in political philosophy and organization, made terrible, ill-considered decisions about both their own capabilities and the capabilities and intentions of the other."

I think Thucydides is required reading for anyone who wants to understand modern politics.

The Athenian people were seduced by demagogues into a suicidal course of action that resulted in the destruction of Athens, i.e. the invasion of Syracuse. However, what does one do with this information? A moonbat would argue that President Bush is the modern analog of Alcibiades. I would counter-argue that the moonbats themselves are analogs to the rabble in the Athenian assembly arguing for the destruction of Mytilene. Depending upon one's bias, one can infer what ever they like from Thucydides. However the destruction of Athens was a terrible tragedy. The capacity of a great nation to suicide through stupidity is the most important lesson that we can take from Thucydides.

11/16/2007 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Joe Biden was bragging about his foreign policy experience during the most recent Democrat Presidential Debate. He said, among other things, something to the effect that only he could pick up the phone and tell Vladimir Putin to leave Georgia alone because its leader was in serious trouble.

Dennis Praeger, speaking about the debate later that day asked the question "What if Sen Biden told Putin to lay off and Putin said 'Or else what?'"

Russia wants to restore Russia's cold war status as a superpower. China, which holds a trillion dollars in US debt, is building a blue-water navy to discourage us from doing anything if it decides to take over Taiwan, a US ally. Latin America is being taken over by Castro clones using oil revenues to foment rebel takeovers in neighboring countries. North Korea now has the bomb and Iran is aggresively pursueing the bomb and has sworn to wipe Israel (another nuclear power) off the map.

Al Gore, unable to face the real threats, claims that global warming is the greatest dangEr facing mankind and only he can save us by selling carbon credits, and the UN nods in agreement.

Did you know that the Mayan calendar simply ends in the year 2012?

Lucky I'm an optimist

11/17/2007 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

James Lewis at The American Thinker observes:
Hitler's Last Act had to fit the Wagnerian story line. Indeed, some years before, psychologists employed by the Allies predicted that he would commit suicide rather than surrender.

A'jad has been drilled in the martyrdom creed by Ayatollah Khomeini himself, and passed it on to thousands of others. To understand A'jad, look at Hamas TV for children, which indoctrinates innocent toddlers into the glories of martyrdom for Allah. Chances are that A'jad is also looking for Götterdammerung, just like the Rev. Jim Jones and David Koresh, General Tojo and the Omshinrikyo sarin cult in Tokyo. He's looking for a final victory over the infidels, or magnificent personal martyrdom culminating in the coming of the Mahdi.

But as part of that narrative, Tehran must be attacked by the infidels, even though it's perfectly innocent of any crime. So A'jad wants war, but he also wants it to arouse the final Muslim jihad against all the infidels. It's Armageddon, but on his terms. That is why he needs to threaten the West again and again in public. He will provoke and provoke again, and escalate his rhetoric, until he can either explode his own nuke bomb or die.

Ahmadi-Nejad is not a normal, rational politician. He lives in a different world. Call it honor, or pride, or an inverted inferiority complex. Call it a Wagnerian opera. A'jad is Saddam with a martyrdom complex. Westerners will try and try to explain him in rational terms. But it's the wrong template.

When you see A'jad, think Jim Jones or David Koresh. Think Tojo or Hitler, or Ayatollah Khomeini. Here is a man who is ready to die and kill for his creed, as mad as it is. He doesn't go for carrots and sticks. His provocations are designed primarily to maneuver the West into his own psychodrama. If he were standing on a ledge on the Empire State Building we could let him jump. But he's clever enough to realize that we cannot ignore nukes in the hands of a martyrdom fanatic. Like Saddam, he has a kind of suicidal streak. He's willing to go if he takes others with him. It's his lack of rationality (by our standards) that makes him so dangerous.

11/17/2007 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Clearly, Israel doesn't want to preemptively strike Iran, but does it have a choice?

James Lewis at The American Thinker points out:
The case for a preemptive nuclear strike by Israel is becoming more and more compelling. Israel has been openly threatened with Holocaust for three decades by the Khomeini cult. Their expressed intentions couldn't be clearer. If you yell, "I'm going to shoot you, cop!" every day for thirty years, and finally aim a loaded gun, any cop will open fire.

Israel has both a preemptive and a second-strike capacity through its submarines. Once that Djinn is out of the bottle, the rational course is to destroy all of Iran's aggressive capacity as fast as possible, leaving not a wrack behind. Be careful what you wish for, Mahmoud.

A lot of Muslim figures haven't yet thought through the suicidal logic of nukes. They still think in terms of conventional weapons, or medieval sword play. The Bomb is still seen as Allah's Revenge in that fantasy-prone part of the world -- except in Pakistan, which started to talk peace with India as soon as both sides got nukes.

James Lewis blogs at

11/19/2007 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

Not sure about all this.

11/19/2007 10:06:00 PM  

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