Can Bibi and Obama Trust Each Other When it Comes to Iran?

Article Summary
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak simply don't believe the Obama administration when it comes to Iran. Ben Caspit explores the possible scenarios of a military strike, and the nuances of the Israeli-American relationship.

The following scenario is how Western sources believe the American strike against Iran's nuclear installations would unfold, if and when the order was given. The offensive would start with a barrage of dozens, not to say hundreds of Tomahawk missiles on Iran's antiaircraft batteries, command and control centers, main headquarters, radar stations and intelligence centers. The missiles would be launched from any location at America's disposal, to wit from almost anywhere around the globe. Incidentally, that would also include bases in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Sixth Fleet vessels in the Mediterranean sea, aircrafts, strategic bases and USN vessels deployed off Iran's shores (albeit outside the Strait of Hormuz). Having precise, pinpoint and very lethal impact, these missiles are expected to keep the number of collateral civilian fatalities to a minimum. This orchestrated attack would not last longer than a few minutes. Once completed, Iranian airspace should be relatively safe for USAF planes.

This would all start much earlier, however. Following the decision by President Barack Obama, the United States would assemble a formidable flotilla consisting of three or four aircraft carriers just off the Iranian shore. (It could also be Romney's call, but given that he is trailing so much behind the incumbent in three battleground states, the presumptive Republican nominee stands a slim chance of getting elected). The Americans are likely to stay away from the Strait of Hormuz, or else the entire region could be engulfed in fire well before the first bomber even takes off. And there is really no need for that. A Task Force headed by three carriers consists of dozens of warships. Each carrier is escorted by its own armada of destroyers, frigates, minesweepers, missile boats, radar boats, as well as intelligence and supply boats. This fleet also features special intervention forces from the Marines and Navy Seals in the event that specific ground operations in Iran are called for.

To enlighten the reader, the number of planes on two American carriers equals the size of the entire Israeli air force, consisting of more than 400 fighter jets and fighter bombers of every kind. The Americans have in all 11 carriers. Two such carriers are currently deployed in the Persian Gulf. Incidentally, the two alone could certainly do the job. But the Americans are a thorough, tenacious people. They usually take a very long time to get going and do something. But as soon as they do, they won't take any unnecessary risks chances. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) would have to fly 1,200 kilometers to reach its objectives over Iran, and then head back. We are talking about a distance of approximately 2,500 kilometers which would be flown over enemy territory saturated with deadly air defenses, not to mention that mid-flight fueling once or twice during such an operation would be necessary. On top of this enormous headache, the planes in the end would have only a few minutes to spend over the targets. By contrast, the Americans have an aircraft fleet that is the same size, or maybe even twice the size of the IAF, deployed just off Iran, a stone's throw away. How simple.

To Exist or Cease To

Once deployment on the ground is completed, an ultimatum will ensue. The American President will deliver a stern address, leaving the Iranian leadership with a very simple choice: Tehran must see to the immediate discontinuation of its nuclear program, removal of enriched uranium from the country, shutdown of the centrifuges (mainly at the underground site at Qom), discontinuation of the military program and the activity of the "weapons group". In return, the West would provide Iran with civilian reactors for manufacturing electric power. The Iranians would be given just a few days to accept the offer (which cannot be turned down), or to turn it down. No new negotiations would be held; there would be no more delays or more dialogs. Take it or leave it. If the Iranians choose to snub, they will be pummelled by Tomahawks followed by an inferno.

Following a doctrine called Shock and Awe, the American operation in Iraq had indeed achieved remarkable success in scattering Saddam Hussein's military (albeit later the Americans were beleaguered by waves of terror). Having learned the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, the US apparently has no intention at this time of making a significant ground incursion into Iran. You won't be seeing hundreds or thousands of flag-draped caskets flown to DC. There won't be an "Iranian quagmire."

Once the Tomahawks have done their share, the strategic bombers would step up to the plate. Last week, the United States officially launched the GBU-57 Bunker Busters. With $300 million into research and development, the Boeing-developed bomb weighs 13 tons, five of which are explosive material. Nicknamed MOB, Mother of All Bombs, this is one bomb you don't want to be around when it detonates.  Its development was completed several weeks before the official announcement was made, and according to sources in Washington it’s already in serial production. Able to penetrate through 61 meters of concrete or the side of a mountain, this bomb is more powerful than any bunker-busting bomb at Israel's disposal. Weighing more than an F-15 or F-16, it cannot be mounted as a payload on these planes. Such a bomb can be dropped only from a heavy strategic bomber taking off from some base around the world. (The Americans have many such bases the world over, and in the Iranian case, the bombers would more than likely take off from AFB Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.)

The Americans have a large quantity of strategic bombers, some of which are stealth, easily capable of reaching Iran. They don't nosedive onto the target (that's passé). The bomb is not laser-guided either. Instead, it is dropped vertically, like in the old days. While flying over the target, the pilot simply releases the bomb. The targets aren't small by any means. These are big installations. One of them, for example, is a gigantic concrete facility. In another location, an entire side of a mountain has to be 'shaved off'. What we will see in Iran is a high-altitude flyover of strategic bombers, virtually impervious to antiaircraft fire, which will simply release quite a large number of 13-ton bombs on Iran's nuclear facilities. Once it's done, very little will be left behind.

Beating the Hell Out of Iran

The American offensive is expected to last anywhere between two days to two months. It's all up to the Iranians. However, there will be one underlying principle, namely minimum injury to Iranian civilians. But it will all depend on the Iranian reaction. If the Iranians react reasonably, attempting to intercept American planes or target USN vessels, the Americans will show understanding. After all, these are the rules of the game. However, if the Iranians were to try setting the Gulf region on fire, attacking Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and obviously Israel, whether on their own or via their proxies in Lebanon, Syria or Gaza, the United States would ratchet up the campaign. Strategic Iranian objectives would be targeted, as well as Revolutionary Guard bases. A real attempt to destroy the Iranian military would be made so as to inflict as much damage as possible. Iconic symbols of the regime as well as economic objectives would also come into the cross-hairs, and more.

The higher the Iranians raise the bar, the stronger the American reaction would be. And the equation is very simple to understand from the beginning. The Iranians could play according to Hoyle once the American onslaught begins, or they could attempt to go the whole nine yards, taking the chance of never making it through the first. The possibility that an American aircraft carrier and its ancillary flotilla would anchor off the Lebanese shore as a pachydermic hint to Nassrallah should not be ruled out either.

To stave off the potential for a large-scale regional war, the Americans would try to contain the offensive as much as possible, focusing on Iran's nuclear facilities. By and large, most American experts believe that the ayatollahs — rather than going ballistic and getting the daylights beaten out of them, would let wisdom prevail by bowing their heads and letting the whole thing blow over. They would be able to exact the price from the Americans in many other ways, primarily through terror, at their own convenience.

Not likely to obliterate Iran's nuclear program altogether, this campaign would, however, likely set it back significantly, anywhere from five to ten years. This would herald a strategic change; in fact, nothing more is really called for. Such an objective could only be accomplished through the might of a superpower. In American terms, this would not be deemed an event that would usher a historical change. As long as ground forces remain out of the game, it would be no big deal. It would not be too high of a strategic gamble. As for oil prices? It's not as bad as it sounds. At the beginning of the American onslaught, oil trading would be suspended for a week or two (similarly to the aftermath of 9/11). The United States and the West have immense oil reserves that can be used in the interim. Assuming that the Iranians would opt for the sane option and not set the Gulf region on fire, this could conclude almost uneventfully. Perhaps it would even prompt a dramatic plummet in oil prices in the mid-term, once it becomes clear that the crisis is over and there is no more room for concern. Maybe not. Either way, Obama would not care less because it would take place well into the latter part of his second term in office.

There's Still Time

Looking at it from all angles, any sensible person understands that such an American offensive is immeasurably preferable to an Israeli operation – in terms of capabilities, results and indirect implications for Israel. It's all been covered before. The Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently said [November 8 2011]at such an attack would not see 50,000 or even 5,000 Israeli fatalities, but 500 at the most. Earlier this week [July 30 2012] he said he was sending back his gas mask because there was no danger of a chemical attack on Israel. (Yet it seems that he forgot to update the hundreds of ministry of defense employees who are hurriedly dishing out gas masks to thousands of concerned citizens.)

However, some people have a different view, believing that the analyses and results given by Operations research are skewed downward. Armed to the teeth with accurate, heavy missiles, whose trajectory can be corrected in midflight, many of the enemies surrounding Israel could fire them at us. All it would take to add a zero next to the number of casualties is one direct hit of a missile on a strategic installation. A massive salvo of thousands of missiles on Israel would force it to launch a ground operation in Lebanon, which means war. And if in the end all this does is set back the Iranian nuclear program by just eighteen months — which is what we have been told we are capable of — the bottom line would mean a crushing blow to Israel's deterrence.

It was less than a year ago that US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta confronted the former Israel Director of Military Intelligence Major-General (res.) Amos Yadlin over this issue [at the Brooklyn Institute, on November 30 2011]. Nobody in the world, Yadlin told Panetta, believes that you mean business when you say "all options are on the table." With barely a year gone by, nowadays many do believe Uncle Sam. The Americans have been voicing a much sterner stance. The only dispute revolves around the timetable. For their part, the Americans explain that there is no "immunity zone" and there are no restrictions. Given American might, Iran can be attacked deep into the "immunity zone" even if it already acquires the nuclear capability, yet before it assembles an atomic bomb. These are two different objectives. Acquiring enough enriched uranium is not be-all and end-all. The Iranians are still quite a ways from assembling an operational nuclear warhead and having it mounted on a Shihab [long range] missile. Only when accomplished does this pose a strategic threat that could preclude a preemptive strike. That is why all intelligence officials, Israeli and American alike, estimate that there still remains a "thwarting period". In other words, the gun is still not to our head. This is not the eleventh hour. And that's why the Americans look Israelis straight in the eyes and say they will go the whole hog. The ayatollahs will not have a bomb. Period.

No Trust and No Belief

And this brings us to the Archimedean point of the entire story: Netanyahu and Barak do not believe Obama and Panetta. Period. The Israeli Prime Minister does not have strategic faith in the President of the United States. This puts a kibosh on the possibility of seeing Obama meeting with Netanyahu in the Oval Office, looking him straight in the eyes and saying: "Bibi, trust me. It's not going to happen. Period." There were times when the relationships used to be like that, between [former Israeli prime ministers] Rabin and Clinton; between Sharon and Bush and between Olmert and Bush. Those relationships were based on blind trust between leaders that did not lie to each other. This is wanting today. It's gone. So when [chairman of the Kadima Party] Shaul Mofaz met with Netanyahu and told him: "Bibi, leave it to them. They put in a lot of effort; they are making preparations and they are training; they're studying Iran," Netanyahu replied: "Obama won't strike." Mofaz retorted: "Give the man a chance," and Bibi rejoined "It's risky. In his second term, he [Obama] would care less about Israel than he does now." And that's the whole issue.

Mofaz could have talked himself blue in the face trying to convince Bibi that Obama had told him that he was "determined to prevent [Iran] from going nuclear." Bibi hears those things day in day out from Secretary Panetta, Secretary Clinton, National Security Adviser Donilon and Obama himself. Yet Bibi does not believe them; neither does Barak, or at least he pretends not to. If there had been trust between the parties, we could have been sleeping soundly. We would have been able to continue building Israel's military capability, however limited, yet still sleep soundly. But not with these guys. Given the current situation, the only time we would be able to sleep soundly is when we are six feet under. We are doomed not sleep a wink for a very long time. However, at least this week, following Panetta's visit [on August 1] some calm was noted on the various fronts. Until the next outburst of panic.

Found in: us army, us, panetta, obama, nuclear, netanyahu, iran, benjamin netanyahu, barak, attack

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