Thursday, March 1, 2012

Why an Israeli strike on Iran is unlikely

Bruce Krasting wrote a post today about the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran. I would like to add my two cents worth on the issue and describe I think it is unlikely. Here is what he wrote:
Will Israel allow Iran to develop a nuke?
Not a chance in hell.

What is the “over - under on timing”?
Certainly less than two years.

Does Israel have the capacity to take out concrete hardened facilities in Iran?
Yes, but this is by no means an easy task.
The latest question is where I differ from Krasting. An Israeli strike on Iran isn`t the same as past strikes on a single reactor in Iraq, which involved a single target.

Consider the logistics of an air strike on Iran. Most of the analysis that I have seen indicate that a strike on Iran would involve simultaneous strikes on between 40 and 80 targets. Here is one example out of many that I`ve found [emphasis added]:
There are 25 to 30 installations in Iran which are exclusively or predominately dedicated to the nuclear program. Six of them are targets of the first rank: the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, the conversion works in Isfahan, the heavy water reactor in Arak, the weapons and munitions production facility in Parchin, the uranium enrichment facility in Fordow, and the Bushehr light water reactor.
Iranians have air defenses. It isn't just a simple case of taking out these sites, some of which are hardened and buried under tons of rock. You have to hit radar sites, communications sites, SAM sites, air bases, etc. Once you add it all up, 80 or site separate air strikes is a realistic number.

Krasting also put up a map of the region and wrote that a route over Syria and Iraq is the most likely possibility, a conclusion with which I agree.

Supposing that the Israeli cabinet authorized airstrikes on Iran. Consider the questions:
  1. If the IAF had to fly escorts, jamming aircraft and likely refueling tankers (so that the strike force would have sufficient range to return to base), does it have sufficient air assets to conduct 40-80 simultaneous strikes? Answer: No.
  2. If some of these sites are so hardened, could they be taken out without the use of tactical nukes? Answer: Maybe, but if they were to nuke Iran, they would have to consider the repercussions.
  3. Who has that kind of capability to conduct such an operation? Answer: The Americans.
  4. Given the size of the air armada that would have to transit Syria and Iraq, would Israel inform the Americans of such a strike? Answer: Maybe, but there are risks.
Whatever you think about Iran and her nuclear ambitions, any operation that contemplates the bombing of Iran is fraught with risk. The Israelis likely don't have that capability. Even if they did, they would have to do it with the approval of the Americans, who have that kind of capability of cruise missiles and air assets.

Consider the blowback if the Israeli cabinet decided not to inform their American allies of a strike on Iran. First, such a massive air armada would have to transit Iraqi airspace. While the Iraqi wishes may be ignored, the US still has military assets in the region. How would American commanders react to a surprise air armada transiting Iraqi airspace? Does the Israeli cabinet want to take a chance of having engaging American fighters (if they chose to intercept) or allowing IAF planes to be shot down by the Americans?

That's why I believe that any decision to bomb Iran must be done with the approval of the United States, which is unlikely. Obama, or any other president, will know that the Iranians will interpret a bombing campaign as being done with the approval of America, which will leave American troops in Iraq and elsewhere in the region vulnerable to guerrilla attacks as well as expose the American homeland to higher risks of terrorism. Notwithstanding the political and costs to American standing in the Middle East and Muslim world., I wrote before the United States cannot afford another war and I stand by that analysis.

In short, any strike on Iran by Israel must be done with American cooperation - and the US is unlikely to give the green light to such an action given the political risks and fiscal costs involved.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. ("Qwest"). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

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