Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

After (If) the Iran Deal: What does Israel Do Next?

Nothing could be more predictable than this headline from CNN today: Does Israel have a military option vs. Iran nuclear program?

(CNN)The Iran nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, reportedly have made substantive progress, inching closer toward a provisional agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. While the talks continued to unfold this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restated his concern about an agreement with Iran, vowing “to continue to act against any threat.”

If an agreement is reached, the international spotlight will turn to Israel, in anticipation of its possible reaction. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe “Bogy” Yaalon stated that a deal is “a tragedy for the whole world.” The question is, however, what can Israel really do once a deal is signed? In recent days, notable conservatives in the United States have attacked President Barack Obama’s handling of the negotiations with Iran, arguing that a bad deal will force Israel’s hand, leaving it with no choice but to attack Iranian targets.

But is this a realistic conclusion?

My answer to that question is “I don’t think so.” On what do I base that conclusion? On expert opinion. To which skeptics would ask “What makes YOU an expert?”. To which my reply is: “Man it is not MY expert opinion. It is THESE guys”. Who THEY are and what THEY say will require a visit below the fold.

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Israel: Demography vs. Democracy

Preliminary election results from the Israeli elections are due in a couple of hours and no one who follows this even a little bit imagines that the path going forward is anything but fraught with uncertainty. Indeed it is not clear that given the polling that any stable government can be formed. But what is clear is that on this election day Netanyahu threw down on democracy. He is openly appealing to his base that the existential threat to Israel is a get out the vote campaign among ‘Israeli-Arabs’ aided in his view by foreign NGOs and hostile states.

In an American context this is exactly parallel to shouting “ACORN!” and “New Black Panther Party!” and “Aztlan!” Except where the latter cries are only an implicit (tho barely hidden) appeal to an old idea that ‘American’ = ‘Anglo-American Judeo-Christian’ that ‘dares not say its name’ Israel is officially committed to being a Democratic Jewish State. Well there is nothing democratic about voter suppression among those citizens of your country that are not Jewish (in the case of Israel) or ‘American’ (under the definition used by much of the American Right).

Israel faces some stark choices today. There is a path forward that yields an actual Democratic Jewish Israel. It runs through the Two State solution. There is another path that yields a simple Jewish State of Israel. It runs through a policy of Permanent Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and perhaps through disenfranchisement of the ‘Israeli-Arab’ population of Israel proper. And for those of a certain Real-Politik frame, which at this point certainly includes Netanyahu, this may be workable and realistic, at least under the medium term. After all the apartheid regime of South Africa ‘worked’ (in the sense of supplying well-being to the white minority) for decades. As did in many ways and seen from the same perspective did Pinochet’s Chile over the same time period. And in both cases the U.S. government gave explicit support to both those regimes under the Kirkpatrick Doctrine.

But foreign policy ‘Realism’ or not what was clear to all was that neither South Africa or Chile was a democracy. Which wasn’t a problem to the Kissingers and Reagans and Kirpatricks then or to the Boltons and Kristols now. And it is certainly possible that U.S. governments going forward will simply embrace Israel under a Netanyahu policy of Neo-Apartheid as just being the ‘realistic’ thing to do. But as in the past it will make a mockery out of our claims to back ‘Democracy’. Because Israel will not be small d ‘democratic’.

Netanyahu threw off is cloak of deception by announcing that under no circumstances would there be a Palestinian State along side Israel. He doubled down by declaring an emergency for his party followers in the form of ‘Israeli-Arabs’ actually exercising their rights as citizens to a vote. That combination makes it impossible to have a Democratic Jewish Israel that permanently includes the West Bank. Such a State can be Democratic or Jewish but not both. (Not even if every European Jew exercised his or her right to Aliyah – another stop-gap policy Netanyahu has been pushing.)

It will be an interesting few hours, days and weeks ahead.

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The Map Office Still Calling: Israeli capabilities for striking Iran

Back in 2009 I put up a post with the title Joe Biden? The Map Office is Calling! after Joe had apparently given a green light to Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. In it I pointed to a study by Toukan and Cordesman Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities . On my reading the authors, without explicitly saying as much, concluded that such a unilateral strike was impossible simply on a logistical basis, while Israel had the offensive punch to deliver such a strike it just didn’t have the in-air fuel supply capacity to get the planes safelyback out of Iranian airspace and returned to their bases. You can read the study for yourself and my take on it but the IIRC longish comment thread it sparked didn’t survive the transition to Word Press from Blogger.

Be that as it may the talk of Israel finally running out of patience with the U.S. and taking out Iran’s nuclear capabiity on its own still persists today. Leading me to wonder if Israel had in the intervening years actually beefed up its in-air refueling capability in a way that would allow it to successfully carry out this strike today. And through the miracle of Google I found what is essentially an September 2012 update by Toukan and Cordesman Analyzing the Impact of Preventive Strikes Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities Like the first piece this latest study contains an amazing wealth of detail on both the Israeli and Iranian Order of Battle for both a conventional aerial attack or one launched by ballistic missiles as well as detailed information on the nuclear programs both military and civilian for both parties. so it is well worth reading for that alone.

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Culture Indeed Makes All the Difference. (Just not necessarily in the way Romney meant.)

JERUSALEM — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy had outpaced the economy of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.” …

Romney said he had studied a book called “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” searching for an answer about why two neighboring places–the U.S. and Mexico, for instance, or Israel and the Palestinian areas–could have such disparate prosperity.

“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from that book, by David Landes. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

Wait.  Culture makes all the difference?  I thought it was tax rates on the wealthy and on corporations that makes all the difference.   Oh, and not having national universal health insurance. 

But aren’t Israel’s tax rates on the wealthy and on corporations much higher than the tax rates here during the 1990s—the tax rates that Obama wants to reinstate and that Romney says would amount to socialism?  And certainly during the last decade?  And doesn’t Israel have national universal health insurance? 

Gosh.  Maybe it really is culture, rather than tax rates that so favor the wealthy and a minimal social safety net, that determines economic prosperity.  At least concerning tax policy, that’s certainly been true for the United States, whose economic prosperity seems directly negatively correlated to low tax rates for the wealthy and for corporations, and to deregulation.  And whose culture regarding tax and regulatory policy has changed dramatically in the last three decades.  


NOTE: I removed an earlier draft of this post in order to repost it with needed editing. (Funny, how the misplacing of two commas in a sentence can make the sentence say the opposite of what you intended.)

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Israel’s Big Bluff on Iran: You Just Have to Ignore Physics and Geography

Which though not stated so baldly is the clear conclusion of the following: Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman:
Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development.

The authors outline three different attack routes the Israelis could use, each having its own set of political and military problems, but the real missing piece is the refueling. Theoretically Israel might barely have the range to get its planes on target but not to recover them. In fact it appears that a successful raid would depend on refueling the planes on the way in and again on the way out. Which would not only require just about 2X Israel’s actual aerial refueling capacity, but would have those planes staging for hours and hours in either Turkish, U.S. controlled Iraqi, or Saudi Arabian air space. And while Turkey and the U.S. might not relish a one on one attack on the actual Israeli strike force, and perhaps Saudi Arabia wouldn’t even attempt it, it would be hard to plausibly ignore those Israeli KC-135s doing figure eights in your airspace waiting for those F-15s and F-16s on the way in AND on the way out.

And since someone is bound to bring them up, similar limits apply to an Eitan drone or Dolphin submarine led attack, Israel doesn’t have the combination of numbers, range, and deliverable payload to get the job done. Not without the active assistance of the U.S. at a minimum as to refueling and emergency air fields, but likely with actual strike assistance as well.

If any of our commenter/military aviators can point me to or supply themselves a convincing refutation of Toukan and Cordesman then I am certainly willing to reconsider, but on my reading it just can’t be done. Unless Israel bluffs the U.S. into doing it for them.

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Is Israel on Deadline? or Who will Control Iraqi Airspace in 2012?

by Bruce Webb

A little over a year ago I put up the following map from Cordesman and Toukan’s Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities

A year later and this issue is back in the headlines and specifically in association with the publication by the uber-Likudnik Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in the Atlantic tomorrow called The Point of No Return which essentially argues that the U.S. should bomb Iran and start a third mid-East war basically to save Israel the trouble of doing it itself. So maybe it is time to revisit Cordesman-Toukan in light of the current withdrawal schedule from Iraq.

In the article Cordesman and Toukan provide a comprehensive breakdown of both Israeli and Iranian missile capabilities and of the respective capabilities of Israel to launch an air attack and Iran to defend against one. Which makes it a useful read all on its own. But I want to highlight the above map that shows the three possible attack routes given the limitations of Israeli air ranges. Some things of note. In each case Israel would need in-air refueling both on the way in and on the way out, meaning that they would have to stage their KC-135’s over the strike routes for some period of time, and all three of the strike routes require transiting Iraqi air space as well as either Saudi, Syrian or Turkish skies. Leaving for comments the question of whether either Turkey (given the recent Gaza embargo sea clash) or Saudi Arabia would look the other way and not even challenge the refueling effort, will the U.S. retain enough air assets in Iraq after mid-2011 to support an air-refueling effort on behalf of Israel or to provide safe havens for returning Israeli fighter bombers that might sustain damage?

The United States has formally controlled at least Northern and Southern Iraqi airspace since the first Gulf War via the No-Fly Zones. I surmise, though don’t know for sure, that that control will lapse upon U.S. withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, or that if there is a residual U.S. air presence that it will at least on paper be subject to Iraqi government approval. Which leads to the question in the title of the post, the whole premise of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran relies on at least tacit assistance by the U.S. and either Saudi Arabia or Turkey and given the refueling constraints outlined by Cordesman and Toukan almost certainly active assistance at least on the way out, because once those bombs start dropping nobody is going to be able to pretend nothing is going on.

So is time running out for Israel? Is that why we are getting the big push by Goldberg and others? Because they know that any such attack without full US control of Iraqi air space falls from the realm of improbable to impossible?

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Joe Biden? The Map Office is Calling!

by Bruce Webb

The blogosphere is alive with news that Joe implicitly green-lighted an Israeli attack on Iran. Well I had my say here and there. I just want to share a map from Cordesman and Toukan’s Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities in part because it tells its own story. Plus it’s pretty damn cool looking.

Gosh if a ‘sovereign’ Israel just decides to bomb Iran who could possibly blame the U.S.? It is not like we totally control Iraqi air space.

Oh wait.

Israel cannot attack Iran without material assistance from the U.S. which at a minimum means refueling assistance and emergency landing fields. Full stop.

Update 2. Well the map apparently didn’t tell the whole story. So here is Cordesman and Toukman’s ‘Mission Analysis’. Note the mismatch between refueling requirements and actual refueling planes in the Israeli fleet. Note too that the analysis assumes zero effectiveness among Iranian Air and Ground Defense. Iranian pilots may be as bad as Buff assumes, but I don’t think we can say the same thing about Iran’s large supply of Soviet built surface to air missiles.

(update- JS Kit doesn’t recognize my phone. So I will respond to comments here

The Sunday Times (UK) released a very short report based on a supposed secret briefing by Mossad to Netanyahu about some clearance by Saudi Arabia. The only source actually named in the story is John Bolton and considering the J Post/Sunday Times/Murdoch/AIPAC nexus I am waiting for some more authoritative sourcing. For example Haaretz is today reporting an official government denial.

As for the Eitan it is an unmanned turbo-prop more designed for surveilance than bombing hardened targets with its negligible payload. It would be shot down the instant it went under 20000 feet. At 40000 ft it is practically untouchable. Then again so was the U-2-we thought.

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Trace the Bombing Route from Israel to Iran

Time for our military readers to step up.

Various basement bloggers belonging to the 101st Fighting Keyboardists continually tell us the next step is Israel bombing Iran. But can someone explain exactly how this would work in detail? I mean in actual detail including 1) Israeli strike capabilities, 2) Iranian air defense capabilities, 3a) how you get overflight rights or 3b) how you give a big FU to the Turks or Saudis if you don’t try to get those rights, and 4) the biggie, how do you establish and maintain aerial refueling capacity?

I can see fairly reasonable scenarios under which Israel could pull a fast one and get bombers on target in Iran, but I don’t see any that allow them to get back to Israel that don’t require full co-operation from the United States. Which co-operation would be legally the equivalent of a declaration of war.

A few months ago Israel reportedly did a practice run over much the same distances but instead of flying East flew West over the Med. Which didn’t require them getting overflight rights from anyone, still less having to take air defense capabilities into account. This map tells me a much different story. Someone, anyone lay out a serious case of how Israel physically pulls this off. Note that Turkey is part of NATO and has 210 F-16s and around 200 F-4s. It is not like they could just be brushed aside. American equipped and trained with all the money in the world for buying and upgrading equipment. Among other aircraft around 150 F-15s. Handicapped somewhat in that their original fleet was American supplied and so have suffered from parts embargoes. But in recent years have had plenty of opportunity to buy Russian planes and missiles. Nobody doubts the IAF are good, but do they really have the fire power to both bomb Iran AND protect whatever air-refueling capability they would need? Or do their planes really have the range to fly both ways while ignoring surface-to-air defences from territories they are crossing?

This isn’t a game of Battleship, or Stratego, or Risk. Real Commanders need to have real plans to get real planes on target across real terrain plus a plan to safely extract those planes. I don’t see any way of doing this without the full compliance of President Obama. Which raises two questions for any would be war monger.

One. How do you get Obama to greenlight this? or Two. What do you do if he says ‘No’? Given the realities revealed by this map. Because from all I see there is a lot more involved than Bibi just saying ‘Go’.

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