Iran-To be or not to attack.
There is a very interesting article that deserves some attention. The title Osirak Redux, and it deals with the question, can Israel launch a successful attack that would seriously damage the Irina’s quest for nuclear weapons. The authors, Whitney Raas and Austin Long are careful in their conclusions but after, examining the known inventory of Israeli weaponry, the capability of the IAF personnel and past missions they answer yes, recall the attack on Syria’s Osirak Reactor. But it is a yes that is wrapped in caution. Yes they acknowledge that Iranian air force is no match for the Israeli fighter platforms, its aircraft are old, spare parts a major problem, and as far as western and Israeli intelligence is aware, Iran does not have advanced surface to air missile systems, at least not yet. But, always the but, there are rumours it has some of the latest Soviet S 300 PMU2 SAMs that are purported to be the world’s best and possibly the latest in electronic aircraft tracking equipment namely the NNIIRT IL119 Nebo AESA radar which so far is impossible to jam. This equipment designed to guide SAM to their target suggests that perhaps Iran does have a few S300 (though the Russians are reported not to have shipped any to Iran even while they got paid for them) possibly re engineered copies of the one or two they did receive. While some question Iran’s technical competence those who have studied this aspect if Iran’s economy give it very high marks, noting that in 2009 Iran launched a successful satellite the OMID. Further it has the world’s fastest growing pool of engineering and scientist talent in the world. They are very good at reengineering and copying technology.
Regardless of the state of Iran’s weaponry to thwart an Israeli attack one fact stands out; there is small if no margin for error. Much can go wrong including Turkish and Saudi reaction to Israeli over flights. In this context the Saudis, while possessing some very advanced anti aircraft weaponry plus US Built aircraft(F15 and F15 E) might quietly agree to the over flights as they entertain an historical hatred of Shiite Iran. The more uncertain is the Turkish reaction. Relations between Israel and Turkey once extremely close, have since 2006 cooled to diplomatic freezing levels. The 2010 interception Gaza bound blockade breaking convey with the killing of 8 Turkish nationals led to the expulsion of the Israel’s ambassador to Ankara. Turkey now claims that Israel is aiding and abetting Kurdish resistance groups, and is suspicious of Israel’s motives. Thus there is no guarantee that Turkey, now a major player in the volatile Middle East, would agree to the IAF over flights on the way to Iran. But, there is always a but, Turkey while purporting to be secular is Sunni, which may or may not count on the day Israel decides to attack Iran. The other element is does Turkey really want an Iran, armed with the bomb to challenge Turkey for dominance in the Middle East. This is speculation, but if Turkey, with the 4th largest airfare in NATO and one of the world’s largest, well equipped and disciplined military, says no to the over flight Israel would be strongly advised to accept that reality. Notwithstanding of how good the IAF is, and it is very good indeed, it is still aircraft piloted by men and women, and human error is always a possibility. Air to air refuelling, (the targets are 1500KM away) equipment failure, a tougher and faster Iranian reaction. The only certainty is that there is little margin for error. Lose one or two aircraft and the mission ends up a failure. Further, is just how much damage can the IAF inflict Iran’s nuclear facilities when they are scattered throughout Iran. Israel also knows that its military reputation took a pounding from Hezbollah in the second Lebanon war, and the subsequent attack on Gaza did not help restore it’s’ standing. Only the IAF has maintained its status as one of the very best, but a failed attack on Iran might pierce that shield of constant success. Particularly if it involves an attack without warning on a soverign nation, not to mention US reaction.
But there are other factors that must be considered. The first, no one really can say just how far Iran has in fact progressed in developing the capability to build an atomic weapon. Estimates range from less than a year to three or more. While Iran has some highly competent world class scientists their intellectual/scientific cadres have been decimated. Estimates are the since the revolution of 1979 over 3 million of the educated elite have fled Iran. That is a huge loss of, which suggests that other sectors of the Iran’s industry are losing key personnel to the nuclear program. And while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spends his time denying the Holocaust, threatening Israel with annihilation and helps maintain Hamas and Hezbollah there is the question, is he posturing, are his threats to be taken literally. Is it possible that his prancing about Iran’s nuclear facilities is like the S300 SAMs paraded as a display of strength? The reality was that the S300 was a fake, constructed of welded together oil drums. Is then “the quest for the bomb” more a charade covering up the fact that perhaps Iran does not have the capability to build a bomb and build additional generating reactors...? It was only with massive Russian assistance that the first reactor at Bushehr which came on stream in September 2011. Yet Ahmadinejad might have another objective, proving a cause that all Iranians can support. Latest polls show 71% of Iranians say Iran should have the bomb, this in a nation that is short of Social Capitol. But wanting does not mean having. Yet surrounding the whole arguement about Iran’s nuclear programme is the belief among some that Iran does need an alternative energy source due to the condition of its natural gas, oil and refining sectors. Lack of refining capability means Iran has to import almost half is its need for refined products such as gasoline. To bring the oil, natural gas and refining industry up to pre 1979 levels would require and expenditure of over 165 billion by 2030
Still the imposition of increasing sanctions on Iran including an embargo on Iran oil exports (though both India and Sri Lanka are not participating) has been strongly criticized by Russia. This could give Russia a opening to extend its influence in the region and temp it to provide material and technical support to Tehran a posture that would fit in with Vladimir Putin’s plans to restore Russia’s place as a major power and of course curtail whatever ambitions turkey has in the region. But Russia has to tread softly-Does she really want an Iran with nuclear weapons on its border. Recall the instability and radicalism of the Muslim in the North Caucasus (including Chechnya) the fact that Russia, if current trends continue will have a Muslim majority within 30 years and its conscript army will have a majority of Museums sometime between 2015-2020. This Muslim population, while not `radical’ in general contains an active armed militant element, witness Chechnya. And these Muslims are Anti American and anti Israel, both counties are seen as Kafirs (unbelievers) who wish to contain the power of Islam. So it was that Russia was a strong supporter of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, and has been extremely hesitant in imposing sanctions on Iran.
So what is Ahmadinejad game plan? Keep in mind he is ruthless, clever and cunning politician who has survived massive demonstrations, gain control and the loyalty of the Army of the Guards of the Islamic Revolution, (IRGC) a force committed to a fundamentalist Islam. Others claim that it is the Mullahs that still through the supreme council run Iran. It was the Revolutionary Guards whose ranks embraced martyrdom during the Iran Iraq war, by walking through minefields or attacking in WW 1 style entrenched Iraqi troops. But they have also become major players in the Iranian economy running from car manufacturing to oil production-and inevitably this has led to the stench of corruption.
Beholden to the president are the `Moral Police’ the Basij. They are the ones who were turned loose on the 2009 demonstrations after the last Iranian election, they enforce the `moral rectitude’ of the population, and they are the ones who embraced martyrdom during the Iran Iraq war. But, he is having to deal with an unemployment rate which is estimated at 20%. But far more dangerous to the stability of the regime is the unemployment rate of 23% (20.2% male) among the 15-25 age group. And as history shows countries with large numbers of unemployed young males is the tinder box of revolution. Of the 270,000 University Graduates who enter the labour market, only 20% will find employment. For the total population things are not much better. Overall 21.8 % earning $11 a day or less, 40% are below the poverty line. Couple these harsh economic realities with endemic corruption,(Iran ranks among the ten most corrupt nations) and inflation, (16% plus) and as sanctions start to bite these figures will get worse, and Ahmadinejad political future, suspect. The card he seems to be playing to possibly gain time is to appeal to Iranian nationalism through the nuclear program, and the threat of an US Israel attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
How this might play out is difficult to predict. Can he control the revolutionary Guards, and what of the professional army (Artesh) which seems to operate in the shadow of the Army of the Guards of the Islamic Revolution, (Sepah). Established by Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini after the 1979 Revolution its role was to secure the revolution and maintain internal order. In this the IRGC has under command the Basij-e-Mostaz’afin, Mobilization or Basij, whose mandate seems to match that of the Stasi, NKVD or the Nazi SS and Gestapo and who have gained a reputation of thugery, particularly in helping suppress the protests of 2009. Comparison to the NAZI SS under Heinrich Himmler are valid, both formations are used to preserve the regime, to control and limit dissent, and to impose `moral’ behaviour on the population. They are also fiercely loyal to the Ayatollah, as the SS to Himmler, and like the SS they are without mercy or a moral/human rights compass.
So the implied threats the waving of the nuclear flag from the embattled battlement of Iran’s president continues. Should it be taken seriously, and after the Weapons of Mass Destruction fiasco in Iraq can anyone believe the reports of Iran’s nuclear programme regardless of where they originate. And always the conniving manipulations of President Ahmadinejad go on. He has managed by accident or design to work the seam between Russia, China and the United States and its allies. His extreme statements perhaps hiding his vulnerability, his bluster a cover for the fact that Iran is singularly ill equipped to march to the sound of the drums. Yet one must ask, is there method to his madness of hinting at nuclear weaponry, or simply a form of religious fundamentalism laced with the twin poisons of hatred and anger. Will we ever know. But one thing we do know. President Ahmadinejad has not unleashed Iran’s terrorist subcontractor Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel. Certainly Hezbollah’s charismatic leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has not softened his stance of `War against the Zionist foe’ and the destruction of the State of Israel, yet his well entrenched troops have remained calm even as their main benefactor Iran struggles against American led sanctions and oil import embargoes. Perhaps as Iran does not want to push Israel and the US into the corner of military retaliation, or to create a situation where the US would back Israel if it struck at the Hezbollah strong hold in southern Lebanon. Possibly, Iran sees the Hezbollah as a trump card, attack Iran and Hezbollah’s array of Russian and Syrian rickets will rain down on Northern Israel.
Still let us assume that our Ahmadinejad has a long range strategy which does not exclude some form of negotiation. Let us assume the impossible (as opposed to a miracle) and he and Benjamin Netanyahu face each other across the table. Two men with more in common than meets the eye. Both are experts at working the political process, or deal making, ducking and weaving, of been liberal with the truth, of promises made and broken, commitments cheerfully ignored. Power drives both. There is still more, both have degrees under the broad heading of engineering/science, both served in elite military units during conflict, Ahmadinejad (if the reports are to be believed) with the Special Brigade of Revolutionary Guards during the Iraq war, Netanyahu with the elite Sayeret Matkal, both share the view that history has anointed their nations with singular purpose, and both have clawed their way up the slippery slope of the politics of their respective nations and share a propensity for hyperbolae Both have been accused of corruption, which did not end their political careers. Perhaps they could exchange war stories or political adventurers, who knows, except to quote Churchill, better jaw jaw jaw the war war war.