Friday, September 29, 2006

Laying the Foundation

With the end of the Israel-Hizballah conflict, most members of the western press hopped on a plane and quickly forgot about the region, and what may happen next. That's hardly a surprise, since the media's collective attention span equates that of a sugared-up six-year old, but in this case, the MSM has missed a subtle--yet important--shift in Israeli discussions of the Iranian threat, and how to deal with it. Simply stated, Israeli leaders have been quietly conditioning their populace for an eventual military strike against Iran. At this point, the conditioning efforts appear more aimed at preparing the public for eventual action, rather than an imminent attack. Still, this represents an important change in the Israeli tone, which (at one time) emphasized the importance diplomacy and an international response.

Interestingly, PM Olmert began to reshape the Iran debate several months ago, before the conflict with Hizballah. In late June, he held a rare meeting with three former prime ministers--Netanyahu, Barak and Peres--and the session was devoted to a "serious discussion" of the Iranian threat. Photo ops from the meeting conveyed a sense of unity and purpose on the Iran issue, transcending Israel's deep political divides.

When the Lebanon conflict raised questions about Israel's military performance, Mr. Olmert moved quickly to rehabilitate the image of its primary, long-range strike force, the IAF. In a late August speech in Haifa--a city hard-hit by Hizballah rockets during the war--Olmert was quick to recount the IAF's successes against the terrorists. He noted that the IAF destroyed most of Hizballah's long-range rockets in the first hour of the war, reducing the threat posed to cities and targets deep inside Israel. He likened the IAF's first strike to those of the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1982 Bekka Valley campaign, which devastated enemy air forces. Mr. Olmert also indicated that the IAF remains prepared to strike targets well beyond Israel's borders, an obvious reference to Iran. By comparison, Olmert has offered less praise for the Israeli Army and Navy, services that were also engaged in the Lebanon fight, but would not play a role in attacking Iran.

Olmert's government has also heaped praise on the IDF Chief, Lt Gen Dan Halutz, the former head of the IDF. Halutz has been criticized for his management of the Lebanon campaign, but recent articles in Israeli publications have contrasted "public" perceptions of Halutz against more laudatory assessments within defense circles. These articles appear designed (in part) to underscore Olmert's confidence in General Halutz, and his ability to take the fight to Iran, if necessary.

It will be interesting to see how far Mr. Olmert takes this effort--if he survives in office. The Israeli Prime Minister is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal, reminiscent of the Duke Cunningham scandal in the United States. According to Israeli press accounts, Mr. Olmert and his wife purchased a home at far below its market value, from a firm seeking political favors. Olmert has claimed he did nothing wrong, but he was questioned about the matter by investigators earlier this week.

Additionally, some of Olmert's remarks may serve other purposes. His approval ratings sank in the wake of the Lebanon conflict, and he may feel compelled to praise members of his security team, to avoid further damage to his own popularity. But his efforts to present a "unified front" on the Iran issue, strong public support for the IAF and comments by other politicians on the "inevitability" of a showdown with Iran, suggest something else is afoot, namely an important shift in the Israeli debate over Tehran's nuclear program, and the best way to handle it.


copy editor said...

This is all very interesting. Your supposition that Olmert was moving toward a strike on Iran seems to match the reporting of Sy Hersh in the New Yorker.

Just thought I'd throw that out there. ;-)

sid said...

I have a hard time seeing how any effective airstrikes could be launched against Iran by Israel.
Unlike Osarik, the targets are numerous and hardened. and are nearly treble the distance.
Also, unlike 1981, the airspace in the middle east is now blanketed by air traffic control systems that double as air defense networks. These systems serve the increase in commercial air traffic that traverses the region. Somebody would more than most likely spot the strike package early on and wonder about it with whomever may be the controlling agency. Gone are the days of flying undetected through the empty desert airspace of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The most direct route across Syria and Iraq -the latter with US controlled airspace- is out of the question, as is any route over Turkey.
Any strike would require extensive refueling. Even if the problem of the limited tanker assets is overcome, there still is the problem of where to stage them. Its strains credulity to think that any country would allow staging them forward or allowing the Israleis to set up tanker tracks in their airspace.
In short, I simply cannot see how they can get there or back in any scenario short of a one way nuke strike.

Good Ole Charlie said...


How about refueling from US Tankers?

Who's to know until it's too late?


Mike said...

ATC radars can't double as air defense networks because they aren't designed to work as "radars," per se. They send out a relatively weak signal that triggers a transponder on-board the aircraft. The only way to detect an aircraft with the transponder turned off is to get a skin paint, an iffy proposition with a standard commercial airliner, much less a fighter sized airframe.

As for airspace, Syria's air defenses are a joke; witness the IAF buzzing Assad's vacation home. The U.S. controls Iraqi airspace; we could very easily turn a blind eye.

Regarding refueling tracks, I agree that it is an iffy proposition at best, but I also have no doubt that the IAF would use one-way strikes in order to destroy Iran's nuclear arsenal if that's what was required.

sid said...

Thats not quite so Mike, while our ATC system works primarily off transponder returns, "primary radar" has always been there and is a big part of the process. But since the system was not geared to react to a suddenly hostile participating aircraft is how AAL 11 got "lost" and made it back to DC. Every other hijacked aircraft was tracked as low as the radar horizon would allow on that sad Septemember day even though their transponders were turned off as well.
Since 9/11 our ATC system once predicated on cooperative targets has changed quite a bit.

The ATC systems getting bought in the middle east are specifically designed for the double duty of ATC and national airspace surveillance.

As far as flying over Syria, the point is that any strike headed points east would be detected (if not seriously engaged-but any engagement would be a serious problem for a package that has to travel another several hundred miles) and there would be plenty of warning time.

Iraqi airspace is not solely controlled by Americans, Iraqis are there too and nominally in charge. There would be no hiding our tacit or covert support if we tried....and THEN the sh-t would hit the fan!

Short of a nuclear strike, I doubt the IAF would fly off into oblivion in Iran. Its highly doubtful one Osarik like strike would accomplish much.

sid said...

Oops, meant AAL 77, which hit the Pentagon.
Although primary radar hits were available, the preoccupation with events in New York which already had thrown NY Bos and Cle centers into complete disarray, and the unprecedented behavior of the flight kept the folks in Indy and DC centers (not to mention DC Approach in Leesburg and the FAA command center in Herndon) from getting a handle on the situation.

sid said...

ATC radars can't double as air defense networks because they aren't designed to work as "radars," per se. They send out a relatively weak signal that triggers a transponder on-board the aircraft.

On 9/11, the terrorists turned off the transponders on three of the four hijacked aircraft.With its transponder off, it is possible, though more difficult, to track an aircraft by its primary radar returns. But unlike transponder data, primary radar returns do not show the aircraft’s identity and altitude. Controllers at centers rely so heavily on transponder signals that they usually do not display primary radar returns on their radar scopes. But they can change the configuration of their scopes so they can see primary radar returns.They did this on 9/11 when the transponder signals for three of the aircraft disappeared.94

Utopia Parkway said...

It seems obvious that a single bombing run of Isreali planes on Iranian targets would not be sufficient. Comparisons with Lebanon make this clear.

What would be required would be a forward base, close to or inside Iran, where Israel could re-arm, re-fuel and from which the IAF could attack Iranian targets repeatedly as needed to guarantee their destruction. Such a base or bases would be commandeered and utilized for a week or so. Likely targets for such a forward base would be air bases or commercial airports in southern Iran, near the ocean, or eastern Syria.

Mike said...

Good points all, Sid. I stand corrected. However, largely thanks to Utopia's comment, I do think that we're all barking up the wrong tree. An Osirak like strike is more or less out of the question, for a variety of reasons. Any strikes will be geared as very close to full on war.