The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is "drawing up plans to attack Iran's nuclear facilities," and is prepared to strike "without U.S. backing."
Officials in the Israeli Defence Ministry told the Post that while they prefer to act in consultation with the US, they were preparing plans that would allow them to act in isolation.
"It is always better to coordinate," a senior Defence Ministry official told the newspaper. "But we are also preparing options that do not include coordination."
But the day after the Post report appeared, Israeli defense officials appeared to back away from those claims, telling the U.K. Times a unilateral strike by the IDF would "probably fail" to take out all of Iran's nuclear facilities. That would leave Israel potentially vulnerable to an Iranian counter-strike, particularly after Tehran develops nuclear weapons.
“We could not risk an operation which would only partially succeed," one defence official told The Times.
Still, that unnamed defense official and at least one member of the Parliament refused to rule out the option of a unilateral attack. "There is always the option of Israel going it alone. It just does not seem like a good option at present time,” the Knesset member told the Times.
In fact, the thrust of both the Post account and the Times article are misleading. The Israelis have always understood that the chances for a joint attack against Iran are virtually nil, for obvious political reasons. Additionally, the Israeli government realizes that last year's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) virtually eliminated the possibility of a preemptive U.S. strike. Given those realities, a unilateral Israeli attack is probably the only short-term military option for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.
That's why Israeli planning is based on the "go it alone" option. When Israeli Air Force officers outlined strike options with their USAF counterparts two years ago, the plans did not call for any American involvement. The Israelis even described options for forward basing--arrangements made without U.S. consultation.
As we've noted in previous posts, Israel has more than sufficient military power to mount an air strike against Iran. Two of the three potential routes (through Turkey and around the Arabian Peninsula) would take Israeli jets outside U.S.-controlled airspace.
Obviously, the most direct routing--across Iraq--would send IAF fighters through skies patrolled by the U.S. military. But the presence of American aircraft does not preclude the Iraq route. Even without the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) codes mentioned in the Times account, the Israelis could still send their strike package through Iraq, and face only a moderate risk.
We base that assessment on several factors. First, in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom (and the end of Saddam's air force), we removed AWACS aircraft and Patriot batteries from the country. Radar coverage of Iraq is now based largely on ground sites and controllers, who vector our fighters toward suspicious tracks. Due to terrain and other factors, ground based radar often has coverage gaps, particularly at low altitude, that could be exploited by an in-bound strike package.
Secondly, assuming that the Israeli formation is detected, it wouldn't be difficult to discern their intentions, based on its likely heading and composition. At that point, American commanders would face an immediate--and crucial decision--do they send our fighters against the IAF, or simply watch them go by? There's ample reason to believe that we would let the Israelis pass, knowing their destination.
Besides, the U.S. will be accused of complicity in the attack, regardless of our actual reaction. Just one more reason to let the Israelis pass, and make our protests later, through diplomatic channels.
However, with a new administration taking office, Israel may be less inclined to jeopardize its relationship with Washington. That's one reason that a flight path across southern Turkey may be Israel's most viable option. Taking advantage of rugged terrain and various deception options, IAF jets could fly through Turkish airspace with even lower odds of detection. In fact, many U.S. assessments of Israeli strike profiles are based on routing through Turkey, rather than Iraq.
This much we know: with Iran's nuclear program continuing apace, Israel's moment of decision is rapidly approaching. The Israeli government has long been prepared to "go it alone." The real question is when the "execute" order might be issued.
More on the Israeli decision-making process (and possible strike scenarios) from Rick Moran at RightWing Nuthouse.