Monday, February 06, 2006

Newsweak's Flawed Analysis

Newsweek has a brief item in this week's edition, assessing a possible Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The article--appropriately entitled "Will Israel Strike Iran?" is part of a cover package on the threat posed by Tehran and its nut-job president.

According to the magazine, Israeli military planners have figured out a targeting scheme that would cripple Iran's nuclear program, and delay development of nuclear weapons. "You need to identify the bottlenecks," said one unnamed official. "There really aren't very many. If you take them out, then you really undermine the project." A retired Israeli general told Newsweek that the destruction of no more than 2 or 3 facilities--probably the Natanz uranium-enrichment complex and the the conversion facility at Esfahan--would probably suffice.

We've provided extensive coverage of the military aspects of a potential military strike, including these recent postings.

Getting to Iran.
Israel Drops a Hint.
Israel's Military Options.
Iran's Air Defense Threat.

There are more than a few problems with the Newsweek article--and the analysis it offers. First of all, the targeting assessment seems over optimistic. True, crippling the facilities at Esfahan and Natanz could delay the Iranian program, but that assumes that Iran doesn't have redundant, covert facilities that accomplish the same tasks. In recent years, Iranian opposition groups have identified at least two major complexes that were associated with Iran's nuclear program, but were essentially unknown to western intelligence agencies. Most analysts believe that Iran still has covert nuclear sites, offering redundant capabilities in key areas, including uranium enrichment. The likely existence of covert facilities could allow Iran to ride out the Israeli attack, and keep its program on track with minimal delay.

Newsweek also lends a little too much credence to Iran's air defenses. Despite the reported acquisition of Russian TOR-M1 (SA-15) surface-to-air missiles, Tehran's air defense system is aging and chaotic, hindered by aging weaponry (their best available SAM is the 30-year-old, U.S.-built HAWK system), and poor coordination between "regular" and "Revolutionary Guards" air defense units. Operating at medium altitude, the Israelis might be able to accomplish their strike with limited jamming support, reducing the number of support aircraft assigned to the strike package--and increasing the number of bombers.

But Newsweek really misses the mark when they note that "Israel's fleeting of aging KH-130 tankers doesn't have the capacity to get all those aircraft to the target and back again." Duh...those tankers are designed to "drag" fighters all the way to Iran and back. Their mission is to refuel helicopters and other short-range aircraft.

Apparently, the magazine has never heard of Israel's other tanker aircraft , the long-range KC-707. And, quite naturally, the Israelis didn't both to advertise that capability for Newsweek.

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