Israel is running out of time to use air power to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities and delay Iranian efforts to build and deploy nuclear weapons. The “fighting season” in the eastern portion of the Middle East runs from March to early October, and then heavy weather sets in. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated last week that Israel could independently attack Iran’s nuclear program, but acknowledged that the attack would only delay, rather than completely destroy it.
Israel has entered a long-term crisis as a result of the Arab Spring radicalizing the Middle East. Under Muslim Brotherhood control, Egypt is re-militarizing the Sinai Peninsula, while Iran is becoming the most powerful entity in the Middle East. Israel sees its military position weakening over the long-run, due to its size, despite its current military superiority. Evolving events potentially may undermine that military superiority, and therefore Israel feels pressured to act now to preserve it.
Israel does not have the United States’ armada of B-2 bombers, equipped with the Massive Ordnance Penetrator that could cause tremendous damage to the deep and hardened underground Iranian weapons sites. The United States also has positioned the Enterprise and Dwight D. Eisenhower air craft carriers, and the Iwo Jima, “Big Deck Amphibious Warfare Ship”, to be within close striking distance of Iran. But President Obama seems unwilling to order a strike, unless Iran becomes more aggressive by curtailing oil shipment through the Straits of Hormuz. Consequently, Israel will have to rely on its own capability to confront Iran.
Israel can field a strike force of approximately 100 Lockheed Martin F-16 and 25 Boeing F-15 Boeing F-15 fighter-bombers equipped with long range conformal fuel tanks, supported by up to ten converted Boeing 707 aerial refueling tankers. Since the lower speed and greater vulnerability of the tankers would restrict their ability to enter Iranian airspace, the American built bombers will only have limited time over their targets.
According to the Stratfor Reports, the Israeli air force would have to choose one of three potential air corridors to attack Iran. Each route would “pose serious threats to Israel’s aircraft and cause significant diplomatic problems with Iran — and potentially the rest of the Islamic world — if they allowed Israeli jets to cross unchallenged.” The northern route would circumvent Syria’s air defense network by flying between Cyprus and Syria, and then proceeding eastward along the Turkey-Syria border into northern Iraq, and then south into Iran. The shortest route is to fly directly over Jordan and Iraq and into central Iran, but it is expected that Iraq would provide intelligence and warning to Iran, given their close defense relationship. The third route would fly south over Saudi Arabia and across the Persian Gulf. But this path would fly directly into Iran’s premier air defense missile systems and be seen by Iran as declaration of war by Saudi Arabia.
Iran has been sending troops and supplies to reinforce Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army. It seems very likely that the Free Syrian Army rebel forces would be willing to coordinate attacks on Syria’s air defense network during air strikes on Iran. Such cooperation would allow the Israeli air force’s slow and vulnerable aerial refueling tankers to spend the maximum time loitering close to Iran. This option would allow Israel a direct line of attack to their targets and would avoid the operational and political risks of flying over Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Turkey.
With “clock running out”, there is a high probability that Israel will wield its full military strength to bomb Iran in the next six weeks. The Arab Spring that the United States helped sponsor and funded has created tremendous instability in the region. As stable tyrants were replaced by armed tribal and ethnic forces, chaos has ensued. The coming confrontation between Israel and Iran is sure to heighten this turmoil.
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