Monday, November 8, 2010

Israel v Iran (Part II): The Israeli 'dream strike' on Iran's nuke sites.

   The Israelis are running out of time.

  The Iranians may have enough fissionable material to have their very own big red button of win on the Ayatollah's desk in two years. So what do they do? Do the Israelis launch the attack against the Iranian nuke facilities without American approval? This is the crux of the main Israeli beef with Obama right now; the fact that he won't go along with the Israeli dream strike.

   The US military has gamed the Persian Gulf over and over and the fact that the Iran attack is not happening means the results of those games were not very promising. In 2002, the Pentagon tried to suppress the findings of a huge US war game called "Millennium Challenge" where the US Navy (Blue Force) was pitted against a "hypothetical rogue state" (Red Force) in the region. Red Force was led by Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, a total bad ass, whose job was basically to play the role of the butt raped lesser nation at the hands of the mighty technology of the all powerful US Navy. Instead of following the script, this Van Riper guy went off reservation and went all asymmetrical on Blue Force's ass, an ass which consisted of a full US Navy carrier group.

   Though the rules stated both commanders could use any rule in the book, the brass didn't expect the shit Van Riper pulled. Once the war game was up and running Van Riper's force disappeared off radar. He relied on couriers instead of radio to stay in touch with his field officers. The US navy cryptographers were rendered useless in a single blow. He employed novel tactics such as coded signals broadcast from the minarets of mosques during the Muslim call to prayer, a tactic weirdly reminiscent of Paul Revere and the shot heard round the world. He even used carrier pigeons to deliver messages to some of his commanders. God I love this guy! He then launched a daring attack against the US Blue Force carrier group by hundreds of kamikaze speedboats some of which were armed with Chinese Silkworm anti ship missiles. I shit you not. The result was a carrier and two helo carriers sunk along with 13 other assorted ships, the worst defeat of the US Navy since Pearl. The Pentagon had a shit fit and scrubbed the whole exercise, dismissed Van Riper and replayed the whole thing this time making Blue Force 'win'. Basically, the navy brass pretended it never happened. Lunatics in speedboats apparently don't count and are considered 'cheats'.

   Today, nobody at the Pentagon underestimates the serious nature of a war with Iran. Like I said in Part I, the Israelis are comfortable with their 200+ nukes. A Shia nuke removes 'theater dominance' and forces the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians for 'peace'. LOL yeah, I just said 'peace' in a Middle Eastern context. The biggest hindrance to Middle East 'peace' right now is a credible check on Israeli power and their nuclear arsenal. And if the Israelis can't get the Americans to neutralize Iran for them, will they go 'rogue' and attempt to do it themselves?

   And this is where the fun stuff really begins my friends.

   Don't get me wrong. The Israeli air force owns a nice spectrum of US hardware. F-15s, F-15 strike eagles, a broad selection of F-16s in interesting variants and they've gamed this attack multiple times. I think the right wing politicians currently running shit over there have this idea in their heads that they might just be able to pull this off. The only restraint right now is the spider tree of possible repercussions. They nailed Saddam's nuke venture at Osirak in 1981 and the Syrian nuke venture outside 'At Tibnah' in the desert in 2007.  Natanz and Bushehr are the new targets. Problem is the Russians have been running Bushehr with their nuclear fuel and their scientists since September so a 2000lb GBU-29 dropped there is going to open up a whole new world of pain.

   So the primary target for the Israelis is obviously going to have to be the main facility at Natanz.

   Take a look at how Natanz has been slowly disappearing under 20ft of reinforced concrete over time. The Israelis have received shipments of 'bunker busters' from the US in the past that can punch through this but curiously Obama blocked a recent shipment of the latest generation in March. [Update: Obama just approved a new shipment of bunker busters to the Israelis in October 2011. Holy shit!] It was made clear to the Israelis in not so subtle a manner to cool their shit down. Obama would obviously like to avoid a whole new war and let sanctions take their course. But the Israelis know full well that sanctions will do nothing to stop the Iranian centrifuges. Hence, the Stuxnet computer worm and 'mysterious explosions' on Iranian air force bases that just happen to kill scientists who know things about nuke fission. Obama, for a time, was not playing the K Street game so the Israeli lobby in Washington  floated some decent bank around DC to help him lose the mid term elections.

   That's not to say shuffling cash around Washington is illegal or that the Israelis are evil. They're just taking advantage of a game with ill defined rules. Hell, the Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations (and lobbying groups) have personhood so they can funnel cash to hungry politicians all they want. Let's face it, you buy your way to the top these days and it's tough shit if your opinion is not heard. The only crime these days is having no money.

   So despite the drawbacks, lets get to the fun stuff and say Israel launches the attack solo. Assuming they cannot "legally" use Iraqi airspace, they'll either have to skirt the Turkish border like they did when they bombed the 'At Tibnah' facility in Syria in 2007 or fly South and skirt the Saudi border or use Saudi airspace. (The Saudis have hinted they'd be cool with this. Those Wahhabi loons recently cashed in sixty billion of their petro-dollar fun money for new US military hardware and they hate the Iranians for shitloads of reasons going back three thousand years to the days of the Persian Empire). The Wikileaks document dump just proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt when it turns out Crown Prince Abdullah has been begging the Americans to bomb Iran for them. Who knew, something the Israelis and Saudis can agree on! Either way, the route is going to cost fuel. Lots of fuel. Fully laden F-16s are hungry for juice when pushing through dense low level atmosphere to avoid radar.

   That's where the Israeli weakness truly lies. Their shortage of refuelling tankers, namely 707 tankers. Various estimates state that they have 4-8 of these fat boys available and all will be required to pull off a successful first strike. The less fuel required on each plane, the more ordinance it can carry. So obviously the more 'refuelers' you can field directly co relates with the efficacy of the 'mission'.

   The next question is, what will Iran have waiting for them when they get there?

   The Israelis managed to block an $800 million Iranian deal with the Russians for delivery of the S-300 missile system. That's a seriously nice piece of modern SAM tech and had the Iranians gotten their hands on a few batteries of those, it would have made the Israeli to do list orders of magnitude more difficult. As it stands right now, it's hard to piece together an accurate picture of just what the Iranians have got in terms of air defence. Everyone knows they do have a lot of Soviet supplied SAMS (SA-6) from the 80s which are easily jammed by today's technology. They also have an hilarious mixture of cobbled together systems from the world over, including some British Rapier systems, some shit they reverse engineered from the US before the Shah fell and their Mullahs went all hostage crisis and got Reagan elected. Also, they've got the Tor (SA-15) system supplied by Russia which is quite a capable system and would cause Israeli pilots some underwear skid marks. They also claim to have 2 S-300 systems they say they bought from Belarus and showed off at a military parade in Tehran this summer but that is most likely bullshit they floated to freak out Israeli military planners.

   Where this whole clusterfuck gets really interesting is if the Israelis will be packing some low yield nukes in their ordinance. Because one thing is for sure. Whatever strike the Isrealis make, it'd better be decisive because the amount of blowback all across the world means the Israelis are going to get one shot at this and they better make it count. But using nukes even if low yield and underground with limited fallout is still going to create an international shitstorm. But the Israelis are used to that.

   And now comes my favourite part of this whole war.

   The Iranian response.

   Seriously, this is armchair general wargasm in its purest form. Let's say Natanz is dust and a good many other nuke sites around Iran are seriously damaged, setting back their 'red button of win' program five years. How do the Iranians respond?

   If the Iranians want to go full retard they can launch all their Shahab 4s, two stage rockets that can easily reach Tel Aviv accurately, and reign down some serious pain. Hell, if they wanted to get dick waving crazy they could load up the warheads with chemical hell and wipe out hundreds of thousands. But this would merely invite Israel to nuke them back to the stone age. So that's an unlikely move on their part. The Iranians don't have an air force capable of launching a reciprocal strike on Israel so what do they do?

   My favourite option if I were an Iranian general?

   Attack the Saudi oil installation at Ras Tanura, 100 miles across the Persian Gulf from Bushehr. Forty percent of the world's seaborne oil passes through this port daily. Launch everything you have against that, turn those fat naked storage tanks and pipelines into burning wrecks, and suddenly oil goes to three hundred dollars a barrel overnight and now the whole world is involved in a total clusterfuck.

   Every Western nation's economy will crash fast now that spice flow is hindered. Everyone will be drawn in. And since Iran also happens to be sitting on the 4th largest oil deposit on earth, their oil is going to get valuable fast. The Iranians can spam mines into the Persian Gulf just to make sure no tanker can go about its lumbering business. There will be nothing the US Navy or Israelis can do about any of this unless they can track ten thousand speedboats. Obviously the Saudis will be highly pissed but other than some bombing runs there's nothing they can do to realistically damage the Iranians.

   Also, Iran has threatened other asymmetrical goodness in the event of a sucker punch.

   For instance they've got well equipped heavy infantry in Southern Lebanon by the name of Hizbollah. Basically, a well equipped Iranian proxy army on Israel's northern border. Israel tried to get tough with this crowd in 2006 and found themselves suffering unexpected losses. Heavy infantry in fortified positions is the new win in modern warfare. Sure Clausewitz will say the attacker always needs a 3:1 ratio to overcome entrenched defenders but that paradigm is under new scrutiny on the modern battlefield. With modern weapons Hezbollah proved that that ratio has been pushed up to 5:1. The dirty little secret of 2006 was that Hezbollah damaged the Israelis more than anyone expected. It was the first war in fifty years the IDF didn't decisively win. Equipped with modern anti-tank rockets (RPG-32), shoulder mounted anti-air and concrete emplacements, this Iranian supplied form of heavy infantry proved that they could fuck with the might of the IDF. The Israelis lost 30 of their supposedly invincible Merkava Tanks and their F-16 sorties were flare launch fests because of the threat of being nailed by heat seekers. Entrenched, well equipped heavy infantry is the new passive Blitzkrieg!

   Anyway, the Saudi oil facilities are on fire. Oil has jumped to $300 a barrel. Hezbollah has begun launching rockets at Tel Aviv from Southern Lebanon. Tehran is under radiation alert. Multiple escalation events present in all directions. And the whole world has entered a new paradigm and must ask...

   How do you put the genie back in the bottle?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Israel v Iran: The ultimate popcorn war (Part I)

Yes, there are a shitload of hypothetical contenders for every one's favourite future war. I mean who wouldn't want to grab the popcorn and watch a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan? Obviously, no sane person. That's why potential regional nuclear wars are not that much fun. All the fun war stuff happens before the last resort nukes get launched. Those fancy infantry maneuvers, tank thrusts, strategic interdiction by air forces, all that good stuff gets nullified when the generals start losing and resort to the big red button on their Strangelove desks. Wiping out a few million civilians in major population centers is a pretty shitty way to win an otherwise 'fair war'. Personally, I prefer something with a little more panache, you know, that war we all crave that's got old school Rommel maneuvers like Arras or Gazala. But pure war like that just doesn't happen much anymore.

To make my favourite war list it must be global and realistically has to involve the US or Europe for true wargasm. Obviously, the best hypothetical war that never happened is the clash between the Soviets and NATO in the Fulda gap in 1988. I was a teenager back then and shat my pants going to bed every night wondering if it would ever happen. The Berlin Wall fell a year later and the world got all misty eyed. We were supposed to believe that a world without war was possible from then on because the Russians had run out of money. Stupid humans thought a new war free age had dawned and the human habit of killing themselves for fun and profit had gone away. That vicious rumor lasted about a year and then Gulf War I happened.

So what's my favourite war that hasn't happened yet?

Here's a hint. It's a war that starts in the Middle East. I hear you laughing. Yeah I know, every major future war is going to start in the Middle East. Well this one will be US/Israel v Iran. It's the most fun war that could happen right now. It's got so much potential. Though this war will lack cool panzer battles and will involve no ground campaign at all (except perhaps for an Israeli 'defensive' attack on Southern Lebanon against Iranian proxy Hezbollah), this war will initially be an air campaign followed up quickly by all sorts of asymmetrical goodness that has the potential to spread like wildfire, destroy what's left of the world economy through oil supply disruption and possibly ignite WWIII.

Before we examine all the fun war stuff, let's take a quick look at the history of the two potential combatants.

Israel's history is pretty much well known since 1948. After the Nazi horror the world's Jews finally had gained enough political clout and enough world sympathy to undo the diaspora started by Vespasian's legions when Rome sent him to break up the Jewish revolt in 66 CE. I could give a shit about questioning the politics of who owns the land the Romans once called Judea. The fact is that the world has agreed to call a small swath of the Mediterranean coast 'Israel' and that is good enough for me. I only care about the fireworks.

Speaking of which, the Israelis own some serious military hardware. I mean for a population of 7.5 million, the Israelis are ranked 11th in world military strength. That's serious overachieving. They've got mandatory military service for men and women and, I suppose, who wouldn't when you're surrounded by a few hundred million Arabs who'd like to Zyklon B your ass. Also, the Israelis have 200+ nukes which makes them non 'invadable' and gives them regional 'theatre dominance' in any potential conflict with their Arab neighbors. If the useless Syrians and Jordanians and Egyptians all tried a rerun of 1967, and, by some stretch of the imagination overran Israel by acting in concert, that would force the Israeli generals fingers to the single red button of "win" that wipes out Cairo, Damascus and Amman.

Actually, that's the crux of the problem for the Israelis and why they don't like Iran. It's all about 'theater dominance'. Iran wants their very own big red button of win. Why must there be a war in this region? Because the Iranians, a country of 72 million people, are working like fuck to centrifuge enough uranium into fissionable goodness. They need that red button fast and for pretty good reasons. The Iranians have noticed that when you get named a member country of the "Axis of Evil" possibly the best way to maintain sovereignty is to fast track some uranium into something blowable. It worked for North Korea. Iran figures, since it's surrounded on all sides by Americans, maybe the only route to autonomy and stopping the Americans grabbing all your oil is a nuke.

They are being sanctioned to shit for daring to think this way.

Currently, American foreign policy is to support Israel. That includes filling out her air force with F-16s, F-15s and a secured future order of over 100 stealthy F-35 Lightnings. The Israelis also have a nice amount of American Apache helos but these are obviously useless for any campaign against Iran.

There's also a time factor built into this equation. The Iranians are probably at most 2 years away from having enough gunk cobbled together to set off their very own big one. If and when they do, Israel will have to play ball and get serious about giving the Palestinians a fair deal. That's what happens when you lose theater dominance. You end up having to negotiate.

Also, I'm sick of hearing the argument that Ahmajinidad is a madman and that as soon as he mints his first nuke he'll launch it and turn Tel Aviv to glass. That doesn't even make sense and would be the quickest way for him to turn 5000 years of Persian history into toilet paper. The Iranians aren't stupid. The Israeli response would be 200+ nukes reducing Iran to a post apocalyptic wasteland. Iran just needs that nuke for insurance. For deterrence.

And that's why Israel will have to decide pretty soon if it's going to attack. Because theater equalization dawns the second the Iranians detonate their first underground nuke.

I'll talk about the juicy Israeli attack in part II.