Erick Stakelbeck

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Part 2: Israel, Iran, Syria and What's Coming

In Part 1 of my analysis on the coming Middle East war, I wrote that the Obama administration believes—absurdly--that it can contain a nuclear-armed Iran and, therefore, will not strike the Iranian regime’s nuclear facilities. I added that, due to the apocalyptic ideology of Iran’s leadership, nothing—not sanctions, not sabotage, not cyber viruses like Stuxnet—will stop Iran from acquiring the Bomb, other than military action.

While Europe has shown a willingness to impose tougher sanctions than the U.S. (hence the storming of the British Embassy by Khomeinist fanatics on Tuesday) it similarly has no stomach for a military confrontation with Iran, particularly with the European Union on the precipice of economic disaster. So where does that leave us? In the same place we’ve been since December 2007, when a bogus National Intelligence Estimate ended any possibility that the Bush administration would use military force against Iran.

You guessed it. Israel must go it alone and attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Israel does not want to do it. Israel should not have to do it. But thanks to the feckless appeasement strategy of the West vis-a'-vis Iran’s mullahs, Israel must do it. There is simply no other way for Israel to deal with the prospect of a genocidal regime that publicly vows to destroy the Jewish state acquiring nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them to Tel Aviv. To say that the ramifications of such a strike could be unpleasant is an understatement. But Israel has no other option. And judging by the recent IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program and various Israeli and Western intelligence estimates, it would appear that time is of the essence.

As I wrote in Part 1, 2012 will very likely by the Year of Reckoning for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Either the mad mullahs get their blood-stained hands on the world’s deadliest weapons, or Israel stops them. Period.

So what is coming? Here are some of my thoughts and observations.

1) If you still doubt that Israel will take action against Iran after everything I laid out in Part 1, then I encourage you to take a quick look at Israel's recent history. An existential threat was gathering in 1967. Israel struck first, obliterating Egypt’s air force on the ground and effectively ending the Six Day War before it even started. In 1981, Saddam Hussein was developing a nuclear weapon and the Israeli Air Force promptly took out Iraq's Osirak reactor in a daring raid. Ditto in 2007, when Israel bombed Syria’s secret nuclear reactor. Notice a pattern here? Israel has a history of preemptively striking against existential threats. One notable instance when Israel did allow threats to gather occurred with 1973's Yom Kippur War. The results were high casualties and some hairy early moments before Israel recovered and mounted a ferocious counterattack, earning an astounding victory. Lesson learned. Or so you would think. You could certainly argue that Israel has once again allowed a major threat to gather, this time in southern Lebanon in the form of Hezbollah and its arsenal of some 50,000 rockets and missiles aimed at every inch of the Jewish state. More on that shortly.

2) So when will Israel strike? One school of thought says it will wait until after the 2012 U.S. election, hoping beyond hope that President Obama--who has been openly hostile to Israel in a manner unprecedented for an American president--does not get reelected. Israel would no doubt be thrilled to see a new U.S. leader who, unlike the passive, outreach-obsessed Obama (the "Container-in-Chief"), will take the lead on the Iran issue and form a NATO coalition to take out Iran’s nuke facilities upon taking office in January 2013.

But here’s the problem: Israel might not have a year-and-a-half or so to wait around and Obama, despite his current abysmal poll numbers, may yet win reelection. So if Israel believes Iran is on the brink of having nuclear weapons, as appears the case, the strike will come before the 2012 election. It bears repeating here that Israel absolutely does not want to hit Iran’s nuclear facilities. They would prefer that a U.S.-led coalition do it, because America is obviously the most capable militarily and stands in a better position to handle the ugly international blowback and screeching UN condemnation that would follow.

More importantly, lest we forget, Israel is only the Little Satan in the eyes of the Iranian regime. America is the Great Satan and ultimate prize. We are the Iranians' ultimate target. There's a reason, after all, that the Iranians are working on EMP technology, not to mention intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the shores of the United States.

Iran has been at war with America for 32 years, a fact successive U.S. administrations have refused to accept or acknowledge. And sorry, Ron Paul, but this is America's fight as much as it is Israel's. If you had any knowledge or intellectual curiosity about the Middle East and Islam or the Iranian regime's ideology, you would realize that. Judging by your stubbornly clueless GOP debate performances concerning national security issues, I won't hold my breath for a breakhrough any time soon.

3) How will it all go down? I'm not a military strategist, but an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would seem to require a coordinated bombing campaign with missiles from air and sea, with the possibility of special forces on the ground in a sabotage role. Perhaps Israel has a trump card up its sleeve as well. Eli Lake of Newsweek recently wrote a fascinating piece about the possibility of Israel conducting electronic warfare against Iran as part of a preemptive strike. Here's a snippet:

For much of the last decade, as Iran methodically built its nuclear program, Israel has been assembling a multibillion-dollar array of high-tech weapons that would allow it to jam, blind, and deafen Tehran's defenses in the case of a pre-emptive aerial strike.

A U.S. intelligence assessment this summer, described to The Daily Beast by current and former U.S. intelligence officials, concluded that any Israeli attack on hardened nuclear sites in Iran would go far beyond airstrikes from F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and likely include electronic warfare against Iran’s electric grid, Internet, cellphone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.

For example, Israel has developed a weapon capable of mimicking a maintenance cellphone signal that commands a cell network to “sleep,” effectively stopping transmissions, officials confirmed. The Israelis also have jammers capable of creating interference within Iran’s emergency frequencies for first responders.

In a 2007 attack on a suspected nuclear site at al-Kibar, the Syrian military got a taste of this warfare when Israeli planes “spoofed” the country’s air-defense radars, at first making it appear that no jets were in the sky and then in an instant making the radar believe the sky was filled with hundreds of planes.

Read Lake's entire piece. Would the Israelis carry out an EMP attack, crippling the Iranian infrastructure and early warning systems prior to the bombing raid?

No matter what strategy the Israelis employ, you have to think that they'll also target some important Revolutionary Guards and Iranian military sites, and of course, Iran’s missile capabilities (the latter tactic may have already begun). Anything to minimize the inevitable Iranian counter-strike. In that same vein, you would also think that Israel would seek to preemptively cripple Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria’s rocket and missile-launching capabilities. Does Israel have enough firepower--and manpower--to strike Iran and its proxies simultaneously? It sounds like a very tall order. But I expect them to at least try.

One thing that has to be concerning at this point is that the element of surprise that served Israel so well in '81 with Iraq and '07 with Syria has essentially been lost. For a decade now, Israeli leaders have warned that they will not allow Iran to go nuclear. Western leaders have done the same (although, unlike Israel, they apparently don't really mean it). The chatter about a possible Israeli strike has gone into overdrive in the past few weeks, as have sabotage efforts against Iran's missile and nuclear facilities. We're likely approaching the end game here and everyone--whether Israeli, Iranian or American--seems to know it. Or maybe not, in Iran's case.

I do not expect regime change to be among Israel’s goals, by the way, although Jerusalem would be glad to leave the Iranian regime weakened, embarrassed and ripe for an overthrow by the Iranian people.

4) How will Iran and its proxies respond? Some worst case scenarios:

--Missiles are fired at Israel from Iran. Hezbollah rains down missiles and rockets from southern Lebanon; Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad do the same from Gaza. The "Reign of Fire" of 150,000 rockets and missiles that the Iranian regime has threatened commences from all directions, including Syria.

--Tel Aviv is targeted. Israeli civilian casualties are significant.

--Some other things to watch for: Hezbollah has been talking about conducting a ground incursion into the Galilee region that would see them seek to conquer and occupy towns in northern Israel. Does Syria push troops into the Golan as well? And what about the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank)? Do they rise up and attack local Jewish communities? How about the 1 million Israeli Arabs living in places like Nazareth and Uhm Al Fahm? Are they a potential Fifth Column in the event of a major war?

--More fallout: Does Iran activate Hezbollah and Qods Force terror cells in Europe, Latin America and the U.S to hit American and Jewish/Israeli targets? Does it cause havoc in the Strait of Hormuz, hampering the world oil supply, and target U.S. troops in Afghanistan (assuming this all goes down after the last U.S. soldier leaves Iraq)?

--The Obama administration’s instinct will be to condemn Israel's unilateral action and stay in the background in order to appease the angry Muslim masses. But if America is attacked in the aftermath and pulled into the conflict, even in a limited role, the Obamis may find themselves in the unsavory position (for them) of standing with Israel, at least in the short term. Of course, Iran's allies, Russia and China, might not only condemn, but even threaten Israel.

--Markets may go crazy, with oil and gas prices through the roof. Israel will be blamed by the world for all of the repercussions. The UN will threaten sanctions. Obama will distance himself from Israel publicly as much as he can. Europe will condemn Israel fiercely. And if Israel is forced to use nuclear weapons in any capacity in this conflict--including tactical nukes against Iran's most hardened nuclear facilities--pressure will be intense for Israel to give up its nukes and make the Middle East a “nuclear free zone.”

--The Muslim world will be on fire—and that’s an understatement. We’ll see Islamo/leftist protests—many of them violent—at Israeli embassies and consulates here and across the world. We could see an upsurge in global anti-Semitism. Iran will be licking its wounds and looking for revenge. Egypt, Turkey and the other Islamist regimes will demagogue the conflict endlessly. Their populations will be in the streets demanding retaliation.

Now, remember, the preceding were my "sky is falling," absolute worst-case scenarios. If I'm mulling over it all, you know that Israeli military and intelligence officials, a very shrewd bunch, have considered each of these scenarios over and over again for the past several years.They undoubtedly have contingency plans to deal with the blowback and prepare/protect Israel's civilian population (see here and here, for instance).

Indeed, here are some best case scenarios for Israel:

--Iran's nuclear weapons program is set back by at least five years in a brilliant and daring Israeli operation. The Iranian military's response is weaker than expected, thanks to the aforementioned Israeli electronic warfare tactics. The mullahs are humiliated and more vulnerable to a democratic overthrow from within.

--Since Israel is already striking Iran, it figures it might as well go for broke and eliminate Tehran's proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, once and for all as a threat. It demolishes both terror organizations and also hastens regime change in Syria, removing the Assad dynasty.

--Surrounding Islamist regimes like Turkey are intimidated by Israel's overwhelming show of military might and less eager to saber rattle.

--To review: the Iranian regime is weakened and humiliated, its nuclear weapons program set back significantly; Hamas and Hezbollah are destroyed; the Assad regime is toppled; Turkey and the various emerging Muslim Brotherhood satellites in the Middle East and North Africa are intimidated. Casualties are lower than expected. If you're Israel, that would have to be considered a good outcome and worth the trouble. Again, that is "best case."

Here's what former Mossad chief Danny Yatom said recently about the pros and cons of an Israeli strike against Iran:

“There is a big argument over whether to attack Iran or not,” Yatom said. “The argument is legitimate. Some say Israel will pay a high price, no matter who does the attacking.”

“As difficult a price it may be, and even if those predicting apocalyptic results are correct – and I don’t think they are – this is still not as bad as the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb,” he argued.

Israel can’t afford to find itself in the position of having “to wake up every morning and ask, ‘Will they go crazy and throw a bomb on us or not?’” Yatom said, adding that “the damage that an Iranian nuclear bomb can cause is so great.”

It was impossible to stake the nation’s security on predictions by those who claim a nuclear Iran can be deterred, and that the Iranian regime would not launch a nuclear attack, he said.

Yatom acknowledged that rocket attacks would likely ensue from Lebanon and Gaza following a strike, but added that Israel’s response would be “so painful and crushing that rockets will come to an end.”

“Civilian facilities and infrastructures in Lebanon and Gaza will be hit. Innocent civilians could be hurt. But the barrage of rockets will no longer be falling over our heads,” he added.

The world did not have much time left to act on Iran, the former Mossad head warned, adding that “there is an evaluation that they crossed the red line. They have the knowledge to make the bomb. All that is needed now is the decision to do it... The world has a year, probably less.”

5) Perhaps the ultimate wild card in all of this is, what does Syria do? As long as Bashar al-Assad is still in power (a very uncertain proposition at this point), I believe that Syria, an Iranian client state, does indeed get involved this time and fire rockets at Israel. Assad may see attacking the hated Zionist entity as a last gasp way to distract from his domestic troubles. If he hangs on to power--and remember, that's a big "if"--I believe seeing Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran fire away at his mortal enemy would be irresistible to Assad. He would join in. And remember, Syria has the largest chemical weapons stockpile in the Middle East.

Of course, if Assad dared use WMD’s against Israeli population centers, Israel would react with overwhelming force. This is where I take off my "secular" analyst hat and don my Believer hat.

In the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 17, verse 1, the Hebrew prophet says the following:

The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.

Ladies and gents, Damascus is the oldest inhabited city in the world. It has never been utterly destroyed, even by the Mongols. But the Bible is clear that a day is coming when Damascus will cease to exist. What could provoke such destruction? Could it be that the Assad regime will make a monumental miscalculation in regards to Israel and target Tel Aviv? What do you suppose Israel's response would be in such a scenario? If you said "Damascus would be a ruinous heap," you'd be in the ballpark. Perhaps Assad will not be the Syrian leader that provokes such wrath, and perhaps Israel will not be the one to administer it. But given all that we know, we have to at least consider the possibility.

Whatever the case, we will find out the answers to all of these questions very soon.

The bottom line, once again, is this: for Israel, the only thing worse than attacking Iran's nuclear facilities is Iran acquiring the Bomb.

Fasten your seat belts for a very interesting 2012.

Print     Email to a Friend    posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 5:15 PM

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