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Guessing Israel’s Iran Plans

Foreign Policy’s website has the article that everyone will be talking about today: a piece by Mark Perry about the American military’s speculation about how Israel might carry out an attack on Iran. There are two important caveats for the article: first, Perry relies on anonymous sources and former officials. Second, the sources admit to Perry that Israel won’t tell the U.S. what plans, if any, they’ve drawn up for such an attack—obviously aware that the Obama administration will leak that information eventually–so the entire article is speculation. The sources are trying to reverse-engineer an Israeli strike based on Israel’s perceived capabilities.

That said, the speculation is divided into the political and military spheres. The military aspect is interesting—it includes what Perry’s sources call the “Entebbe Option,” which would involve special forces instead of an air assault—but doesn’t add much information to what we already know. The political guessing by Perry’s sources actually avoids the major question everyone is wondering at this point.

The idea behind the “Entebbe Option”—one of three options Perry discusses—is that some Pentagon officials don’t believe an Israeli strike could or would be successful, and that Israel must realize this. So they’ll need another option. Here is how Perry’s sources describe the raid:

The Israeli unit would be transported on as few as three and perhaps as many as six C-130 aircraft (which can carry a maximum of 70 troops) that would be protected by a “swarm” of well-armed F16Is, according to the scenario being considered by U.S. military officers. The C-130s would land in the desert near Fordow. The Israeli commandos would then defeat the heavily armed security personnel at the complex, penetrate its barriers and interdict any enemy units nearby, and seize the complex’s uranium for transport back to Israel. Prior to its departure, the commando unit would destroy the complex, obviating the need for any high-level bombing attack. (Senior U.S. military officers say that there are reports that some of the uranium at Fordow is stored as uranium hexafluoride gas, a chemical form used during the enrichment process. In that case, the material may be left in place when the commandos destroy the complex.)

Perry’s sources also keep making similar statements about how the U.S. will not get involved in an Israeli strike unless Iran strikes back at American targets–which American planners expect to happen. In other words, the U.S. military won’t get involved at all in an Israeli strike on Iran … until it does.

But there’s one nagging question throughout an article like this: how much can you trust Perry’s sources? It turns out, about as far as you can throw them. Perry’s sources give readers a window into their thinking process when Perry discusses one of the three Israeli strike options: regime decapitation. He writes:

The downside of a decapitation strike is that it would not end Iran’s nuclear program; the upside is that it would almost certainly trigger an Iranian response targeting U.S. military assets in the region, as it would leave the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces in charge of the country. It would be the one sure way, U.S. officers with whom I spoke believe, for Israel to get the United States involved in its anti-Iran offensive, with the U.S. mounting operations in a conflict it didn’t start.

Got that? Perry’s sources are operating under the assumption that Israel wants dead Americans. (Perry later adds that the number of American casualties could be as high as in the “hundreds.”) It is at this point that the thinking person thanks Perry and his sources for their suggestions, and—as with any such conspiracy theorists—backs away slowly.

There is one other interesting element to the story, however, and it is what is not said. All Perry’s military sources say the U.S. would not get involved in a joint strike or a backup strike or any other reactionary military operations after Israel takes the lead. But no one actually denies the possibility—indeed, it’s unclear if Perry talked about this with any of them—that the U.S. would strike instead of Israel. If you believe the Obama administration—or, if it’s next year, a possible Romney administration—would lead a strike on Iran, then Perry’s article is encouraging, for the officials he spoke with deny vigorously everything except this possibility.


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