I had always thought that it was impossible for Israel to be any further from the United States than they are geographically. I mean they are virtually on opposite sides of the globe, but this weekend that distance is very short compared to the cavernous gap between their leaders over Iran. At one end of the argument we have Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is demanding that the United States find some common ground with Israel and define a red line which when crossed will activate the military option being taken from the table and implemented. On the other side we have United States President Obama who simply wants Israel to be patient and allow the sanctions placed on Iran to bring about a proper end to the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons, which President Obama holds is the only conclusion anybody can expect because he knows that the sanctions will have the desired effect. All one has to do is look back through the historical record since the United States made the first deliverable nuclear weapons and one can list all the nations who had sanctions levied against them to prevent their attaining nuclear weapons technology, let alone actual nuclear weapons stockpiles. There was Communist China who was not prevented. Then there was Pakistan who has a present nuclear answer to match India, well close enough for the MAD concept to work thus far. Well, at least sanctions brought North Korea’s nuclear to an end, well, actually fruition. Rethinking this, sanctions have never prevented any country from becoming nuclear armed anywhere on planet Earth. So, what will make Iran different? I doubt they can be considered more rational or reasonable and I doubt intimidation of more sanctions will get any reaction other than a snide laugh from the Mullahs. So, exactly when will we see the miracle of sanctions bringing Iran to join in the brotherhood of nations rather than continuing in their roguish manner.
The good news is that President Obama does desire to place a red line, or more accurately, a red light in the formula regarding Iran. President Obama has made it clear he has placed a red light before any Israeli military actions to destroy or at least cause considerable damage to the Iranian nuclear sites. The American President has made it clear through words and deeds that he will go to any lengths to prevent an Israeli military response to the Iranian nuclear weapons drive. No leaked information will be considered too damning, no placing of assets to intercept the Israelis will be overlooked, and no statement will be beyond consideration to cause Israel to forgo their military options on the Iranian nuclear program. Likely the most glaring is the United States program in Iraq where they are being supplied with a fleet of thirty-six US F-16I Block 52 interceptor combat aircraft, the exact same model supplied to Israel complete with specifications requested by Israel when they made their purchases. This arming of Iraq is being carried out in an accelerated pace moving the delivery date to March 2013 instead of the original September 2014 and all the while Iraq has been steadily and with an ever quickening pace moving into orbit around Iran much the same as Syria. These aircraft would most definitely be deployed in an effort to prevent an Israeli strike on Iran from using any route over Iraq and likely even any route close to Iraq such as northern Saudi Arabia. It is highly unlikely that the Iraqis, and definitely the Iranians, would consider such a triviality as an international border preventing them from intercepting an Israeli flight. Also, Saudi Arabian officials have informed Israel that they would not permit any overflight by Israeli aircraft on their way to or from a strike on Iranian targets. This is a complete reversal of their position from as recently as six months ago when they had told Israel unofficially they would very likely be recalibrating their air defense systems should Israel strike the Iranian nuclear sites. The only change in this time period has been the installation by the United States of missile and air interceptor installations such as Patriot Batteries and anti-aircraft systems. One could easily believe that the warning from Saudi Arabia was not so much a change in their position as it was a warning that they had been informed that these new assets being installed and manned by the United States would be used against any and all, likely especially including Israeli, overflight or other encroachment on Saudi or neighboring countries’ air spaces. One can also be assured that President Obama and his close confidant, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, are in complete agreement on preventing any Israeli use of Turkish air space and the final country is the client state of Iran, Syria. When Israel had made clandestine arrangements with Azerbaijan for the use of two retired airstrips, somehow this information was unfortunately released to Foreign Policy Magazine which published an article by Mark Perry revealing this arrangement which caused it to be immediately rescinded.
As anybody who has been following this story is aware, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama had an one hour discussion concerning policies that the two leaders might be able to reach an agreement on concerning when certain actions would become necessary to interrupt if not destroy the Iranian nuclear drive. Prime Minister Netanyahu demanded a concrete, set in stone red line which would, when crossed, immediately activate a military response. President Obama wanted no part of any standards or requirements or anything set out as a definitive point of no return and instead insisted that Netanyahu accept his promise that in the end President Obama could be counted upon to prevent Iran manufacturing any nuclear bombs. If one were to choose to be flippant about this truly serious and frightening situation, they might ask what would President Obama do if Iran were to assemble, construct, or produce a nuclear bomb or would Iran manufacturing a warhead instead of a bomb be considered as the same or is a warhead permissible. In some ways, knowing how President Obama is said to be so careful and brilliant in the way he chooses his words that this might actually be a necessary line for clarifications. The one item which was made crystal clear is that Israel was not to commit to any military actions or other destructive measures without first garnering the approval of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey and likely France, Britain, Germany, and whoever else might have an opinion. So, as things now stand, Prime Minister Netanyahu is in a military red light zone where no matter where he turns or what actions he might choose to adopt, he has been informed that every possible light is red and the entire world opposes his actions, any actions.
So, one might wonder exactly where does that leave the whole Iran situation. My bet is it is exactly where it was last week, just one week closer to an Iranian nuclear bomb and also one week closer to the first strikes using Iranian nuclear bombs, be it by Iran or Syria or Hezballah or any other of the available Iranian terror options. We are at the same place with the majority of the experts of the opinion that Israel has the most to lose should Iran complete their nuclear ambitions. These same experts are pretty much in agreement that the next target on the Iranian hit list would be Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni oil producing nation of the GCC. The experts feel that the United States has absolutely nothing to fear from an Iranian nuclear bomb as they are completely outside Iran’s ability to deliver such a device and anyways, Iran would not risk the kind of total destruction the United States could deliver if Iran were to act so unwisely as to use nuclear weapons on the United States. We tend to hold a different idea of how the Iranian list of targets goes.
Iran would realize that should they attack Israel they would most definitely reap horrendous destruction in the retaliatory strike as Israel would likely use a good measure of their total nuclear capabilities to assure that Iran would not be a threat ever in the future. Likewise, should they use their new found nuclear capabilities on Saudi Arabia they would face complete destruction at the hands of an American strike. There is also some possibility of an American retaliatory strike should Iran strike Israel, though it would simply be rearranging the rubble from the Israeli strike. Iran also would have to consider the capabilities of the Israeli anti-missile defenses which are becoming quite efficient. The one common denominator on an Iranian nuclear strike anywhere in the Middle East or in Europe would be an American counter strike of likely very devastating consequences. That means that there is no difference in the deterrence for a strike on Israel than a strike on Saudi Arabia or a strike on anywhere in Europe with making a strike on the United States. There is actually a chance that a strike on the United States would result in a lesser degree of damage from any retaliation that any other target would produce as the response is likely to only come from the United States if at all. That leaves the question of what an Iranian nuclear strike on the United States would look like.
First item is we need to assume a number of missiles or bombs that might be utilized in such a strike. For arguments sake, we will assume that the Iranians have sufficient missiles with nuclear warheads to strike twelve cities with sufficient numbers to cause near total destruction. The next question is a little more difficult as it also has to take into consideration how the nuclear devices would be delivered. We will assume that they have smuggled devices for use in two cities and the remaining ten strikes will be made from cargo ships off of coastal areas all around the United States. The coastal cities targeted would be Washington D.C., New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New Orleans, Miami and Atlanta. The two central cities would be Chicago and Cleveland. The Iranians have mastered firing their moderate range ballistic missiles off of cargo ships with each ship carrying between two to five missiles which would take on average five to eight minutes travel time to target. With these missiles being fired from within one thousand miles of their targets there would not likely be sufficient time to intercept many of them provided the timing was well coordinated, which can be expected as it is not that difficult. If Congress is in session on the date of the attack and both the President and Vice President are in Washington D.C., along with all of the President’s Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then it can be assumed that the leadership of the United States would be decapitated and it would likely take at least two days to ascertain who would be in command of the government. And even then, how long would it take for order to be reestablished and the attacking nation to be identified, one week, two weeks, a month or even longer? Such an attack on the United States could allow for some time before any response would be forthcoming which would allow Iran time to then make other attacks on Saudi Arabia or Israel or whoever else is on their hit list. With evidence I have seen of the real ranking of targets by many in the Muslim World, such as al-Qaeda, the United States appears on the top of the list with Israel most often next followed by Britain. So, the belief that the United States might be the first target for the Iranian nuclear weapons is not as far-fetched as some would have you believe. We also need to keep in mind that the chants in Tehran, Iran every Friday go, “Death to America! Death to Israel!” Never pretend you know what is in your enemy’s mind and prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The truth is we do not know where Iran will strike first nor do we know for absolute certain how close to producing a nuclear weapon Iran actually is. Such doubts should make for more caution and less comfort that all is well and no harm is just around the corner. What would your red line be. The only statement I have heard from President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton or any State Department talking head has been that the United States draws its red line at building an atomic bomb. Isn’t that cutting it a little bit too close for comfort? The slightest error and just like with India and Pakistan the CIA will be once again caught with their proverbial pants down. Actually, when it comes to predicting when countries would become nuclear capable, the CIA has yet to get one right or even early, they are the most surprised people whenever some new country tests a nuclear weapon. Comforting, isn’t it.
Beyond the Cusp