“Obviously, when Chairman Mullen goes to Israel and speaks with the Israelis, they will no doubt discuss the threat posed by Iran, as we discuss it in this building and in other buildings in this town.” So said the US Pentagon spokesman in Washington Wednesday, June 25, when he announced this Friday’s visit to Israel by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen.
It is unprecedented for a Pentagon spokesman to refer so frankly to military discussions on Iran in different “buildings” in Washington, especially in relation to talks the top-ranking American general plans to hold in Israel.
Mullen’s visit comes three days after the Chief of US Naval Operations, Adm. Gary Roughead, spent a busy four days as the guest of the Israeli Navy commander Rear Adm. Eli Marom. The frequency of these visits bespeaks a high level of nervousness in those Washington “buildings” about a prospective unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations.
If the Israel-Hizballah war of 2006 demanded a high level of coordination between Jerusalem and Washington, an Israel attack on Iran would call for so much more.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources, the main question exercising official American minds is this: Would Israeli resort to tactical nuclear weapons if driven to extremity? If so, it would be the first nuclear war in the Middle East and the first of this century anywhere.
American Israel watchers reckon that the moment for Israel to make this decision would come if the first wave of its bombers, ballistic surface-to-surface and cruise missiles failed to penetrate the deep subterranean structures and tunnels housing Iran’s most secret nuclear projects – and the entire operation fell apart.
Some American experts postulate a doomsday scenario: If matters veered out of control, Israel might face the dilemma of abandoning the operation altogether or proceeding with the help of tactical nuclear weapons.
Most American strategic planners reckon that Iran would respond to a conventional Israeli attack with a barrage of ballistic missiles against the Jewish state and by unleashing its three neighbors, Syria, the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami from Gaza. Their working hypothesis is that Tehran would not retaliate against American Middle East targets or the Gulf emirates.
Preparing for a broad Iranian reprisal
Not all regional experts share this view.
The Bahraini public security director Maj. Gen. Abdul Latif bin Rasid Al Zayani, this week voiced extreme concern over the tensions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program which, he feared, posed a serious threat to Bahrain’s security.
Addressing the Royal United Services Institute in London, Wednesday, June 25, the Bahraini general said: “The level of tension currently concerning Iran is a further significant threat. Deterioration would have a major impact on Bahrain.”
US planners are not blind to the broader regional threat.
Should Israel succeed in demolishing Iran’s most secret installations, Tehran’s fury might rage farther afield and trigger attacks on Persian Gulf oil installations as well as the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Against this contingency, Washington not only sent two of its top generals to Israel, but Sunday, June 22, instructed the USS Ronald Reagan Strike Group to sail from Hong Kong to the Persian Gulf.
The group, with 7,000 men on board, comprises a Commander, Carrier Strike Group 7, Carrier Air Wing 14, Destroyer Squadron 7, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, the guided missile destroyers USS Decatur, USS Gridley and USS Howard, the guided missile frigate USS Thach and the fast combat support ship USNS Rainer.
The squadrons of CVW-14 include the “Redcocks” of Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-22, the “Fist of the Fleet” of VFA-25, the “Stingers” of VFA-113, the “Eagles” of VFA-115, the “Black Eagles” of Airborne Early Warning Squadron 113, the “Cougars” of Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 139, the “Providers” of Carrier Logistics Support 30, and the “Black Knights” of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 4.
The Ronald Reagan will be joining the USS Abraham Lincoln Strike Group already deployed in the Persian Gulf.