On March 14th, the CSIS (Center for Strategic & International Studies in K Street Washington DC) published 114 pages of the most thorough and detailed study conducted to date on the feasibility of an Israel military attack on Iran's nuclear and ballistic facilities.
The work, titled “Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities,” is richly illustrated with detailed maps of Iranian and Israeli nuclear and missile sites. Complicated tables display technical minutiae, such as how many PG bombs Israeli Air Force F16I or F15F bomber-fighter planes can carry, how much fuel to reach their Iranian targets, and at what stage of their return journey to refuel.
Quite surprisingly, the authors of the study concluded that Israel is indeed militarily capable of destroying Iran's nuclear program. It is surprising, because for the past three years, US military and intelligence sources have used attributed and leaked assessments to the American media to emphasize that such an operation is beyond Israel's capabilities. At best, they maintained, the Israeli Air Force might knock out a few Iranian nuclear facilities, but only enough to put Iran's nuclear drive temporarily on hold.
Contrary to previous estimates that the Israeli Air Force was too small for the mission, this think-tank finds it has enough aircraft as well as the necessary intelligence and electronic resources for the task.
The paper lists the resources required for this kind of military assault:
High Operational Readiness/Full Mission Capable state and High Sortie Rates
Air to Air weapons
Air to Ground Weapons
All-Weather Day-Night Operational Capability
Integrated Air Defense System/Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)
Quick Response Time/Ground Launched Intercepts
Ground and Airborne Electronic Warfare (ESM/ECM/ECCM)
Aircraft Systems Capability (Radars)
Access to Modern technology
Aeronautical and Electronic industry
The CSIS concludes that Israel has all these resources and capabilities in hand.
A northern attack route is advised
The authors of this study are unusually helpful in laying out the three attack routes available to Israel for a potential operation against Iran: an eastern route over Saudi Arabia; a central route over Iraq, and a northern route over Turkey, Syria and northern Iraqi Kurdistan.
They clearly demonstrate with the help of large maps their preference for the northern route as the best option. A key factor in their choice is the superiority of Israel's electronic warfare (EW) capabilities.
This is the first time a detailed and accurate description of these capabilities, and a description of how they were put to use in the Israeli raid on the North Korean-built plutonium reactor in Dar az-Zawr, Syria, on September, 2007, has ever been published.
We render the relevant passage from the CSIS study in full:
That the Israeli F-15s and F-16s got through the Syrian air defense radars without being detected is attributed to a Network Attack System, similar to the U.S. “Suter” system.
The technology allows users to invade and hack enemy communication networks, so enemy sensors can be manipulated into positions that approaching aircraft can’t be seen. The process involves locating enemy emitters and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and cause algorithms that allow control over the system.
In essence the elements of the attack included:
– Brute Force jamming
– Network penetration involving both remote air to ground electronic attack and penetration through computer to computer links.
“Israel’s capabilities are similar to the “Suter” network-invasion capability that was developed by the U.S. using the EC-130 Compass Call electronic attack aircraft to shoot data streams, laced with sophisticated algorithms, into enemy antennas. The passive, RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft then monitored enemy signals to ensure the data streams were having the intended effect on the target sensors. Israel duplicated the capability when it fielded its two new Gulfstream G550 special missions aircraft designs. Both were modified by Israel Aerospace Industries’ Elta Div. in time for the 2006 Lebanon war.
The ground surveillance radar version can provide data streams from large active, electronically scanned array radars, while the intelligence version provided the signals surveillance and analysis.”
(Aviation Week & Space Technology, Nov 25, 2007)
The study continues:
In this EW environment even if Turkey detects any aerial activity it very likely might look upon the Aircraft as friendly and not flying over its territory. Whereas Syria would be spoofed to believe no major threats are flying over its border.
No major Syrian Airbases are close to the Northern border and the aircraft stationed in the area are the MiG-21 type, in one airbase for training.
On the last leg of the flight, only a small fraction of the distance left to the Iranian border could be in Turkey or the Northern tip of the Iraqi borders.
The flight route would also be ideal for the F-15’s and the F-16’s to do aerial refueling from airborne tankers, on ingress and egress from Iran.
This northern route, along the Syrian-Turkish borders, could result in a low political risk with Syria, whom Israel has no Peace Treaty with and not even a formal negotiations process any more.
If the Israeli aircraft do actually fly over Turkey that would constitute a clear Turkish- Israel and even U.S. conspiracy to attack Iran, so the Political risks could be high with Turkey.
Operationally, the risk from Syria would be low, whereas the risk from Turkey could be of medium level if Turkey deems it necessary to react militarily.
Study's authors raise eyebrows
The authors' names are as intriguing as the study's content.
Abdullah Toukan, Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Washington, is the main researcher and author.
Listed off to the side is Anthony H. Cordesman, one of the directors of the think-tank, without reference to his role in the study.
Abdullah Toukan is a Jordanian-American who has lived in Cape Cod, Massachusetts for many years. He is a member of the of the Hashemite royal family of Jordan. Toukan was the brother-in-law of the late Jordanian king Hussein and brother of queen Alia, who was killed in a helicopter accident, which many believed was deliberately engineered by Jordanian intelligence circles who opposed her undue influence as a Palestinian on the throne.
In recent years, Toukan has drawn away from his royal connections in Amman and visits Jordan only rarely.
Toukan has never been known as an expert on Israeli or Iranian nuclear capabilities; nor particularly well versed on Israel's military. His previous work comes nowhere near matching the level of detail, accuracy, visual evidence, tables, maps and figures as the current study.
Just as surprising to Western and Middle East intelligence circles, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources stress, is Anthony Cordesman's name on the study's masthead.
He was one of the Democrats picked by Barack Obama and his advisers to travel to Israel before the November 2008 US presidential elections and lean hard on the Olmert government to refrain from attacking Iran's nuclear sites. In addition to warning Israel that the consequences would be dire, one of Cordesman's most compelling arguments for his Israel interlocutors was that their air force lacks the military resources for such an operation.
A think-tank thesis used as a threat
All of a sudden, six months later, Cordesman reappears in a different guise, advancing the opposite contention.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources report that reprints of the think tank's March study have been circulated to Iranian intelligence and Revolutionary Guards high-ups. Their close scrutiny of every photograph, chart and word has convinced Iran's leaders that the paper is Obama's roundabout way of hinting at the stick he is holding back for now.
It implies that while Washington prefers diplomacy with Tehran and cooperation in the use of Iranian soil for US supplies to Afghanistan, this is not the only track available to the US government for engaging Iran. If the gloves were to come off, Israeli has been demonstrated by the latest research to be fully capable of a comprehensive military assault that would cripple Iran's nuclear production.
By this circuitous vehicle, Obama is indicating that if Tehran failed to meet Washington halfway on the nuclear issue, it might be called on to pay a heavy price because the military option has never been taken off the table. This option need not be applied by America; Israel is determined to stifle Tehran's nuclear program by force if no other means avails, as its new prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated on the first day of his government's inception on April 1.
The view that the Obama administration has more than one ulterior card up its sleeve is gaining ground in Tehran these days, boosted by the latest disclosures about another affair involving Iran – the raid on its arms shipments in transit through Sudan to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Fresh light is thrown on this episode in the next article.