In a striking reversal of conventional thinking, US military and intelligence leaders are talking in incredibly minimal terms about the size of the strength required to knock out Iran's nuclear facilities and disable its elite Revolutionary Guards Corps. The dimensions bruited about in Washington today would be unrecognizable to Bush administration strategists.
The main principles of the military doctrine still on the Obama administration's drawing board are outlined here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's exclusive military and Washington sources:
1. Iran's Arab neighbors and Israel do not need a US defense umbrella against a possible Iranian missile attack because the Islamic Republic's missile arsenal will be destroyed on the ground or immediately after launch.
The Obama administration appears to have gone back on the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's pledge of a defense umbrella for the Middle East against Iran's nuclear threat, a pledge which was taken to imply US acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Clinton denied this, saying she adhered to the current policy involving a mix of diplomatic outreach to Iran and sanctions, but suggested that US officials were looking ahead in case this approach failed.
But in the last few days, US officials have pointedly omitted reference to the defense umbrella concept in their briefings to regional leaders.
2. The United States can make do with the ground, air and naval forces already present in the Gulf region for disrupting, scuttling or crippling Iran's nuclear program. They consist of some 15,000 troops backed by a single aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, which cruises in the Gulf of Oman, plus the air force and missile strength waiting in bases across the region and in Iraq.
Missiles (and a few bunker busters) could wipe out Iran's nuclear sites
3. Gone are the days, as recent as early 2008, when at least four aircraft carriers were considered essential for an American military strike against Iran. Their restless movements in and out of Gulf waters were the barometer for rising and falling tensions.
Obama administration strategists believe the present US strength centering on the Fifth Fleet, which is headquartered in Bahrain and includes only one carrier, is quite capable of contending with any Iranian military, aerial or naval menace to Gulf nations, the Middle East or the Straits of Hormuz oil routes to West Europe and Japan.
The new doctrine states that at its current strength, the Fifth Fleet would be able to reopen the Straits of Hormuz within 36 to 48 hours after it is blocked by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, whether by ships, deep- sea mines, or both.
4. Very few warplanes – just the B-2 stealth bombers carrying MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) bunker busters – would be needed to smash Iran's nuclear installations. Most of the work would be left to missiles launched from a distance. There would be no need to land troops on Iranian soil.
Gone and forgotten are the former US estimates that given the dispersion of Iran's nuclear sites across a large country, only vast air capabilities on a scale which only the US can muster, could wipe them all out and even then, it would take a heavy two-to-three week blitz.
Relocating regional US commands from Qatar to… Iraq
The recent US official briefings cited no timeline for an American missile strike against Iran; neither did they specify its scale or the types of weapon to be used.
5. But things are already moving on the ground, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources reveal. Following White House directives relayed through the Pentagon, US regional air force and intelligence commands are being lifted out of their Al Udeid Air Base at Doha, Qatar, to the US air base at Talil near Nasiriya in southern Iraq.
(Talil Air Base is called Camp Adder by the U.S. Army; the name “Ali Air Base” is used chiefly by the U.S. Air Force).
Al-Udeid houses the US military's most advanced war room outside of the US itself with amenities for waging a military campaign at any point on the globe. The Qatari base is home to the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command CENTCOM and the No. 83 Expeditionary Air Group of the RAF and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the USAF.
The 379th Air Expeditionary Wing (379 AEW) is one of the largest, most diverse expeditionary wings in the US Air Force.
Their relocation explains defense secretary Robert Gates' surprise visit to Talil Tuesday, July 28 from trips to Israel and Jordan. He was there to check on progress of the transfer of the command facilities from Qatar to Iraq and the installation of the complicated and sophisticated equipment at its new headquarters.
Ironically, Obama spoke often about withdrawing the US army from Iraq with all possible speed, yet at the same time, he has ordered the forward US headquarters for a strike against Iran to be relocated there.