It is obvious to the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel that military action to disable Iran's nuclear arms production and contain its regional ambitions will be on quite a different scale from their backdoor teamwork in Israel's war against Hizballah in 2006 and offensive against Hamas three years later.
Military, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation will have to be substantially upgraded and expanded. Against an enemy on the order of Iran, combined intelligence will not be enough; both Saudi Arabia and Egypt will have to pitch in to actively support the military operation.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military experts assess the nature of military assistance Israel will require of its two ad hoc partners as falling under six headings:
1. Israeli warplanes will need to cross Saudi and Egyptian air space and use their bases to reach targets in Iran; the US is not expected to let Israeli planes overfly Iraq and Turkey's skies will remain resolutely shut.
2. The Israeli Air Force has formed special squadrons of elderly Kfir (Lion) and Phantom-4 warplanes for the assault on Iran. They carry long-range bunker-busting bombs and are equipped with extra fuel tanks.
Still, Israeli planners are thinking in terms of the remote bombardment of Iran's nuclear sites, ideally from Saudi air bases, without penetrating enemy skies and exposing the bombers to Iranian fighters or air defense fire.
Air bases close to target for takeoff and landing before and after missions would make it possible for the IAF to attack in multiple waves, thus negating the main argument of Pentagon leaders against Israel's military option, namely that a single air raid, unrepeated, would not suffice to disable Iran's nuclear facilities.
3. Access to friendly air facilities for refueling would save the Israeli Air Force sending a large fleet of refueling craft along with the F-15 and F-16 fighter bombers heading for Iran – although the IAF has a fleet available.
4. Israeli warplanes suffering damage in the direct assault would find medical and/or technical ground aid quickly available and save them having to make the long flight back to Israel for help.
5. Saudi Arabia and Egypt may be called on to open their naval facilities to the Israeli Navy, especially its submarines.
6. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel will need to need to swap up-to-the minute intelligence on targets and Iran's military deployment in the region. Riyadh can be expected to take advantage of the Israeli offensive against Iran not only to cripple its nuclear facilities but also to demolish its military and naval facilities close to the Straits of Hormuz and its deployments on the strategic islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb.
Russian missile sale draws Cairo, Jerusalem and Riyadh closer
DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources report that as recently as last week, the odds of an Israeli attack were improved by the news that Moscow, Tehran and Damascus had found a way around Russian premier Vladimir Putin's pledge in his former position as president not to sell advanced Iskander cruise missiles and advanced S-300 intercept missiles to Iran and Syria.
It turned out that Belarus will front for Russia as vendor.
(Details in HOT POINTS below)
This information provided another fillip for bringing the Israeli air strike plan forward, especially when it was discovered that Belorussian president Alexander Lukashenko had moved fast and the first shipments of S-300V or S-300M systems had already been delivered to Iran.
The S-300V air defense missile system is designed to secure task forces and key military and state installations against mass attacks by theatre and tactical ballistic missiles, aero-ballistic and cruise missiles, and strategic and tactical aircraft, as well as engaging loitering ECM (electronic counter-measures) aircraft and other airstrike assets.
The S-300V is a mobile, multi-channel, long-range surface-to-air missile system equipped with high jamming immunity, and therefore capable of engaging aerial targets amid heavy ECM and fire counteraction in all weathers, day and night.
Before buying this top-of-the line Russian hardware, Iran's air defenses relied on obsolete anti-aircraft systems such as SA-5 with a range of 250 kilometers and some upgraded SA-2, which are easily destroyed by ECM-armed anti-radiation air-to-surface missiles. Iran's short-range Russian anti-aircraft TOR1 missiles were never a match for Israel's air might or its Jericho missiles.
Iranian reprisals are a major Saudi, Egyptian consideration too
Once installed, the Russian mobile, multi-targeting S-300V system, manufactured by Almaz-Antey, changes the rules of the game – or, as the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington put it in a recent report: … the whole analytic model beginning from C4I early warning to response and scramble times in the engagement of Israeli combat aircraft with this integrated mobile air defense system will have to be recalculated.
“The attrition rates of the Israeli air strike will be high, could go up to 20 to 30 percent. For a strike mission of some 90 aircraft, the attrition could then be between 20 to 30 aircraft, a loss Israel would hardly accept in paying.”
Western military sources have in the past estimated that the sale of the two Russian missile systems to Iran and Syria would force Israel's hand for a strike before they are installed and brought on-line.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources, Cairo and Riyadh are under no illusion about the consequences of a potential Israeli military attack in league with Saudi Arabia and Egypt and are aware that Tehran would punish them as well as Israel with fierce missile bombardments.
The scenario outlined by Egyptian and Saudi military and intelligence chiefs, according to our sources, hinges on Iran relying less on its small medium-distance missile arsenal (estimated at 60-80) for hitting strategic targets in Israel, such as its nuclear reactor in Dimona, and more on Syria, Hizballah and Hamas for devastating the Israeli population near their borders. The bulk of its missile arsenal would be reserved for attacking important military facilities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.