Monday, February 20, 2012

Thinking Outside the Box

People keep saying Israel can't attack Iran's nuclear facilities. This article says our military has calculated that Israel would need 100 aircraft minimum. The article focuses on the lack of aerial refueling as the reason Israel can't attack Iran given the range and routes.

Whether or not Israel is likely to succeed with the tools they have available isn't the most relevant question for me. The question is do the Israelis think that the certainty of Iran getting nukes is a risk that even a low odds attempt should attempt to stop--or delay?

I think Israel has attack options, although coping with the refueling issue with aircraft flying from Turkish bases is obviously no longer an option given the anti-Israel turn of Turkish foreign policy. But who knows, since Turkey is also turning against Iran after a brief flirtation.

But what other options might Israel take to address the refueling problem? We're huge, so if we have a problem we think "buy more tankers." Basing out of Turkey was one option I thought of. But what else could Israel do?

Perhaps, like we did at Desert One in our failed rescue operation where we attempted to refuel our helicopters inside Iran on the ground, Israel does something similar. Could some of Israel's planes land at remote airfields or stretches of highway in eastern Jordan, western Iraq, or northern Saudi Arabia to refuel? This would save Israel's aerial tankers for other planes flying straight from Israel.

Perhaps, like we planned for the Doolittle Raid, the Israelis will plan this like a one-way mission where most Israeli planes recover in nearby countries after hitting Iran, with only those within the capacity of Israel's aerial refueling capacity return to Israel at once. Would Georgia be a likely site (where Iran tried to kill Israelis recently)? Armenia to thumb their nose at Turkey? Even Jordan or Kuwait? Or even land at a remote airfield or road on the way back in the Desert One option to be refueled after the mission? Note that our assumption failed and we lost all our planes in the Doolittle Raid

How many Israeli warplanes could land at any one site without being an "incident?" If only small numbers land at some places (like Jordan or Kuwait) could Georgia, as an example, handle most as long as they aren't the only site?

And how many planes could be left out of a strike by relying on other assets for a portion of the missions? Could cruise missiles or ballistic missiles with conventional warheads suffice for some of the unhardened targets? Would commandos be able to replace some sorties? Those options would reduce the refueling burden a bit.

Or what if the Israelis go a completely different route? What if the Israelis fit out their long-range civilian aircraft as GPS-bomb toting bomb trucks? How many of these would Israel need to replace all but the long-range fighters that would escort the bomb trucks? If Israel just had to refuel in the air the escorting fighters, that pretty much eliminates the refueling problem, no?

Or maybe Israel accepts that a strike on Iran would be a one-way mission. What if the Israelis haul out a bunch of their 200+ A-4s, F-4s, and Kfir C-7s from reserves and outfit them with GPS bombs? Would the Israelis get pilots to go on one-way suicide missions or simply land the planes after the strike at neutral sites so the pilots survive and who cares if the locals confiscate the planes in retaliation for unauthorized landings? Or could the Israelis turn these reserve planes into drones guided from the ground so only the ancient air frames are at risk? Or a mix, with a small number of piloted planes controlling 3 or 4 drone strike planes each? Israel could only do this once, but if all you hope to do is buy time since you can't hope to solve the problem, why not?

Israel has had a lot of time to think of ways to overcome their aerial refueling limitations. Buying more refueling tankers is only the most obvious option. And if Israel has concluded that any chance to slow down Iran's nuclear progress is worth taking given the alternative 100% chance that Iran will get nukes, Israel has a lot of incentive to be more creative than your average columnist insisting Israel "can't" attack Iran.