Sunday, December 11, 2005

Time Running Out For Iran

The Israelis are reported to be preparing to take out Iran's uranium enrichment facilities. They're probably just applying pressure - when they do decide to go, they won't give warning. But it does reveal the small window for action, and the efforts the Israelis have been putting in to target identification. The latter is good - accurate strikes and ground attacks may remove the need for Israel to use nukes.

The tactical situation summarized in this post is confirmed in this report (my ellipsis):

Israel's armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon...to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran, military sources have revealed. The order came after Israeli intelligence warned the government that Iran was operating enrichment facilities, believed to be small and concealed in civilian locations.

Since Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981, “it has been understood that the lesson is, don’t have one site, have 50 sites”, a White House source said.

A “massive” Israeli intelligence operation has been underway since Iran was designated the “top priority for 2005”, according to security sources.

Cross-border operations and signal intelligence from a base established by the Israelis in northern Iraq are said to have identified a number of Iranian uranium enrichment sites unknown to the the IAEA (the UN group that gives the Iranian nuke program top cover).

If a military operation is approved, Israel will use air and ground forces against several nuclear targets in the hope of stalling Tehran’s nuclear programme for years, according to Israeli military sources.

The March deadline set for military readiness also stems from fears that Iran is improving its own intelligence-gathering capability. In October it launched its first satellite, the Sinah-1, which was carried by a Russian space launcher.

“The Iranian space programme is a matter of deep concern to us,” said an Israeli defence source. “If and when we launch an attack on several Iranian targets, the last thing we need is Iranian early warning received by satellite.”

Russia last week signed an estimated $1 billion contract — its largest since 2000 — to sell Iran advanced Tor-M1 systems capable of destroying guided missiles and laser-guided bombs from aircraft.

“Once the Iranians get the Tor-M1, it will make our life much more difficult,” said an Israeli air force source. “The installation of this system can be relatively quick and we can’t waste time on this one.”

Taking out the Iranian satellite should be easy, but suppressing the Tors will be harder. So if the Israelis are to attack, they'll either need to strike before the Tors are in place, or use ballistic missiles with nukes. The Russians will have cause to regret their sponsorship of Iran.