Monday, March 26, 2012

Post #225 - Planning for Prevention

The Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan think tank founded in 1921, published a "Contingency Planning Memorandum" in the fall of 2009, on "An Israeli Strike on Iran." This was part of their Center for Preventive Action contingency planning activity. Written by Steven Simon, it is still relevant today in large part, so I would like to share some excerpts.

In its introduction, the paper states:

"Within the coming year, the Israeli government could decide, much as it did twenty-eight years ago with respect to Iraq and two years ago with respect to Syria, to attack Iran’s nuclear installations in order to delay its acquisition of a weapons capability...

"This contingency planning memo assesses the likelihood of an Israeli strike against Iran despite U.S. objections, the implications for the United States should it take place, the policy options available to reduce the chances of its occurrence, and the measures that could be taken to mitigate the potentially negative consequences."

The author then goes into possible strike plans:

"An Israeli attack would likely concentrate on three locations: Isfahan, where Iran produces uranium hexafluoride gas; Natanz, where the gas is enriched in approximately half of the eight thousand centrifuges located there; and Arak, where a heavy water research reactor, scheduled to come on line in 2012, would be ideal to produce weapons-grade plutonium...[and possibly] other sites...such as the recently disclosed Qom site, whose location is known, or centrifuge fabrication sites, the location(s) of which have not yet been identified....

"Israel is capable of carrying out these attacks unilaterally [the details of likely aircraft and weapons are given, AP]...[but] a coordinated air attack would be complicated and highly risky. The three plausible routes to Iran involve overflight of third countries:...[either] Turkey...Jordan and Iraq [or]...Jordan, Saudi Arabia and possibly Kuwait...if...[one of] these countries...detects Israeli aircraft and chooses to challenge the overflight using surfaceto-air missiles or intercepting aircraft, Israel’s intricate attack plan, which would have a razor-thin margin for error to begin with, could well be derailed....

"The sheer distances involved pose a challenge, as well. The targets lie at the outermost 1,750kilometer range limits of Israeli tactical aircraft...

"A final consideration...would be the effect of explosives on the nuclear materials stored at the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan and the enrichment facility at Natanz...the release of uranium into the environment would almost certainly raise public health concerns due to heavy metal contamination."

Simon moves on, then, to assessing the chances of such an attack by Israel:

"The likelihood of this contingency depends on Israeli assessments of U.S. and international resolve to block Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability; the state of the Iranian program; the amount of time a successful strike would buy to be worth the expected risks and costs, a point on which there is a spectrum of Israeli views, from six months to five years; whether Israel believes there is a clandestine Iranian program, which would lead some Israelis to conclude that an attack would not buy any time at all; and the effect of a strike on the U.S.-Israel relationship...

"If Iran were to agree to ship the bulk of its uranium to France and Russia for enrichment...Israel’s incentive to accept the risks of an attack against Iran would probably diminish. Should diplomatic initiatives run aground, the likelihood of an Israeli attack could be expected to increase accordingly.

"[Iranian statements regarding] Holocaust denial and the inevitable disappearance of Israel only strengthen the hand of attack proponents within Israel by justifying fears about Iran’s intentions...

"Israeli officials are aware that no conceivable Israeli strike could completely eliminate the nuclear threat posed by Iran and that an attack might only intensify longer-term risks as Iran reconstituted covertly...

"In assessing the likelihood of an attack, it is useful to look back on the origins of the Six Day War in 1967 and the raid on the Osirak reactor in Iraq. In each case, Israel attacked only after a long period of procrastination. In 1967, Washington’s hands-off posture tipped the balance in the cabinet in favor of preemption. In the case of Osirak, the Carter and Reagan administrations’ unwillingness or incapacity to intervene left Israel feeling cornered and compelled to act unilaterally. One lesson to be learned from this is that Israel is more likely to use force if it perceives Washington to be disengaged.

"Finally, if the Russian analysis is correct—namely, that the sort of crippling sanctions that would help stave off an Israeli attack would also drive Iran out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) — then the probability of an Israeli strike would be correspondingly higher, since Iranian withdrawal from the NPT would itself be a casus belli. Moreover, Iran’s withdrawal would diminish the diplomatic opportunity cost of an attack."

What are the consequences Simon sees following an attack?:

Some...would view an Israeli beneficial to U.S. counterproliferation objectives and ultimately to U.S. national security...At the same time, an Israeli attack—even if operationally successful—would pose immediate risks to U.S. interests.

"First, regardless of perceptions of U.S. complicity in the attack, the United States would probably become embroiled militarily in any Iranian retaliation against Israel or other countries in the region...

"Second, an Israeli strike would cause oil prices to spike...[they] might hit $200/bbl (up from the current level of around $77/bbl) for a short period ....

"Third...U.S. efforts to foster better relations with the Muslim world would almost certainly suffer... A narrative less infused by anti-Americanism...facilitates counterterrorism goals and, from a longer-range perspective, hedges against regime change. The perceived involvement of the United States in an Israeli attack would undercut these interlocking interests, at least for a while.

"Fourth, the United States has a strong interest in domestically generated regime change in is more likely that Iranians of all stripes would rally around the flag...[and] the opposition Green movement would be undermined, while the ascendant hard-line clerics and Revolutionary Guard supporters would face fewer constraints in consolidating their hold on power.

"Fifth, an Israeli attack might guarantee an overtly nuclear weapons capable Iran in the medium term.

Sixth, Israeli-Palestinian final status accord remains elusive -- an Israeli strike, especially one that overflew Jordan or Saudi Arabia, would delay fruitful renewed negotiation indefinitely.

Finally,...[e]ven if an Israeli move on Iran did not dislocate the bilateral relationship, it could instead produce diplomatic rifts between the United States and its European and regional allies...

And what can the United States do to forestall a strike? Simon suggest several things, including that we:

"-- make progress toward a verifiable, highly transparent agreement with Iran that will make it very difficult to produce highly enriched uranium and/or weapons-grade plutonium, and secondarily to weaponize...

"-- [develop] a presidential visit to express solidarity with Israel and emphasize measures the United States is taking on the nuclear issue would be helpful.

"-- extend to Israel the option of a defense treaty with the United States...[including a provision that would give] unambiguous security guarantees to Israel that it would be covered by the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” so as to deter Iran...[though] other states that felt threatened by Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia, would likely demand similar coverage if it were extended to Israel. Finally, the United States could also consider the option advocated by former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, that of the United States actively impeding an Israeli attack once it is under way. It is hard to imagine, however, that the United States would risk the severe—even per-manent––damage such action would incur on its longstanding strategic relationship with Israel."

The author delineates possible policy options in the event that a strike does occur; he says that "the United States must also plan for managing and minimizing the crisis that would ensue if the primary policy fails and Israel does in fact attack Iran. Such planning should include the following steps:

". work with basing countries—especially Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—on first response, consequence management capacities, and intelligence exchanges;

. ramp up air defenses and force protection in the Gulf and Iraq;

. discuss the possibility of Iranian retaliation and responses with Iraqi president Nuri al-Maliki
and senior Iraqi security officials;

. approach Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait with requests to increase oil production should Iran attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz, attack shipping, or damage transloading facilities or offshore installations;

. ensure the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve is sufficient to offset shortages if necessary;

. use diplomatic and intelligence channels to urge increased readiness levels in friendly countries
where there is an Iranian Revolutionary Guard or a Hezbollah presence; and

. provide additional ballistic missile defense capabilities to Israel to defend against potential Iranian
retaliation. "

In order to facilitate these kinds of measures, Simon recommends that "the United States and Israel should establish a high-level back channel to explore the issues raised by Iran’s behavior and share views about managing them... keep up the pressure on Iran...[and] begin preparing for an Israeli attack on Iran and Iranian retaliation. This will be a thorny process insofar as defensive measures the United States takes in the region, or urges its allies to take, could be read in Tehran as preparation for an attack and thus cast as justification for further destabilizing Iranian action."

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