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Samuels's lopsided analysis of an Israeli attack on Iran

By Rasool Nafisi, Esfand Nafisi,

In a provocative article for Slate Magazine David Samuels argues that Israel will inevitably attack Iran's nuclear facilities because Israel cannot risk playing second fiddle in the region. Israel's loss of hegemonic status in the region entails a gradual decline of its power to play the role of goddess Kali, the destroyer-protector. If Israel's strength is diminished to the point that it is unable to give away land without losing face in the process, the pressure from its neighbors would ratchet up every time Israel did give away land. Similarly, if Israel is unable to sufficiently threaten its neighbors, it would lose US support which would again lead to a ratcheting up of pressure from its surely emboldened neighbors. The US and Israel maintain a patron-client relationship which requires Israel to remain the dominant military force in the region, or risk losing American favor which will shift to the new bully on the block. Israel must retain its ability to wield both the carrot and stick in the region on behalf of the US. The stick of course is its military might, and the carrot is its power to give Palestinians a country, or parcels of land. These are of course the bargaining chips for America in that region as well. In return, the Jewish state is rewarded with cash, military equipment, and the full support of its patron. Samuels argues that a nuclear Iran will end Israel's hegemony and its value for the US. A potential result of this scenario is a new US alliance with Iran. Samuels concludes that Israel will attack Iran, an endeavor that makes everybody happy, and will lead to another forty years of life for the state of Israel.

Samuels concedes that an attack on nuclear facilities will be risky but he does not lay out the risks, particularly the tactical obstacles to such an attack. It is true that Iran's defence system is no match for the Israelis. This ground-based air defence network is outdated and unsophisticated. It is supported only by some 40 MiG-29s, 30 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms, between 30 and 40 Grumman F-14 Tomcats, 40 Dassault Mirage F.1s and 18 Chinese-made F-7 fighters. However, the space for Israeli maneuver is quite limited. The US will surely forbid flying over the Iraqi corridor, forcing Israeli bombers (F-16Is, most likely, since Israel is not known to have any strategic bombers) to fly a long circuitous route over the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Arabian Sea. Although Israel does have in-air refueling capabilities, its fighters would likely need to be equipped with extra fuel tanks, which would make the heavier and reduce their weapons payload. Attacking the 18 known Iranian nuclear sites, mostly dug deep underground, it would require numerous sorties with a massive number of bombers. Israel's air force is undoubtedly one of the best in the world, but with Iranian anti aircraft weaponry heavily guarding these sites, it is unlikely that the operation will succeed without substantial casualties. Overall, however, Israel will almost certainly succeed in destroying a large number of known Iranian nuclear facilities, and deprive Iran for a few years from making a bomb, but the cost may prove to be staggering. An attack based on ballistic missiles, mainly Israeli Jericho, may as well prove to be ineffective due to the short range of these missiles, and their lack of capability to use large size penetrating munitions.

Samuels' article has a jingoistic tone because the brunt of the analysis provides reasons in favor of Israel attacking against Iran, while reasons against an attack are minimized or simply ignored. The lopsidedness makes the title of his piece, Why Israel Will Bomb Iran, look more like wishful thinking than clear-sighted analysis. But the article is not without merit. Samuels makes some insightful claims: First, that an Israeli attack on Iran will be motivated by the desire to preserve Israel's hegemonic status in the region, which Israel must maintain if it is to keep its favored status with the US. Samuels' second interesting point is a prediction: for Israel the only significant consequence of an attack on Iran, besides international uproar, would be a Palestinian state. This prediction is crucial to his conclusion that an attack is imminent and necessary, for if the consequences are worse than he predicts, an attack might not be such a good idea. Curiously, Samuels glosses over the potential consequences of such an attack. First, there is the death toll that would result from an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. In the last two attacks on Osirak (Tammuz 1) and the suspected Syrian site, the facilities were bombed before being fueled. But most Iranian facilities are up and running, containing deadly pollutants. To choose but one example of the consequences of bombing these sites, an attack on Isfahan's hexafluoride plant may kill as many as a million people as a result of releasing toxic fluoride gas into the area. Israel will have to answer for massive death tolls, and it is unlikely that the world community, including the US, will take kindly to pre-emptive attack on a non-imminent threat that results in countless civilian deaths and the long-term contamination of the environment with radioactive materials.

Samuels also discounts the probability of an Iranian military response to an Israeli attack. Such a response might come in the way of medium-range ballistic missiles (such as the Shahab 3), an uptick in asymmetrical warfare, or a shutdown of the Strait of Hormuz. Samuels discounts an Iranian response, suggesting that it is "less likely than it first appears" because a counterattack would result in Israel launching a second wave of attacks against Iran, this time targeting and destroying the Iranian economic infrastructure. On Samuels' view Iran is effectively deterred from responding to an Israeli attack.

If Iran cannot or will not respond to the destruction of its nuclear facilities, why hasn't Israel attacked already? It is because the consequences of an attack are undesirable to Israel. Iran has an unknown number of medium-ranged ballistic missiles capable of hitting Israel with warheads of up to one ton, and has promised to respond to an Israeli attack with a barrage of 11,000 missiles. Lebanese Hezbollah's involvement also is a possibility, although not a certainty. While there is good reason to believe that this number is exaggerated, the effect of firing hundreds or thousands of missiles at a country the size of New Jersey has the potential to be devastating, even if a significant number of them are intercepted with surface-to-air missiles. A ballistic missile attack is only one option. There is also the strong likelihood that Iran will redouble its efforts to engage in asymmetric warfare against Israel and its allies.

Another possible Iranian response that Samuels does not address in his article is an Iranian shutdown of the Strait of Hormuz, which would effectively cut off one-third of the world's oil supply. Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to shut down the Strait should they be attacked by Israeli or American forces. And this is a promise that it appears Iran can keep.

Should Iran take any of these measures there is an almost certain possibility that Israel will attack again, potentially using nuclear force. Whatever the means of Israel's response, the result will be an Israeli military victory and Iran in ruins. Currently Iran is one of the few stable countries in the region. Destabilizing would have economic and political consequences for not just Israel but the entire world, consequences that Israel cannot hope to internalize. This outcome would certainly not be welcomed by the United States, an outcome which defeats the purpose of the whole military engagement, meaning to keep this country on the side of Israel. The burden is on Samuels to explain why the consequences will lead to a strengthened position for Israel. Absent an explanation, it is safe to assume that better alternatives exist.

... Payvand News - 04/21/09 ... --

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