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The United States had engaged in a high profile coercive deployment of naval forces in the Gulf from end 2006 to early 2007 to deter Iran from proceeding apace with its nuclear enrichment programme.1 There was massive (planted) speculation in the media about an impending US strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.2 Iran stuck to its stand that it was entitled to pursue peaceful development of nuclear energy and apparently refused to blink. There was tremendous speculation about the cost-benefit aspects of such an US attack. Air strikes would certainly have put back the Iranian nuclear programme by a few years.
However, the Iranian retaliation, primarily through means of asymmetric warfare options, and its capability to target shipping/oil lanes in the Gulf, threatened to entrain an escalator where the endgame would have become highly risky. It could have derailed the global economy and generated a world wide recession with the price of oil soaring beyond the US $ 200 a barrel mark.
US air strikes was only one scenario. The second and even more plausible scenario is the option of an Israeli air strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities.
With the US intelligence estimates that Iran had halted its drive for nuclear weaponisation the world heaved a sigh of relief and there was a visible de-escalation in the strident rhetoric for then. There are however some indications of a change in the scenario once again. US air strikes was only one scenario. The second and even more plausible scenario is the option of an Israeli air strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. With the Israeli air strike on the Syrian nuclear facility at Al Kabir in September 2007, this scenario has become even more credible.
The Times of India dated June 21, 2008 issue cited a report by Micheal R Gorden and Eric Schmitt that Israel carried out a major military exercise in the first week of June 2008, which appeared to be a full dress rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Irans nuclear facilities.3 US officials said that the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the countrys long range strike potential and demonstrate the seriousness with which it views Irans nuclear programme.4 Was it another coercive exercise to deter Iran or a full fledged rehearsal for an impending Israeli strike on Irans nuclear facilities?
Media reports speculated that over a 100 Israeli F-15 and F-16 aircraft had taken part in these manoeuvers over the Eastern Mediterranean over Greece and Crete.5 The exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew over 900 miles ““ the approximate distance between Israel and nuclear target sets in Iran.6
Glorious Spartan 08
In Athens, an official of the Greek Air Force Central Command, confirmed, that it had taken part in a joint training exercise with Israel off the Mediterranean island of Crete. Named Glorious Spartan 08. These exercises, were conducted from May 28 to June 12, 2008.7 It was a highly visible and coercive exercise intended to demonstrate Israels serious concern over Irans nuclear ambitions. In fact, on June 6, Israels Deputy Prime Minister, Shaul Mofaz, warned that Iran would face attacks if it pursues what he said was its nuclear weapons programme.8 The Mossad was said to be behind the car bomb attack that killed a top terror tactician of Iran (Imad Mug Niyeh) in Damascus on February 13, 2008. The Mossad Director Meir Dagan got an extension till 2009 which is being linked to Israels likely plans for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Some sources speculate that this would have to happen before September/October 2008 if the Iranian nuclear enrichment activity is to be effectively prevented.
Mossad Director Meir Dagan got an extension till 2009 which is being linked to Israels likely plans for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The escalator to a probable conflict has been entrained. A series of such exercises and naval demonstrations could be part of a coercive diplomacy exercise to deter Iran from the nuclear weapons option. Alternatively, a series of such exercises could generate ambiguity, and serve to desensitise the target over time, so that, repeated alerts on the part of the defender, lowers his arousal thresholds, and help in achieving surprise, when the actual attack comes.
This paper will steer clear of value judgments on the proliferation issues involved and focus on a purely military net assessment of likely conflict scenarios that could emerge in the Gulf in case of an Israeli attack on Irans nuclear facilities. Given the presidential elections in America, and the overstretch its forces are facing in Afghanistan and Iraq, the likelihood of an American air-land invasion, or pure air and naval aviation strikes, seem increasingly less probable. However, the Israeli option remains open and fairly credible.