The Special Forces and Israeli Intelligence are also likely to play a more prominent role. Though destruction of the nuclear facilities may entirely be left to the IAF, Special Forces are likely to play a role in the neutralisation/elimination of key radars or command and control facilities for air defence, as Israel lacks stealth aircraft capability to take on these. Air penetration corridors may have to be cleared by Special Forces action.
Given the operational and political complexities, and also the uncertainties in execution and outcome, this option will be difficult, but not beyond the capabilities of the IAF.
However, large scale employment of Special Forces may not be likely, given the widespread nature and distance of the targets and the sheer complexity of operations involved. After all, the US Delta Forces botched attempt to rescue hostages in Iran is not a reassuring precedent. It would all be a function of the quantum and quality of human intelligence assets available to Israel within Iran itself, and the degree to which Irans air defences could be physically/electronically suppressed.
In sum, Israeli air attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities will be a very mammoth and extremely complex operation with huge in-built risks and serious potential for uncontrolled escalation and widening of the conflict. These constraints by themselves lessen the chances of the adoption of this option but cannot be ruled out altogether.
Given the operational and political complexities, and also the uncertainties in execution and outcome, this option will be difficult, but not beyond the capabilities of the IAF. The problem area would be in dealing with the likely Iranian conventional and asymmetric responses.
Iranian Response Options
A fuller treatment of Iranian response option will be carried out in a separate paper as it entails a net assessment of Iranian Force capabilities. However, briefly response options could be analysed under two heads :-
Air Defence. Iranian fighters are a mix of vintage US aircraft like the phantoms and F5 as also Russian SU-22, SU-24 fighters and 40 x Mig-29s. Since, these would be operating close to their bases they would have an advantage. Hawk SAMs would pose a threat to Israeli strike packages. There are reports of Iran having Russian SA-10 & SA-15 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). However, radar cover and command and control are weak links.27
The prolonged US involvement in the quagmire of Iraq has forced the USA to shift its focus and budgetary allocation from fighting a major conventional war (against regional adversaries like China) to counter-nsurgency.
Irans Missile Capabilities. Iran could hit targets in Israel, the Gulf countries, Middle East and even Southern Europe. Its missile inventory comprises :-
- Shabab I: Maximum range 205 miles (330 kms)
- Shahab II: Maximum range 435 miles (700 kms)
- Shabab III: Maximum range 840 miles (1,350 kms). This puts the fringes of Europe in range.28
Oil Tanker War II. Iran could blockade the Gulf of Hormuz. It could mine sea lanes and attack oil tankers with surface-to-surface missiles. This could seriously disrupt global oil supplies and push oil prices to beyond US $200 a barrel. India would be particularly affected.
- Hezbollah could open a front against Israel via Lebanon with help from Iranian Special Forces.
- Palestinian organisations could be assisted by Irans Special Forces (Al Quds detachments)
- Iranian Special Forces could strike targets in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, as also assist the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Shia rebels in Iraq.29
Implications for India
Any crisis in the Persian Gulf would dramatically escalate the price of oil and thereby seriously impacting on the Indian and global economy. The price of oil could easily cross a US $200 per barrel and more. Over 68 per cent of Indias oil supplies and 100 per cent of its gas are currently sourced from the Gulf region. This dependence on Persian Gulf oil and gas is largely a function of geography, spatial distance/linkages and transportation costs. Keeping in view the extreme volatility in this region, it would be prudent for India to try and diversify its sources of energy imports and possibly try to get more oil and gas from Africa, Russia and Central Asia.