Hit ’em Hard III

Options against Iran include both limited and comprehensive strike campaigns, which the US is well capable of executing. The likelihood of Iranian retaliation through terrorism is a major factor in inhibiting action to date. America might still incorporate her military threat into an escalatory sequence of threats. No option is ideal; eventually, Israel may feel it necessary to provoke an Iranian response that America must react to, as a last-ditch effort.

Yes, we Can!


In DESERT STORM, we talked about how many aircraft sorties it took per target to achieve our objectives.  In ENDURING FREEDOM (Afghanistan), we are talking about how many target objectives we can achieve per sortie.

US Navy Carrier Air Wing Commander briefing his peers in 2002


Israel can do a little to set back Iran’s nuclear programs.  The US can do a lot.

In the last installment of our examination of options versus Iran, we looked at the “reverse” option:  setting Iran’s programs back by some amount of time.  Israel, given her various operational constraints, would be capable of setting Iran back by at least six months, and probably more (my assessment:  a minimum of 12 months).  She could do this by attacking at least two, but fewer than 10, key target complexes.

US forces, by contrast, have the ability to inflict much greater damage in the service of a “reverse” option objective.  The most important factor in this from any standpoint is that the US is able to establish air superiority over Iran, and perform continuous strikes in sequence, at dozens of target complexes, and over a period of days or weeks. Continue reading “Hit ’em Hard III”

Hit ’em Hard II

An Israeli strike on a short list of priority Iranian nuclear targets is feasible, if challenging. Such a strike would be characterized by merciless prior constraints on the IAF’s operational latitude, and tradeoffs between damage to targets and number of targets hit. The strike’s feasibility for Israel will decline rapidly with modernization of Iran’s air defenses.

Reverse!  Reverse!


As events accelerate with Iran’s nuclear programs – as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff informs us Iran has passed the key threshold of possessing enough low-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon — we may ask ourselves:  Is it still possible to use kinetic force against Iran’s nuclear programs today?  And is it still a realistic option?

The answer to both questions is yes.  However, as with the Delay option discussed in Hit ‘em Hard, the ramifications of pursuing the kinetic course are varied, and more discouraging than not.  One of the chief outcomes of reviewing these ramifications is a clear perspective on why – rights and wrongs aside – the sheer costs of pursuing a kinetic course have probably kept us from doing it so far.  The time, however, is growing short to reverse Iran’s progress at a cost with any real political acceptability – even for a US administration of a different character.  As we will see, in examining the features of kinetic attack at different objective levels, there are two important chains of events that will dictate the level of will we must possess:  Iran’s progress toward taking her nuclear reactors critical, and her progress in improving her air defenses. Continue reading “Hit ’em Hard II”

Deterrence and the Superpower

The effects of Cold War nuclear deterrence that are relevant to Iran’s situation today are usually misunderstood. From Iran’s perspective, what mattered was that the Soviet Union’s nuclear capacity had a deterrent effect on America’s willingness to intervene where the Soviets and their clients sought, through Marxist insurrection, to establish power. Iran can use this pattern to squeeze the US out of the Middle East, and would have more success if nuclear-armed.

New blog correspondent Dan Simon poses an excellent question in response to the “Hit ‘em Hard” entry on sanctions/embargo enforcement against Iran.  My intention has been to address the substance of his question in the post after I deal with the Reverse and Prevent options against Iran’s nuclear programs.  However, with technical difficulties slowing me down on that post, I will take this opportunity to discuss Mr. Simon’s specific point, outlined in his comments below:

I’m new to this blog, so forgive me if this has already been covered here–but could you perhaps give a short explanation as to why Iran’s nuclear weapons program is such an earth-shattering concern in the first place? It seems to me that one of the lessons of the Cold War–currently being recapitulated in the Indian subcontinent–is that nuclear deterrence works just fine. In fact, it arguably works too well: global conflicts seem to blossom effortlessly into hot wars, proxy wars, terrorism campaigns, civilian massacres and the rest in the presence of a nuclear standoff, almost as if the latter didn’t exist. (I elaborate here.)

The Iranian regime is currently going full-tilt at expanding its global influence, cultivating anti-Western allies of all kinds, and developing offensive capabilities of every conceivable variety. It also deploys these capabilities against its nuclear-armed adversaries, quite confident that just about the only thing that would provoke a nuclear response would be a (direct or proxy) nuclear attack. Apart, then, from deterring a full-blown invasion aimed at regime change–an extremely unlikely prospect in any event–how, exactly, would possession of nuclear weapons significantly alter for the worse either Iran’s aggressive posture or its plausibly deployable offensive capabilities?

Mr. Simon has expressed a common assessment here – and I believe it is, basically, 180 out from reality. Continue reading “Deterrence and the Superpower”

Hit ’em Hard

Force options against Iran break down into seeking the following objectives: delaying her nuclear programs, reversing their progress, and preventing Iran entirely from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. This post develops these ideas, and discusses military options for the first objective of delaying Iran.

… Hit ‘em Low… and if they get up, Hit ‘em Again*


If, as some analysts suggest, Iran could achieve a nuclear “breakout capability” in 2009, is there anything that the use of force can achieve to prevent this?

The answer to this question is multifaceted and contingent.  It depends, in the first place, on how the question is posed.  It also depends on who is undertaking the use of force, and what the precise objectives are.  Ultimately, the single, bottom-line answer is yes – but only if sufficient force is used, for the objectives it is suited for, and only if the will exists to pursue those objectives.  Lesser objectives, and less force, will not achieve a satisfactory outcome.  I believe that conundrum represents much of what stayed the hand of the Bush administration throughout his tenure in office. Continue reading “Hit ’em Hard”

The NIE is Dead

The 2007 Iran NIE was a poorly written document, ignoring relevant information about the totality of Iran’s nuclear programs. Iran has been unresponsive to both negotiations and sanctions, and her programs continue through today, with substantial progress made in uranium enrichment and rocket/missile development.

Long Live the NIE


A number of commentators, like Shmuel Rosner at Commentary’s contentions blog, have picked up on the tacit move of the Obama administration leadership this month, away from the 2007 NIE on Iran’s nuclear program.  Both Obama and new CIA Director Leon Panetta have spoken categorically in the last few days of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.  As Rosner notes, however, the emerging official honesty about Iran’s intentions is likely to have a limited impact on policy, at least if the comments of new Director of National Intelligence (Admiral) Dennis Blair are an indication:

“They [Iran] want a nuclear program and, quite likely, a nuclear weapon, and there isn’t much that will stop them.”

There is some justification for wondering, at this point, if the price of this straightforwardness about Iran’s intentions, from the intelligence community’s leadership, is a posture by the sitting US administration that “there isn’t much that will stop them.”  If the authors of the 2007 NIE had trusted George W. Bush to adhere to this posture, they might even have written the unclassified summary of it differently.  We may leave others to speculate on the motives of senior intelligence officials for the rhetorical organization of the NIE, as reporters, bloggers, and editorialists did at the time.  What is incontrovertible, however, is the strange unprofessionalism of the NIE in its wording and organization. Continue reading “The NIE is Dead”