January 23, 2005

How Many F-151s....

With all this talk about Israel potentially launching air strikes against Iran's nuclear program, I'd like to see some one try to settle a rather key question here: Could Israel even strike Iran? I took up this subject on Friday over at Mother Jones, based on what I've been told by several Iran analysts. Upshot: Right now it just doesn't seem like Israel has the capacity to conduct days or even weeks worth of bombing from 1000 miles away. Perhaps they could do it if they refueled their short-range strike fighters over Iraq, but it would be pretty obvious who was helping them out, and in that case we may as well have just done the whole thing ourselves.

At any rate, Ted Barlow apparently heard the same thing from Ray Takeyh and Ken Pollack, though down in the comments to Ted's post, Gary Farber offered a dissenting view:

A couple of comments on niggling points: "According to Pollack, they only have 25 appropriate planes."

This is true if we’re talking about an attack this month. But the Israelis are taking possession of two new F-16Is per month until, as currently planned, their order of 102 of this plane is filled (it’s always possible the order could be extended or added to, as well). So their technical ability to hit Iran is constantly on the increase.

Seems convincing enough—though this shouldn't be a hard dispute for some enterprising reporter to settle. Regardless, air strikes are a bad, bad idea. Our WMD intelligence remains awful, we'd (or Israel would) no doubt miss some key targets, we'd likely hit a lot of civilian targets (since many of the facilities are in civilian areas), retribution in Iraq would be swift and severe, the nationalist furor would probably set Iran's democratic revolution back decades, etc. etc. So no way, no day. No shape, no form. Of course, if the White House ever decided to actually negotiate with Iran, then they would have to leave the threat of air strikes open, which means they'd have to pretend to be actually crazy enough to try something so utterly, well, crazy. Ah, diplomacy...

By the way, this strikes me as good news—former president Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani is planning to run in Iran's June elections. I know the minutiae of Iranian politics isn't all that exciting, but dammit, it's important. No, really. It's true, there will be no reformist candidates running this time around. But Rafsanjani is at least something of a pragmatic hardliner—as Ken Pollack nicely illustrated, he's shifty and he'll do whatever it takes to save his own political skin, but he's not totally averse to negotiating with the U.S. (or economic reform). If he gets elected, we might be able to sit down with Tehran and strike a deal. By contrast, if a neoconservative like Ali Larijani (here's more wackiness from this dude) gets elected, then who knows, maybe we'll have to start thinking about air strikes.

-- Brad Plumer 2:46 AM || ||