Iran's Nukes Exclusive
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|Edwin Black||July 14th 2008|
|Israeli war planes|
Greece has quietly assisted the Israeli Air Force in a previously unreported fashion as the dreaded decision of a possible Israeli preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities draws closer, this reporter has learned.
A pivotal factor in Israel’s military strategy against Iran’s nuclear installations is the recent delivery to Iran of Russia’s potent S-300 Russian ground-to-air radar systems. Considered one of the world’s most versatile radar-missile systems, Russia’s S-300 batteries can simultaneous track hundreds of semi-stealth cruise missiles, long range missiles and aircraft, including airborne monitoring jets. As many as ten intruders can be simultaneously engaged by the S-300’s mobile interceptor missile batteries, military sources say. As such, the S-300 is a major threat to the long-range weapons in the Israeli arsenal. These include Israel’s long-range 1,500 km. nuclear-capable Jericho IIB missiles; unmanned missile-equipped long-range drones; Israel’s F-16s, F-15Es; long range heavy-payload F151s and F161s; and even its three new Gulfstream G550 business jets boasting a range of 6,750 nautical miles, newly outfitted with nuclear-tracking electronics and designed to loiter over or near Iranian skies for hours. The S-300 can compromise everything Israel has.
But Greece has the same Russian S-300 system.
Originally purchased by Cyprus in 1998, the Cypriot installation provoked a storm of protracted protests by Turkey because the system would make vulnerable all Turkish air movements. To resolve tensions and prevent a Turkish preemptive attack on the installations, the S-300 by international agreement was moved to Crete for safekeeping, and eventually joint-Cypriot-Greek control based on the 1993 mutual defense pact between Cyprus and Greece. On December 20, 2007, the move and installation of the S-300 was quietly completed.
In the last days of May and first week of June, 2008, Israel staged an impressive and well-reported exercise over Crete with the participation of the Greek air force. More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighter jets, as well as Israeli rescue helicopters and mid-air refueling planes flew a massive number of mock strikes. Israeli planes reportedly never landed but were continuously refueled from airborne platforms. Israel demonstrated that a 1400 km distance could be negotiated with Israeli aircraft remaining aloft and effective. Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facility is 1400 km from Israel.
While the Israeli-Greek air tactics were amply reported in the world’s media after initial reports in the New York Times, the pivotal information from Greece’s S-300 batteries has remained below the radar. By swarming its jets into the S-300’s massive electronics, Israel was able to record invaluable information about defeating, jamming and circumventing the Russian system.
Israel dubbed its exercise “Glorious Spartan.” It is recalled that 300 glorious Spartans went down in history by forestalling the massive Persian army at a tiny land passage at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. The tiny Jewish State is now contemplating whether it must act unilaterally to forestall Iran’s nuclear threat.
Iranian officials complained bitterly to Athens after the exercise, but were told by Greek officials that their Russian-made radar-missile batteries were “turned off” during the exercise, according to Greek, Russian and Iranian sources. Those sources expressed incredulity that Greece would “turn off” its critical radar installations and air defense during such an exercise. Shortly after that exercise, Iran began signaling to European diplomats that Tehran might be willing to negotiate in earnest.
Iran’s S-300s are more updated than the Greek installation. Russian sources speculated that as many as five batteries were recently delivered to Iran, these having been pulled from active Russia defense units. The transaction is thought to be valued at $800 million, an easy sum for Iran whose economy is some 75 percent dependent upon oil revenues. The S-300 is integrated with Russia’s S-300PMU-2 “Favorit,” mobile missile batteries, codenamed by NATO “the Gargoyle.” Numerous Gargoyle batteries are part of the Russian arms deal with Iran, but several observers thought the batteries, although in Iran, were not yet operational.
For its part, Israel is leapfrogging its air superiority. It is in the process of acquiring the just unveiled F35B, a stealthy Joint Strike Fighter with Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) abilities. So new is the aircraft, its maiden flight was recorded only on June 11 at Lockheed Martin’s facility near Ft. Worth, Texas. The dull grey, stealthy and irregularly shaped F35B, known as “Lightning II,” would allow Israel to clandestinely preposition planes in unorthodox locations and land them closer to Iran, even in locations without runways. Featuring a swivel rear-exhaust nozzle, the state of the art fighter can switch from conventional to VTOL at the push of a button. The planes cost as much as $80 million per jet. Israel is trying to quickly purchase an entire squadron.
Israel is also actively seeking to finalize a purchase of America’s potent F-22 Raptor, a state of the art stealth fighter. Israel officials have stated they were willing to pay the $150 million per plane price tag in view of the Iranian threat.
Israel has demonstrated amply in the past that it can carry out precision operations thousands of miles from home. In 1976, in a Hollywood-style rescue, Israel flew a complicated air mission more than 2000 miles to Entebbe Airport in Uganda to rescue its hijacked citizens. In 1981, eight F-15s and eight F-16s, flew to Iraq for a precision strike permanently disabling Saddam Hussein’s Osirek nuclear reactor, after assassinations and sabotage of French reactor cores proved insufficient. Two F-15s circled above Saudi Arabia as a communications nexus with Tel Aviv.
In October, 1985, the Israeli Air Force executed yet another precision attack involving a 4800-km mission to Tunis where it destroyed Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters—seemingly beyond the reach of Israel.
In 2003, realizing it might have to one day face an Iranian nuclear threat, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon developed Project Daniel, with a “Long Arm” capability. Any strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would involve hundreds of sorties, lasting many hours and requiring ad hoc bomb damage assessment (BDA) as airplanes went back again and again to attack targets until successful. Because Natanz and other facilities are buried many feet below ground, multiple synchronized attacks with bunker busters would have to be mounted as delayed munitions burrow deeper and deeper into the crater left by the previous bomb impact. It might take up to 20 to 40 pairs of BLU-113 penetrating bombs each carrying more than 300 kg of high-explosive Tritonal warheads to destroy the Natanz underground halls housing centrifuges. Israel’s long-range, heavy-duty fighters can deliver these blows.
But if Israel attacks Iran, it will need to deliver those blows over and over again, in location after location, as well as neutralize the S-300 installations, mobile rockets, air defenses, a collection of North Korean-made Shahab3 missiles, and rescue its downed pilots.
Even if Israel is successful, the Jewish State expects a massive retaliation from Iran and its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies. Thousands of rockets are expected to be fired at Israeli cities within moments of the attack. Iran has already threatened the Strait of Hormuz, though which forty percent of the world’s seaborne oil traverses.
Israel considers itself in a no-win situation because years of sanctions and intense diplomacy have not stopped Iran’s cyclonic nuclear progress. Iran has consistently promised that Israel would “soon be wiped off the map.” More than one Israeli official has stated, the only thing worse than attacking Iran, is not attacking Iran.
Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of IBM and the Holocaust, and the forthcoming book, The Plan--How to Save America the Day after the Oil Stops— or Perhaps the Day Before (Dialog Press, September 2008).