Wall Street Greek's Global Affairs & Geopolitics Columnist Daniel Padovano discusses a rumored military build up around Iranian territory. Mr. Padovano analyzes for us the possibility of the legitimacy of such information, and discusses potential strategy for a serious advance against Iranian nuclear facilities.
The international news media has been largely silent on rumors of military movements that could quite possibly be the forerunner of an attack against Iran. Any attack against Iran in this context would be against Iran's emerging nuclear weapons capability.
News reports circulating over the last week claim that American ground forces are in place in Azerbaijan for possible deployment against Iran. Other news reports claim that Israeli troops are in Azerbaijan with the Americans. During the last week, a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group sailed through the Suez Canal south to the Arabian Sea. According to several news stories, one Israeli warship sailed with the American aircraft carrier battle group. Israel is also supposedly to have forward positioned aircraft in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia for a possible strike against Iran. The Times of London reported a week ago Sunday that Saudi Arabia would allow Israel to cross Saudi airspace in the event Israel opted to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
The question that begs to be answered is this: Are these stories true, with an attack in the planning stages, or is this just disinformation meant to confuse the Iranians? Examining the claims in the news reports does open up some chilling possibilities.
One thing to keep in mind is that the dearth of these stories in the mainstream press may lead some to see these as rumors, wishful thinking and yellow journalism. Critics liken this to a news blackout. This closely resembles the prelude to the American invasion of Afghanistan.
What if these rumors turn out to be real? What are the pros and cons? What would be the strategy?
The planning and positioning of military assets would be daunting and not something done quickly. The reports claim that both American and Israeli forces are involved. Given the state of relations between the two countries, both governments must feel certain that the Iranian threat is much more dangerous than previously believed.
Coordination and agreements would need to be arranged between the U.S., Russia, Azerbaijan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and possibly both Iraq and Kuwait. Not an easy feat, even in the best of times.
The positioning of troops in Azerbaijan, deployment of additional ships in the Red and Arabian Seas and redeployed aircraft in Saudi Arabia indicate that any action against Iran would not be short term. Instead, this would be a prolonged military action involving joint operations between ground, air and maritime forces.
Airfields in Azerbaijan and Georgia could host American and Israeli aircraft, but most are near urban centers and share space with civilian air fields. The element of surprise would be lost. Although a public view of this buildup would send many messages to Iran. Using any airfield in Georgia and Azerbaijan would most certainly require Russian approval. Another concern for the U.S. is the ability of Azeri or Georgian airfields to accommodate American military aircraft.
Ground forces transported from Azerbaijan could be used to seize Iranian nuclear related facilities in Bonab, Tabriz, Mo-Allem Kalayeh, Kalaj and the weapons development center in Chalus on the Caspian shoreline.
Maritime forces in the region include two aircraft carrier battle groups and one amphibious battle group. These include the aircraft carriers Harry S. Truman (CVAN-75) and the Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVAN-69) and the helicopter carrier Nassau (LHA-4). The three battle groups are part of the 5th Fleet. Each aircraft carrier battle group includes the aircraft carrier supported and defended by twenty to thirty ships including guided missile cruisers, frigates, supply ships and attack submarines. These assets would be used to thwart Iranian moves to close the Strait of Hormuz as well as to tie down Iran's coastal defenses.
The Iranians could easily clog the Strait of Hormuz with mines or sunk ships. This is no small matter as 40% of the world's oil transits the Strait of Hormuz daily.
The air power is the main element. The Tabuk airfield is home to King Abdul Aziz Military City and the King Faisal Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force base. The U.S. Military Training Mission is also based at this facility. Tabuk has a unique geographical feature: it lies in an almost straight line as Bandar Bushehr, the location of Iran's only working nuclear reactor. The distance is just about 1,000 kilometers. Attacking aircraft could fly low (below radar view) before launching missiles at the Bushehr facility. Planned properly, this would be an attack the Iranians would not detect until the plant was already under fire.
Similar flight paths would also make attacks against Arak (heavy water processing), Isfahan (gas exchange and storage) and Natanz (uranium enrichment) much easier to plan and execute.
Attacks could also target Iranian petroleum pipeline junctions near Tabriz, Ahvaz, Bandar-Abbas, Isfahan and Tehran. Disrupting Iranian oil and gas production and transport could be just as fatal to Iran as attacking its nuclear facilities.
Time will answer these questions, and that time may be much sooner than later.
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