Lang, Francona et socii on an Israeli strike
[ by Charles Cameron — a quick recap of Col. Lang & Lt. Col. Francona on the realities of an Israeli strike on Iranian facilities, 2006-2012 — and the recent WaPo trilogy ]
I posted here a while ago about what happens when “religious leaders talk of wiping nations off the map” — quoting the Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei and the Shas Rabbi Ovaida Yosef — and unobtrusively included the question:
Do the logistics back the rhetoric up?
Or so I thought.
Srikanth R of the Takshashila Cyber Strategy Studies team picked up on that supposedly unobtrusive question, though, so maybe it wasn’t so unobtrusive.
The thing is, it’s a solid, material, practical, down to earth realist’s question… and behind it, behind my dropping it into that post, is a memory of Col. Pat Lang, the blogger at Sic Semper Tyrannis, pointing his readers to that question quite a while back, in the form of a post by his one-time DIA deputy, Rick Francona back in 2006. Any “intelligence” in my question is strictly theirs.
I thought then, and I think now, that logistical considerations are as important as potential messianic-mahdist echo-chambers or statements by Israeli intelligence figures or American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to bear in mind when considering the potential for an Israeli attack on Iran.
This is not an area that I consider myself informed about, so I thought I’d check back and see what Lang and Francona have had to say on the issue over the intervening years…
Here are a bunch of other places where Lang, Francona et socii discuss such matters, in what I believe is a sequence by date:
From that last URL, here’s the most recent map in the series:
And is that all?
Over the last few days the Washington Post has published a three-part “essay” on an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. I’ve already quoted from David Ignatius‘ contribution in a comment on ZP, but that was about a different aspect of the thing. Here are links to the three parts:
Azadeh Moaveni, What if Israel bombed Iran? The view from Tehran
Anat Berko, If Israel bombed Iran, what would life in Tel Aviv be like?
David Ignatius, Lessons from an Iranian war game
Again, let me emphasize that I don’t know about logistics, but that I suspect Col. Lang does. You might think three points of view was enough to get a decent overview of the situation. You might believe that a war game conducted by a cluster of intelligent specialists would be enough…
Just for the record, Col. Lang obviously still thinks we’re missing the point. This is from his Sic Semper Tyrannis blog, today:
A general defect of the thing is the complete ignorance reflected of the actual limitations of distances, weapons, numbers of aircraft and missiles, Iranian air defenses, the lack of any recovery air fields between Israeli bases and the targets or SAR capability for the attacking Israeli force. Basic military knowledge of the situation is ignored in the manner common in politico-military strategic war games. In these “games” any reference to actual limitations are airily waved off as not germane. In this essay it is suggested that one option is for the US to “shoot down’ the attacking Israeli force before it passes beyond Iraq. The Joe Biden character angrily says that this is not an option. He is correct but not for the reason implied. In fact, since the completion of the US withdrawal from Iraq the US has no ability to do such a thing and neither do the Iraqis. The nearest USAF assets are in the Gulf or Turkey and the nearest US Navy assets are where the carriers may be. Look at the distances.
September 23rd, 2012 at 11:33 pm
The third part (or first if you’re American?) of the WaPo trilogy is
Karim Sajadpour and Blake Hounshell, What if Israel Bombed Iran? The View from Washington
Also, today’s post by Pat Lang. (Link above is to WaPo.) I pretty much agree with what he says.
Anthony Cordesman has also analyzed the logistics of an attack by Israel on Iran. I considered that and added a bit to it last February.
After Ignatius’s piece and then the Trilogy, I was tempted to write a post on the Three Bears of an Attack on Iran. The war game Ignatius describes is crazy.
The United States bombed a Revolutionary Guards camp in eastern Iran; launched a cyberattack that disrupted power at 40 Iranian security facilities; and warned Iranian operatives in 38 countries that they were known and vulnerable. U.S. military leaders in the game complained that these calibrated moves were half-measures.
Bombing the Iranian homeland is a half-measure????? Who were those guys doing the war game?
So Ignatius’s scenario is too much escalation.
But The Trilogy posits that Iran doesn’t retaliate at all. And it just describes the exhilirating rush of adrenaline that comes with knowing that one is fighting for God and Country, The Glorious Revolution, Our Wise Leaders. No blood. No retaliation by Iran. The worst is lines of cars at the gas stations. No dealing with the dead and wounded. No dealing with the reactions of Europe, China, Russia.
Not enough escalation. We clearly need a Goldilocks scenario with just the right amount of escalation.
I’ll go with Lang and Cordesman. They actually know something about how war is fought.
There are factual errors in The Trilogy, as well. I’m going to be lazy and not pick them out. One from memory is in the Tel Aviv chapter: that the attacks on Osirak and al-Kibar brought retaliatory missile strikes and that they were “successful.” We have yet to learn the full story of al-Kibar, but the attack on Osirak hardened Saddam Hussein’s resolve to get nuclear weapons. And neither resulted in retaliation. I’m vaguely recalling a factual error in the Washington chapter, too, but not what it was.
September 24th, 2012 at 4:00 am
I don’t know, has there ever been a time when Israel has taken the path of a failed mission? I really have a problem with the concept that Israel would be striking nuclear sites, when everyone that I have read says that, at best it will only slow (or accelerate the need) Iran’s nuclear weapons program (if they actually have one) a few years. Has anyone gamed an Israel’s nuclear strike on Tehran? I mean, isn’t it the same number of missiles pointing at Israel, no matter the Israeli target, with Iran wondering which city is next?
Of course it might come down to the question: could the U.S. starve-off a Russian and/or Chinese (depending on treatise) nuclear strike on Israel?
September 24th, 2012 at 6:31 am
Speaking of Russia, and the mentioned comment that IAF jets would have no place to land en route to Iran…then what was the point of that Obama Administration leak to FOREIGN POLICY the Israelis were supposedly hopping mad about wherein an official whoever that was complained that, “The Israelis have bought an aicraft carrier called Azerbaijan”. You don’t suppose someone at the massive Russian x-band radar station at Gabala that was designed during the 70s to detect ICBMs coming in from outer space might not be told to write off a flock of IAF F-15I’s as geese instead? After all, qui bono when oil prices shoot up to 150-170 a barrel immediately even if no tanker gets sunk in the Hormuz Straits? Why the no. 1 and no. 2 oil exporters, who are…Russia and Saudi Arabia.
This is the thought that the Gaffneys and Woolseys could not remotely entertain for the sheer horror of what America’s BFF in the Mideast getting in bed with Geopolitical Adversary No. 1 could entail. The sheer cognitive dissonance of it would either have them raging at Obama for driving the Israelis into the arms of the Russians, or alternatively engaging in the fantasy that the IAF jammed all the Gabala station using F-16 pods and nobody in Moscow knew.
The most horrifying thought is not that thousands of people in Iran, Israel and other countries (Iraq? Syria?) could die in the immediate aftermath of a strike. No, the worst thought for D.C.’s bureaucrats is that the rest of the world, even a close U.S. ally, could cut a deal without them. And is in fact preparing for Israel to survive and find new trading partners in a world that doesn’t need them or the U.S. dollar they’ve made worthless.
September 24th, 2012 at 6:33 am
the northern route over Iraqi Kurdistan entails the complication of potential Turkish intercept — which is the main reason why the IAF might not gas up in Azerbaijan or at least use C-130 tankers staging out of it.
September 24th, 2012 at 2:06 pm
Thanks for pulling all those links, Charles.
“This is the thought that the Gaffneys and Woolseys could not remotely entertain for the sheer horror of what America’s BFF in the Mideast getting in bed with Geopolitical Adversary No. 1 could entail.” – Mr. X
I’ve had similar thoughts. Sometimes I think the Washington Consensus mistakes its own importance and centrality for the best interests of the Nation, which really ought to be about peace, prosperity and freedom–you know, little stuff like that–, not non-stop “great nation” positioning and politicking for habits’ sake.
September 24th, 2012 at 2:07 pm
PS: I’m a little worried too….
September 24th, 2012 at 3:33 pm
The present “crisis” is just the latest round of the usual bluster. The facts on the ground with respect to a strike on Iran have not materially changed. Col. Lang is right about the logistics, and he’s also right about the mass ignorance regarding actual military capabilities and military plans as well as the larger geo-strategic considerations which are swept under the rug in these three essays.
In short, there are lots of people talking about war with Iran and it’s easy for them to come up with fantasy scenarios that are more at home in a movie script than reality. At the end of the day and in the real world, actual experts have to do real military planning and it’s pretty clear even the Israeli’s understand their own limitations. Added to the the normal cycle of war talk is the election which always brings speculation about an “October Surprise” by the ignorati who populate the pundit class as well as the usual propagandists.
So, in my estimation, the facts on the ground being what they are, the likelihood for war remains small outside of a of gross miscalculation which escalates into conflict.
September 24th, 2012 at 4:34 pm
Amen. “Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.” Which is not to denigrate strategy, but good strategy requires knowing what you have to work with. The Cordesman brief looks accurate to me, from what little (and I mean _little_) I’ve gathered on the subject, and he issues an updated version every few months. It’s well worth a read.
I suspect the real point of the war game was to take some over-optimistic proponents of war, give them a chance to embarrass themselves, and immediately leak the results to the press. Even in the fantasy world in which they operated, they managed to lose control.
September 24th, 2012 at 5:23 pm
Cheryl, Daniel, all:
Thanks for the pointer to the Sajadpour / Hounshell piece, which I’d seen, Cheryl. I’d somehow gotten the imnpression that the Ignatius piece was #3, but of course you’re right.
I also apologize for getting the Pat Lang link wrong, I’ve now corrected it.
I’m glad this piece has provoked some conversation. As I said, I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to have much of an opinion, but I guess that somewhere I’ve taken that saying Daniel McIntosh quotes, “Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics” to heart — at least enough to think that dilettantes such as myself would do well to listen carefully to both!
September 24th, 2012 at 9:10 pm
The late British politician Enoch Powell once said: “History is littered with wars which everyone knew would never happen.”
September 25th, 2012 at 1:46 am
” Bombing the Iranian homeland is a half-measure????? Who were those guys doing the war game?”
I have no idea but the logic there is that with a middle power like Iran that has the capability to reach back and retaliate, in for a penny, in for a pound so that it cannot retaliate easily . Admiral Fallon, who was no hawk on Iran, said something on the order of “if you attack, you sweep the board” which I take to mean that going up and ineffectually wacking a hornet’s nest with a stick and standing around in the aftermath would be a stupid idea. An Israeli solo attack with would be an attack of this kind, they just don’t have the capacity to take out Iran’s nuke program.
September 25th, 2012 at 6:51 am
“… could not remotely entertain for the sheer horror of what America’s BFF in the Mideast getting in bed with Geopolitical Adversary No. 1 could entail. ”
You mean like when that self-proclaimed BFF sold all the intelligence data stolen by Jonathan Pollard to the Russians? Russian immigrants now account for what percentage of Israel’s population?
September 25th, 2012 at 2:49 pm
Hi Zen –
I don’t understand your comment. The bombing of Iran was in response to a terrorist attack, and it was of a Republican Guard camp in the eastern part of the nation. It’s certainly possible that the war-game participants had more information than was available in Ignatius’s column, but there seem to be a number of things wrong with this:
Tracing of the terrorist attack to be sure of the perpetrators’ identity.
Deciding that this is the Iranian-inspired attack to which a military response must be made.
Deciding that that response would be on the Iranian homeland.
Bombing a single Iranian installation; getting past Iranian defenses.
What was done by the “US” in the war game does seem to me like whacking a hornet’s nest with a stick. Of course Iran will retaliate. Militarily attacking another nation’s homeland is a BIG escalation, even if you have proof positive that they are the perpetrators of a terrorist attack.
It’s logistically silly, too. Iran does have air defenses. I have no idea how effective they are and have read a range of estimates. But the US bombs an installation in the eastern part of the country (presumably operating out of bases for Afghanistan) with no mention of taking out air defenses. Again, maybe that was included in the war game, but it was absent from the op-ed. And taking out the air defenses is an escalation beyond the hit itself and may presage further hits.
Presumably the rationale behind this was that it was a warning strike. But it’s an awful lot of risk for very little gain. There’s a continuing presumption, especially strong in The Trilogy, that Iran can be scared into not retaliating. Doesn’t that go against the argument that the mullahs are all crazy and will nuke Israel as soon as they have that first bomb?
September 25th, 2012 at 10:23 pm
Imo kinda too direct.
Imo Col. Lang’s strategic outlook is Clausewitzian. He studied Vom Kriege under/with Michael Handel. He combines accurate analysis with historic background and experience. I trust his strategic judgement.
September 26th, 2012 at 3:40 am
I love the quote that “amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.” I especially love the analysis and skepticism in this excellent thread of links and commentary.
Still: the United States recently invaded Iraq. It’s not a stretch to think that people with vast power might make foolish decisions. Lang is a powerful antidote to pundit hype, but just the same, Netanyahu is haunted by Entebbe and Masada, not Clausewitz and Boyd.
September 26th, 2012 at 10:16 pm
“Russian immigrants now account for what percentage of Israel’s population?” I don’t know the stats on that but I think it’s 1 out of 5 Israeli households have a Russian speaker, which sounds about accurate considering the whole country has about seven million people. A fact the Gaffneys and Krauthammers of this world would rather not acknowledge for its strategic implications in the long term. If the former Czech minister is right that Russia is returning to Nicholas I and not Stalin then know that the Tsar Nicholas II’s grandfather was a major patron of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Holy Land and made it one of the largest landowners in Palestine prior to the Balfour Declaration. So it is back to the future or to the late 19th century as it were.