Iran dug itself into an even deeper hole on Tuesday when a collection of United States federal agencies foiled an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington. In addition to this plan, it is also widely suspected that Iran was planning on attacking the Israeli embassy in Washington.
As the story goes, two Iranian citizens held a meeting in Mexico in May of this year seeking assistance with the assassination of the Saudi ambassador. That is when U.S. federal agents began to infiltrate the plot which then led to the September 29 arrest of Mr. Arbabsiar, one of the two men believed to be a part of the conspiracy.
Politically, this has come at a very bad time for Iran. The Iranian regime is currently seeking a nuclear program, whether it is for power or weapons. In response to these Iranian actions, the U.S. Congress has passed sanctions against Iran in order to slow down the Iranian financial sector. Congress’ hope is that this pressure will grind Iran’s nuclear program to a halt. Not only does the United States fear a nuclear armed Iran, but so do regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Israel and others as confirmed by Wikileaks. Although up to this point the United States has spoken somewhat rhetorically in regard to an attack on Iran in order to prevent the advancement of their nuclear program, it seems that this Iranian attempt might be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
First and foremost, the United States has been reluctant to advocate a military option due in part to its recent military engagements in the Middle East. But now, it would not be surprising to see the American stance on Iran become slightly more hostile. On this point does this whole hypothesis rest: if the United States increases its threats against Iran, even moreso will Israel and Saudi Arabia increase their threats against Iran. Thus, these threats could turn into action and an attack could be eminent. Below, a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facility will be played out.
Understandably, the Saudis are not going to take the Iranian threat lightly. Saudi Arabia and Iran have had poor relations for many years. As a client of the United States, Saudi Arabia has one of the most advanced militaries in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s arsenal includes around 200 F-15s, one of the most advanced airframes in the world. If Saudi Arabia feels that Iran is posing enough of a threat, these planes could play a very large role in a potential reprisal raid against Iran by Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi Arabia would be most useful as an origin for the attacks.
In addition to Iran’s poor relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s relations with Israel have fallen apart since the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has, on multiple occasions, called for the absolute destruction of Israel, a statement that Israel does not take lightly given its location and the Jewish people’s long history of persecution. In comparison to Saudi Arabia’s almost 200 F-15s, Israel weighs in with about 100 F-15s and about 225 F-16s. Likewise, given Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear program and calls for the destruction of Israel, these airplanes could play a pivotal role in an attack on Iran. However, one of Israel’s best weapons is its logistical resilience. Israeli planes knocked out the Iraqi nuclear reactor in the 1980s without losing a single plane.
Both Israel and Saudi Arabia come nowhere close to the United States’ air capabilities. The United States has almost 500 F-15s, about 1000 F-16s, 22 B-2 Bombers – all just in the Air Force. If you include the other branches of the military, there are literally hundreds of other attack aircraft available for a retribution strike against the Iranian nuclear program. Also, unmanned drones and cruise missiles could play a large part in a potential attack.
Winning a battle or, in this case, dismantling Iran’s nuclear program, would take more than a bunch of airplanes. This attack would require lots of logistical planning with simultaneous strikes taking out Iran’s air force, anti-aircraft defense, and its early-warning radar. This is precisely where the various countries involved can best be put to work. The Saudis, for instance, are located closest to Iran. The headquarters for this reprisal operation could be centered from an airbase in Saudi Arabia. In regard to gathering intelligence, Israel has one of the most effective intelligence gathering organizations in the world. With regard to tactical planning, Israel and the United States have lots of practice. While the United States made easy word of the Iraqi early-warning radar and missile-defense system in both Desert Storm and the Gulf War, Israel has shown its planning resilience in the Bekaa Valley and in the attack on Iraq’s Osiraq reactor. Needless to say, the combined ability of the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia could prove devastating to the Iranian state. Further, there are many more countries, be they regional or part of NATO, that also feel threatened by Iran’s nuclear program and could feel prompted to join in on an attack of Iran’s nuclear facilities if prompted to do so.
It will be very interesting to see how the Saudis, Israelis, and Americans respond in the next few weeks. The United States has already said that it will be pushing for stronger sanctions against Iran, but Saudi Arabia might feel so threatened that it might choose to attack. And if Saudi Arabia is determined to balance the Iranian threat, Israel and the United States might well be tempted to provide assistance to the process as well.
Steven is a senior in Revelle College majoring in Political Science: International Relations. He is currently studying abroad in Israel.