Saudis Green Light Israel Strike on Iran Nukes

In a classic demonstration of the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Saudi Arabia is reportedly cooperating to make it easier for Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal.

In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran. To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert.

“The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” said a US defence source in the area. “They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren’t scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department.”

Sources in Saudi Arabia say it is common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing,” said one.

The four main targets for any raid on Iran would be the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the gas storage development at Isfahan and the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Secondary targets include the lightwater reactor at Bushehr, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium when complete.

The targets lie as far as 1,400 miles (2,250km) from Israel; the outer limits of their bombers’ range, even with aerial refuelling. An open corridor across northern Saudi Arabia would significantly shorten the distance. An airstrike would involve multiple waves of bombers, possibly crossing Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Aircraft attacking Bushehr, on the Gulf coast, could swing beneath Kuwait to strike from the southwest.

A fascinating development.   With the notable exception of Chuck Wald, essentially every security analyst I’ve heard or read on the subject thinks that an aerial attack on Iran’s facilities would be counterproductive.  But, given no good options, Israel is likely to take one of the bad ones.

AllahPundit is right here:

It’s Middle Eastern politics in microcosm. For all the Wahhabist invective towards al-Yahud, the Saudis are more afraid of being nuked by Iran in some insane Sunni/Shiite armaggedon than by Israel, and rightly so. So, just as the local Arab regimes demagogue Israeli nukes for show while worrying privately about Tehran, the Kingdom might lend the IAF some airspace and then lamely pretend afterwards that the incursion was unwanted.

Donald Douglas cites a Spring 2007 piece in International Security, “Osirak Redux? Assessing Israeli Capabilities to Destroy Iranian Nuclear Facilities” that I don’t recall seeing before.  It dismisses out of hand the notion that the Iranians have a covert program that would survive a first strike.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, National Security, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    The Saudis did the same thing in 1980 when the IAF bombed Osirak (Iraq). The IAF flew over the same desolate desert over Saudi Arabia to short cut into Iraqi airspace and (surprise!) the Saudi air defense didn’t pick up the IAF inbound and outbound package back then either. No surprise here.

  2. steve says:

    No surprise in 1980 when the fundamentalists were still gaining steam. A little surprising now. It does explain Israeli willingness to dump Turkey as an ally.

    I am less sure about bombing doing very much other than slowing the program down for a year or two. Most of the analyses I have read think it will take a land invasion to stop nuke production. The odd thing in the bombing analysis, read anything by Bolton and co., is that achieves even a limited good outcome only if the Iranians behave in a rational manner, ie, they dont decide to destroy all of the oil shipping in the area in response.

    So on one hand, you need to keep Iran from getting the bomb because the mad mullahs will use it to destroy Israel, and millions of Muslims and some of Islam’s most holy sites. OTOH, it is ok to bomb them because they will respond rationally. Foreign policy schizophrenia.

    Steve

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Steve:

    Very well put.

    If the Iranians really are reckless fools we’re screwed. They can park missiles on the straits and close the Gulf to shipping. Or they can use small boat attacks. And anyone who thinks we can easily stop them needs to review our efforts to find and destroy Iraqi Scuds in the first gulf war.

    Then there’s Hezbollah . . .

    However, I do think an attack could succeed at knocking the Iranian nuke effort down. It’s a complicated thing, lots of moving parts, lost of interdependencies. Complex machines are easily broken.

  4. Tlaloc says:

    “For all the Wahhabist invective towards al-Yahud, the Saudis are more afraid of being nuked by Iran in some insane Sunni/Shiite armaggedon than by Israel, and rightly so.”

    Allahpundit as usual has mistaken the grand canyon for his ass. Number of wars Iran has started since the current regime came to power in the 70s? 0. Number of wars Israel has started in the same time: 2.

    Its certainly true that the Iranians have backed belligerents in other lands but that only proves the point- the mullahs prefer to work subtly at a distance rather than engage in overt warfare. The last thing we should expect from them is to start lobbing nuclear missiles and thus invite their own destruction. The Mullahs, despite the paranoid fantasies of the neocons, have shown every indication of being very cagey and clever. They know they’re on the cusp of being a real world power, they aren’t about to do something stupid to blow it.

  5. steve says:

    James- I do wish you would write something to put Turkey in context. Most people do not know about the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River and the part the Turks played at Kunuri. Turkey currently has about 1500 troops deployed in Afghanistan also. We should not lightly abandon such an ally.

    Steve

  6. DC Loser says:

    The Israeli info ops is getting very heavy trying to paint Turkey as the next Islamic Republic. I hope that we are much more sane regarding our ally and don’t be swayed by the propaganda coming out of Israel.

  7. James Joyner says:

    I do wish you would write something to put Turkey in context. Most people do not know about the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River and the part the Turks played at Kunuri. Turkey currently has about 1500 troops deployed in Afghanistan also. We should not lightly abandon such an ally.

    I did do “NATO & Israel” for The National Interest a few days back.

  8. steve says:

    Aye, read that and liked it, but these young whippersnappers have no context for our history with Turkey. Ah well, thanks for what you did write.

    Steve

  9. Robert C. says:

    This article is bogus. The Times of London is a pro-Israel rag. You all know this.

    The year is 2010, not 1980. In 1980, the US was down, the USSR was up, and S. Arabia had incentive to help the US and her allies.

    In 2010, S. Arabia has very little incentive to help the US or our “allies”.

    In 1980, the Saudia Royal family could easily control the message, could easily frame the attack on Iraq as Israelli agression etc. There was no internet, no Al-Jeezera (not a slam…it is more reliable than FOX!)

    In 2010, all of the Muslim world will know that S. Arabia helped Israel bomb Iran…and the S. Arabia Gov’t/Saudi Royal Family (the same) knows it could crumble.

    The Times article is all BS.