Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Turning the Gulf red

Writing in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link), neocon Max Boot has found a solution to the Iran problem -- even though the US intelligence agencies now say that they are unclear on what the problem is. He wants the 6 Arab states of the Gulf (the GCC) to launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear program. It's that simple:

The GCC states boast 627 combat-capable aircraft vs. only 286 for Iran, and most of the GCC aircraft are much more advanced. The GCC is well-supplied with modern American fighter-bombers -- F-15s, F-16s, F-18s -- and they are buying more top-of-the-line hardware all the time. Iran, by contrast, is still reliant on F-4s and F-5s acquired by the shah three decades ago, supplemented by a few more modern Russian and Chinese fighters.

Even though Iran has also been acquiring surface-to-air missiles from Russia, either the UAE or Saudi Arabia has, at least on paper, an air force capable of dealing the Iranian nuclear program a devastating blow. Of course a Gulf air armada would take heavier casualties than an American one. Gulf pilots do not have the full panoply of surveillance and electronic warfare systems needed to totally suppress air defenses. Nor do they have the "bunker buster" munitions needed to take out deep-buried facilities ... Some of the weaknesses of the Gulf air forces, such as lack of bunker busters, could easily be remedied by purchases from the American arsenal.

The U.S. is making those very kinds of transfers to help the Israeli Air Force develop its long-range strike capacity. We take for granted that Israel, a state of 6.4 million people with a GDP of $140 billion, could successfully attack nuclear sites located 1,200 miles away. Yet we ignore the possibility that the GCC states, with a combined population of 39 million and a GDP of $522 billion, could do at least as good of a job, operating from bases located in some cases less than 100 miles from Iran. (Iran's population is 65 million; its GDP $193 billion.)

Note the specification that the countries would have to "purchase" the bunker busters even though they would be carrying out the preferred American policy -- that military-industrial complex ain't free, you know. Boot also has his numbers wrong, as his GDP calculation for the Arab states appears to reflect only the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and his population numbers include the large expatriate populations of the Gulf states, who are not really relevant when you're thinking about military capacity.

He also links this supposed untapped military potential to claims he said he heard that privately the Arab states are keen on a military strike, but he never names a single source. Most likely because it's bluster. This wouldn't be a 1967 war. Once attacked, the Iranians would deploy significant retaliatory capacity and would wreak havoc not just in the shipping lanes of the Gulf but the massive oil installations along it. He also ignores that his Arab military alliance contains one Shia majority state (Bahrain) and two with significant Shia populations (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) who wouldn't be especially excited about what would be easily billed as a Sunni-Shia war.

In short, it's lunacy. Unfortunately, it's probably finding a favourable audience with Dick Cheney.

No comments: