If Iran's nuclear development facilities were bombed by the U.S. or Israel, the planning of both attackers and defenders would have to take into account the newly improved, long-range surveillance and intelligence-gathering facilities in Syria and Lebanon.
Russian radar and communications specialists have just completed improvements to Syria's early warning capabilities that double radar ranges and establish a surveillance network covering all of the eastern Mediterranean, Israel, Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia.
The importance of this upgrade is that it encompasses many of the key aerial approaches both to Syria (in the event of multinational military intervention) and Iran (if the U.S. or Israel attacked Tehran's uranium enrichment capabilities). For Israel to attack Iran, it would likely have to fly through Syrian, Turkish, Jordanian or Saudi airspace.
Another element is the long-term cooperation between Syria and Iran. They have shared technology and intelligence-gathering for years. Syrians, for example, provided signals intelligence to the Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon during the conflict with Israel in 2006.
A collapse of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could provide enough chaos to shield a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran. Otherwise, Syria would provide early warning.
“Syria does not want to be embarrassed again,” confirms a U.S. official with long service in the world of black operations. In 2007, Israeli strike aircraft slipped into Syria from the Mediterranean without being detected and destroyed a nuclear reactor site built with North Korean help. The Syrian radar system went dark until the Israeli aircraft were gone, say U.S. intelligence officials.
Russian radar specialists recently completed upgrades to an electronic surveillance site south of Damascus. Its range has been increased to cover all of Israel, Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia, according to the Debka website, which is touted by some Israeli analysts as a useful source of unofficial defense information. Upgrades also included the radar site atop Lebanon's Mount Sannine and improved linkage to the Syrian intelligence-gathering networks, says the report. Mount Sannine is 8,600 ft. high, and a multibillion-dollar resort development there has been on hold since the Israeli raid on Syria in 2007. The mountain overlooks the Hezbollah- and Syrian-dominated Bekaa Valley and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The coverage also enables tracking of U.S. and Israeli naval and aerial movements in the eastern Mediterranean to include Cyprus (where the U.S. has its own intelligence-gathering facilities) and Greece. The sites are additionally used to feed data on Syrian opposition movements and watch for foreign intervention.
The Russian upgrades came as a response to complaints from Tehran that it “could no longer count on Russia for a real-time alert on an incoming U.S. or Israeli military strike because those resources were stretched to the limit in supporting the Assad” regime's intelligence needs, says the Debka analysis.
In the meantime, Washington is doing everything it can diplomatically to prevent Israel from attacking Iran, says a former U.S. Air Force chief of staff. However, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says he has not cautioned Israel against attacking Iran's nuclear and missile facilities. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Budget Committee: “We've had a conversation with the [Israelis] about time, the issue of time. We can't afford to underestimate our potential adversaries by writing them off as irrational. But the U.S. wants time for sanctions against Iran to work.”
When Dempsey was asked if a military strike by the U.S. is off the table, he declared, “Absolutely not.”
“We're trying to force Israel to think about the consequences of war in the Middle East,” says the former Air Force chief of staff. However, if the mission were conducted by the U.S., the blowback on Israel and on Washington's Arab partner nations would be less. An attack also could come as part of a larger intervention that includes Syria.
“Given a heavy weight of effort, we could take down the Iranian nuclear capability—not eliminate it, but set it back 5-10 years,” he says. “We can do that with high survivability with U.S. forces over a three-day period losing very few airplanes.”
Israel on its own also could slow the uranium enrichment and bomb-making processes.
The former Air Force chief of staff says the tactics the U.S. would use include surgical strikes with forces operating from outside the immediate area—probably from the U.S. and NATO countries, as was done against Libya.
“Then you step back and talk because you don't want to engage ground forces and have boots on the ground,” he says. “We do it because of Iran's intransigence in not talking to us and because it was a last resort. If we are very discriminate in our targeting and limit collateral damage, then it is justified in my view.
“I don't think we're going to let Israel attack Iran by themselves,” he adds. “It would not be easy, but we have the planning resources, the operational capability and the tactics. If I were the Israelis, I would delay any attack until I had the first squadron, at least, ofin hand.”
Israel's chief of military intelligence, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, told a February security conference in Jerusalem that Iran has close to 220 lb. of uranium enriched to 20%—enough for four bombs.
“Iran is very actively pursuing its efforts to develop its nuclear capacities, and we have evidence that they are seeking nuclear weapons,” he said. “We estimate they would need a year from when the order is given to produce a weapon.”
A U.S. official with long experience in the world of black operations says that whatever the agreement or lack of agreement between the U.S. and Israel, the Israel Defense Forces are prepared to conduct the attack.
“Knowing the Israelis, I guarantee you they have an appropriate plan and probably have done some exercising of key elements,” he says. “They tend to not be serial in their approach. It is a more difficult target set than the Syrian [nuclear facility destroyed in 2007] was, but I think they are capable of doing it. The questions are: When does it become a very clear threat, and when is their intelligence good enough to locate the weak spots of the Iranian [nuclear] processes?”