Richard Sale sent me the following analysis of the “state of play” concerning Iraq/Iran in the White House. If this is correct, then the Iraq Study Group might serve a purpose. After all, if the “Decider” decides to decide something different…. GStK!
PS – This is Bush as Ahab.
“Administration officials told me on Monday that President George Bush is likely to announce “an exit strategy” that would draw down current U.S. force levels in Iraq.
“I think the dimensions of the catastrophe there has finally sunk in,” one administration source said.
He and two others I talked to refused to speculate on details of any withdrawal, but all said that Bush would begin public statements after the upcoming elections were completed.
But they did say that Bush is also becoming “increasingly pessimistic” about any military action against Iran. According to one, “Bush really wanted to mount an attack on Iran earlier this year — he was really hot to trot,” but military briefings brought home to him that attacking Iran did not mean eliminating its suspected nuclear sites but also having to destroy “Iran’s entire retaliatory capability,” in the words of one. This capability is formidable; U.S. intelligence sources say Iran has underground missile batteries southwest of Abu Musa with the HY-2 advanced version of the Silkworm anti-ship missile. There are also Scud-Cs which could hit any UAE ports, including those to the south and west of Abu Dhabi and they could also strike Dubai where U.S. naval sources currently dock at the port of Jebel Ali.
Since the Scuds are long-range missiles, they don’t need to be moved to the Gulf islands in order to hit targets on the Saudi side of the Gulf.
The underground storage bunkers also store the newer Chinese-made C-801 and C-802 anti-ship missiles and it could easily transport them to Abu Musa if they are not already there as a few U.S. experts contend. The majority I spoke to felt they were there already.
They could also be transported to places like the Tunbs, Sirri and other islands in the blink of an eye where they would be sheltered in bunkers.
There is also the threat of Iran’s Navy. It has much amphibious capability — both flat bottomed ships and hovercraft — and a brigade of marines, all of which it showed off in exercises in the spring of this year, meaning it could cross the Gulf at any point it chose to, say experts.
Iran has submarines that could be easily sunk, the Gulf being so shallow, and so Tehran would likely resort to its array of E-boats, mini-subs, combat swimmers, and fast missile patrol craft to wreak damage. Iran is also training fundamentalists from Egypt, the Gulf States, Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon at Iranian facilities, and would be likely to have a Fifth column in place in the Gulf States long before any conflict began.
Iran’s ability to do this quickly and effectively is pretty much taken for granted, U.S. officials said.
One military analyst pointed out that in 1986-1988 when Iran’s oil infrastructure was being savaged by Iraq, Iran responded by using fast interdiction boats like Boston Whalers, Boghammers as well as helicopters to launch attacks against Saudi and Kuwait shipping. Tehran could be expected to resort to this tactic again, experts say.
If the United States began the bombing of Iran’s conventional military forces, Iran might attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz before losing its chief military assets.
In Qatar, there is currently underway a $50 billion natural gas project funded mutually by Exxon-Mobil and the Qatar government. The United States is fast running out of natural gas, and the Qatar program would ship in new reserves to take up the shortage. But even though Qatar has assured Tehran that it does not back any action against Iran by the United States, Tehran has made it clear that Qatar would be heavily damaged in punitive attacks if the Bush administration starts a war.
As one civilian military expert said, “Iran would be likely to do a great deal of damage in the Gulf before its assets on the mainland and islands were neutralized.”
In other words, if attacked, Iran would respond asymmetrically, and any U.S. Iran war would be more frightful, full of bloody slaughter and unintended consequences than current U.S. planners think. This is what is giving Bush pause.
Cheney is still pushing hard for a strike, but Bush has become more skeptical of the vice president’s ardor as he looks over the wreckage of Iraq, U.S. officials said.