Overflight Clearance for an Israeli strike at Natanz

Ciamapnatanz "The exercise involved Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots, the newspaper reported.

The helicopters and refuelling tankers flew more than 1,400km (870 miles), roughly the distance between Israel and Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.

The New York Times reported that Israeli officials declined to discuss the details of the exercise.

A spokesman for the Israeli military said the air force "regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel". "  BBC


We went over this once before in a study of what Israeli routes would likely be in an attack on Natanz.  Rick Francona has looked at this on his blog.  He is a skilled and experienced air force officer and I trust his judgment as I always did.

My thoughts on the overflight clearance issue:

"Overflight Clearance" is the granting of permission for one country’s military or civilian aircraft to fly over and through the air space of another sovereign political entity.  For one country to overfly the territory of another without permission is a clear violation of international law which invites engagement by air defense forces of the country overflown or any country that has effective authority to grant or deny overflight permission.

"could be used to rescue downed pilots"  Really?  Where?  Routes to and from Natanz would have to cross some combination of the territories of Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

Jordan and Saudi Arabia are extremely unlikely to grant overflight clearance for this purpose.  Presumably this would include Search-Air Rescue (SAR) missions over their territory as well as the strike itself.  Egress from Iran after a strike might well involve Israeli aircraft with combat damage or mechanical problems.  Downed aviators in Jordan, Iraq or Saudi Arabia would be a distinct possibility.  Are the Israelis envisioning fighting their way into and out of these countries on SAR missions?  Would the United States, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Iraq allow damaged Israeli aircraft to land on airfields in Iraq or these other countries?

Is Turkey going to grant Israel overflight clearance for a routing of the strike or SAR that would enter Turkey at its Mediterranean coast near Iskendurun, turn east to reach Iranian kurdistan, then south to Natnz and return by same route?  Opinions?

Is a Syrian route a realistic possibility?  Certainly the Syrians are not going to grant such overflight permission.  Was the "celebrated" Israeli mission in Syria a while back a test to see how difficult it would be to use Syrian airspace?

Finally, there is the issue of whether or not the Israelis would have overflight clearance for Iraqi airspace at all.  At present, the US exercizes airspace control for Iraqi airspace under the authority it has from the UN for the coalition’s operations.  This authority from the UN is to expire soon.  Because of this (and other reasons), the US is seeking acceptance from the Iraqi government for two agreements. One is a SOFA agreement and the other amounts to a mutual defense and cooperation pact.  Among the things the US wants under these agreements is a continuation of its authority over Iraqi airspace.  The Iraqis are reluctant to concede this as well as a number of other points.

I wonder why.  pl


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4 Responses to Overflight Clearance for an Israeli strike at Natanz

  1. Andy says:

    Here’s some additional information and analysis:
    1. Sean O’Connor’s excellent open source google earth SAM database which includes Syria.
    2. Cordesman attack option analysis (PDF).
    3. MIT attack analysis options (PDF).
    4. Francona’s analysis.
    Here’s my brief take on it all: The options for attack are limited, the effects of an attack are limited and transitory, the effects of failure are very great, and Israel cannot attack without US acquiescence. These factors and others indicate to me that Israel will not attack Iran (and neither will the US).

  2. Binh says:

    If I were the Israelis, I’d put my money on Bush attacking because he wouldn’t trust that Obama would do it.
    One obvious question about the Israeli exercises: they simulated flying the distance to get to Iran’s nuke facilities, but did they simulate flying back the same distance?
    Also, even if one of the countries in question or the U.S. grant access to their airspace, the hairier issue is what happens if an Israeli pilot is captured by by the Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Turkish, Kuwaiti, or Saudi military? Will they end up like the Blackwater guys in Fallujah if they’re captured by civilians?
    If Israel tries to do this without significant U.S. help, it’ll make Carter’s helicopters in the Iranian desert look like a success.

  3. londanium says:

    There is no chance as far as I can see that Turkey will grant the Israelis overflight rights for any such purpose, and, I believe, they have made explicit statements to this end. This is unsurprising given the growing importance of Iran as a natural gas supplier and a “tactical” partner in combatting the PKK.
    It’s very unclear what the Israelis could offer Turkey by way of compensation, or for that matter, whether the Israelis ( or even the US ) could actually stump up the earnest monies.
    What “real” Turkish interests are actually served by giving Israel permission to do this anyway? In the longer term, Iran, with a very large consumer market, substantial energy resources and an eye on cooperation with Turkey for energy transit arrangements to the Med/Europe, is going to be a much more important strategic partner than Israel can ever hope to be – doubly so given the failure to advance the EU accession agenda.
    One of the key elements for any Israeli attack would be that Iran had no advance warning – this is a tough one under any circumstances, especially when flying over at least two third parties before reaching Iran and then a trip over a large mountain range to get to the target. Given that the IAF would be operating at the operational extremes, fancy flying to evade SAM’s or Iranian fighters would likely result in fuel starvation issues. The Iranians only need to have a workable target access denial plan to make the whole thing unrealistic for the Israelis to attempt to execute absent substantial US assistance.
    IIRC, the Daily Telegraph published a very similar story to this last year – going in to great detail about how the IAF was practising long-range bombing missions on Iran by flying across the Mediterranean to Gibraltar and back. The one thing these articles NEVER really explore are the political and diplomatic complications that surround securing covert access to third-party airspace from countries that for the most part have normalised relations with Iran, not with Israel.

  4. b says:

    It was a ‘report’ by Michael Gordon, the same guy who ‘reported’ with Judith Miller on aluminium tubes in Iraq.
    I don’t regard this report as true at all. The sources are ‘American officials’. Clearly the Cheney gang wants to keep the pressure up and get the public prepared.
    On the actual flight plans. The government of Turkey is unlikely to allow overflight. The ‘deep state’ in Turkey may allow it but that would be a coup against the government.
    All the possible flight routes seem to be too long and with all the tankers needed there is too little the Israelis can put on each of too many targets. It would be a useless endevour and could have, for Israel, very bad consequences.
    So I doubt that Israel would really do this. Olmert has experienced in Lebanon that relying on the Air Force can-do attitude can bring much trouble.
    No – the issue is that this is coming from U.S. sources with their own agenda. Who are these people and where is their office for imformation operation?
    Does Gates allow this within the Pentagon or is it within the NSC?

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