Would the US Defend Iraq’s Airspace?

FIF04_m "The second agreement is a long-term "strategic framework" the administration has said will establish "cooperation in the political, economic, cultural and security fields." A "statement of principles" that Bush and Maliki signed in December said the framework, which they plan to sign by July 31 to take effect Jan. 1, included "security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace."

Congressional Democrats have said that the agreement, as outlined by the administration, constitutes a defense treaty commitment requiring Senate ratification. The administration has said it is "nonbinding," will not include language on specific troop numbers or authorize permanent bases, and does not commit the United States to defend Iraq. It also asserts that the agreement is within Bush's executive authority. "  Karen de Young last Spring


Against whom?   You know the answer. 

The Muslims will laugh at the thought that the US might defend Iraq's airspace against the Israelis, but the Israelis went to GW Bush to ask for overflight clearance to reach Iran and Natanz.  This clearance was denied by the US.  The United States is obligated by international law to defend Iraq.  President Bush's bogus assertion notwithstranding, an occupying power is obligated to defend the territory of a state that it occupies.  That is a general principle.  The agreement between the US and Iraq is specific at Paragraph 27, subparagraph 3.

Download SE_SOFA

Israel has been steadily working itself into a frenzy over the Iranian nuclear program.  The Iranians launched an orbiter of their own this week. The Israelis are now under intense international scrutiny (unobstructed by the Obama Administration) for their conduct in Gaza.  They are having a national election next week in which the advantage seems to lie with whichever party can make the most bellicose noises.  All of these factors point to increasing Israeli instability in decision making.

Would Israel try to "bull" its way past the US Air Force and across Iraq relying on a US "failure of will" to make the thing work?  This would be a crazy thing to do, but many crazy things have been seen lately.

I trust that US air defense posture in Iraq is adequate?  pl

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36 Responses to Would the US Defend Iraq’s Airspace?

  1. doug says:

    Since Israel simply does not have the wherewithall, absent Bernie Morris’s “solution,” to decisively confront Iran, the extant question is how they leverage other assets having that capability.

  2. Bill says:

    Hmm. “…deter foreign aggression against Iraq that…”
    What happens when the US decided that the Israeli warplanes are not “aggression against Iraq” but self-defense against Iran? If the actual treaty contains as much wiggle room as the statement of principles, then I think Muslims have a right to be skeptical.

  3. kao_hsien_chih says:

    There is a disturbing precedence: USS Liberty. I don’t believe in most of the conspiracy stories, but it does seem indisputable that the wave of fighters that were scrambled from the nearby carrier (USS America, I think) at the first report of the attack from the Liberty were called back at the order from the highest quarters. I suspect that the prospect of an open, deliberate combat between US and Israeli forces (let’s forget the attack on the Liberty itself for the minute) and its political consequences, even in absence of a real “conspiracy,” no doubt posed enough headache that whoever that gave the order decided not to take chances. If the Israelis were to unilaterally force their aircraft across Iraq, with or without prior announcement, will the US air defenses be allowed to engage them and shoot them down? Can anyone withstand the political blowback from something like that?

  4. Mark Logan says:

    Heck of a good (and hair raising) question. Would Israel try to bull past us?
    I certainly hope we are crystal clear with Israel on this. Our interest is in a stabil Iraq. Iran can help
    with that. We have to be very clear what we will and will not allow to happen.
    Do NOT send April Glaspie!

  5. Yohan says:

    Would such an agreement require the US to interdict Turkish sorties against the PKK above sovereign Iraqi territory?
    Another question: is there any unclassified info about Israel’s submarine-based missile capabilities? I’ve read that they have the ability to launch nuclear-armed missiles from subs. Rather than flying F-16s(or whatever) accross Jordan, Iraq, and half of Iran, would cruise missiles launched from subs in the Persian Gulf be a more feasible avenue of attack? And/or sub-based commandos against coastal facilities such as Bushehr? Pure speculation on my part, I claim no expertise in any of these areas.

  6. Allen Thomson says:

    > Would Israel try to bull past us?
    In that case, isn’t the question simply whether the US would shoot down Israeli planes traversing Iraq on the way to and/or from Iran? What other choice would the US have?
    What would happen if the US did? What would happen if the US didn’t?

  7. Matthew says:

    Everyday, I have the same dream: I turn on the news and watch PM Bibi explaining to the Knesset why the USAF shot down 50 Israeli planes over Iraq. President Obama cannot be reached for comment because he’s shooting hoops. VP Biden is, to use his word, “literally” glum.

  8. Yohan,
    Before the submarine cruise missile fantasy can be achieved, the submarine actually has to get to the Arabian Sea or Persian Gulf.
    Any ideas how that might happen without anyone noticing? Covert transit of the Suez Canal is out. And it is one heck of a long way around the Cape of Good Hope and back! Especially for an air-breathing submarine like Israel’s Type 212/214s.
    And that does not even begin to get into the issue of Israel demonstrating a submarine cruise missile beyond Harpoon.
    Now, as Iran approaches a breakout & satisfactory delivery capability (they’re still pretty far off), then it seems likely that Israel would consider investing in a survivable deterrent force…. something like a ballistic missile armed submarine. They won’t be able to hide that purchase/construction any better than the Indians are hiding theirs!

  9. Andy says:

    “Would Israel try to “bull” its way past the US Air Force and across Iraq relying on a US “failure of will” to make the thing work? This would be a crazy thing to do, but many crazy things have been seen lately.”

    No, they would not, for several reasons, but the most important is the practicalities of planning a viable mission absent US support.
    The Israeli officers who would actually plan and fly such a mission understand that doing so without US acquiescence is folly. There are many problems, but here are some of the biggest:
    1. The danger is not so much heading east – it’s heading west after the strike. Without coordination with the US, the US will not know which aircraft are Israeli and which are Iranian aircraft in pursuit. So even if the US just stood by, there is great risk the US would shoot down a lot of Israeli aircraft as they head back into Iraqi airspace. Israel would have to plan for that eventuality and decide what they would do – attempt to shoot back at Americans if they are engaged or something else. Israeli pilots would require very specific ROE for dealing with the Americans under a variety of possible US responses in a variety of situations. They would want to know under what specific situations the mission would be aborted and whether or not (and under what circumstances) they could/would engage US aircraft or missile sites in self defense. All those conditions not only complicate an attack, but greatly increase the risk of failure.
    2. Without US support, the US could easily make the mission fail, even without firing at the Israelis. All that’s needed is to make Israel burn up some time and jet fuel.
    3. Most importantly, Israeli planners understand the Iranian’s are not stupid. Iran’s intelligence capabilities are undoubtedly monitoring a variety of intelligence indicators to provide warning of just such an attack. Suffice it to say that Iran will notice the American reaction to an Israeli incursion, draw the appropriate conclusions, and ready its forces. Raids against predictable targets without tactical surprise tend not to do so well.
    There are many other military planning factors that greatly complicate strike planning absent US acquiescence – factors that Isreali aircrew will likely push back on. The flyers understand the mission would not succeed in such a scenario. Crazy or not, what Israeli politician will order an operation the military knows will fail?

  10. mlaw230 says:

    Colonel Lang has described our relationship with Israel as an “affair of the heart.” As we all know, such commitments are notoriously fickle.
    Recently we have learned that the nation founded in large part by a combination of disregard for native peoples and genuine guilt for centuries of pogroms capped by the holocaust, have now embraced punitive military action against civilian populations.
    An attack on Iran with the carnage, both human and geo- political that such and event entails, may very well advance the end of this particular romance.
    I believe that an attack on Iran supported, permitted, or even acquiesced to by the United States could well be the last date and the beginning of the end for Israel. I hope that cooler heads prevail.

  11. Pan says:

    Well, we could have an air defense outage or some other pretext, like how the Saudis didn’t know the IAF violated its airspace during the strike on Osirak.

  12. curious says:

    vWhat happens when the US decided that the Israeli warplanes are not “aggression against Iraq” but self-defense against Iran? If the actual treaty contains as much wiggle room as the statement of principles, then I think Muslims have a right to be skeptical.
    Posted by: Bill | 04 February 2009 at 01:47 PM ”
    Well, the we are admitting that Iraq is not sovereign, since it cannot define by itself what is and is not a threat to its national interest.
    tho’ I seriously doubt Iraq has the legal resource to carry out international litigation.
    But really, the problem is clear: nobody in the world is going to believe our case about Israel pre-emptive attack. (nevermind, pre-emptive is illegal under UN charter.)
    from legal point of view, things are going to get very messy.
    but from practical level, Israel action over Iraq will further dent US image in the middle east. (nevermind energy price instability resulting from conflict.)
    I hate to imagine Iran’s most logical reaction.

  13. jr786 says:

    Maybe I’m being naive but American rapproachment with Iran is not only sensible and desirable from an American standpoint but inevitable as well. The only resistance comes from the zionists and their lobby in Congress. So no, I can’t believe the zionists will get a free pass over Iraq.
    I watch a lot of Iranian Press TV (in English, here the domestic Iranian channels don’t appear) and they rarely if ever criticize the US with hostility. G-d knows from their point of view there is more than enough folly to criticize.
    Last night they talked a lot about the EU decision to remove the MOK from its list of terrorist organizations – but emphasizing that the United States did not follow suit. I reckoned that a subtle message in itself, especially as it seems that the FBI is now severing its ties with CAIR for alleged ties to Hamas. Of course, if you shake hands with a Palestinian that’s enough to get you on a no-fly list.
    Maybe the MOK thing is not so important but there is a growing sense that a new relationship is brewing between our country and Iran, G-d willing.
    Pity the poor zionists.

  14. Henry Kim says:

    Thanks, Andy. Most informative.

  15. somebody says:

    this has been discussed between all parties quite openly.
    in the case Israel attacks Iran, Iran would hold the US responsable.
    Iran would close the Gulf.

  16. mo says:

    Real world.
    Congress will back Israel no matter what.
    The President needs Congress to pass bills.
    Suddenly an attack on Iran is not considered a “hostile” act on Iraq, until maybe after the fact and a few million dollars to soothe ruffled feathers.

  17. Bill Wade, NH, USA says:

    If the Iran “problem” is so critical to the Israel’s, as they put it, what’s to say that their planes need to come back, a percentage of them could try to make it to Georgia hoping for a welcoming landing and another percentage could ditch in the southern waters off the coast of Iran to be picked up by Israeli ships. Then the US could just send them a bunch more F-16s.

  18. hope4usa says:

    What about Turkey and the Kurds? Obviously we have treaties with Turkey–which takes precedence?

  19. jon says:

    Yohan raises a very good point. The US has been in full occupation of Iraq for the past six years. Reportedly, they have refused Israel the green light to overfly Iraq en route to bombing Iran. They have also declined to rebuff Turkey’s repeated incursions of Kurdistan (the US’s most reliable ethnic group within Iraq) in pursuit of the PKK.
    Should the US not have any forces stationed within Iraq, any protection of the borders would have to be provided from other regional bases or ships. Functionally, it would be nearly impossible to provide a realtime defense of the borders in that circumstance. Any deterrence would be based on the perception of a strong response to invasion or incursion.
    Iraq would be outraged by Israeli overflights. This might be anticipated from the way that Israel habitually overflies several of its neighbors without warning or approval. Israel is currently unlikely to have any targets within Iraq, but be transiting to attack Iran. Of course, that could change if Iraqis are sufficiently outraged by Israel’s behavior.
    Any Israeli attack on Iran is unlikely to provide a definitive outcome and derail any nuclear program. Iran’s nuclear program is too far away, and too dispersed and hardened to suffer more than a temporary and partial disablement in any single strike. If anything, attacking Iran’s nuclear installations would be most likely to provoke Iran into a full bore nuclear arms program and mobilization of the country. These outcomes are not in Israel’s interest.

  20. Curiosity! What is the argument again that we are a de jure “Occupying Power” and how is that detailed and where? Do the citizens of the United States realize that we NOW are still an occupying power? Do the citizens of Iraq? I do argue that the US missed the boat and helping Iraq seal its borders, but not its airspace, was the only way to help Iraq gain its independent status as a nation-state. We should NOT be defenders of Iraqi Air Space, and hope we were not in the past. If we were in the past or are now, de jure or de facto, that was utter foolishness by the US.

  21. Ormolov says:

    To me the big unknown here is how our new Administration will handle Israel. This unknown must be keeping IDF planners awake at night as well. I can’t imagine that their ‘test’ of Obama would be such a dramatic move. Unless they receive the green light from Washington a bombing campaign against a much better prepared Iran (in the wake of Osirak) wouldn’t erase their nuclear capabilities and please no one but AIPAC.
    Like so many things right now, we won’t know how Obama will really handle Israel for a while.

  22. Harper says:

    Col. Lang,
    It is my understanding, after a series of discussions following the Israeli atrocities in Gaza, that Israel has a geo-strategic doctrine which they refer to as “game-changers.” By this, they mean military (overt or covert) which alter the strategic situation, presumably to Israel’s security advantage. Under this concept, the 2006 Lebanon War and the 2008-2009 Gaza incursion were aimed at achieving both military and political/strategic objectives. This is one way of worming out of the idea that they suffered setbacks in both engagements. Hezbollah directly engaged Israeli forces and survived. Hamas passively survived.
    Where this leads, however, is the next Israeli “game-changer,” which, I am told by several senior Israel watchers in Washington, could be missile strikes against parts of Iran’s nuclear program. I raise this in the context of the US-Iraq SOFA, which bars Israeli overflights. To get around this, Israel is contemplating use of their German diesel submarines as platforms for launching rocket strikes against Iranian nuclear targets from the Gulf. One obvious question is if Israel is so mad at this point as to contemplate using nuclear arms. I personally doubt it, but… The doctrine of “game-changer” would certainly change the game that the new U.S. Administration is embarking on–direct negotiations with Iran, with none of the Bush preconditions. Would such an action by Israel lead to a U.S. break with Israel? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone does. But if the Israeli doctrine of “game-changer” is so fraught with miscalculations, it certainly makes for a worry. Adm. Mullen, Defense Secretary Gates and others made frequent trips to Israel in 2008, warning Israel against preventive strikes against Iran. If Bibi is elected, what will it take to make sure the Israelis listen?

  23. Cynthia says:

    There could be a bright side to this…
    If the USAF does its duties as a loyal occupier of Iraq by shooting down a few Israeli planes over Iraq, then this may indeed scare the bejesus out of the AIPAC lobbyists so much that they’ll all run out of Washington with their tails between their legs!;~)

  24. batondor says:

    I think that Andy detailed the operational constraints on Israel perfectly… and I don’t believe that President Obama would OK such a request simply because he’s too smart (and too preoccupied by unrelated matters) to see this as a winning proposition under even the successful terms imaginable (and it’s hard to imagine anything called “success” while the downside in the face of a failure is an open-ended nightmare…).
    On the other hand, I wonder to what degree the Iraqis are getting involved in air traffic control and air defense themselves?
    I would also discount the notion of a missile-based attack simply because the Israelis have never, to my knowledge, ever tried anything like it… and when it comes to using nuclear munitions, I think the same uncertainties of performance reign… and I also don’t see their gain by unilaterally crossing the Nuclear Rubicon that has held for over sixty years! Even if the strikes were in isolated parts of Iran, wouldn’t a global movement for harsh sanctions against Israel be the result and would support from the US be too little (and even there, uncertain)?
    Now, if they could only get an Iranian nuclear weapons designer or technician to make a “big” mistake. That’s the only way Iran will not attain a nuclear capability if they actually wish to pursue one…

  25. curious says:

    If the Iran “problem” is so critical to the Israel’s, as they put it, what’s to say that their planes need to come back, a percentage of them could try to make it to Georgia hoping for a welcoming landing and another percentage could ditch in the southern waters off the coast of Iran to be picked up by Israeli ships. Then the US could just send them a bunch more F-16s.
    Posted by: Bill Wade, NH, USA | 05 February 2009 at 08:20 AM
    those planes aren’t exactly replaceable nor cheap. Even with nearly unlimited US backing.
    Loosing 10-20 planes represent 1/10 or their air power.
    As you observe , Israel main advantage is airpower. Specially against Syria and lebanon. F/16 is their bombers really.

  26. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    For decades, the Zionist state has sought some sort of “periphery” strategy against the Arab world. Thus its relations with Turkey and Iran and India not to mention more recent links to Georgia and Azerbaijan.
    Should Israel unleash against Iran as a “game-changer” (per Harper) what happens to any future relationship with Iran against the Arabs? Cyrus has been dead some thousands of years and there are only perhaps 20,000 or so Jews in Iran.
    And just how does Israel see itself maintaining the Turkey card for much longer? Cosmopolitans in the Istanbul secular elite notwithstanding, it would be hard to categorize the rural folks in the Anatolian countryside as “pro-Israel” these days.
    And as for India, with the wave of radical Islam surging over Pakistan it will not be long before it washes (if not surges) into India. With 150 Muslim citizens inside India, will certain Hindu elites be so reckless as to continue their affair with the Zionist entity?
    So that leaves the US but another 911 here and 300 million Americans might start connecting dots to AIPAC and Tel Aviv and etc. despite the continuous massive propaganda/brain washing from the “pro-Zionist” print and electronic media.

  27. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Harper writes, “One obvious question is if Israel is so mad at this point as to contemplate using nuclear arms. I personally doubt it, but…”
    A strategic mindset of using disproportionate force against innocent civilians validates the use of nuclear weapons. It’s the Gaza incursion writ large and such thinking appears deeply ensconced in the Israeli collective psyche.
    Seems to me that an attack on Iran could start with a limited strike using conventional weapons followed by a Iranian response that, in turns, leads to nuclear retaliation. Such an escalation reflects a three step historical pattern repeated time and time again: provocation, response, massive retaliation, as was most recently seen in Gaza. Plus, when Cheney and Wurmser “took off from the wish” (Sherman Kent’s words) in 07 and called for a limited strike against Iran, such a massive retaliation was the admitted endgame.

  28. curious says:

    The biggest flaw of Israel using nuke:
    1. It will kill too many people. If they think international backlash from latest Gaza bombing is unpleasant, the use of nuke will definitely put them in global pariah status for at least 2 decades.
    2. It won’t destroy completely Iranian nuke program (they are not going to be able to find every enrichment facilities) on the contrary it will justify Iranian nuclear program. And they can assure retaliation . Israel is much denser country 2-3 nukes will pretty much wipes out their 3 major cities and port. And Israel will forever crippled with 3-4 millions population wiped out. Iran might still function with 3-4 major cities wiped out, due to much larger size. So in war of nuclear attrition, Israel is going to disappear first.
    3. Even talking about nuclear attack is automatic trigger of middle east nuclear race. within 5 yrs every single Israel neighbors will have nuclear. (this is 60’s technology folks. not brain surgery.)
    notice we are now speculating mini nuclear war, instead of ground troop movement. This is how far the middle east geopolitics has changed.
    current confrontation is heading toward nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran in less than a decade.

  29. Cieran says:

    Thanks for your well-considered thoughts. About this one:
    A strategic mindset of using disproportionate force against innocent civilians validates the use of nuclear weapons. It’s the Gaza incursion writ large and such thinking appears deeply ensconced in the Israeli collective psyche.
    Use of nuclear WMD by Israel is the ultimate “game-changer” in the middle east, and I sincerely hope that the citizens of Israel appreciate that the game that would be irrevocably changed by such acts, and most probably for the worse, is their own.
    Any kind of nuclear strike by Israel will open up a Pandora’s box of ugly consequences. The international backlash could prove impossible to stop (it would be infinitely worse than Gaza), and such a strike would be an explicit admission that Israel owns a clandestine nuclear weapons program, necessitating all kinds of international sanctions (including those arising from U.S. law) which would then be visited upon the Israeli nation.
    From a strategic perspective, Israel’s nuclear arsenal thus has its greatest value when it is ambiguous, hidden, and hence unused. Once they fire nuclear weapons at anyone, they will have risked crossing a Rubicon that would lead directly to the demise of their nation.

  30. J says:

    I find this latest ‘troubling’:
    Israel to Obama: hold Iran’s feet to fire, or else | U.S. | Reuters

  31. wb says:

    understand this, israel, after the united states and china, has the third largest nuclear force in the world. she has more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy every city above 50,000 population in the united states. obama is not stupid, neither are the russians. iran is not worth the cost. not only will israelis will be allowed to transit iraq, most likely they will help. remember us military force in all of persian gulf is vastly outnumbered by idf. persian gulf is a bathtub. us navy navy would be pulverised by idf. do not forget israel has five times fought forces far outnumbering their own. my advice to obama is to just act like he didn’t see a thing and let the jews take care of the iranian threat once and for all.

  32. Patrick Lang says:

    wb appears to be in the US. His comments are illustrative of the kind of breast beating ignorance of actual military capability that seems to infect many supporters of Israel. wb’s threats of Israeli war against the US are breath taking in their self deception. pl

  33. Patrick Lang says:

    BTW, there are 601 cities in the US with populations greater than 50,000. pl

  34. Brett J says:

    Agreed, Pat, re breathtaking self deception, particularly considering wb’s claims are easily exposed through a brisk Googling. …pointing out a country’s defense force is larger than another one’s navy that’s 1000s of miles away from its own state – classy.

  35. Ian says:

    William R. Cumming: “Curiosity! What is the argument again that we are a de jure “Occupying Power” and how is that detailed and where?”
    I’m not a lawyer, but I think the relevant international law is the Hague Convention of 1907. “Laws and Customs of War on Land,” Section III (“Military Authority over the Territory of the Hostile State”). Here’s what it says (italics mine):
    Art. 42.
    Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.
    The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.
    Art. 43.
    The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.
    As I understand them, articles 42 and 43 mean that de facto control is a sufficient condition for de jure control.
    The US invaded and occupied all of Iraq. There is now a partial withdrawal underway, but quite a lot of Iraq’s territory and all of its airspace are still under effective American control. Article 43 then makes the US responsible for monitoring Iraqi airspace, “the authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant.”
    I’m not sure why having set up a more compliant government should change this. Yes, they signed a SOFA, but I have a hard time believing that the presence of 100k American troops had no effect on their decision. As long as the US has boots on the ground and planes in the sky, it’s hard to believe that the new Iraqi government is fully sovereign over all of its territory.
    If the US doesn’t like being responsible for future events in Iraq, it should withdraw.
    Wow, wb, I had no idea that Israel has more nukes than Russia.
    A myth of omnipotence is a useful thing, but countries that start to believe their own propaganda are setting themselves up for disaster. Nothing could be more dangerous for the state of Israel than this kind of self deception. That this sort of thing is coming from American “friends” of Israel who are well out of harms way is even worse.

  36. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Isaac Edward Leibowitz, of blessed memory, had the same attitude as “wb” before the Flame Deluge.

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