July 17, 2006

Israel Must Escalate

Writing in Haaretz, Ze'ev Schiff makes what I think is a pretty good analysis when he says the Israel-Hezbollah War has not reached its peak:

The fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has still not reached its zenith. The Israel Defense Forces' operational plans against the Shi'ite organizations have not yet been carried out. The next two days are the most critical and a lot depends on whether Tehran decides to take a chance and authorize Hezbollah to launch long-range missiles with more powerful warheads. This is a capability Hezbollah still retains, despite the heavy blows it has suffered in the IDF air strikes.

On Sunday, Israel bore witness to the use of more powerful rockets against Haifa, which killed eight people and injured dozens more. The Syrian-made 220 mm rocket has a warhead weighing more than 50 kilograms. Hezbollah was supplied with these rockets as the Syrian armed forces were receiving them off the production lines. The decision to give Hezbollah the rockets was made when it was concluded that the group would be considered part of the Syrian army's overall emergency preparedness.

The risk to Iran is not military, but rather that Hezbollah would suffer such damage that it would no longer be counted as the sole external element of Iran's Islamic Revolution. It is difficult to assess what the Iranian leadership will decide. If it does opt for aggravating the situation, it will certainly encourage the Syrians to become involved in the confrontation, but all indications suggest that Damascus is not eager to get dragged into war.

Israel is also not interested in a third front, so long as Syria does not intervene in the fighting on the side of Hezbollah.

As the Counterterrorism Blog also noted, Hezbollah also has used the Iranian made and supplied 333 mm Raad missile. A Chinese-designed weapon the Raad is based upon the Silkworm, and can carry a 1100 lb warhead of conventional, chemical or nuclear design. It is not to be confused with the Iranian ATGM (antitank guided missile) of the same name that the Hezbollah may also try to use against Israeli Merkava tanks.

Israel is fighting Iran and Syria in the most thinly veiled proxy war of this young century, and Israel must decimate Hezbollah's rocket program if it is to survive.

More than six months ago analysts were predicting that apocalyptic sect running Iran may be trying to create an End Times conflagration to mesh with their 12th Imam eschatology. Much of the analysis and -speculation I've read since then has focused on the threat of long-range nuclear missiles fired from Iran, but it becomes increasingly more clear on a daily basis that Iranian forces and the most advanced Iranian weaponry are being deployed with Hezbollah on Israel's doorstep.

The nuclear deterrence theory of MAD (mutual assured destruction) was predicated upon the thought that bot sides would be able to get nuclear weapons airborne in the event of an attack, assuring both sides would suffer catastrophic losses. This theory was already turned on its head by those who theorize that the Iranian leadership is hoping precisely for that sort of exchange to bring about their hoped for End of Days.

But an Iran that has nuclear-capable missiles in southern Lebanon is another matter entirely, as it is an entirely more practical and worldly extension of Iran's hatred for Israel.

A well-timed and executed Iranian nuclear weapon first strike could easily be disguised as just another conventional Raad rocket attack like the ones that have already been fired on Israeli cities. Iran could conceivably and rather easily hide a crippling nuclear first strike in a barrage of Hezbollah missiles, incinerating the majority of the country before Israel even suspected it was under a nuclear attack.

For these reasons, Israel must not only beat Hezbollah back and rearrange another stalemate, it must continue on until Hezbollah in Lebanon is destroyed. To not follow through is to endanger the very existence of the nation, and to potentially invite an Iranian nuclear attack.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at July 17, 2006 08:45 AM | TrackBack

Confed, my friend, I think you've gone just a tad bit overboard about a potential Iranian nuclear first-strike capability in southern Lebanon.

First, let us examine the missles we know Hizbolla has (from strategypage and other googled sources):
-B12: 107mm diameter, 838mm long. Weighs 19 kilograms (42 lbs), has a 1.4kg (3 lb) warhead, and 6,000m range.
-BM21: 122mm diameter, 2.74m long. Weighs 68kg (150 lbs), has a 20kg (45 lb) warhead, and 20km range.
-Fadjr-3: 240mm diameter (about 9.5"), weighs 407kg (900 lbs), 90kg (198 lbs) warhead, and 43km range.
-Fadjr-5: 333mm diameter (about 13.11"), weighs 915kg (2017 lbs), also has a 90kg warhead, and 75km range.

What should jump out at you? The biggest rocket above only carries a 90kg warhead! Just under 200 pounds for us Merkans.

Now let's consider nuclear weapons. I don't think anyone is claiming that Iran has nukes right now, so it's fair to say they're still trying. Then let us consider the first US nuclear devices weight; "Fat Man" weighed in a 10,000 pounds, and "Little Boy" around 9,000. Let's be very, very generous and assume that Iran can manufacture their first-generation nuke twice as efficiently as those, so it only weighs half as much. Call it 4,500 pounds.

How many countries in the region even have a missle which can throw that much? Note that the original Atlas ICBM carried a single 5500-pound warhead, for reference.

But -someone interjects- what if Iran developed small, 2000-lb nuke? They could put that in a SCUD. Aha!, they cry!

Well, that's theoretically possible. But let's note something else; all the rockets mentioned above which Hizbolla actually has are all have solid-fuel engines. And they're all (relatively small) compared even to a SCUD.

The original SCUD missle was literally a remake of the German V-2 (A-4) rocket. It's about 11.25 meters long, and .88m in diameter. It is obviously much larger than anything known to be in the Hizbolla armory. Both the A-4 and the typical SCUD can carry a 2,000-lb warhead. As you can see by the dimensions, a SCUD would physically stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Add to that the fact that any missle which could carry a Persian-built nuke warhead would of necessity be liquid-fueled, unless they've managed to steal a Minuteman III or a Trident. I really don't see how Hizbolla could smuggle in missles which are literally twice the size of the Fadjr (much less the katushyas), and need liquid-fuel maintainence to boot. To really put a cap on things, the SCUDs use hypergolic fuels, which are an absolute bitch to handle. The facilities required for either hypergolic or LOX/other fuels would also be obvious indicators.

So even a 2,000-lb nuke (which I maintain is beyond anything the Persians do for a long time) would require a missle with literally 10 times the throw weight of the biggest Fadjer Hizbolla has. (2,000 lbs vs. 200 lbs). It would require liquid fuels, which would require liquid-fuel storage and handling.

All of these things are much harder to conceal than the smaller solid-fuel missles Hizbolla is known to have.

So I have to ask: how to do expect Hizbolla/Iran to accomplish this?

I'm just askin'... ;)

Posted by: Casey Tompkins at July 18, 2006 11:14 PM

Casey, we were making 50-pound W-54 nukes 44 years ago, and the soviets claim to have had similar weapons, so call-ed "backpack nukes."

I find quite technically possible that with guidance and possibly materials from both the A.O Khan network and North Korea, that Iraq could be in posession of something that would fit well within the payload profile of both the Fadjr-3 and Fadjr-5.

The Soviet FROG-7, which most nearly matches the Fadjr-5's weight and payload, was typically used for nucelar weapons.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at July 18, 2006 11:33 PM

Point taken.

Still, let us note that was after 18 years of massive US R&D. AFAIK both the Norks and the Persians are still at 1945. 1952, or -54, tops.

While the FROG-7 is solid-fueled, I must again point out that it was developed 20 years after the first nukes.

Let us review:
-first you have to develop the ability to build a nuke. One that predictably goes "boom."
-then you have to shrink that puppy to 50 or 60 kilos (objectively a 20-year process).
-finally you have to mate a warhead to a missle. In this case, the warhead has to be small enough and robust enough to fit on a FROG-7 and/or Fadjr-5 missle.

For all I know, weapons engineering has advanced to the point where they do all the scut-work in simulations, as they do with cars and commercial jets.

But I doubt it.

From what I've picked up, here and there, even the Bolshies had some nuke designs which were less than reliable. On the other hand, if we developed a couple of dud designs, I wouldn't doubt they'd go into the "HIGHLY CLASSIFIED, NEVER DE-CLASSIFY" cabinet as well.

I don't think you're wrong. Let's just say you're five years ahead of the news cycle... :)

Either way, let's all buy the IDF lots and lots of pizza. They're earning it.

Posted by: Casey Tompkins at July 21, 2006 02:01 AM