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The Saudi Option


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Small Wars Journal:

Tristan Abbey and Scott Palter

The year is 2012. Squadrons of F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s streak across the sky, swamping air defenses and neutralizing other key Iranian installations. The next wave targets the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the nuclear power station at Bushehr, the conversion plant in Isfahan, and the heavy water plant at Arak. Within hours the Iranian nuclear program is crippled. As the armada returns to base, the head of state who ordered the attack readies to congratulate the pilots who carried it out.
“Peace be upon you all,” King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz says to his men. “Your bravery humbles me. The Saudi Kingdom will be forever grateful.


The states comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council—Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE—invest untold billions of dollars in their defense programs each year. The latter two lead the pack.8 This spending includes massive Foreign Military Sales by the US and other powers. While such purchases are generally viewed in defensive terms, many of these systems—jets, munitions, and so on—can also be used for offensive purposes. Western-equipped and, in many cases, Western-trained air forces are at the disposal of the Gulf states. These forces include scores of Saudi F-15s, Emirati and Bahraini F-16s, and Kuwaiti F-18s. Together, the GCC states could muster more aircraft than could the Israelis—well over one hundred—and would only have to fly a fraction of the distance. The equation becomes even more lopsided when one considers potential Jordanian and Egyptian involvement.


Both the Saudi and Israeli scenarios remain distinctly unlikely in the current context. Our point, however, is that an Israeli strike is so unlikely that a Saudi-led strike is likelier. As for whether or not the strike is a surprise, there are a number of mine canaries that would sing well ahead of time in either scenario. The US would move its capital ships out of the Persian Gulf and into the Arabian Sea as a force protection move. Another carrier battle group might be dispatched to the region as a precaution against Iranian retaliation. Israel, for its part, would ready missile defenses and beef up deployments in Galilee, and the Arabs would shift oil tankers out of the Gulf.

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