U.S. to leave Iraqi airspace clear for strategic Israeli route to Iran

Thursday, December 15, 2011
By Paul Martin

By Rowan Scarborough
The Washington Times
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The U.S. military’s fast-approaching Dec. 31 exit from Iraq, which has no way to defend its airspace, puts Israel in a better place strategically to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Iraq has yet to assemble a force of jet fighters, and since the shortest route for Israeli strike fighters to Iran is through Iraqi airspace, observers conclude that the U.S. exit makes the Jewish state’s mission planning a lot easier.

Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the Iraqi military will maintain radars to monitor the country’s airspace, but it has not taken possession of American F-16s to guard that space.

“The country has a capable and improving capability to see the airspace, a viable system to provide command and control, but no system to defeat incoming air threats until it gets either the F-16s or ground-based systems or, optimally, some of both,” Gen. Buchanan told The Washington Times.

Iraq made the first payment in September for 18 F-16s that will not arrive until next fall at the earliest. This means Israel would have a theoretical window of about 12 months if it wants to fly over Iraq unimpeded by the Iraqi air force.

Retired Air ForceGen. Thomas McInerney, who advocates a U.S. strategic bombing raid to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites, agreed that Iraq’s open airspace would make it easier for an Israeli mission.

“Yes, it will be,” he said. “However, it will be much easier for Iranian forces to get to Israel through Iraq via land and air.”

Gen. McInerney said he thinks there is a good chance that Iran, stretched economically by Western sanctions and fearing threats from Israel, will launch a war against the Jewish state through Iraq.

“Our departing Iraq will be a huge strategic mistake,” he said of the Dec. 31 deadline for all U.S. forces to leave.

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