In a town hall on the campus of the University of West Virginia, a young airman asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to respond to a “rumor.” If Israel decided to attack Iran, the speculation went, those jet would need to fly through Iraqi airspace to reach their targets. That airspace is considered a “no-fly” zone by the American military. So might U.S. troops shoot down the Israeli jets, the airmen asked the chairman, if they breached that airspace?
Mullen tried to sidestep the question. “We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.”
The airmen followed-up: “Would an airmen like me ever be ordered to fire on an Israeli – aircraft or personnel?”
Mullen’s second answer was much the same as his first. “Again, I wouldn’t move out into the future very far from here. They’re an extraordinarily close ally, have been for a long time, and will be in the future,” the admiral said.
My sense is that by the time US commanders are given orders either way, the aircraft in question would have already completed their mission and returned safely to their own airspace.
From Article 9 of The Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq:
3. Surveillance and control over Iraqi airspace shall transfer to Iraqi authorityIn reading the full agreement, it's apparent that if Iraq wants U.S. air defense forces to engage foreign aircraft flying through its airspace, the government of Iraq is expected to request assistance. I know of no formal agreement between the two countries that a violation of Iraq's airspace (a technical violation of sovereignty) would immediately place U.S. commanders in the position of having to give the order to repel or destroy the offending aircraft. This means coordination between the two countries at the highest levels of civilian authority.
immediately upon entry into force of this Agreement.
4. Iraq may request from the United States Forces temporary support for the Iraqi
authorities in the mission of surveillance and control of Iraqi air space.
I don't see any way that a decision to treat Israeli aircraft as hostile could be made by the time the mission is completed. So? Would the U.S. fire on Israeli jet? The question is moot.
Extra Point: The trip over Syria is probably just as quick and I frankly think the Israelis would get a bigger jolly out of flying over Syria (and defeating their air defenses) than a risky trip over Iraq.
Update: Allahpundit has a common sense take on the question, and believes Admiral Mullen's non-answer was the right one. I agree--either answer would have ignited a firestorm. But, mad right wing nuts that we are, isn't it fun to speculate just what conniptions Teh One might have?