What a silly story. How was he supposed to answer the question? If he says no, we won’t shoot them down, it’ll be taken as a green light for an Israeli attack and cause a Category 5 political clusterfark in Baghdad. If he says yes, we’ll take ’em out, it’ll be taken as a red light and create a Category 5 clusterfark in Tel Aviv. And either way, Obama will completely freak out. Result? A scrupulous non-answer:

In a town hall on the campus of the University of West Virginia, a young Air Force ROTC cadet 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 cadet 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.

Remember last year when Mika’s pop thought it’d be a swell idea to send U.S. jets up to “confront” the Israelis en route to trying to disarm an American archenemy? Six months later, with The One under fire from Congress about his handling of Israel and New York Times headlines screaming about our cluelessness on how to handle a nuclear Iran, how do you think an IAF/USAF dogfight would play at home? Imagine opening your newspaper one day to read that Iran’s terrorist special ops force is setting up shop in our hemisphere and then the next day the lead is the Battle of Basra or whatever. That afternoon’s White House presser with Gibbsy would be extra special, wouldn’t it?

As for what Obama would do, it’s largely academic assuming media reports over the last few years are accurate. The Times broke the news just a few days before Bush left office that Ehud Olmert had requested the right to fly over Iraq to hit Iran. The answer, according to a top Bush aide who knew what it would mean for the U.S. troop presence: “Hell no.” A few months later, the Times of London claimed that the head of Mossad had secretly secured flyover rights from, of all people, the Saudi government per the “enemy of my enemy” school of Sunni/Shiite relations. Israel’s also working on refueling strategies for long-range missions, so a roundabout route to Iran is clearly on the radar screen. So to speak.