Skip to comments.Bibi's Choice (Israel to Attack Iran with Land Based Missiles instead of Airstrike?)
Posted on 07/04/2009 1:00:27 PM PDT by GOPGuide
Conversations over the last few weeks with more than a dozen members of Israel's larger national security community--right and left, scholars and military men and women, some coming out of the army and others the air force, some with decades of experience in military intelligence and others in clandestine operations, some former Knesset members and others former, current, and soon-to-be advisers to prime ministers--suggest it is fair to conclude that the professionals agree with the public that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons is a game changer. Among them, there is a consensus that Israel has the technological capacity to undertake a military strike that would inflict heavy damage on Iran's nuclear program. Such a strike, they also believe, would involve unprecedented challenges and risks, including the likelihood of a significant military response by Iran and its allies. Accordingly, an urgent internal debate is well underway in Israel concerning the circumstances in which the country should strike, alternative options, and, in the event that Iran does acquire nuclear weapons, the structure of an effective containment regime.
Israel being Israel, for every three experts you talk to on any particular issue you will hear at least four aggressively argued opinions. Nevertheless, a fairly consistent picture emerges, if not of a single proper Iran policy, then of the constellation of factors that Israel must consider in forming one.
Most countries are reluctant to discuss the details of their offensive capabilities because they don't want to provide useful information to their enemies. Israel is no different. Nonetheless, the experts with whom I spoke were willing to discuss in broad outline Israel's capacity to destroy or substantially degrade Iran's nuclear facilities. All would be delighted to see engagement, diplomacy, or sanctions succeed. All emphasized that a military strike must be the last resort, chosen only after every other option has been fully exploited. All believe that a green light from the United States, or at least a yellow light, would be indispensable. And they seem convinced that Israel has good intelligence about vital Iranian targets and could, if necessary, with a combination of aircraft and ballistic missiles, bring enough firepower to bear to set the Iranian program back far enough to justify the substantial risks.
Certainly this is the view, in broad outline, of Isaac Ben-Israel, and he should know. After graduating from high school in 1967, he joined the Israeli Air Force and served for more than 35 years. Now a Tel Aviv University professor teaching strategic studies and the history and philosophy of science, Ben-Israel helped plan the attack in 1981 on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, rose to the rank of major general, holding positions as head of the operations research branch of the air force and as head of research and development in the Israel Defense Forces and the ministry of defense, and served in the Knesset as a member of the centrist Kadima party. He continues to advise defense industries in Israel and abroad about technological and strategic issues.
Ben-Israel went so far as to characterize as "very reasonable" Center for Strategic and International Studies scholars Abdullah Toukan and Anthony H. Cordesman's "Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development Facilities" published in March. Relying on open source intelligence, Toukan and Cordesman analyze in formidable technical detail Iranian nuclear targets, Israeli mission capabilities, Iranian defenses, Israeli defenses, and the military and political consequences of an Israeli attack. They conclude that an Israeli strike force would involve about 80 F-15s and F-16s (almost a fifth of their fighter aircraft); all 9 Israeli aerial tankers to refuel the fighters on their way to and from Iran; a likely flight route north over the Mediterranean, then east along the Syria-Turkey border, crossing briefly over Iraq, before heading into Iran. The strike would probably concentrate on three "critical nodes in Iran's nuclear infrastructure": the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the Esfahan nuclear research center and uranium conversion facility, and the Arak heavy water plant and future plutonium production reactors. The authors stress that the mission would be complex, high-risk, and without solid assurance of success.
Another possibility is that Israel could attack Natanz, Esfahan, and Arak with approximately 50 Jericho III land-based long range ballistic missiles. This option has received relatively little attention even though, as Toukan and Cordesman point out, it may be "much more feasible than using combat aircraft" and certainly poses less risk to Israeli pilots and hardware. Still another possibility for attacking Iranian nuclear targets, though not discussed by Toukan and Cordesman, is some combination of combat aircraft and Jericho III missiles.
Even on the heroic assumption that the attack went exactly as planned, Israelis evaded Iranian air defenses and kept their losses to a minimum, and Iran's nuclear program was set back substantially, Israel would face considerable costs, both military and political.
The military costs might be serious but would be manageable, Israeli experts believe. They envisage six possible responses to an Israeli attack.
First, Iran, lacking a capable air force, might launch Shahab-3 long range ballistic missiles at Israeli cities and probably at Dimona, Israel's nuclear facility in the Negev. Israeli experts are confident that their Arrow anti-ballistic missile defense system, which has performed superbly in tests, would destroy most incoming Iranian missiles. Those that got through would have no more explosive power than Iraq's 1991 Scud missiles, which killed only one Israeli and did little damage to infrastructure. Missiles tipped with biological or chemical weapons are a different story and would provoke a massive and remorseless Israeli response.
At the same time, it is by no means certain that Iran would launch a retaliatory missile strike. Some Israeli experts believe that Israel's capacity to attack decisively nonnuclear Iranian targets, including the power grid and oil refineries, might deter Iran.
Second, Iran might order Hezbollah into action. Since the 2006 Lebanon war, in which Israel killed one third of Hezbollah's fighters, that group has rearmed and upgraded. It has enlarged its arsenal of rockets and missiles from about 12,000 at the outset of hostilities in July 2006 (4,000 of which Hezbollah fired at Israel that summer) to roughly 40,000. In sufficient quantities, these can cause suffering in Israel. But in determining whether to attack, Hezbollah might take into account that Israel learned lessons from 2006 and that, in anticipation of another round of fighting, it has prepared to deliver a knockout blow.
Third, Iran might demand that Syria attack Israel. But given that Syria's conventional forces are no match for Israel's and that it did not respond militarily when Israel destroyed its partly constructed nuclear facility at Deir al-Zour in 2007, there is a good chance that Syria will decline to get involved.
Fourth, Iran might order terrorist cells around the world to attack synagogues, Israeli embassies, and similar targets. This would have the disadvantage for Iran of shifting the focus of international attention from Israel's preemptive air strike to Iran's criminality.
Fifth, Iran might attack American targets in Iraq and foment unrest among Iraqi Shia. This too might backfire, both because it would bring America into the fight and because the community of interests between Arab Iraqi Shia and Persian Iranian Shia is limited.
Sixth, Iran might attack Persian Gulf shipping. But the fragile Iranian economy is at least as reliant as that of any Gulf country on the free flow of oil. And American firepower would end Iran's ability to threaten shipping within days.
The political costs could prove greater for Israel. Whether an Israeli military attack failed or succeeded, and particularly if it succeeded, Iran and the forces of radical Islam around the world would vehemently argue that Israel's unprovoked aggression provided irrefutable proof that nuclear weapons are critical for Iran and for radical Islam, if only for purely defensive purposes. Europeans, moreover, would ramp up their condemnatory rhetoric, proclaiming Israel the paramount threat to international order and demanding that Israel, which took it upon itself to disarm Iran, itself submit to international inspections of its nuclear facilities.
Toukan and Cordesman stumble in asserting that Israel would pay a heavy cost among Arab states. It's true, as they write, that Arab states "will not condone any attack on Iran." Indeed, the Gulf Arabs would probably condemn Israel harshly. Egypt might mobilize troops and send some into the Sinai. And all Arab states would join the rest of the world in calling for the imposition of international sanctions. But that would be for popular consumption. Israeli experts are as convinced as they are of anything that behind closed doors, Sunni Arab rulers would breathe a huge sigh of relief at the destruction of what they regard as the principal strategic threat to their security, a nuclear armed Shiite Iran seeking hegemony in the Gulf and exporting Shiite-style Islamic revolution around the world.
Still, after the costs and benefits are weighed and the enigmas and imponderables are given their due, the Israeli experts come back to where they begin: Only after every other option has been exhausted should a military strike be launched. No one else went as far as former Mossad head Efraim Halevy, who warned that an Israeli attack would "change the whole configuration of the Middle East," producing "a chasm between Israel and the rest of the region" that would have "effects that would last 100 years." By far the dominant view in Israel is the view espoused by John McCain: The only thing worse than the consequences of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would be the consequences of a nuclear Iran.
Short of a full-scale military strike, Israel also has a clandestine option involving the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, sabotage of Iranian facilities, and targeted killings. Nor would this represent a new policy. As Ben-Israel, choosing his words carefully, pointed out, Israeli national security experts have been warning that Iran was 5 years away from producing a nuclear weapon for the last 20. Why do you suppose, he asked, it has taken Iran so long? After all, he observed, 60 years ago in the middle of World War II, it took the United States only a few years to produce the first atomic bomb, and no country that has set its mind to it has taken more than 5 to 10 years. Leaving me to draw the proper inference, Ben-Israel emphasized that clandestine operations can delay but will not destroy Iran's nuclear program. And the experts agree that time is running out: Absent dramatic action--by the United States, the international community, Israel, or some combination--Iran is on track to join the nuclear club sometime between 2011 and 2014.
For a variety of reasons--President Obama's attempt to engage Iran may prove futile, the international community may be unable to maintain effective sanctions, the mullahs may hang on to power, an Israeli attack might fail, Israel might elect not to attack Iran--Israelis are compelled to contemplate the structure of an effective containment regime. The challenges are immense. Realists argue that containment based upon the doctrine of mutual assured destruction worked for the 40-year Cold War and will work in the Middle East. But they overlook that in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 it almost failed.
The realists also rely on a facile analogy. The distinctive variables that Iran and the Middle East add to the mix cast grave doubts on any easy application of Cold War logic. Iran speaks explicitly about wiping out Israel; the Soviet Union never so spoke about the United States. Iran is inspired by a religious faith that celebrates martyrdom and contemplates apocalypse; the Soviet Union was driven by a secular ideology that sought satisfaction in this world. And Iran has no dialogue with Israel; the Soviet Union maintained constant communication with the United States.
These complicating factors make it all the more imperative for Israel, if it wants to construct a successful containment regime, to convey to Iran that it has a devastating second strike capability and is prepared to use it. In addition, it would be useful from the Israeli point of view if the United States were to make Iran understand that America would treat an attack on Israel as an attack on it. And it would provide greater assurance still if Russia were to deliver a similar message.
But because, as Ben-Israel observed, "a guarantee from another nation is not a reliable deterrence policy," the critical element in a successful containment regime would be Israel's own unambiguous and compelling promise of swift and devastating retaliation. The mullahs may reasonably think that if they detonate a bomb over Tel Aviv while possessing nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach London, the Americans might hesitate to attack Iran on Israel's behalf. Therefore, should Iran obtain the bomb, an effective Israeli deterrent, according to Ben-Israel, would require Israel to demonstrate publicly its ability to inflict catastrophic damage on Iran and at the same time remove any doubt about Israel's willingness, in the event of a first strike by Iran, to do so.
But deterring an attack by nuclear-tipped Iranian missiles is only the beginning of the challenges that a containment regime would face. What would be a proportional response if the Iranians or their Hezbollah fighters slipped a small boat within a mile of Haifa and detonated a small nuclear device killing 10,000 Israelis?
And how ought Israel respond to--and containment work against--the myriad other dangers spawned by a nuclear Iran? The moment that Iran announces its possession of nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and perhaps Kuwait, taking to heart Iran's declared hostility to Sunni Islam and determination to obtain hegemony in the Gulf, will go shopping for their own. Egypt and Turkey will not be far behind. As if a nuclear-armed Pakistan were not worry enough, the vulnerability of these regimes to overthrow by the forces of radical Islam heightens the possibility of the world's most dangerous weapons falling into the hands of many of the world's most dangerous actors.
Furthermore, once the Middle East went poly-nuclear, it would be only a matter of time until a suitcase nuclear bomb fell, leaked, or was placed into terrorists' hands. Even before that, radical Islamists throughout the Middle East--particularly Hezbollah and Hamas--would receive a tremendous psychological boost from a nuclear Iran and be emboldened by their patron's nuclear umbrella. A nuclear Iran would further undermine the chance for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Syria by tempting waverers in the region, those who had begun to abandon the idea that Israel might someday disappear, to once again contemplate an Israel-free Middle East.
In sum, containment is a grim option. So is a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. And relying on prayer for Mousavi and the Iranian people to overthrow the mullahs is no option at all, at least not for the state of Israel, the front line in Islamic radicalism's war against the West. Thus, in the short time left before Israel is compelled by an Iran fast closing in on a nuclear capability to choose between two grim options, Israel's highest priority will be to persuade an equivocating United States, a dithering Europe, and an obstructionist Russia that a nuclear Iran is not just an Israeli problem or a Middle Eastern problem but a problem for the United States and the world.
Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
Maybe, but when has that ever deterred them? They're through getting pushed around by bigger nation states. They've got "THE BOMB." Remember that the chief creators, Einstein, Teller & Oppenheimer were all Jews. Israel has got, at our last estimation perhaps 100 medium yield nuclear weapons capable of being delivered in a variety of ways and all capable of reaching their chief enemies in the region.
And anyone thinks theyll attack Iran? What an excellent justification that would give the world, to dismantle Israel, scatter its frightened population, and carpet it with welcoming rose petals for the muslims.
Those would be the same skeptics who said the same thing before Israel pulled the Entebbe Raid; sicc'ed MOSSAD on Black September all around the world (after the Munich Olympics) AND took out Saddam's reactor in the early 80's? Yah, right. That dismantlement as you put it has been tried by the entire Arab regional armed forces combined a couple of times and Israel still keeps kicking Arab A$$, the small summer debacle a couple of years ago notwithstanding. Once the IDF is well and truly let off the leash, they can take care of themselves against all comers. Even this administration, as anti-semitic as it is, would think twice about taking such a move, militarily. First of all, they don't have the guts. Second they'd lose their liberal Jewish political base here. Even if they acted only in some fashion like the ever popular Economic Sanctions, they'd lose the Jewish vote AND the Jewish donations to the DNC. They can't afford that for the foreseeable future.
Finally, although they can't be seen as being overtly supportive, the majority of the Arab nations are well and truly terrified of the Iranian regime's extremism and they are silently praying that Israel does a righteous job in removing that threat. Why is Iran a threat to her neighbors? Well, let's see. Maybe because their own Dear Leader (Mahmoud Imanutjob) sees HIMSELF as the fabled MAHDI who will rise up and unite the Arab world in global jihad? Maybe because that whole "Messiah" mentality is bad for the OIL BUSINESS? And commerce in general? Ya think?
These are all secular arguments I've posited. The final say can be found in several chapters of the Bible. Look at Isaiah 17, Ezekiel 38 & 39; much of the Book of Daniel AND most of the Book of Revelation. I don't know about you, but I'm warming up the popcorn and getting my seat all comfy because the biggest show in all of HISTORY is about to get started. RAPTURE READY?
One cannot avoid seeing that the situation with Iran is only narrowing the options Israel has to deal with that threat. With our present administration now taking a hostile tac with Israel, only the worst can be expected from it. Ez 38 conditions are becoming more and more set.
while a nuke may not destroy underground Iranian facilities - the emp, surface destruction and residual radiation will make it very difficult for operations to continue without a LOT of clean up.
Naturally, if Israel has to resort to those measures all Hell will break out in the persian gulf as well as gaza and Lebanon. That may be the stratigic play-off. Israel believes it can handle Hamas / Hezzies / Syria conventionally, and has an adequate missile shield to defend against Iranian counter strike attempts. They are not worried about the persian gulf - where the oil sheiks hate Iran about as much as Israel. So let them handle the problem in the gulf.
Haven’t you read the script from God’s perspective?
GOD BE WITH YOU AND YOURS AS WELL.
Excitement builds . . . if that’s the word for it.
BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD AND ALL WHO WALK WITH HIM.
By design, most likely.
I agree, at the end of the day the facilities are not the problem, the leadership is. A coordinated strike against the leadership and some elements of the republican guard would set back their plans significantly. If it does not work follow up and hit the facilities.
Wait until their parliament is in session chanting America is the great satin and turn the place into rubble. Continue hitting every leadership location and command and control location until the last remaining leaders are living in a Sadam spider hole wetting their pants.
Thanks for the input, Pope Quix. I’ll check my Bible and see where it says Israel can strike Iran. Hope it’s not in one of those silly codes, next to “Rabin assassinated.”
“Might as well” is not a good reason to start a war. But thank you for not waving the scriptures at me. :)
Perhaps 7/11 has a sale on new glasses or synapses or some such to aid in your reading.
This is 2010 in the Age of 0bama. And I don’t subscribe to your hermeneutics. But if I did, I wouldn’t be trivializing the end times with cracks about popcorn.
Have a nice day, Quix.
LOL the author of that book suckered a lot of Christians, myself among them. I read it in about 2004 or '05 and it said that the codes absolutely predicted a nuclear war in 2006. Right then, I knew my money had been wasted. 2006 confirmed that view. That's why I no longer accept stuff like that. However, the scripture has been 100% correct all the time. More importantly, there are no remaining intervening events in the Bible left to fulfill before the coming Rapture. So, 668, someday soon you might literally BE the neighbor of the "BEAST" and he'll be loudly and proudly proclaiming that fact. When it happens, don't look around for me, QUIX or any of the other Christian freepers (including Jim Robinson), 'cause we'll NOT be around! LOL
Why not? What exactly does any follower of Jesus Christ have to be worried about, especially if we're right? Even if we're utterly wrong, what have we lost? Now, reverse that and apply it to your views. If you're right, no consequences. But if you're wrong... Hmmmmmmm. So it seems to me, the person rolling the dice here on a 50-50 proposition is you.
ROFLMAO! The AGE of Obama has lasted just about 14 months! The entire country has been BI*** slapped fully awake as of last Sunday.
I haven’t kept up to date recently with the Code stuff.
I do believe that the earlier stuff based on too short a character length has proven to not be statistically sound. However when one gets up beyond 30 characters . . . the statistical odds for chance resulting in such phrasings is extremely remote.
Time will tell. It’s still a very young discipline. It’s certainly not beyond God to pull such a fun thing and it is the sort of thing He seems to enjoy engineering.
Well, I certainly agree with that. As I matured over many years in my faith, I discovered the whimsy of Jesus. One of the people who led me to Christ was my old Pastor at Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church (PCA) and his name is Steve Brown. He in fact performed my wedding ceremony in his office nearly 23 years ago. Now he has his own independent ministry and national radio show: KEY LIFE! I get his free weekly e-mails and discover this fact more and more as well as the reality of God's truly unconditional love for his lambs (us)! Give Steve Brown's group a look.
Will try to do so.
An impressive site.
Will try to give a listen later in the week.