Can Israel Attack Iran? – Analysis


The Iranian nuclear program is a source of concern for Israel, the United States and Western countries. War mongering has taken place by the Israeli leaders after the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on the nuclear program of Iran, in which it has alleged that Iran is on its course to develop nuclear weapons.

The IAEA in its report ascertained that, Iran is heading towards the development of nuclear weapons. The recent IAEA report emphasised that Iran is procuring clandestine equipment and design information needed to make such arms; 1. High explosives testing and detonator development to set off a nuclear charge; 2. Computer modelling of a core of a nuclear warhead; 3. Preparatory work for a nuclear weapons test, and Developing and mounting a nuclear payload onto its Shahab 3 intermediate range missile.

The IAEA said the annex was based on more than 1,000 pages of intelligence and other information forwarded by more than 10 nations and material gathered by the IAEA itself. While on the other hand Iranian authorities have categorically rejected this report and said Iranian nuclear program is for peaceful generation of energy and not for the development of nuclear weapons.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the IAEA, and said that “it is discrediting itself by siding with ‘baseless’ U.S. claims that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons” he further said that “Iran will not retreat ‘one iota’ from its nuclear programme.”

Israel has taken tough stance against Iranian nuclear program and asked the western nations to impose tougher sanctions against Iran. Israeli war mongers have issued furious statements after the IAEA report. For instance Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in his recent interview said that, “At this point, Israel does not intend to launch a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities but it retains the option as a “last resort”.

Such statements would aggravate the security situation in the region. Iran is a signatory to the NPT and it has the right to go for peaceful application of nuclear energy, but Israel which is a non-signatory to NPT and also possesses almost 200 nuclear warheads has never been questioned for its nuclear weapon program. Here come the double standards of the international community. Nobody has ever raised hue and cry over Israeli nuclear weapon program. In fact the US, UK, France and many other countries clandestinely supported Israeli nuclear program.

Israel has reiterated many times in the past that if severe sanctions are not imposed on Iran, then it might use military option against Iran as it has already used against Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. But Iran is not analogous to Syria or Iraq. Iran is a much bigger country with many dispersed and underground nuclear facilities, along with strong army, air defense and navy which can cause serious damage to Israel and the US interests in the Persian Gulf. The possible targets for Israel would be nuclear plant at Bushehr, Uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, the Isfahan conversion facility, the heavy-water plant at Arak, and the recently discovered Fordo plant near Qom.

To take out these facilities Israel would require long range aircraft and missile capabilities. Other important factor which Israel would have to take into notice would be updated information/real time intelligence about the exact location of the Iranian nuclear facilities. Other important factor would be Israel’s long range targeting capabilities including its aircraft and missiles etc. Israel has Boeing F-15 E Strike Eagle fighter aircraft, which has range of 2,400 mile (3,900 km). Other aircraft which could also be used is General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft with the max range of 2,620 mile, (4,220 km). Boeing F-15 Eagle could also be used for air strikes against Iranian nuclear sites; this aircraft has range of 3,450 mi (5,550 km) and can play a leading role in any air strike against Iran.

Israel can also use its ballistic missiles to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities. The Jericho-II could be the best choice for Israel to take out its targets in Iran. This missile has a range of between 1,500 and 3,500 km, depending on payload weight. Israel in November 2011 has also tested a long range missile which could also be used against Iranian facilities. Jericho- 3 ballistic missile has an estimated range of 3,000-4,000 miles, which makes it possible for Israel to take out targets anywhere in Middle East and Persian Gulf.

According to a report by Eli Lake, senior national security correspondent for Newsweek and the Daily Beast “.…..…Israel has been assembling a multibillion dollar array of high-tech weapons…… jam, blind and deafen Tehran’s defenses in the case of a pre-emptive aerial strike,”. Such capabilities would play an important role in any future military strike against Iran.

Israel has the capability to take out targets in Iran, but the question is whether it would be able to take out all the nuclear facilities which are dispersed over a broad area of 1,000 miles, and many possibly underground.

According to Richard Russell, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies in Washington and a consultant to the U.S. command for the region. “The Israelis actually have limited means of attacking Iran’s nuclear program.” To further support this argument Yiftah Shapir, Director of the Military Balance Project at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies opine that, It is far from capable of disabling the Iran nuclear program. That would take at least a month of sustained bombing. That’s not something Israel can carry out alone.” According to a Retd U.S. Air Force General Charles Chuck Wald, former deputy commander of the U.S. combatant command for Europe an operation against Iran would require in excess of 1,000 sorties, which is not possible for Israel to carry out all alone. It would require help of the European allies and the United States.

Iran has declared that it would never accept any pressure and will give a punishing reply to any alleged attack by Israel or the US. Recently, Cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, a senior leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, said that Iran will “blow up the heart of the Zionist entity” if attacked by either Israel or the United States.

Hezbollah’s Commander Hasan Nasrallah reiterated that “an Israeli-U.S. strike on Iran, or military involvement in Syria, will lead to a regional war.”

As far as Iranian air defense capabilities are concerned, these are limited but can inflict significant damage to the intruding Israeli or US aircraft. Iran has recently shot down a US drone, which shows its capability to defend its territory.

Iran has deployed seven S-200 firing batteries throughout the country. The four northern most sites are positioned to defend the northern border and the region surrounding the capital of Tehran. A fifth site is situated to defend facilities in and around Esfahan in central Iran, including the Natanz nuclear facility. The last two sites are situated at Bandar Abbas and Bushehr and provide coverage over the Straits of Hormuz and the northern half of the Persian Gulf, respectively.

Iran has also carried out an aerial exercise in East. It has practiced its air defence capabilities in this exercise. The air defense components of the Iranian Armed Forces engaged in a fierce battle with the mock enemy and intercepted its cruise missiles and repelled hostile unmanned aerial vehicles and fighters. This exercise would revamp Iranian air defense capabilities to counter any threat from Israel. Senior Iranian military commander Brigadier General Mohammad Hassan Mansourian has also declared that Iran will soon test long-range aerial defence missiles, including Iranian S-300s.”

Iran’s Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hassan Mansourian at Khatam al-Anbiya Anti-Aircraft Artillery Base said that Iran’s anti-aircraft technology possesses great potentials to counter any possible threats or attacks.

Iran is not in any case a credible threat for Israel right now. It does not have border with Israel and secondly it has no match with the fire power of the Israel. In every department of the military, Israel is far better than Iran. Former Mossad heads Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy, believe that Iran does not pose a threat to Israel’s existence.

It would be madness on part of Israel if it carries out an attack on Iranian nuclear installations. Israel can never achieve any meaningful success in any military strike. Iran may launch punitive strikes with its Shahab 3 missile deep inside Israel which may pose heavy losses.

The US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has also rejected any military adventurism against Iran by Israel and said that “Military action against Iran could have unintended consequences in the region”. But the US President Obama on November 15, 2011 has also said that “We are not taking any options off the table. Iran with nuclear weapons would pose a threat not only to the region but also to the United States.” While European allies of the United States are not in mood to open a new front in the near future in Persian Gulf. Almost all the European powers want tougher sanctions against Iran to end this deadlock, but they are not in support of any military action.

Russia and China has taken a stance to oppose any new sanctions against Tehran. Russia and China have economic stakes in Tehran. Russia earns millions of dollars in defense trade with Iran. On the other hand China is the biggest trading partner of Iran and it is also dependent on Iran to fulfill its rising energy demands. Any attack on the Iranian nuclear installations would provoke regional tensions. It is a possibility that if Israel attacks Iranian sites then Muslim countries may get united against a common enemy. Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah would also wage a war against Israel.

Iran has the potential to disrupt oil shipments from Strait of Hormuz, which can seriously impact on world economies. Israel’s air strikes would only delay the Iranian nuclear program for more two to three years but it cannot derail it permanently. Iranian leaders may use any military strike as a pretext to go for nuclear weapons. It is imperative for the international community to engage Iran in negotiations and try to resolve this issue in peaceful manner. War mongering will further ignite tensions among Iran, Israel and United States and may plunge the region into instability and turmoil.

Masood-Ur-Rehman Khattak

Mr. Masood-Ur-Rehman Khattak is working at the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) Islamabad as Research Fellow. He did his M.Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad. His major research areas are Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia, Terrorism, Non-Proliferation issues, FATA, Afghanistan and Regional Security issues. Mr. Khattak is author of a book, US War on Terrorism: Implications for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has been published by German Publishers, Lap Lambert Academic Publishing on 31st August, 2010. Mr. Khattak has also written a Research Paper on “Indian Military’s Cold Start Doctrine: Capabilities, Limitations and Possible Response from Pakistan” - 2011, published by SASSI. He has organised/presented in scores of international conferences/workshops. Email: [email protected]

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