Will Israel Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development Facilities?

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Research centres in Washington paid much attention to looking into the future of Israeli-Iranian relations, particularly the chances of Israel launching pre-emptive strike’s against Iran's nuclear facilities and the implications of this attack to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf as a whole. The main focus of such centres was to determine whether Obama's Administration would allow Israel to use power against Iran or not. It is worth mentioning that Bush's Administration rejected such suggestion because of the serious consequences to US allies and interests in the Middle East and the whole world.

Dr. Abdullah Tawqan, former Jordanian Minister of Communications and associate researcher at the "Center for Political, International and Strategic Studies" in Washington DC examined such topic in a lengthy study furnished with illustrations, figures, graphs, detailed explanations and other military details. He made this study for the division of Strategic Studies in the above mentioned centre under the title: "A study of the Possibilities of Israel's Launching an air strike against Iranian Nuclear Facilities". It is a part of an extensive and all-inclusive study prepared by the Center and will be published in a special edition under supervision of Anthony Cordsman who holds the Arligh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS. It examines in detail the missile program of Iran and weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Tawqan probed the assumption that Israel would use long-range ballistic missiles to strike Iranian nuclear facilities instead of launching air strikes by warplanes which involve a high level of risk, according to Tawqan.  In addition there are the three main obstacles: lack of fuel, artillery and risks to the pilots’ lives.  But the question remains: "Does Israel have developed missiles that could reach Iran and hit specific targets there?"

Many strategic analysts including Tawqan think that Israel owns Jericho-III missiles which carry (non-nuclear) traditional warheads weighing 750 kg of high explosives that are planned to have a range of 4800 km to 6500 km which brings all of Iran and the GCC countries within range. These missiles are capable of hitting specific targets in Iran very precisely, with a very small margin of error that does not exceed tens of metres. Therefore, Jericho-III is a likely option if Israel decided to launch a pre-emptive attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. Tawqan added that 42 missiles would be sufficient for causing great damage to, or destruction of, the main nuclear sites of Iran in Natans, Asfahan and Arak. He concluded that if Jericho-III is so highly developed and extremely accurate, this scenario would be more plausible than using combat planes".  But if Iran acquired the most complicated version of S-300 Russian surface-to-air defence system which is effective in fighting attacking planes and long-range missiles, the mission of Jericho-III will be much too difficult, to the extent that it would become useless.  

Sam Gardner, a retired US air force colonel, believes that Touqan's theory is surrounded by major obstacles. Gardner currently studies at the "National Institute of War" of the National Defense University in Washington.  He doubts the benefits of using long- range missiles against Iran, given the strong and dense fortifications that Iran uses to protect its nuclear installations.

Gardner asserted that the success of any military strike like this requires the attackers to "dig" inside every target using several precise-guiding bombs. These bombs would be launched successively from fighter jets relatively close to the targets.

Gardner concludes that "the Americans conclude that the only way to reach enough depth will be adding another warhead in the crater caused by the first bomb".

Gardner, like many American strategist experts, believes that Iranian nuclear manufacturing sites are too far, scattered, and heavily fortified in a way that makes them impregnable against Israeli fighters alone.

Thus only the American air force is capable of launching such a successful strike. The political decision to approve such an offensive would be very difficult with the Obama administration which favours diplomacy alone with Iran. The same administration would not give Israel the green light to launch any military attack against Iran because the result would be catastrophic to the US, Israel, and to the whole region as well.

Touqan explicitly expressed in his study his resentment towards the idea of a one-sided Israeli military move against Iran.  He believes that an attack with "Jericho 3" missiles might propel a counter Iranian response with "Shehab" missiles.  That will go along with other revenge scenarios such as suspending Iranian oil exports, blocking Arab Gulf exports of oil to the world, hitting US targets in the Arab Gulf and giving orders to attack Jewish targets in the world.

Israel, keeping a low profile on its traditional missile arsenal and assumed nuclear arsenal, plays down the threat of the Iranian "Shehab" missiles, despite Israeli intelligence reports which confirm that Iran has deployed 100 missiles of that type.

But Israeli military experts assert that "Arrow 2" interception missiles are ready to destroy the bulk of Iranian "Shehab" missiles in mid journey if they are launched against Israel. Despite that fact, some Israeli defence experts play down the importance of using long range missiles to launch traditional and non-nuclear attacks. They also assert that big armies use only combat fighter jets for those types of missions.

Is an Israeli air raid against Iran possible? In his study Touqan asserts that the air raid is possible, and the favoured route for Israeli fighters would be along the the line of the Syrian-Turkish border, then passing over a small strip of Iraq. From there the fighters will reach inside Iran, and they will use the same route to return home. Touqan notes that the quantity of required fighters, the refueling process in mid air during the operation, and reaching the target, without the fighters being detected or blocked, will be complicated and extremely dangerous.  It will also lack guarantees of a highly probable success for the whole operation. Touqan's analysis also includes examining problems that Israel could face in penetrating air defences of states in the region.

Politically speaking, Touqan believes that it is probable that Arab states will "play deaf" towards any Israeli air attack on Iran, because they believe that Iran poses a security threat to the whole region. But he asserts that an Israeli air raid on Iran will destabilize the area and will increase struggle and terrorism.

Touqan also believes that the more Israel threatens the existence of the Islamic rule in Iran the more Iran becomes resolved to acquire nuclear weapons. It might lead to the withdrawal of Iran from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), citing the need to own nuclear weapons to protect its sovereignty and to counter any possible Israeli or American attack against it.

Anthony Zeitouni conflict solving researcher based in Washington

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