Defense Update - News Analysis by David Eshel

Monday, December 12, 2005

Why Israel should Not Attack Iran?

The London Sunday Times correspondent Uzi Mahnaimi reported Sunday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered the IDF to prepare to attack Iran's nuclear facilities at the end of March 2006, after Israeli intelligence supposedly discovered a number of secret uranium enrichment sites that were disguised as civilian buildings. The day before, Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) received the Nobel Peace Prize for his activities for world peace. In his press review, he appeared to warn Israel not to bomb Iranian atomic reactors.

Military analysts frequently refer to Israel’s dramatic attack on the Iraqi Osiraq nuclear reactor in 1981, being a reasonable precedent to mount a similar attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. However, a more sober professional assessment would immediately reveal that the Osiraq precedence seems totally irrelevant, due to the currently prevailing circumstances.

  • First, the Iraqi reactor was a single target, easily to identify on first ingress by the attackers and only lightly defended.
  • Second, the attack came under total surprise without any previous fanfare warning in the media.
  • Third, it took place when Iraq was at war with Iran and the latter had already attempted a similar attack, which had, alas, failed.
  • The cynical claim, that Israeli leaders would recklessly stake the lives of young pilots, the very cream of their elite, on such a risky undertaking seems at best totally unfounded, considering the inquisitive media in a democratic state like Israel, which virtually ‘rules’ the political agenda.

According to leading oriental experts, Iran’s prime worries would not be Israel, which has no borders with the Shi’ite state and, apart from somewhat irresponsible rhetoric by its politicians, does not really threaten its national security. In fact, during the Shah period, Israel and Iran maintained closest strategic relations in mutual interest.

Dr. Guy Bechor, Middle East Affairs analyst from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, believes that Israel should "keep a low profile against escalation" because despite Iranian rhetoric, Israel is not the only country being threatened. The Shihab-3 missiles threaten not only Israel but primarily the surrounding Gulf States, which are oil-producing nations, says Bechor. Stressing that Iran is also developing the Shihab-4 with a range that could strike Western Europe, Bechor questions the rationality for Iran in developing these longer-range missiles, if it is only intended to attack Israel." Iran is building itself as a superpower, not against Israel but against the Western world." Dr Bechor argues.

A major element of Israel’s deterrent is the state of its national defensive posture. The state of Israel is the only one, which has an effective defensive triad infrastructure. The already deployed Arrow 2 antiballistic missile, incorporated within the Homa multilayer active defense system, is the only operational antiballistic missile defense available in the world today. Although not 100% hermetic against incoming salvoes of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), it nevertheless poses a viable deterrent to any potential attacker, risking a second strike retaliation by the defender. There is also one of the world’s best passive defense infrastructures available in Israel, protecting the population against most attack modes, including explosives, chemical and biological weapons. In contrast, all Arab and Muslim nations in the region do not have nor active or passive defense measures fielded, making them highly vulnerable to massive attack.

As for Israel’s offensive response options, according to unofficial sources in Israel, the Jericho -2 intermediate-range missile (IRBM), a two-stage, solid-fueled missile with estimated range of 1,500 to 3,500 km is in its arsenal and operational. Foreign sources have repeatedly reported on Israel’s nuclear potential, although Israel continues to adhere on its ambiguous doctrine on this issue.The arrival of the first of three 1,925 ton Type 800 Dolphin class submarines in 1999 was described by the then Prime Minister Ehud Barak as a move that would "change the entire face of the navy and the long-arm capability". This was widely attributed to Israeli plans to arm the submarines with cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads. It was reckoned that the virtually undetectable submarines would provide Israel with a 'second-strike' capability and complete the country's triad of nuclear deterrents.

Israel is certainly not alone in its concern about the threat from nuclear armed ‘rogue’ states like the Islamic fundamentalist Tehran. A senior White House source said recently that the threat of a nuclear Iran was moving to the top of the international agenda. A military source in Washington said “If we should opt for the military strike, it must be not less than 100% successful’. To carry out an operation according to these expectations seems highly questionable. The targets in Iran are widely dispersed and in deep underground shelters, with camouflaged decoy sites. Moreover, historical examples indicate that even a successful and sustained strategic bombing campaign in WW2 could hardly paralyze the highly organized German military production infrastructure and in several cases even caused not only its astonishing recovery, but actually increased production! Such a highly complex military operation is no viable option for a single state like Israel, despite all its available military potential and expertise.

Without going into operational details here, only plotting ingress and egress routes to ensure survivability of retrievable assets would become highly critical in the planning phase, taking into account the prevailing strategic conditions in the Gulf , Iraq and Saudia, and with US military presence dominmant in the region. In fact, senior analysts claim that "An Israeli counter-threat against the Iranians would play into Tehran's hands - distracting the United States, by mitigating U.S. pressure upon Tehran." To emphasize this, one remembers that Vice President Dick Cheney publicly raised the possibility last January, that Israel "might well decide to act first" to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in an interview on the MSNBC program. When asked, "Why don't we make Israel do it?" It was a reference to a military option much discussed in Washington but rarely talked about in public by top officials. "Well, one of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked," Mr. Cheney said. "If, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had a significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards."

Silvan Shalom, the Israeli foreign minister, said he believed that diplomacy was the only way to deal with the issue. But he warned: “The idea that this tyranny of Iran will hold a nuclear bomb is a nightmare, not only for us but for the whole world.” Under these stringent conditions, why should Israel opt volunteering to spearhead the Free World’s fight against Iran instead of keeping a low profile on its national priorities and let others take the lead, keeping the world safe from certain doomsday?


  • It was not the first time, that the international media has warned of Israel’s plans to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. In fact, only last March, the same Sunday Times published an article under a bombastic headline “Israel plans strike on Iranian nuclear plant”, by its correspondent Uzi Mahnaimi.

    The paper claimed that Israel had drawn up secret plans for a combined air and ground attack on targets in Iran if diplomacy fails to halt the Iranian nuclear program. Then, as now Israeli officials have denied any such plans existing. Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gissin did say, "Israel has no intention of launching an attack against Iran, definitely not before all diplomatic options have been exhausted." He stressed that "Israel is not leading the campaign against Iran," but that that whole international community - chiefly the US and Europe - has been concerned and active on the issue.

    Journalist Uzi Mahanaimi a former Israeli military intelligence officer who today writes for the London Sunday Times, already claimed in 1996 that Israel had a ridiculous plan to “swamp Egypt with drugs”!

    According to leading Israeli defense analysts, scrutinizing his work, Uzi Mahanaimi is blessed with a flourishing imagination for his speculative articles on ostensible Israeli secret plans. Although his late father was a legendary intelligence personality, son Uzi only served as junior officer in military intelligence during his mandatory service term. From time to time his fertile brain comes up with a new scoop, which is lapped up by sensation seeking tabloids all over the world. However, while there is always some veracity in his “revelations’ usually based on so-called ‘unnamed military sources’, these spectacular events seldom occur, aside in science fiction movies.

    Retired colonel Yigal Carmon Head of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI ) characterized Mahanaimi’ writing simply as "not credible".
    The fact is though, that any professional armed force worth its name, would have detailed operational contingency plans in its secret coffers, some of which have been carefully worked out and formed into actual simulation exercises, the IDF is no exception. For example Operation MOKED in which the IAF eliminated three Arab air forces in its massive surprise attack was planned years before in minute detail, and pilots trained in highly realistic training missions, but it would be irresponsible nonsense to assume, that Israel had actually initiated the Six Day war on June 1967, by a satanic plan to capture the Sinai desert and the West Bank, at a time the Jewish nation underwent one of its worst economic depressions!

    David Eshel
    Hod Hasharon - Israel

    By Anonymous, at 2:59 PM  

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