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Jerusalem - Israel Could Mount Pinpoint Raids On Iran: Analysts

Published on: November 8, 2011 01:33 PM
By: Reuters
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People look at a model of Israel's planned Arrow III interceptor missile during a display at an aerospace conference in Jerusalem, November 15, 2010.      REUTERS/Baz RatnerPeople look at a model of Israel's planned Arrow III interceptor missile during a display at an aerospace conference in Jerusalem, November 15, 2010.    REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Jerusalem - Should the Israelis attack Iran, they would probably focus strikes on select nuclear facilities while trying to avoid killing civilians en masse or crippling the oil sector.

Past operations by Israel, such as the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak atomic reactor and a similar strike against Syria in 2007, suggest a strategy of one-off pinpoint raids, due both to military limitations and a desire to avoid wider war.

“It (Israel) has the capability to get there, and it has the capability to do serious damage to the Iranian nuclear program,” said Sam Gardiner, a retired U.S. air force colonel who has run war games for various Washington agencies and academic forums.

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Israel remains publicly committed to the U.S.-led big power strategy of diplomacy and punitive sanctions to get the Iranians to curb their uranium enrichment and ensure it is for peaceful purposes only.

But the specter of unilateral Israeli strikes resurfaced with the publication on Tuesday of charges by U.N. inspectors of a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear project.

Israel lacks heavy long-range air force bombers, but its advanced F-15 and F-16 warplanes could hit sites in western Iran and further inland with air-to-air refueling and by using stealth technology to overfly hostile Arab nations.

Israel attacked Iraq and Syria before their alleged nuclear weapons projects had yielded fissile material that could end up as toxic debris. Similarly, analysts say, it would try to avoid an Iranian death toll that would fuel public calls for revenge.

A 2009 simulation at the Brookings Institution in Washington theorized that Israel, intent on halting or hobbling what the West suspects is Tehran’s covert quest for the means to make atomic weaponry, would launch a sneak pre-emptive attack on half-a-dozen nuclear sites in Iran.

Israel would not want to risk drawing in Iranian allies like Hezbollah, Hamas or Syria, especially with political upheaval shaking U.S.-aligned Gulf Arabs and Egypt. Israel’s armed forces are geared for brief border wars, not prolonged open conflict.

“Israel would most likely begin efforts to control escalation immediately after the strike,” said Gardiner, who posits Iranian retaliation could compel the United States—perhaps by Israeli design—to weigh in with its superior arms.

Facing recrimination from allies like the United States, Israel might argue the strike “created a terrific opportunity for the West to pressure Iran, weaken it, and possibly even undermine the regime”, said the Brookings simulation summary.

Aircraft are not the only means at Israel’s disposal.

It could also launch ballistic Jericho missiles with conventional warheads at Iran, according to a 2009 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Israel’s three German-built Dolphin submarines are believed to be capable of carrying conventional and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. They would have to transit through Egypt’s Suez Canal—as one did in 2009—to reach the Gulf.

Elite foot soldiers might be deployed to spot targets and possibly launch covert attacks. Far-flying drones could assist in surveillance and possibly drop bombs of their own.

Israel has also been developing “cyber warfare” capabilities and could use this together with other sabotage by Mossad spies on the ground.

BLOWBACK

Israel would be loath to hit Iranian energy assets, like oil production and shipping facilities. This could stoke a spike in oil prices, turning world opinion against Israel while alienating the Iranian dissident movement.

The same would follow a large Iranian death toll, though civilian infrastructure might not be spared.

Gardiner said the Israelis, like the U.S. air force during the Serbia campaign of 1999, might fry Iran’s electricity grids by dropping carbon fibers on its exposed power lines.

“Israel knows that an attack on Iran, no matter how much evidence to show that Iran is on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons that could kill large numbers of Israelis if it chooses, would cause an international outcry,” said Richard Kemp, a retired British army colonel who has studied Israeli doctrines.

“It is very much in Israel’s interest to take every possible precaution to make it as precise and effective as possible (and) do everything to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.”

But escalation might be impossible to avoid.

Should Iran retaliate with Shehab missile launches against Tel Aviv, for example, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would find it hard not to strike back. It would need outside assurances that the Shehab salvoes would stop—say, through a U.S. military enlistment against Iran, or a truce.

After losing the tactical edge of the initial sneak attack, Israeli forces would find it hard to keep up precision strikes.

Iran would be on alert for hostile warplanes, submarines and commandos. Iraq, Turkey or Saudi Arabia—countries which a 2006 study by the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology envisaged Israeli warplanes overflying en route to Iran—would shut down their air space.

The Israeli public would chafe at losing troops and living in bomb shelters. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in rare remarks on such a sensitive subject, said on Tuesday he saw the home front suffering “maybe not even 500 dead”.

In such a situation, Israel might rely increasingly on “stand-off” weaponry such as the Jerichos, which Jane’s missile experts believe are accurate only to around 1,000 yards (meters). This could mean more damage to Iran’s civilian infrastructure, including the lifeblood energy sector.


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Read Comments (15)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Nov 08, 2011 at 01:59 PM PinnyMeir Says:

You've got a little typo there! - " Jerichos, which Jane’s missile experts believe are accurate only to around 1,000 yards (meters)" -- One thousand yards/METERS?!?! - Maybe you mean KILOmeters! Heck, a sniper rifle is accurate to a thousand METERS!

2

 Nov 08, 2011 at 02:03 PM Scorpion on the frog Says:

Col. Gardiner speaks with great knowledge and authority, but forgets to include one very vital element in this scenario... What goes on in the Middle East NEVER goes according to the rules of logic.

3

 Nov 08, 2011 at 02:16 PM cynic Says:

Aren't many of these the same armchair analysts and think tank folk who claimed the US would be met by flowers and hugs in Tehran? The folk who believed we'd win the hearts and minds of the Afghans and be out of there in six months?

Why do they have any credibility whatsoever?

- and that last paragraph, talking about the accuracy of the Jericho missiles (some of which have a range of about 7,000 miles), is based on the original, semi-public, specs, from more than five years ago. Given the continuing upgrades, as well as an actual test firing last week, the targeting is probably a lot better than that 1,000 yards.

4

 Nov 08, 2011 at 03:08 PM luchinkup Says:

Reply to #1  
PinnyMeir Says:

You've got a little typo there! - " Jerichos, which Jane’s missile experts believe are accurate only to around 1,000 yards (meters)" -- One thousand yards/METERS?!?! - Maybe you mean KILOmeters! Heck, a sniper rifle is accurate to a thousand METERS!

Meaning you can aim it and it'll fall in the vicinity of a thousand meters of the target. Not that you can only fire it a thousand meters.

5

 Nov 08, 2011 at 03:13 PM Anonymous Says:

This is all narishkeit.......Pinpoint raids? Over such a huge territory? So what? The nuclear energy labs are all over Iran, and even if they found a couple it would have no effect. Don't you think the Iranians even have dummy sites to mislead satellite photos?? Even Hizbullah and Hamas know how to do this. This whole thing is merely propaganda at the request of the United States to increase pressure. But given the fact that the European economies are in freefall collapse, no one is going to care one way or the other.

6

 Nov 08, 2011 at 03:21 PM cynic Says:

Reply to #1  
PinnyMeir Says:

You've got a little typo there! - " Jerichos, which Jane’s missile experts believe are accurate only to around 1,000 yards (meters)" -- One thousand yards/METERS?!?! - Maybe you mean KILOmeters! Heck, a sniper rifle is accurate to a thousand METERS!

The writing (presumably in the original article) was unclear. The missiles have a reach of thousands of miles, but their targeting accuracy at the strike zone is (or rather was back then... ) a thousand meters. So if you were aiming a "conventional" warhead at, say, an airport traffic tower, or a "hardened" military site, you'd be spitting in the wind.

Meaning you'd have to fire off lots of them to make sure you'd hit what you were aiming for. And the other 25 missiles (number for illustration) would do a lot of (so-called) "collateral damage".

The accuracy today is more likely measured in a couple, maybe at most a couple of dozen, feet.

(And let's hope and pray no one is thinking of using nuclear weapons for this purpose).

7

 Nov 08, 2011 at 03:24 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
PinnyMeir Says:

You've got a little typo there! - " Jerichos, which Jane’s missile experts believe are accurate only to around 1,000 yards (meters)" -- One thousand yards/METERS?!?! - Maybe you mean KILOmeters! Heck, a sniper rifle is accurate to a thousand METERS!

I believe what they meant to imply was that the Missile is accurate to within 1000 yards of its designated target.

8

 Nov 08, 2011 at 04:24 PM sane Says:

Israel was unable to get rid of Hizbullah right on its border despite bombing them for 33 days. How can it damage Iran which is 700 miles away?

9

 Nov 08, 2011 at 04:43 PM mikeetg Says:

Iran has very advanced air defences recently purchased from iran. A first strike would be needed just to eliminate this. Follow up strikes would then hit the targets which by then have advance warning and time to bring Iran's entire defense establishment up to task, whilst the Israelis could only manage a couple planes due to limited amounts of airbourne refuelling planes

10

 Nov 08, 2011 at 04:49 PM Aryeh Says:

I think all this saber rattling is due to Assad being on the verge of collapse. Thoughts?

11

 Nov 08, 2011 at 04:51 PM bubii Says:

Reply to #1  
PinnyMeir Says:

You've got a little typo there! - " Jerichos, which Jane’s missile experts believe are accurate only to around 1,000 yards (meters)" -- One thousand yards/METERS?!?! - Maybe you mean KILOmeters! Heck, a sniper rifle is accurate to a thousand METERS!

a thousand yards is the same as a thousand meter they are the same 1 yard and 1 meter about 3 feet so it is 1 kilometer.

12

 Nov 08, 2011 at 05:13 PM PinnyMeir Says:

Reply to #8  
sane Says:

Israel was unable to get rid of Hizbullah right on its border despite bombing them for 33 days. How can it damage Iran which is 700 miles away?

It's not that Israel was "unable" to get rid of Hezbollah, it's that they worried (and continue to worry) far too much about "civilian" casualties. No war can be won that way. In World War 2, the U.S. and Britain bombed german cities and caused many thousands of German "civilian" casualties. Not pretty, but THAT is how wars are won. And for those who haven't noticed, we haven't had a problem with germany in the last 65 years. Israel ALWAYS 'snatches defeat from the hands of victory' by being too 'polite' and by ending the fighting prematurely. They did the same thing in 'Cast Lead' in Gaza, and in every war they have fought. In WW2 the allies fought until they achieved the "unconditional surrender" of the enemy.

13

 Nov 09, 2011 at 05:10 AM Darth_Zeidah Says:

Reply to #11  
bubii Says:

a thousand yards is the same as a thousand meter they are the same 1 yard and 1 meter about 3 feet so it is 1 kilometer.

To all those yiddn who were absent from yeshiva katana or from their BY during their one and only math lesson:

One yard equals 0.0009144 kilometer
One kilometer equals 1.0936132 yards

In other words, a yard is substantially shorter in length than a kilometer - ~three inches shorter. And no, bubbii, they are NOT the same. If they were, why have two identical measures?

You may all now go back to your armchair strategy sessions. Personally, I would have thought you might gain more by learning a blatt gemorra or, in bubii's case, making rugelach instead.

14

 Nov 09, 2011 at 05:21 AM Adam Sway Says:

Reply to #12  
PinnyMeir Says:

It's not that Israel was "unable" to get rid of Hezbollah, it's that they worried (and continue to worry) far too much about "civilian" casualties. No war can be won that way. In World War 2, the U.S. and Britain bombed german cities and caused many thousands of German "civilian" casualties. Not pretty, but THAT is how wars are won. And for those who haven't noticed, we haven't had a problem with germany in the last 65 years. Israel ALWAYS 'snatches defeat from the hands of victory' by being too 'polite' and by ending the fighting prematurely. They did the same thing in 'Cast Lead' in Gaza, and in every war they have fought. In WW2 the allies fought until they achieved the "unconditional surrender" of the enemy.

" Israel ALWAYS 'snatches defeat from the hands of victory' by being too 'polite' and by ending the fighting prematurely."

Really, PinnyMeir #12? Are you absolutely sure on that point? One hundred per cent sure?

Let's examine the record, shall we?

מלחמת השחרור תש"ח - Victory
מבצע קדש תשי"ז - Victory
מלחמת ששת הימים תשכ"ז - Victory
מלחמת יום כיפור תשל"ד - Victory

Are you still convinced, PinnyMeir #12 that "Israel ALWAYS 'snatches defeat from the hands of victory' by being too 'polite' and by ending the fighting prematurely?

15

 Nov 09, 2011 at 10:39 AM BakaMentch Says:

Reply to #13  
Darth_Zeidah Says:

To all those yiddn who were absent from yeshiva katana or from their BY during their one and only math lesson:

One yard equals 0.0009144 kilometer
One kilometer equals 1.0936132 yards

In other words, a yard is substantially shorter in length than a kilometer - ~three inches shorter. And no, bubbii, they are NOT the same. If they were, why have two identical measures?

You may all now go back to your armchair strategy sessions. Personally, I would have thought you might gain more by learning a blatt gemorra or, in bubii's case, making rugelach instead.

Think you should also review your yeshiva katana lessons, as 1 kilometer equals 1,093 yards and 1 yard eqauls .9 meters. For practical approximation purposes, i.e.the accuracy of a missile launched from 700 miles away, they are basically the same.

16

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