This post is also available in: heעברית (Hebrew)

9359502_sBy David (Dudi) Yaron

On the first day of President Obama’s recent visit to Israel, the global Media announced that an agreement was reached by which Israel would not attack Iran without prior coordination with the United States. I am of the belief that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is no longer relevant.  As such let’s briefly review the background of what has so far happened in this area while emphasizing Israel’s immediate situation and surroundings.

From the end of World War II to the present day it has been proven without a doubt that the possession of nuclear weapons is the most effective weapon with which to maintain a state of non-belligerence and/or limited warfare between two countries. That is true provided both parties in the conflict possess an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

 In this kind of situation where a balance of terror intimidates both warring parties, the status may of course be violated by a mad leader or regime and will be referred to later on. In the Middle East, since the true purpose of the ‘Dimona Textile Factory’ has become an established fact, and the world assumes that  Israel already holds a fair amount of nuclear warheads, many efforts have been made by a number of Arab countries, to create a balance against Israel’s strategic nuclear capabilities.

These countries even talked and bragged about what they came to call the ‘Islamic bomb’. It was the legendary Syrian defense minister, General Mustafa Talas, who stated some 35 years ago, that one nuclear bomb is enough for the Arabs to bring about the destruction of Israel.  The Muslim nuclear effort was taken up at different levels: Libya, Iraq and later Syria all have tried, but it was Pakistan that won the race. Pakistan stood up to their neighbor, India, which had already procured nuclear weapons.  The Pakistanis succeeded in creating a balanced nuclear threat against India that supports the theory I raised earlier.

Israel has acted in the past to pre-empt any nuclear threat against it prior to that threat emerging as a reality. In June 1981, an aerial assault destroyed the nuclear reactor ‘Osirak’ near Baghdad. According to foreign reports on the night of June 9th, 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a nuclear reactor in northern Syria, a North Korean reactor that was under construction. In both of these cases, the targeted destruction of these facilities completely eliminated the nuclear efforts of both Iraq and Syria.

There is little semblance or similarity between the situation of Iraq and Syria regarding the destruction of their reactors to the current situation in Iran, According to foreign sources, the IDF and the Israeli defense establishment have invested great efforts and funding, to develop capabilities, techniques and unique weapons to attack Iran’s nuclear sites. Nevertheless it was the outgoing head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, a man known for his remarkable integrity, who attracted attention to this subject just a few weeks ago.  Expressing his firm opinion about the outcome of such an attack, Yadlin told an interviewer, “At the best, we will delay the Iranian program for a short time of two or three years”.

Presented below are objective factors which I believe supports the argument that an Israeli attack will not achieve satisfactory results:

–          Iran is operating multiple programs in their effort to achieve their goal. They have built facilities engaging in plutonium enrichment, uranium enrichment and more recently have established plans for a plant for heavy water. In other words, in the event an essential or specific infrastructure should be damaged, their nuclear project would continue using alternate infrastructures and programs that remained unharmed.

–          According to known information, the Iranians have built about 17 sites encompassing reactors, as well as research, development, and storage facilities. These structures are scattered about the entire country and are massively protected with both active (densely located anti-aircraft systems) and passive (underground facilities).

–          Geographical remoteness would require flight operations over hostile areas resulting in a plan that would be difficult to carry out.  Attacking planes would have minimal time to stay over their targets, would avoid a dogfight as much as possible, and require complicated aerial refueling under difficult conditions. Under these conditions and in the absence of the element of surprise, a rolling action and repeated attacks would be nearly impossible. If the targets were not destroyed on the first assault wave, a second attack would be required at a higher risk and the possible payment of a heavy price in air crews and members of special fighting units

–           It is important to state here that most of the restrictions stated above might not happen at all if the United States were to independently attack Iran. The Americans have infinitely more varied capabilities than those of the IDF and some of the difficulties mentioned above, would not be relevant for them probably avoiding the need for a rolling sequence of attacks.

–          Another point of caution involves the subject of casualties. Naturally, the purpose of the army is to fight and defend their country and its citizens. Unfortunately in the course of the fighting there are casualties and soldiers die. In Israel, an inversion takes place where citizen casualties in hostile actions and fighting are almost ‘force majeure’. However, when soldiers fall in battle, the entire country holds its breath in sinking grief. The approximate casualties’ rate in any action is always a major factor in the decision whether to approve the execution of an operation. With too many memories of captured combatants in previous wars, I am certain of the public’s reaction, if God forbid, Iranians were to capture Israeli pilots and soldiers.

–          For the partial and insufficient result which may come from such an attack, Israel would probably be forced to pay a price which it has not yet been exposed to. Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the north would find it difficult to refuse the urging of their masters in Iran that have been providing them for years with money and the best rockets and support available. In such a situation, Israel would find itself under accurate fire for the first time and directed at the most strategic civilian installations throughout the entire country.  More directed fire of course would be aimed at valuable military targets such as emergency storage, Air Force bases and military headquarters.

–          If all of these are not sufficient enough indicate the limited effectiveness of an Israeli strike on Iran, a new player on the world scene has recently appeared who can change the rules of any game and he is only 28 years old. North Korean dictator Kim Jong , and his henchmen conducted a third nuclear test last month. According to foreign sources, Iranian scientists were present at the experiment which was designed to demonstrate to Iran the performance of their proposed ‘off-the-shelf’ bomb for sale. Korea is ranked 198th in the world for GNP per capita, and many of its 24 million people suffer from hunger. None of these facts could prevent an official North Korean spokesman from threatening the United States a few days ago with a ‘preventive’ nuclear strike against it. Korea, maintaining an aggressive and defiant line against the entire world, might certainly negotiate the sale of nuclear warheads to Iran. Some readers might wonder if so, why wouldn’t the Iranians not give in to supposedly heavy international pressure and even risk of attack should they decide to exercise this option and purchase a fully operational nuclear warhead. The answer is probably a cross between two reasons. First and foremost, there is the question of national honor and the need to refuse any submission to the dictates of the hated ‘Western infidel”. Outsiders will not understand this, but in the Middle East, as we have learned so well, national honor is a significant factor. Additionally, even if a principle agreement were to be signed with North Korea for the Iranian procurement of a nuclear warhead, there would be no sense in stopping the extensive Iranian program.  It is too versatile and so heavily invested in, making it more realistic to wait for the actual purchase or receipt of a warhead.

I wouldn’t downplay the Iranian threat, especially as it is accompanied by explicit statements about the coming destruction of the state of Israel. It does not matter who the next appointed President of Iran will be since policy and the rules of any game are dictated and determined by the countries religious clerics and its top religious institutions.

As extreme as they may be, these religious leaders do not suffer from total ignorance and they are well aware of Israel’s nuclear capabilities.  This includes Israel’s capabilities to respond and counter strike with all the diverse capabilities in its possession including Dolphin submarines. In short, it is important to shed light on the lack of effectiveness in an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. If such an attack should occur, it is far better that the Americans will do the job. Even if this were to occur, I believe that Iran will succeed in its bid to become a nuclear power in the coming years. If that were to happen, it is very likely that it will also renew the debate within Israel, whether the time is right to cancel all ambiguity regarding Israel’s’ nuclear policy, the same ambiguity expressed by every Israeli government until now.