Striking Iran? Not Likely
Iran is a central pillar of evil in the Middle East, Central Asia and through Afghanistan to Pakistan. It threatens Israel in apocalyptic terms; arms and trains proxies that kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan; orchestrates plots to kill diplomats in the United States; murdered its own dissidents in Europe; undermines the elected government of Iraq; supports Bashar Assad's murderous rampage against Syrian citizens and Hezb'allah's rape of Lebanon. Making common cause with Castro, Chavez and Ortega, Iran works overtime to cause the US trouble in its own backyard. It exercises fearsome repression and barbaric punishment against its own people.
And, oh yes, Iran is building nuclear weapons capability.
Last week and this, Israeli and now American and British newspapers are full of Israel-will-strike-Iran stories. The Israel Air Force held training drills in Italy; Israel tested a missile that can reach Iran; the Israeli Prime Minister made a tough speech to Parliament; the Israeli Defense Minister went to London and the British are planning to help the US - or Israel; there is a new UN report coming; sanctions aren't working; time is running out. And more.
Put the two together -- Iran is awful and Israel is capable -- and you get an almost happy scenario in which Israel slays the Iranian dragon and the world, while it will have to denounce Israeli "aggression" as a matter of course, will breathe a sigh of relief.
Not so fast.
Certain types of military action against Iran might have made sense in context -- for example, bombing the training camps/depots on the Iranian side of the Iran/Iraq border to slow the infiltration of support for anti-American forces in Iraq. But there is no simple action, Israeli or otherwise, that will "take out" the Iranian nuclear capability.
There is no "Osirak option" as there was in Iraq against Saddam's French-built reactor in the early 1980s. That is because the Iranians, like the North Koreans, learned from Osirak that it is important to separate, bury and harden facilities and create redundancies wherever possible. One question that seems to puzzle analysts, given Iran's evident enrichment capabilities, is why hasn't it produced a nuclear weapon yet? Part of the answer is that there is no point in producing a single weapon that might prompt an attack by Israel or the U.S. when the goal is a small arsenal. Iran is unlikely to produce any until it can produce as many as it thinks it needs. That's redundancy.
Israeli intelligence has located a great many Iranian facilities related to nuclear projects, and knows who the scientists are and appears to know a great deal about the computer capabilities of the project. But that's a far cry from taking airplanes and bombs more than 1,000 miles over hostile terrain to hit some of them. And bombs it would be - the Jericho missile can hit a target in Iran, but can't eliminate the program or Iran's retaliatory capabilities. Even then only some of the targets would be eliminated and even then only after the Israeli Air Force eliminated the Iranian air defense system recently bolstered by China. Far from being a single-strike problem, it requires a large number of sorties over time.
In response to damaging/destroying only some part of Iran's nuclear-related capabilities, Israel would reap the punishment of being the aggressor.
Hezb'allah took the unusual step last week of detailing an operational strategy for attacking Israel (in retaliation for a presumed Israeli attack, Hezb'allah's Hassan Nasrallah said, claiming no intent to open hostilities). () Wild as some of the plan appears, including sending troops to occupy the Galilee, Hezb'allah's rocket and missile arsenal clearly has Iranian-provided resources that could make things difficult for Israel, including in its major cities. Assad may find it a useful diversion from his internal difficulties to launch missiles at Israel. Syria has spent years developing operational chemical and biological shells. Hamas will do what Hamas can do to join in the general chaos. And that is aside from Iran's own retaliation and certain censure from Russia, China, Europe and -- most likely -- the United States.
Nothing the Israelis have said and done of late is different from what it has said and done before. It was just over a year ago that Fox News carried a London Times story saying Israel had Saudi permission to overfly the Kingdom going to Iran and quoting Israeli security experts on the Saudi interest in getting rid of the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities -- even if it meant working with Israel. The Times pointed to potential targets in "the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the gas storage development at Isfahan and the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Secondary targets include the lightwater reactor at Bushehr, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium when complete." All of which are still standing.
Israel periodically sounds the alarm on Iran and makes the point that it will not be a sitting duck if and when the time comes. And on occasion, the Israeli government finds it necessary to demonstrate seriousness of purpose in public by testing a missile or flying Air Force exercises in Italy.
On the other hand, Israel can't show computer virus exercises but Stuxnet was the equivalent of a commando raid in the heart of Iran. Watch the ground, not the skies.
Shoshana Bryen has more than 30 years experience as a defense policy analyst and has been taking American military officers and defense professionals to Israel since 1982.