Thursday, November 3, 2011

Israeli attack on Iran may be imminent

As Iran inches toward production of nuclear weapons, speculation is growing that Israel may be preparing to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Middle East observer Joel Rosenberg notes on his Flash Traffic blog that recent comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the Knesset, the Israeli legislature, may hint that Israel’s patience with diplomacy is coming to an end.

As quoted on Flash Traffic, Netanyahu said, ““If I had to summarize what will happen in our region, I would use two terms: instability and uncertainty.” He continued, “The collapse of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, the bloody incidents in Syria, the American forces leaving Iraq, the new government in Tunisia, the upcoming elections in Egypt and many other events – these are all expressions of the immense changes occurring around us. These changes can increase the instability within these countries, and the instability between countries….A nuclear Iran would pose a terrible threat on the Middle East and on the entire world. And of course, it poses a great, direct threat on us too….A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone. It must also include offensive capabilities, which is the very foundation of deterrence. We operate and will continue to operate intensely and determinately against those who threaten the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is ‘if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,’ and the second is ‘if anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands.’”

Rosenberg also cites an October 31 article on the Israeli news site which reports that the Obama Administration is pressuring the U.N. for new sanctions on Iran in order to preclude an Israeli strike. The U.S. diplomatic effort was prompted by an IAEA report that showed significant progress in the Iranian nuclear program.

Israel has ample reason to believe that Iran would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons to attack the Jewish state if it is able to produce them. Iran’s rhetoric has long stated its intention to wipe Israel off the map. Iranian surrogates such as Hezbollah and Hamas have been launching rocket attacks on Israeli cities with conventional warheads for years. These attacks led to the recent wars in Lebanon and Gaza as Israel sought to stop these launches.

Israel is widely believed to be responsible for covert attacks against the Iranian nuclear program over the past few years. These attacks include assassinations of leading Iranian nuclear scientists and a cyber attack on Iranian computer systems using the Stuxnet virus.

Israel successfully destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 that was the heart of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program. The attack involved an airstrike on the Osirak reactor outside Baghdad using F-16 Falcon fighter-bombers. The attacking Israeli force did not lose a single plane.

A similar attack on Iran would be much more difficult. Where Iraq’s nuclear facilities were concentrated around Baghdad, the Iranian facilities are dispersed around the country in at least nine separate locations according to a Congressional Research Service report. An attack on Iran would also require attacking planes to travel much farther, refueling from tankers in the air, and traversing several hostile countries, which would increase the risk of detection.

Israel reportedly tested a new long-range missile on November 2, 2011 that is capable of striking targets in Iran with a nuclear warhead. Using the new “Jericho” missile would eliminate many of the risks that a strike with manned aircraft would entail. A nuclear strike would be most likely to destroy the Iranian facilities, but would open Israel to world condemnation. A conventional missile strike would be far less certain, but might be coupled with a strike by manned aircraft.

A nuclear-armed Iran could conceivably threaten the southeastern United States as well as Israel. Iran has experimented with launching SCUD missiles from cargo ships. With a range of almost 450 miles according to the Federation of American Scientists, if SCUDs were launched from ships in international waters most of the large cities on the east coast would be within range and warning time would be minimal. A missile launched hundreds of miles off the Georgia coast could target Atlanta.

Iran also has a close relationship with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. In a move reminiscent of the Cuban missile crisis, Iran might base longer range ballistic missiles in Venezuela. Iran’s long range Shahab-5 and -6 ICBMs have a range in excess of 4,000 miles according to the FAS which would put most of the continental U.S, from Boston to Seattle with their range. The Shahab could be used for direct attacks on American cities or an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that could destroy much of the electrical grid across the United States, plunging the country into chaos.

Because of the secrecy surrounding the Iranian nuclear program, it is impossible to know with any certainty just how long it will be before Iran produces an operational nuclear weapon. The one certainty is that time is running out. If the Iranians are to be prevented from becoming a nuclear power, someone, most likely Israel or the United States, must take action soon. The choice may be between a conventional Middle East war in the short term or a nuclear war in the long term.

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