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The necessity of thinking outside the box -The Israeli Iran nuclear attack scenarios
The Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman Center for Strategic International Studies) CSIS "Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development Facilities" has been out since mid-March- see here. Their conclusion was:
A military strike by Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities is possible ... [but] would be complex and high-risk and would lack any assurances that the overall mission will have a high success rate.
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz chose today to publish an analysis and digest of the CSIS report in an article by Reuven Pedatzur, "Here's how Israel would destroy Iran's nuclear program". We believe this is a thinly disguised attempt to underline the view of Ha'aretz that Israel cannot afford to undertake a unilateral pre-emptive attack against Iranian nuclear facilities and should follow the Obama appeasement line. The publication of the Ha'aretz analysis comes just before the momentous meeting on Monday between Israeli PM Netanyahu and President Obama, given the rising chorus of warnings from State Department, Defense and NSC officials against a possible Israeli action against Iran's nuclear project.
Toukan and Cordesman outline attack scenarios, a suggested flight path via Syria and Turkey to avoid crossing Jordanian, Iraqi and Saudi airspace, front-line IAF aircraft (F-15's and F-16's), requisite bunker busting, ordnance (GBU 27's and 28's), possible Israeli use of Jericho ballistic missiles and target characteristics for an Iranian nuclear facilities assault. At that, their scenarios are restricted to the heavily protected Natanz centrifuge cascade hall, the Arak heavy water facility and Isfahan research facility endeavoring to setback production of plutonium weapons by perhaps three to four years from a window of 2010 to 2013.
The Ha'aretz digest of the CSIS study notes the size of the possible IAF attack force and complicated logistics:
A strike mission on the three nuclear facilities would require no fewer than 90 combat aircraft, including all 25 F-15Es in the IAF inventory and another 65 F-16I/Cs. On top of that, all the IAF's refueling planes will have to be airborne: 5 KC-130Hs and 4 B-707s. The combat aircraft will have to be refueled both en route to and on the way back from Iran. The IAF will have a hard time locating an area above which the tankers can cruise without being detected by the Syrians or the Turks.
However, the Syrian nuclear bomb factory attack in 2007 demonstrated IAF mastery of ECM and the ability to knock out radar countrywide. The joint IAF Greek air maneuvers of last summer indicated the ability of the IAF to spook the Russian S-300 anti-air missile system and coordination with refueling tankers and air sea rescue heliborne units. See a related CSIS report, here.
While the Jericho III ballistic missiles cited in the CSIS report have the range, nuclear and conventional warhead punch to hit targets in Iran, they may not be as accurate as laser guided Typhoon class cruise missiles that the Israeli Navy has equipped with both conventional and non-conventional (nuclear) warheads. Those Typhoon class cruise missiles might be launched from the 800 ton Dolphin class submarines positioned in either the Eastern Mediterranean or the Arabian Sea beyond the Straits of Hormuz. The CSIS authors, Toukan and Cordesman estimate that 48 Jericho missiles would be required to take out the three key Iranian nuclear facilities.
The Jericho II and III ballistic missiles could also provide Israel with a wild card- an Electronic Magnetic Pulse (EMP) - attack on Iran's electrical grid and command and control net that would disrupt the entire economy, especially the nuclear development program. The Jericho III would carry a low yield nuclear warhead -less than 3 kilotons to be detonated in a low orbit of say 50 miles. The US conducted tests of an EMP back in 1962 with missiles fired from a Johnson Island test site-see here. There has been much chatter about the EMP threat to the US from Iran, given the latter's Caspian Sea exercises with Scud missiles and the findings of Congressional EMP Commission -see here. The collateral damage from an Israeli EMP assault on Iran might be destruction of satellites in low orbit in the vicinity of such an attack and the disabling of electrical grid complexes of adjacent Arab states in the Gulf.
As I have written the other non conventional option may be already in hand in Israel given its world ranked prowess in cyber-warfare- a hacking attack on the Power grid supporting the Iranian nuclear development facilities. That would have the benefits of targeting these facilities, the Revolutionary Guards command and control net, while avoiding the losses using conventional aircraft and missiles of the IAF conventional attack force.
As I said at the outset, conventional analysis would lead one to assess that Israel will have a daunting task confronting and destroying key Iranian nuclear development facilities. What is not discussed are non-conventional means of destroying key Iranian nuclear development sites. Ha'aretz in my view has chosen to emphasize the conventional scenarios for an IAF Iranian assault, for its own political agenda of appeasement of this existential threat on the cusp of PM Netanyahu's meeting with President Obama, Monday, May18th. Witness the conclusion of Ha’aretz author, Reuven Pedatzur:
Therefore, all the declarations about developing the operational capability of IAF aircraft so they can attack the nuclear facilities in Iran, and the empty promises about the ability of the Arrow missile defense system to contend effectively with the Shahab-3, not only do not help bolster Israel's power of deterrence, but actually undermine the process of building it and making it credible in Iranian eyes.