A recent article published by the New York Times has clarified what an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities might entail from a military perspective. While many media sources have portrayed the military option as one readily accessible to Israel, the article suggests it is anything but. Factors such as the available routes, military options, and the capacity of Israel’s weaponry to inflict worthwhile damage on Iran’s nuclear facilities are among the topics of debate among defense officials.
In general, the Times article tackles the question of an Israeli attack in a holistic manner. The first problem the Israeli Air Force will face in its military plans is the route it plans to take to reach Iran. Before deciding upon the more practical issues associated with any strike, the question of whether the target can actually be reached takes paramount importance.
To decide upon a suitable route, Israel is forced to look at territories which present the fewest obstacles to the Air Force. Considering the number of opportunities available, the consensus seems to be that traveling through Jordanian and Iraqi skies will face the least resistance. Iraq allegedly possesses few defense systems, and U.S. forces are no longer present to interfere in a military operation. Even with a safe path, Israeli fighter jets still have a number of issues to resolve in any quest to successfully impede Iranian nuclear progress through military means.
The second problem for Israel lies in the manpower required to travel to Iran and to protect itself in Iranian territory. According to the Times article, Israeli F-15I and F-16I jets do not have the capacity to make the more than 2000 mile round trip, not to mention the extra “loiter time” required to hit the correct facilities and to fend off Iranian missile attacks. The Israeli Air Force will need a steady supply of tankers, planes to refuel those designated for launching offensives, and more than 100 fighter plans to protect the fleet. The article stresses how Israel may be hard-pressed to procure such sizable artillery for such a massive military operation.
Besides for Iran’s antiaircraft artillery, which is dated but still believed to be effective, the Israelis will also encounter trouble in Iran’s missile supply, which could inflict serious damage. Analysts caution that if the missiles do not strike in midair, they will on ground—on Israeli ground. This is part and parcel of the possible Iranian retaliatory strikes that have been heavily covered in the media. Most would say, however, that the impact of any Iranian missile salvo would be far outweighed by the production of a nuclear weapon.
For military analysts, however, there is no subject of more controversy than whether Israel has the capacity to wield significant destruction upon Iran’s nuclear plants. The Natanz uranium enrichment plant is presumed to be thirty feet underground, and the Fordo site is believed to equally difficult to penetrate. Israel has 5,000 pound “bunker busters,” but officials contend the efficacy of these weapons is anything but indisputable. The U.S. is currently at work on a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000 pound bomb which will presumably supersede the GBU-28s, the weapons currently in usage by both the U.S. and Israel.
Because so many questions surround rumors of an Israel strike, prominent defense officials have cautioned the Israeli government to think twice before making any moves.
“It’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran,” said chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey.”I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us.”
“A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve [Israel’s] long-term objectives,” Dempsey continued. “I wouldn’t suggest, sitting here today, that we’ve persuaded them that our view is the correct view and that they are acting in an ill-advised fashion.”
The Times article concludes with an incisive quote to portray the shortcomings of any possible Israeli intervention in Iran. “There’s only one superpower in the world that can carry this off,” the Times quotes General David Deptula, who previously served in the Air Force, as saying. “Israel’s great on a selective strike here and there.”
A follow-up piece in Haaretz provided an analysis of the Times’ report’s conclusions. Generally, while being empirically substantial, the article failed to present any new material, writes Anshel Pfeffer. “Today’s report in the New York Times on the tactical difficulties facing Israel if it indeed decides to strike, while being generally well-informed and authoritative contains little, if any, fresh information,” his article reads.
Pfeffer says it is already common knowledge that a one-time attack on Iranian soil will be challenging and not very effective. “There is nothing new about the fact that even the most optimistic planners and commanders in the IDF do not believe that Israel can completely wipe out Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” he writes. “Senior air-force officers have long been saying that ‘we will have to go back to Iran a second time, we have no illusion that we can delay their plans by more than two or three years.’”
The Israeli Air Force is also much more equipped than apparent in the Times article, Pfeffer adds. “There are a few, mainly isolated voices in the Israeli establishment who doubt the success of a large strike against Iran but the consensus is that while it would certainly would be a complex and difficult operation, it is well within the IAF’s capabilities.”
It remains to be seen whether Israel has the ability and confidence to launch a missile attack. Regardless, judging from the media analysis of the question, it is clear there are many delicate military questions now posed before Israel’s defense division.