Unilateral Israeli strike on Iran would be disastrous
Israel would face the same limitations and uncertainties that exist for the United States in any strike on Iran's nuclear capabilities, with the added risks of having far less capacity than the U.S. military and the risks of being abandoned by its fragile alliances while setting off a regional war.
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Iran's ability to retaliate in the event of an attack today consists of three primary components. The first involves firing Shehab-3 missiles at Israel. This type of missile is still not precise, but it is likely to be effective against large targets. Iran has already explicitly stated that it will respond to an Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities by firing Shehab-3 missiles. Iran also has a small number of AS-15 missiles that it purchased from the Ukraine, and BM-25 missiles that it acquired from North Korea - both long range missiles whose range extends to Europe. For now, it appears that Iran is not capable of firing a large number of missiles at Israel, and Israel's Arrow missile defense system is capable of intercepting volleys of a small number of missiles. Thus, the damage that Iran's missiles would inflict, as long as they are not fitted with nuclear warheads, is limited. However, the capabilities of Iranian missiles could improve both qualitatively and quantitatively in the coming years. Iran also possesses a limited capability to strike at Israel from the air, though it is highly unlikely that it will use it. Iran has 24-36 long range Sukhoi-24 ground attack aircraft capable of reaching Israel, as well as limited ability to refuel in mid-flight.Nonetheless,Iran will find it difficult to carry out such a long range strike against Israel's air force and air defense system.The second retaliatory element is encouragement of Hizbollah to deploy its extensive rocket array, built in part by Iran itself, against Israel. This array, particularly the long range rockets, sustained some damage during the campaign in Lebanon of July-August 2006, and so far it is unclear to what extent it will be restored. It is reasonable to assume that Hizbollah still has the capability, even if reduced, to strike at Israel. At the same time, Iran is expected to encourage Palestinian groups to intensify their terrorist attacks against Israel.The third retaliatory measure is spectacular attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets outside Israel (similar to those Iran carried out in Argentina in the mid-1990s). In this context, it is also possible that Iran would strike at its own Jewish community.
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The United States would be viewed by most of the Muslim world and globally as complicit in any attack on Iran regardless of whether it took part in the actual planning or not. In order to effectively attack Iranian nuclear facilities, large numbers of Israeli aircraft would have to repeatedly transit the airspace of Arab nations for a period of days if not weeks. Iraq would be one of the most useful countries in providing air routes. Arab nations would publicly deny they had made their airspace available to the Israelis, but Iraq would find itself, because of geographic proximity, the least credible. According to Giora Eiland, the former head of the Israeli National Security Council, "Israel cannot carry out such a strike [against Iran] without coordination with the Americans so long as they 'are in Iraq.'" Indeed, even a casual glance at a map of the region would suggest he is correct. As the result of any attack, Iran would find its political standing strongly enhanced, and efforts to isolate Tehran diplomatically or economically would collapse.
In the end, a successful attack would not eliminate the knowledge possessed by the project’s scientists, and it is possible that Iran, with its highly developed technological infrastructure, would be able to rebuild the damaged or wrecked sites. What is more, unlike Syria, which did not respond after the destruction of its reactor in 2007, Iran has openly declared that it would strike back ferociously if attacked. Iran has hundreds of Shahab missiles armed with warheads that can reach Israel, and it could harness Hezbollah to strike at Israeli communities with its 50,000 rockets, some of which can hit Tel Aviv. (Hamas in Gaza, which is also supported by Iran, might also fire a considerable number of rockets on Israeli cities.) According to Israeli intelligence, Iran and Hezbollah have also planted roughly 40 terrorist sleeper cells across the globe, ready to hit Israeli and Jewish targets if Iran deems it necessary to retaliate. And if Israel responded to a Hezbollah bombardment against Lebanese targets, Syria may feel compelled to begin operations against Israel, leading to a full-scale war. On top of all this, Tehran has already threatened to close off the Persian Gulf to shipping, which would generate a devastating ripple through the world economy as a consequence of the rise in the price of oil.
A unilateral attack by Israel would also diminish the determination of the international community to challenge Iranian transgressions of its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty commitments, or to continue to support Israel. The Obama administration has left "all options on the table," but it clearly does not want a military strike. Key players in Europe, not to mention smaller powers in Asia, would view military action as undermining diplomatic and economic options to solve the problem. Russia and China'sresponse would be more hostile, jeopardizing Israel's growing political and economic relations with both countries. Regional reactions would also be negative, further inflaming anti-Israel sentiment in Arab nations. Iran has been losing ground with Arab populations disillusioned with its repression at home and its support for President Bashar Assad's brutal repression in Syria, but an Israeli strike could allow Iran to bounce back as it plays the victim and fuels popular hatred toward Israel. Likewise, Israel's relationship with key neighbors Egypt and Jordan, more beholden to popular sentiment in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, could be severely strained, putting at risk vital peace treaties. Any prospect of shared anti-Iranian sentiment forging quiet common cause between Israel and Arab Persian Gulf states or Israel and Turkey would dissipate. Israel has never been integrated into the Mideast. But Israel has rarely faced total isolation. When Israel has confronted Arab nationalist adversaries in the past (Egypt and Iraq), it had the non-Arab "periphery" to turn to (Iran and Turkey). When Israel perceived a rising threat from Iran, it turned to peacemaking with its Arab neighbors. Israel has not faced a strategic situation in which it is isolated from Arabs and non-Arabs alike, while at the same time facing growing international isolation.
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Referring to Israel, Iran’s Defence Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar noted that ‘The policy of the Islamic republic of Iran is completely defensive, but if we are attacked, the answer of the armed forces will be swift, firm and destructive’.79 Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, warned of a ‘crushing response if its nuclear and military facilities were attacked by the U.S. or Israel ... Israel will suffer greatly. It’s a very small country within our range.’80 The deputy commander of Iran’s air force, Gen. Mohammad Alavi, noted that ‘. . . We have drawn up a plan to strike back at Israel with our bombers if this regime possibly makes a silly mistake’.81 Ahmad Khatami, an authoritative Iranian cleric, declared that ‘Israel would face dire consequences if it makes the slightest aggression against Iran. They must fear the day (Iran’s) 2,000-km range missiles land in the heart of Tel Aviv.’ And ‘we have the power for a mighty response’.82
An Iranian adviser to the IRGC has been more specific: ‘Iran will respond to a U.S. attack with a military strike against Israel’s main nuclear facility. The Iranian retaliation against Israeli targets also would focus on Haifa, which houses several chemical factories and oil refineries, and Zakhariya, where an Israeli missile base is located.’83 Unsubstantiated reports maintain that since early summer 2007 Shahab-3 missiles have been targeted at Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility and American military sites in the Persian Gulf and Iraq.84
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Then, of course, there is the wild card question: Will the Israelis act militarily, much as they did against Iraq in 1981, if the United States does not? Israeli Prime Minister Ohlmert and other Israeli leaders have been clear in their public statements that Iranian possession of a nuclear weapon would represent an existential threat to the State of Israel and can not be tolerated. Yet, the military challenges for the Israelis to repeat the success of their attack on the Osirak facility in Iraq would be formidable. For one thing, the Iranians would naturally be expecting such an attack, and in all likelihood have already arrayed their air defenses accordingly. For another, there are much longer distances involved between Israel and Iran, meaning that this could well be a "suicide mission" for Israeli pilots unless they can somehow be refueled en route. Ultimately, however, the same military limitations and uncertainties exist for the Israelis as for the United States regarding the lack of certainty with regard to the location of the facilities, their degree of hardening, and the possibilities of collateral damage.
"Responding to a Nuclear Iran: A Defense Policy Perspective
." Syracuse Law Review
. Vol. 57. (2007): 457-. [ More (2 quotes) ]