Iran could Retaliate against Israeli Attack in Three Ways
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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.
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.