« It's "Bibi" time again. | Main | OK, The same now for Pakistan-Israel »

01 April 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


This CSIS report should get you started:



A few thoughts:

*The Syrian route offers several advantages. There would be no embarrassment to 'friendlies' as would result from overflying Jordan. Overflying Turkey and Saudi Arabia would be more serious yet, as regional powers with advanced air defenses and little excuse for not responding. Israel has already publicly demonstrated (most recently in 2007) its ability to operate with impunity in Syrian airspace. Moreover the failure of Iran to help its Syrian ally in 2007 excuses any lack of response from Syria this time around. There might even be an added bonus of sowing discord between Syria and Iran with potential recriminations. The biggest downside I can see is the possibility that Syria could provide a few minutes of early warning to the Iranians -- if they were so inclined. Of course, this route still presents the problem of securing a wink and nod from the US with regard to overflying Iraq.

*The Jericho option would be an interesting way of getting past the overflight/shoot down risk. It would however be a bit galling for the vaunted IAF to admit its inability to pull off the strike. And I really don't believe Israel would use nukes. Together with the rather more provocative image of using ballistic missiles, I think this would be a last resort.

*The recent operation in Sudan -- the details of which are still murky -- is interesting. If nothing else it sets yet another precedent of Israel striking far abroad at whim -- with a US wink and nod.

*There are also reports that the Sudan raid involved large numbers of UAVs. Although targets such as Natanz would require heavier ordinance than UAVs carry, unmanned craft could play a big role and reduce the size of the strike package needed.


Petraeus today before Congress was somewhat disconcerting regarding a possible Israeli strike on Iran.


Petraeus Says Israel Might Choose to Attack Iran

.......Ken Katzman, a Middle East military analyst for the non- partisan Congressional Research Service in Washington, said Petraeus’s assertion on Israel “was extremely significant, particularly for what he did not say -- that the United States would act to restrain Israel or talk it out of conducting such a strike.” ......

Howard C. Berkowitz

I believe there is a more detailed one, but a slightly older, more narrative report came out of MIT: http://web.mit.edu/ssp/Publications/working_papers/wp_06-1.pdf

Unfortunately, I'm not coming up with the piece I once wrote about the Iranian-Israeli strategic nuclear balance, but it is interesting to consider the second-strike capability of Israel under various assumptions of number of weapons, allocation to launch platforms, and targeting. Even if one assumes a madman in Iran, it is interesting to run the numbers.

Now, if I were an Iranian madman -- not saying they are -- I'd be far more likely to be judging Israel's ASW/ASuW capability than its BMD. An underwater detonation in one or more suicide submarines, given bad prevailing winds, might be a lot nastier than what could be done with a limited number of ballistic missiles.


I'm going to make an appeal to authority argument here, based on my time in the Navy assisting in the development of air campaigns and support to contingency planning. I don't think you'll find much better than the CSIS analysis above from open sources. Of all the analyses I've read, it is the best and most closely resembles actual planning.

However, it still suffers from what I think is a significant flaw - it makes assumptions about target selection. It's clear Israel cannot strike every nuclear-related target in Iran, so for planning purposes, it must prioritize all the targets in accordance with the desired objectives. Different objectives mean different priorities which will change target list to meet those objectives. These analyses do not mention this at all and the target lists in them usually have little justification and seem based as much on assumption as anything else.

So the first question that needs asking is, what does Israel hope to achieve? A few possibilities off the top of my head:

1. Prevent a near-term breakout by Iran.
2. Destroy/degrade all/part of Iran's program, setting it back by some number of years.
3. Destroy/degrade Iran's delivery capabilities.
4. Some combination of the above.

Each of those objectives will produce differing priorities and therefore different target sets. Even within each category, there is not necessarily an obvious set of targets because there can be more than one way to skin a cat. Sometimes an indirect approach is better and focusing on a few key nodes can meet the objective just as well at reduced cost.

For example, the cascade halls at Natanz are on every target list for these analyses, but the facilities that actually manufacture the centrifuges never are, nor are the support facilities, R&D centers, etc. So Natanz would probably be a good target for objective #1, but might not be the top priority for #2 and would probably be a very low priority for #3.

So while the CSIS analysis is quite rigorous in most areas, the selected targets are based on unspoken assumptions which may or may not match reality.

Patrick Lang

Kieran et al

I think an Israel that would stage an attack on Iran would not shrink from the use of nuclear weapons.

"In for a penny, in for a pound..." pl

Mad Dogs

Back on August 3, 2008, I posted a comment here at SST with this included:

The following is an MIT Security Studies Conference April 2006 working paper entitled "Osirak Redux? Assessing Israeli Capabilities to Destroy Iranian Nuclear Facilities" by Whitney Raas and Austin Long.

It is a 34 page PDF and while it lacks the ICBM and Cruise Missile variations, it does spend a good deal of effort on the Aircraft Attack method with analysis of routes, the Iranian target sets, Israeli aircraft and weaponry to be employed, Iranian defensive capabilities (including aircraft and AAA/SAM strength) and the likelihood of success.


How many planes does Israel have in Georgia? (They were there seven years.) The only thing that left Georgia one month before Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia in 2008 were the Israeli officers.

Mad Dogs

Dagnabbit! I missed reading Howard C. Berkowitz's comment that already had the link I was posting.

Oh well...*g*


What sort of yield do their nuclear bombs have?



I think an Israel that would stage an attack on Iran would not shrink from the use of nuclear weapons.

And I think that such an attack could easily lead to the end of the Israeli nation.

First, the resulting carnage would turn world opinion against Israel instantly. Politicians believe in such silly ideas as "surgical nuclear strikes", but the reality of nuclear weapons is that their use cannot be made anything but ugly, and in the information age, that repulsive nature will be obvious to all, whether they care to see it or not.

Second, there are many kinds of WMD, and nuclear weapons are only the most difficult to design, develop, and deploy. Those geopolitical features that make Israel vulnerable to a nuclear first strike also make it vulnerable to other, simpler, forms of attack, and once Israel opens the Pandora's Box of attacking another nation with WMD, there will be repercussions, and Israel is particularly vulnerable to such responses.

Finally, use of nuclear weapons by Israel will result in the tacit admission that U.S. aid to that country is, and long has been, illegal. Obama sidestepped this issue in his first press conference, but in the aftermath of an unprovoked nuclear attack, that kind of political indirection will not work any longer.

And if people are angry about wasting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on Wall Street miscreants, I suspect they won't enjoy learning that they've wasted similar amounts arming a country that thinks its just fine to nuke its neighbors.

It's a dumb move, but then again, world history is chock full of dumb moves, so...


Given pl's in for a penny in for a pound what would world reaction be?

An unprovoked unclear first strike? America and allies may have been able to get away with attacking Iraq on unfounded suspicions of WMDs but it had a number of factors in its favour. Firstly Saddam was a first order tyrant, secondly it was a conventional attack and thirdly - and of much greater importance - the US was too powerful to be held to account for its actions anyway.
Toukan & Cordesman mentioned the the widely perceived application of double standards which some of the EU states have been abetting despite internal public opinion. While the US has been able to cover for Israel with SC vetoes etc. I doubt any country would even attempt to justify such a crime, apart for Israel and the US. If the US tried to claim justification or were shown to in anyway to have had foreknowledge and failed to warn or try and prevent the attack I suspect they would find they had less friends than North Korea.

Charles I

"So the first question that needs asking is, what does Israel hope to achieve?"

I think their preeminent desire is to just keep all pots boiling and as many people pissed off at the U.S. as possible, just as with their continuous series of peace talk-derailing provocations against the Palestinians ensure violent reactions that can be held up as a reason not to be. . . reasonable.

So long as Israel can point to an angry Arab or Persian bogeyman, they imagine, with good reason, that people will fall for the same old trick over and over, giving a free pass to new heights barbarity. Its what they do.


Here is another link
Would Air Strikes Work? Understanding Iran's Nuclear Programme and the Possible Consequences of a Military Strike
Dr. Frank Barnaby, with a foreword by Dr. Hans Blix, March 2007


This one come to the conclusion - based on a conventional rather than nuclear attack - that an attack may cause damage it would probably accelerate bomb development by changing plodding progress into Iran's raison d'etre. That assumes it was their intention to build a bomb in the first place and I think it same to assume regardless of their intention prior to being attack after an attack building a bomb would become a primary objective and using it would move up the agenda.


"what does Israel hope to achieve?"

5. Drag the US into a war with Iran.

robt willmann

Although Benjamin Netanyahu is a hothead, and his group just installed is probably more violence-prone than most, I think the probability that Israel will use nuclear weapons in a first strike on Iran is extremely low to zero.

Israel's use of nuclear weapons would guarantee hostility toward it by Arabs and Persians almost perpetually, and generate new hostility from other countries and people as well. It already has a bad "public relations problem" with its ham-handed attack on the Palestinians in the Gaza strip, and independent war crimes charges against Israelis over Gaza in places like Spain, with its magistrate system of criminal law and procedure, are still a possibility.

There is also the problem of nuclear fallout blowing into other countries, depending on the winds.

A nuclear attack on Iran is way outside of Israel's usual behavior and cannot be concealed by a ruse or disinformation. And Ehud Barak would put the kibosh on it.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu and Barak will do everything they can to deceive, trick, con, or intimidate President Obama into launching either a conventional or nuclear bunker buster attack on Iran.

If Obama holds firm against the U.S. doing it, then Israel may do a conventional attack, with the understanding that the U.S. will help it if and when Iran retaliates, or Israel may do the attack figuring that Obama will be politically sucked into helping defend Israel after the attack is over.

As has been mentioned in these pages and others, Israel does not have the military capacity and resources to do an effective conventional attack on its own. Thus, the Israeli plan will be to get the U.S. to do it and suffer the financial and human cost of doing so (as in Iraq), or to push the U.S. into finishing the job after Israel starts it.

But we should not ignore Russia or China in this calculation; not that they would get into it militarily, but they can cause problems in other areas, and might give Iran an early warning of an impending attack.

Some people theorize that Russia intentionally damaged or eliminated Israel's ability to use the country of Georgia as a jumping off point to attack Iran during Russia's military incursion into Georgia in 2008.



The laws of physics haven’t changed since 1945. Just because the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were large does not mean a bomb made today, even if it is a countries first, has to be the same size. Why would Iran need a suicide submarine? All they need to do is sail a couple of rusty coastal freighters, Iranian flagged, into the Med. On deck put a couple short ranged missile launchers, with the nose cones painted in yellow and magenta. They could conveniently paint the hulls with ‘warning, radiation’ in multiple languages. It would drive a few analysts to a heart attack. How could you know there were no nukes on board?

Of course my favorite is to just ship the Iranian ambassador to the U.N. a new Iranian made limo, with the special delivery packing in the trunk. Guess what city gets blown up after an Isreali nuclear attack on Iran. I’m sure, of course, that we never inspect diplomatic baggage…..

Mad Dogs

Pat wrote: "I think an Israel that would stage an attack on Iran would not shrink from the use of nuclear weapons.

"In for a penny, in for a pound..." pl"

A couple thoughts vis a vis your statement and the Anthony Cordesman CSIS study:

Given that the only Jericho‐III would have the range to target Iran, and given that it was in the devlopment stage until last year, if I were the Israelis, I would be extremely cautious in assuming it would work as the planned.

And given that the this Jericho - III has no real-world testing (i.e. no launches apparently), if I were the Israelis, I would be doubly extremely cautious as to whether it would land where it was planned.

So, if the Israelis somehow came to the conclusion that it was ok to go ahead and nuke Iran's nuclear facilities using nuclear-armed Jericho - III ICBMs, I'd have to be extremely worried if I were any person living within the entire circumference of the Jericho - III's range that the ICBM would go up, and then come down somewhere other than at the target point in Iran.

In short, nuclear-armed Israeli ICBMs falling all over the entire Mideast, including in Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Turkey, Greece, the Black Sea etc.


Few things missing from the CSIS report:

1. Russia has reactivate Syrian naval base (air defense will be whatever ship Russian navy feels like parking)

2. Iran has access to F-16 from Venezuela.

3. geopolitical change in Turkey. (much warmer to Iran and distancing Israel) And georgian airbase is not an option anymore)

4. Pentagon transfer of GBU-39 is not noted. (more of this can be loaded on a pylon)

5. Israel did practice run with Cypriot S-300 (It seems they change their mind afterward about large scale air attack.)

6. That strange israel Syrian attack. (The so called 'alledge reactor' followed by Bibi congratulation IAF for restoring air superiority.) Was it a test of new tactic to evade Syrian air defense?

Babak Makkinejad


I advise you guys to extend your analysis to target selection in Israel as well.

General Shmakhani - if I recall correctlty - has stated that "Israel will say good-bye to Dimona" in the event of an attack on Iran.

Should Israel use nuclear weapons I also advise you to consider the politcal settlement of the Levant after the (forcible) dissolution of the State of Israel.


Israel has nuclear bombs? I'm shocked, simply shocked.
"In for a penny, in for a pound..." pl
When will we be seeing the Pakistan-Israel range studies?


2002 report (nuclear inventory of 8 countries. fairly old, but convenient list)

Israel list of missiles (with various test dates listed)


Why isn't D.C. mandating that Israel put their over 400 nuclear arsenal (that is capable of delivery/hitting upon every major European city, Mideast cities, African and Asian cities) on the table for scrutiny? AIPAC 'hush money' perhaps?



What's the bets on the 'time frame' of a Israeli strike, the April 09 time frame perhaps? Remember that many feared a 'six months after being elected window' 'TEST' upon the new Obama administration, and April 09 is that six month window. Remember that the now VP Biden was one of those 'voices' citing a 'TEST' for the new Obama-Biden administration.

And will such a strike be the beginnings of WWIII that will progress/lead to a global conflict? There are several who see such a hypothesis highly probable.


As Anonymous pointed out above, Israel's best bet is to get Iran to attack the US to an extent that ties US hands and mandates a US counterattack. After that US policy is set for a generation and Israel is the indispensable ally all over again.

I don't think use of nukes is necessary for that. In fact it may be counterproductive.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
Blog powered by Typepad