War: what is Israel talking about when it talks about hitting Iran’s nuclear program


Almost a year ago, IDF leader Aviv Kohavi took the stage at a conference by the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv and announced that he had ordered the military to start preparing new plans for a strike against Iran’s nuclear program.

“Iran may decide that it wants to move towards a bomb, either secretly or provocatively. In light of this basic analysis, I ordered the IDF to prepare a number of operational plans, in addition to the existing ones. We are studying these plans and will develop them over the next year, ”Kohavi said.

He added: “The government will of course be the one who decides whether they should be used. But these plans must be on the table, existing and prepared for. “

This is exactly what the IDF has been doing since then, with the Air Force and military intelligence in particular preparing for such an operation, stepping up training exercises and focusing enormous resources on collection. information, respectively. Billions of additional shekels were poured into the defense budget specifically to prepare strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

And over the past year, Israeli officials have repeatedly repeated these calls for what they describe as a “credible military threat” to Iran’s nuclear program, in speeches, press conferences, media interviews. and private meetings with allies, arguing that such is necessary in order to gain influence in the ongoing negotiations with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.

By its own estimates, the IDF is still at least months away from being fully prepared for such a strike, although officials say a more limited version of its plans could be implemented sooner.

An Israeli F-35 fighter jet takes off during the Blue Flag military exercise in October 2021 (Israel Defense Forces)

But these discussions have generally focused on the strike itself on Iran’s nuclear facilities, an operation which would indeed be far, far more complicated and difficult than any conducted by the IDF, including its raids on the Iraqi nuclear reactor. in 1981 and that of Syria in 2007.

In each of these missions – Operation Opera and Operation Outside the Box – a single sortie containing a relatively small number of fighter jets carried out the bombardment. But unlike these two cases, Iran does not have a nuclear facility that a group of planes could destroy in a single strike, but many facilities spread across the country, so that would require levels of coordination. extraordinary to ensure that all sites were affected at the same time.

What further complicates the task is the fact that many facilities are buried deep underground, making them virtually impenetrable to air attacks, especially the Fordo reactor, where Iran has recently started to enrich with air. uranium at 20% purity levels with advanced centrifuges, in the latest violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The United States has the massive anti-bunker munitions needed to strike such facilities – the 13,600 kilograms (30,000 pound) GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) – but Washington has so far refused to supply it to Israel, not that Selling the insanely heavy bomb in Jerusalem would do much good because the Israeli Air Force does not have a plane capable of carrying it, nor even the airfield infrastructure to support the plane who could carry it.

(To circumvent these limitations and demonstrate the seriousness of a threat of Israeli attack, some current and former officials in the United States launched the idea of ​​selling or leasing to Israel one of the three American heavy bombers capable of carrying the MOP – the B-52, B-1 or B-2 – although this is met with a number of legal and logistical issues. challenges, as the B-52 and B-2 are both banned for sale under the United States’ new START treaty with Russia and the B-1 may also not be fully capable of containing the MOP in its bombs.)

Illustration: A US Air Force B-1B bomber, left, flies over the Korean peninsula, South Korea, with a South Korean F-15K fighter jet, Sunday July 30, 2017 (Ministry of Defense South – Korean via AP)

Iran has also invested heavily in its air defenses, both purchasing advanced systems from Russia and developing its own domestically produced capabilities.

But while the complexities of such an operation should not be overstated, they are ultimately problems that can be solved with sufficient time and resources.

While Israeli officials are willing to discuss efforts to overcome these challenges and develop the capabilities necessary to carry out such a strike, what happens next is usually ignored, which is far more important.

In 1981 and 2007, there was no immediate retaliation from Iraq and Syria, respectively, although Baghdad’s response came a decade later – to some extent – with its Scud missile attacks against Israel during the First Gulf War. This should not be the case with Iran, several Israeli defense officials told The Times of Israel.

For decades, Tehran has formed a number of proxies across the region, the most formidable of which is Lebanese Hezbollah, a terrorist group with an arsenal of rockets, missiles and mortar shells that equal and exceed even many western states. These foreign proxies are intended to isolate Iran from attacks by its enemies. Namely: Israel cannot attack Iran if it is busy fighting rocket fire and Hezbollah invasion attempts from Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia could not attack Iran either. he was facing the Houthis in Yemen.

Hezbollah fighters stand atop a car mounted with a fake rocket, as they march through a rally to mark the seventh day of Ashura, in the southern village of Seksakiyeh, Lebanon, in this photo of October 9, 2016 (Mohammed Zaatari / AP)

The IDF strongly believes that this network of proxies would be put to use against Israel if it carried out a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. And Israeli projections of what a war against Hezbollah and allied militias in the region is like are baffling: thousands of projectiles rain down on Israeli population centers, hundreds dead, severe damage to infrastructure and key services. public decommissioned.

This is not to say that Israel would never carry out an attack on Iran for fear of an attack by its proxies, but that any decision to do so should be weighed not against the military’s ability to conduct the operation, but with the potentially devastating prospects of what would follow the raid.

“The military option must be on the table. This is, of course, the last thing we want to use, but we don’t have the luxury of not preparing for options, ”Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday, in an on-camera interview with the Ynet information site. .

Jerusalem’s concern is that an Iran armed with nuclear or even nuclear weapons could act with even greater impunity in the region, arming its proxies and rooting deeper in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. .

But Israeli officials were reluctant to set a specific condition under which he would carry out a strike. This is due, in part, to the fact that considerations lie not only in Iran’s capabilities, but also in the balance between the threats Israel faces and Israel’s ability to counter them.

When asked whether enriching uranium to the 90 percent purity level – generally considered “military grade” – would trigger an Israeli attack, Gantz declined to comment on Thursday.

Left to right: IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a military exercise in northern Israel on November 16, 2021 (Amos Ben- Gershom / GPO)

“I don’t like to put red lines so that afterwards I can come and explain myself [if I didn’t uphold them]. We follow the Iranian process every day. There will be a time when the world, the region and the State of Israel will have no choice but to act, ”he said.

The Israel Defense Forces has made progress in preparing for the multi-front war likely to follow a strike on Iran, organizing a number of large-scale exercises simulating such a conflict in recent months and investing approximately 1 billion shekels ($ 315 million) towards training for next year. The military is also working to improve its air defenses, especially in northern Israel, in a bid to avoid the worst damage caused by rocket barrages and drone strikes in a future conflict.

But the propensity of Israeli officials to discuss the technical aspects of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities belies the real calculation involved in deciding whether to carry it out: it is not about the strike, but about the strike. ensuing war.


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