Monday, June 8, 2009
There has been much speculation over whether or not the Israelis will attempt a repeat of their bold operation in 1981 against the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor, this time against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Operation Opera (מבצע אופרה, Mivtza Opera) was the surprise Israeli air strike against the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.
The question of whether or not the Israelis will attempt a repeat of their successful 1981 attack is actually twofold:
WILL they do it again?
CAN they do it again?
Israeli Courses of Action are predicated on strategic criteria – What specific developments in Iran will “trigger” an Israeli military operation? - and whether or not such an audacious operation can be repeated, over further distances and against a more tenacious foe.
If Iran acquires certain anti-aircraft systems – such as the Russian-made S-300 air defense system (seen below), the Israel Defense Forces may be unable to mount a successful attack against any Iranian military nuclear facility.
The advanced version of S-300 (SA-20 GARGOYLE) has a range of over 150 kilometers (about 100 miles) and can intercept ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes. This system would be an effective air defense against possible air strikes on Iran. The closest western equivalent of S-300 is the U.S. MIM-104 Patriot system or the U.S. Navy RIM-66 Standard Missile 2 (SM-2).
If unable to acquire the S-300 from Russia, Tehran may turn to China for the HongQi-9/FD-2000, a system similar to the Russian S-300 with elements “borrowed” from the US MIM-104 Patriot system.
There are also reports that Iran is buying Russian Pantsyr-S1E systems via Syria.
Challenges to Israeli operational planning include: the distance between Israeli military bases and proposed targets (almost twice the distance of the 1981 operation); the requirement to fly over hostile territory – Jordan and/or Saudi Arabia, and Iraq; and the dispersal of targets within Iran.
The distance requirement dictates an aerial refueling capability, which Israel demonstrated they possess. Israelis jets participated in a training event over Greece last summer regarded by analysts as a rehearsal for potential operations against Iran.
An option that overcomes distance limitations and overflight constraints would include sea-launched cruise missiles (from either surface or sub-surface craft). It is unknown if Israel possesses this capability.
The threat of attack from either Israel or the United States has underscored Iran’s quest for nuclear weaponry; as a countermeasure, the Iran has deliberately dispersed its nuclear program throughout their country. It is not known if Israeli intelligence has accurate intelligence on actual target locations within Iran.
The Israeli government recently stated it is not considering military operations against Iran. This may be a legitimate position. On the other hand such international diplomatic posturing may represent an attempt to achieve SURPRISE – “Deception can aid the probability of achieving surprise.” – US Army Field Manual FM-3 Military Operations.
One of the oldest dictums of War is that all other factors being equal, simplicity is to be preferred. Simplicity in this case dictates that Israel remains flexible in their military planning. In other words, any and all options remain on the table, right on up until those triggers are tripped, and the Point of No Return has been crossed.
STORMBRINGER Team mate Shepard of Northern VA assisted me in this analysis - S.L.