June 1, 2008  

Pre-empting Iran

Israel’s operational intermediate-range ballistic missiles have a range of about 3,000 kilometers, or much more using fractional orbit delivery. He also stated that a single nuclear weapon is enough to destroy the Israeli state. That would require a thermonuclear weapon of impossibly immense yield.

There are three key issues regarding an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran: Should it do so, can it succeed, and will it? Every political and economic consequence of an Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran obviously would be undesirable. But if Israelis perceive a nuclear Iranian threat to be existential, as they virtually all do, then survival trumps all other considerations. Clearly, from an Israeli perspective, it should pre-empt Iran if all else fails, as it has. But can it? The IDF/SAF is, by far, the world’s most powerful regional tactical air force. The Israelis can generate more than 700 daily long-range F-16C/D/I and F-15 combat sorties. Unrefueled, these aircraft can strike targets out to a range of 2,000 kilometers. In a three-to-four-day integrated air operation, Israel could destroy Iran’s retaliatory military capability and all of its weapons of mass-destruction facilities — nuclear, chemical, biological and missile-related. Israel can pre-empt Iran. But will it, and if so, when? The decision to pre-empt will be made by an incompetent Israeli political-military leadership team. There is no assurance that it has the courage or knowledge to decisively act, even against a clear existential threat.

After pre-empting Iran, Israel likely will engage Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria in the West. The U.S. will be left to face Iran in the East, an Iran left without much of an air force or air defenses, but with asymmetrical military capabilities that negate much of the technological superiority of U.S. forces. Moreover, Iran initially will have the all important military initiative in the East.

The reality is that Brookes vastly underestimates Israel. Israelis, conversely, vastly overestimate U.S. capability. They have no idea of how weak the U.S. is in regional terms, how slow in response our reserves are, how difficult and time-consuming force projection is, and how small our deployable ground forces actually are.

If Israel pre-empts Iran, we face a “come as you are war” that initially will be very painful. Victory is ultimately certain but at a relatively high cost. Americans will quickly learn the difference between the illusion and the reality of power.

Kenneth S. Brower

Defense analyst

Delray Beach, Fla.