In yesterday’s New York Times, the director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies and the former head of Israel’s military intelligence wing, Amos Yadlin, makes the case that if America does not give Israel a sure guarantee that it will strike Iran’s nuclear sites, Israel will be forced to act before its window of opportunity has passed. To make this case, Yadlin drums up the frightening specter of a Mid East nuclear arms race, as well as highlighting Israel’s previous achievements at surgical strikes against Iraqi and Syrian nuclear research facilities in 1981 and 2007, respectively. These past successes are equated to this new potential endeavor as both impossible tasks that were overcome by Israeli gumption and ingenuity. Such comparisons, while superficially pertinent, fail to meet muster when examined more closely.
First of all, the distance that Israel would be required to cover far outstrips the distance to Iraq’s Osirak reactor. This therefore, would require mid-flight refueling as well as additional fighters for protection of the tankers as laid out in a Feb. 19, 2012 analysis by Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times. In addition, the anti-aircraft capabilities of the Iranians are nothing to sniff at. When considering the potential targets’ deep entrenchment and fortifications, as well as the precision necessary by Israelis to successfully destroy these sights, it wouldn’t take much for the Iranian air defenses to thwart an Israeli airstrike. It quickly becomes apparent that even under the best of circumstances, this proposed ‘surgical’ airstrike will be an aerial fiasco waiting to happen.
Finally, there is the question of Iranian commitment to its nuclear program. Yadlin would have us believe that, like Iraq and Syria, the combination of one strike followed by aggressive sanctions will be enough to deter Iran from resuming nuclear development. I find this hard to believe. Iran’s desire for nuclear arms goes back to the latter years of the shah. 30 years of commitment that crosses all ideological lines within Iran suggests that a strike will not deter Iranians, even during austere times brought on by tough sanctions. Rather, it’s more likely such an attack will galvanize support for the regime.
Yadlin seems to be suffering from the delusion that the Israeli Air Force, given enough time to plan, can move mountains. Yet the reality is that Israel suffers from the same logistical constraints of any mid-sized military. We are in the endgame in regards to Iran’s nuclear quest, and it’s about time Israel recognizes this fact, and starts planning for what comes next.