Small Wars Journal

Why Israel Will Attack Iran

Sat, 04/07/2012 - 8:36am

I’ll save you the suspense. Israel is going to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.

Of late, many have been discussing the virtues, challenges, risks, and potential consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran. Depending who you ask, a preemptive attack is an absolute necessity, the lesser of two evils, unwise, or reckless. Unfortunately, no well-informed and intellectually honest individual could say that they know the right course of action. There are rational arguments on all sides of this debate, but I’m not going to discuss why I think Israel should or shouldn’t attack. I’m going to tell you why they will attack. It’s already a done deal. 

First, Israeli leaders believe that a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and the Israeli public agrees. 90% think Iran is building nuclear weapons and 43% of the country support a military strike. Israeli leaders genuinely believe that they have a responsibility to keep the Jewish people safe and take a threat of this magnitude very seriously. The phrase “Never Again” isn’t just rhetoric and Israeli leaders aren’t just posturing when they say that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.

Second, Israeli leaders know that world powers will not stop Iran. Israeli warnings have been ignored for a decade. The sanctions being imposed now may have had an impact, if they had been instituted ten years ago when Israel first sounded the alarm. For the Israelis, it’s too little too late. By time sanctions take full effect in July, the Iranian nuclear program will be so deep underground that even the world’s most powerful munitions may not be able to reach it. The Israelis know that the US is not going to attack Iran. The US fears an increase in Iranian-sponsored attacks on US forces in the Middle East more than they fear a nuclear armed Iran. Israel knows that it is on its own.

Third, Israeli citizens are willing and able to face the repercussions of an attack on Iran. The Israeli public has demonstrated tremendous resiliency in the face of daily missile and terror attacks. Even though Israelis rightly expect that thousands of missiles will be launched from Lebanon and Gaza, Hezbollah and Hamas might not attack. Hezbollah and Hamas know they will pay a heavy political price for instigating devastation on Lebanon and Gaza just to please Iran. Both terror organizations have restrained themselves over the last five years because they each lost power and influence after the last time they picked a fight with Israel. They know another attack on Israel will further diminish their power at home. In any event, Israeli leaders aren’t letting concerns about a Hezbollah and Hamas retaliation impact their decision because they know the Israeli public will endure the repercussions of a strike on Iran.

Fourth, Israelis like proving that every challenge can be overcome. As with Iran today, many experts believed that Israel could not destroy the Iraqi Osirak nuclear plant. It was deemed too far and complicated given the distance and Israel’s resources. Israel gleefully proved them wrong. Syria used one of the world’s most sophisticated anti-aircraft systems to protect its secret nuclear facility. In 2007, Israel essentially found the defense system’s off switch and destroyed the facility in minutes. Iranian facilities are highly distributed and much better protected than anything the Israeli military has encountered before, but Israeli planners will come up with an innovative solution to the problem. They always do. Only time will tell if it works, but Israeli leaders will believe that success is possible and that will give them the confidence needed to authorize IDF commanders to strike. 

Fifth, Israeli security depends on a strong deterrence. Israel makes the price of attacking it so high that its enemies think twice before attacking again. This deterrence is the reason why Arab nations stopped conducting all-out wars with Israel. In 1973, when Israel overcame the surprise attack and decimated the Arab armies, the Arab nations finally understood that attacking Israel was a pointless exercise. This is why Sadat came to Israel and signed a peace agreement. Hamas and Hezbollah have been restraining themselves since their last fight with Israel. A successful attack on Iran – especially if it also includes successful operations against Hezbollah and Hamas – will significantly strengthen Israeli deterrence. Israeli leaders also recognize that they have been talking about the Iranian threat and Israel’s readiness to preemptively strike for years. If Israel does nothing and Iran builds a nuclear weapon, the Israeli military will appear weak. Israeli leaders believe inaction will lead to a surge in attacks from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and perhaps even Egypt and Jordan.

Israelis see the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat, they know that the world community will not stop the Iranians, they believe they have a way to accomplish the mission, they see themselves as being prepared for the backlash, and they think that the price of failing to act is much higher than the price of taking action. For these five reasons, Israel will attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. Given the timelines leaked to the media, it looks like Israel will strike soon - most likely in the next three months.

Categories: Israel - Iran

About the Author(s)

Adam Harmon has served with Israeli Paratrooper and Special Operations units since 1990. As an expert on the Middle East, Harmon has participated in premiere US military war games, briefed the US defense community on counter-terrorism best practices, and been a guest on dozens of NRP, CNN, and Fox programs – including Larry King and Hannity. He is the author of Lonely Soldier, which details his experiences with the Israeli military between 1990- 2003. His next book, Unstoppable: Making Success Inevitable by Adopting the Core Principles of the IDF, will be published by Penguin. 

To learn more about Adam, visit: or



Thu, 09/06/2012 - 7:54am

*2)Israel intends America to do the real heavy-lifting when it comes to de-nuking Iran, and this by*

Israel doesn't intend to "de-nuke" Iran because that's impossible - there is nothing that can be destroyed that can't rebuilt in redundant, hidden and bunkered form. No degree of military force short of occupation can stop Iran getting nuclear weapons, or even provide more than a short delay.

If Israel strikes, it will be for other reasons - because war will serve the interests of the current government, for example, or because Israel strategic thinking has collapsed into melted jello, and Israel will seek a pointless task for conventional forces rather than face up to its critical but less tractable problems.

(Also: I'm guessing you're a big Jack Vance fan?)


Thu, 09/06/2012 - 3:45am

1) Harmon's essay was originally published in SWJ, April 2012. He predicted an Israeli attack on Iran w/in "3 months". Didn't happen. Why? Because

2)Israel intends America to do the real heavy-lifting when it comes to de-nuking Iran, and this by

3)making sure the (from the Zionist viewpoint) somewhat unforthcoming B. Hussein Obama loses to absolute neo-Con stooge Mitt Romney in the November US election. That in turn requires

4)a sustained spike in oil/gas prices for no more than a few weeks leading directly into that election. So

5) Israel will attack Iran sometime in September/early October. NOT to destroy Iran's nuc program - which as many comments here have pointed out, is beyond Israel's capacity - but to provoke Iran into closing the Hormuz Straits...which in turn will

6) force US intervention initially on behalf of dollar stability (w/o which, the US debt-Ponzi economy itself will collapse), an intervention which will then escalate - via a Romney victory - into a complete US take-down of Iran and its nuclear program. This, at any rate, is Netanyahu's real plan. Whether it'll work on not depends on other factors, in particular, the attitude of Iran's Russian and Chinese backers. I'd say the whole situation is starting to look a lot like 1914. Hope I'm wrong.


Wed, 09/05/2012 - 1:58pm

To give an idea of why Creveld's opinion of the contemporary IDF, like that of most independent observers, is so low -


junior officers (company grade) are required to perform duties that in more traditionally organized armies would be performed by sergeants. Leading a small combat or reconnaissance patrol would be an example. As a result, a non-reserve infantry or tank company in the field consists of people who are all about the same age (19-22) and commanded by a captain in his mid 20s. What is missing in this scene is the voice of grown up counsel provided by sergeants in their 30s and 40s telling these young people what it is that would be wise to do based on real experience and mature judgment. In contrast a 22 year old American platoon leader would have a mature platoon sergeant as his assistant and counselor.

- As a result of this system of manning, the IDF's ground force is more unpredictable and volatile at the tactical (company) level than might be the case otherwise. The national government has a hard time knowing whether or not specific policies will be followed in the field. For example, the Israeli government's policy in the present action in the Gaza Strip has been to avoid civilian casualties whenever possible. Based on personal experience of the behavior of IDF conscripts toward Palestinian civilians, I would say that the Israeli government has little control over what individual groups of these young Israeli soldiers may do in incidents like the one yesterday in which mortar fire was directed toward UN controlled school buildings.

In Beit Suhur outside Bethlehem, I have seen IDF troops shoot at Palestinian Christian women hanging out laundry in their gardens. This was done with tank coaxial machine guns from within a bermed up dirt fort a couple of hundred yards away, and evidently just for the fun of it. In Bethlehem a lieutenant told me that he would have had his men shoot me in the street during a demonstration that I happened to get caught in, but that he had not because he thought I might not be a Palestinian and that if I were not the incident would have caused him some trouble. I have seen a lot of things like that. One might say that in war, s--t happens. That is true, but such behavior is indicative of an army that is not well disciplined and not a completely reliably instrument of state policy. In my travels in the west Bank in March of 2008, it was noticeable that the behavior towards Palestinian civilians of IDF troops at roadblocks was reminiscent of that of any group of post-adolescents given guns and allowed to bully the helpless in order to look tough for each other. I think the IDF would be well advised to grow some real sergeants.

All in all, I think the IDF ground forces can best be described as specialized tools that reflect 20th century Zionist socialist and nationalist ideals, and which have military traditions that are in no way reflective of those of the United States. They can also be justly said to have been been fortunate in their enemies. The Jordanians gave them a run for their money in 1948-49. Hizbullah delivered a hint of the inherent limits in such a socio-military system in 2006

And the author of this was

Director, Human Intelligence Collection (HUMINT), June 1992-July 1994
In charge of world wide U.S. military collection of information necessary to American strategic and tactical
activities. Included world-wide command of all military, naval and air force attaches serving with U.S.
diplomatic missions as well as many other collection activities. These collection activities included all the
espionage assets of the Department of Defense


Wed, 09/05/2012 - 1:50pm

To further explore the awfulness of this article, contrast the picture its author paints against independent reality:


Leon Panetta, America's defence secretary, seems worried. He recently admitted that his own country's new bunker-busting bomb, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP, pictured above being dropped from a B-52), needs an upgrade to take on the deepest Iranian bunkers. But even that may not be enough, thanks to Iran's mastery of smart concrete.

To precis, Iran arguably leads the world in advanced concrete and its nuclear weapons program's bunkers may well be able to resist anything even the US can throw at it, let alone Israel. But in the Harmonverse, this key enemy capability isn't worth mentioning! This is typical of the poor quality of the Israeli officer corps and its increasing proclivity to denial of reality. Israel's military has only ever succeeded in the relatively simple (if sometimes brutal and dangerous) task of defeating some of the world's least competent conventional militaries, most of who only ever made half-hearted attacks as political gestures. Ensuring Israel's longterm security is a vastly greater problem, requiring realism, an intelligent appreciation of the capabilities of other actors, flexibility, and the courage to make genuine concessions where they are needed.


Wed, 09/05/2012 - 9:51am

This article can be mined for historical absurdities:

*Fifth, Israeli security depends on a strong deterrence. Israel makes the price of attacking it so high that its enemies think twice before attacking again. This deterrence is the reason why Arab nations stopped conducting all-out wars with Israel. In 1973, when Israel overcame the surprise attack and decimated the Arab armies, the Arab nations finally understood that attacking Israel was a pointless exercise. This is why Sadat came to Israel and signed a peace agreement.*

The Egyptian attack on Israel was far from decimated. In fact, the reasons why it led to a peace agreement where that its very success gave Sadat the political capital needed to make peace, that Israel was scared into being realistic, and that the US was scared into opening its pockets to the Egyptians.


Wed, 09/05/2012 - 9:47am

*Fourth, Israelis like proving that every challenge can be overcome. As with Iran today, many experts believed that Israel could not destroy the Iraqi Osirak nuclear plant. It was deemed too far and complicated given the distance and Israel’s resources. Israel gleefully proved them wrong.*

Was it this sort of logic that got the Israelis's asses gleefully kicked by Hezbollah? Actually, yes. And let's not mention their gleeful invasion of Lebanon that was designed to end the PLO and which resulted in the creation of a PLO state. More, it says something that the collpasing standards of the modern Israeli military that Osirak can be unquestioningly cited as a positive example:


Professor Richard Betts of Columbia University is one of America's leading experts on nuclear weapons and proliferation. He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to the CIA and the National Security Council. Here he is writing in the National Interest in 2006:

Contrary to prevalent mythology, there is no evidence that Israel's destruction of Osirak delayed Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The attack may actually have accelerated it.

...Obliterating the Osirak reactor did not put the brakes on Saddam's nuclear weapons program because the reactor that was destroyed could not have produced a bomb on its own and was not even necessary for producing a bomb. Nine years after Israel's attack on Osirak, Iraq was very close to producing a nuclear weapon.

Here's Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School and an expert on weapons of mass destruction, writing in the Huffington Post in May 2010:

The Israeli attack triggered Iraq's determined pursuit of nuclear weapons. In September 1981, three months after the strike, Iraq established a well-funded clandestine nuclear weapons program. This had a separate organization, staff, ample funding and a clear mandate from Saddam Hussein. As the nuclear weapons program went underground the international community lost sight of these activities and had no influence on the Iraqi nuclear calculus.

And here's Emory University's Dan Reiter, an expert on national security and international conflict, writing in The Nonproliferation Review in July 2005:

Paradoxically, the Osiraq attack may have actually stimulated rather than inhibited the Iraqi nuclear program. The attack itself may have persuaded Saddam to accelerate Iraqi efforts to become a nuclear weapons power. . . Following Osiraq, the entire Iraqi nuclear effort moved underground, as Saddam simultaneously ordered a secret weapons program that focused on uranium separation as a path to building a bomb.

Israeli right wing politicians and military leaders are increasingly showing signs of Boydian mental disintegration - a state where they are increasingly seperated from moral, intellectual, and finally physical reality. Sometimes I think the only hope for the poor devils who live in the place is a coup by the remaining sane state entities - which seem to amount to Mossad and the people who maintain public parks.


Wed, 09/05/2012 - 3:34pm

This is appallingly poor writing and thinking. To attack just the opening:

**First, Israeli leaders believe that a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and the Israeli public agrees. 90% think Iran is building nuclear weapons and 43% of the country support a military strike.**

1. The author does NOT know what Israeli leaders think unless he is a telepath! He knows what they SAY, and equating the two is ridiculous. Israeli leaders have a host of reasons to pretend to be more concerned with Iran than they necessarily are - to get concessions from the US, to increase leverage negotiating with Iran, to rally support at home, to distract from violence against Palestinians.

2. If the Israeli public could really be said to agree that "a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat" then wouldn't more than a minority support a military strike? Unless the ill-defined term is used to mean "something that COULD threaten Israel's existence, theoretically, at all" rather than a **likely** threat to Israel's existence.

As George Orwell said, people who can't write clearly usually can't think clearly either, and it is signifcant that support for a strike against Iran is strongly localized among this group of the fuzzy thinking, self obfuscating and chronically bewildered.

3. Even the idea that the majority of Israel's leaders *say* that they want a strike is more than questionable. For example:


It seems to be only some of Israel’s top political leaders who are calling for a strike. Commentators Nahum Barnea and Simon Shiffer wrote in Israel’s biggest-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth: “Insofar as it depends on Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, an Israeli military strike on the nuclear facilities in Iran will take place in these coming autumn months, before the US elections in November.”

They later explain: “There is not a single senior official in the establishment – neither among the [Israeli Defense Forces] top brass nor in the security branches, or even the president – who supports an Israeli strike at the moment.”

So if an Israeli strike on Iran is such a transparently bad idea, why does Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keep threatening one? Many – including Israeli politicians – speculate that this posturing is simply a cynical ploy to try to influence the outcome of the US elections by trying to paint Obama as weak on defense.

Former Israeli defense minister and current Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz put it bluntly to Mr. Netanyahu, saying recently, “Mr. Prime Minister, you want a crude, rude, unprecedented, reckless, and risky intervention in the US elections. Tell us who you serve and for what? Why are you putting your hand deep into the ballot boxes of the American electorate?”


Thu, 09/06/2012 - 3:21pm

In reply to by IMO-SAMS Grad

Since someone has reopened this discussion, a word of advice, never accept the opinion of someone quoting the opinions of others as though the "beliefs" of others are fact or truth. Remember, all military historians and retired pontificating military types have their views, maybe correct, maybe not.

The first noted in these posts, not in the paper, is someone named Pat Lan, a self proclaimed all experienced retired Army SF Colonel who was the guiding light after of the Defense Intelligence Agency after his Army retirement the publisher of an blog called Sic Semper Tyrannis, the words spoken by John Wilkes Booth as he assassinated Lincoln. He advertises his opinions as though they are the opinions of the DIA, when in fact they are not. He is, however, self promoting at best.

According to him, he is the wisest of the wise about the Israeli military having accompanied it so often. A couple of his points showing the absurdity of his thoughts about the IDF.

It must be said, he assert, that they have typically been lucky in their enemies and that if they had faced more serious enemies, they would have had a much different experience than the ones they had.

Let's see the Israelis have battled the Iraqi Army -- you know that group whose soldier insurgents tied down and ran ragged the US Army in Iraq for how many years. Or maybe, the Lebanese, those individuals who drove the US military out of their country in 1981 after successfully penetrating the US Marine barracks and killing around 250 Marines and later did the same to about 50 or so French soldiers. Or maybe it is those Syrians, this government is currently afraid to enter into combat against.

Lang also notes that in 1973, on the Golan Heights the Syrians gave the IDF a very difficult time, forgetting that two Israeli tank battalions totaling about 1600 men stood alone against over 40,000 attacking Syrians. A friend of mine was one of those tankers -- their orders instructed they were allowed to conduct a fighting retreat to a designated line that would give reinforcing units (that would not be there for three days) space in which to organize. As he told me, when they reached that line, their orders were clear, no surrender -- period, no retreating off the Golan, and they were stand, fight, and die in place. Those 1600 men took heavy losses, but they held. I wonder how Lang would have liked to have made that stand with them and given them the benefit of his wisdom and combat experience -- before they shot him as a nuisance.

My favorite is his ridiculous comment that "The special operations forces are a small part of Israeli capabilities and are manned and maintained on a very different basis. In many ways they are more like a "SWAT" team than a military force."

You know, that Special Operations Group (Sayeret Mitkal) which raided into Entebee in 1976, as an example -- at a time when the US SOG attempts were characterized by disaster in Iran. Entebee, a larger raid over a further distance than that pulled off brilliantly by Seal Team Six in Pakistan recently. I guess those raids are SF Col. (ret.) Lang's idea of SWAT team operations.

Lang then claims to been with Israeli soldiers indiscriminately shooting Palestinian civilians, which from his other comments one would presume he believed would not occur if the active duty IDF had more career Sergeants like in the the US Military. The young IDF types would be more disciplined according to Lang.

How many time in Iraq and Afghanistan have Sergeants and their men in the US military been accused of randomly shooting civilians, tried. and some punished for those acts? Of course, one could also ask the alleged Vietnam SF Vet, where were the US Sergeants at My Lai, or where were the US Sergeants when their troops were widely using drugs and acting in an undisciplined manner during late Vietnam and fragging? Some NCO enforced control and discipline.

According to the above comments Creveld is the wise all and know all of Israeli military history and activities. He is not God, and like most historians has an opinion and often gives out mixed signals. He is not a fan of Clausewitz and believes, or at least believed, that we have / had seen the end of organized war, and that Israel should retreat back to the pre-June 1967 armistice lines because the IDF could never defeat the Palestinian terrorists attacking into Israel.

You know, those suicide bombers creating havoc in Israel during the Intifada. Read about any Palestinian suicide bombers making it into Israel anymore? I guess the IDF pulled off the impossible through the wall and their constant patrols in Palestinian areas. Maybe the IDF isn't winning the hearts and minds of the Palestinians, but they have stopped their terror attacks. How is the US military doing in Afghanistan stopping terror attacks on our forces? Do you really believe we are winning their hearts and minds?

While Creveld noted that the end of organized war had come onto the earth, he also later contrarily noted:

"the Second Lebanon War [w]as a strategic success for Israel and a Hezbollah defeat. He was also highly critical of the Winograd Commission's report for its failure to note the many successes brought about by Israel’s military campaign. He noted that Hezbollah "had the fight knocked out of it," lost hundreds of its members and that the organization was "thrown out of South Lebanon," replaced by "a fairly robust United Nations peacekeeping force."

He also noted that as a result of the war, Israel is experiencing a level of calm on its Lebanon border not seen since the mid-1960s.[10] More recently, in an article published in Infinity Journal in June 2011, titled "The Second Lebanon War: A Reassessment", Martin van Creveld argued that contrary to the common view, and despite "clumsy, heavy-handed, and slow" ground operations, the Second Lebanon War was a great victory for Israel. He states that as a result of the war, "since the middle of August 2006, all over southern Lebanon hardly a shot has been fired.

Sound like someone who thinks the IDF is a failure? Not really! How many years has the US been in Afghanistan, do we have the Taliban under control? Did our combined SF / B-52 (brilliant actually) attack on them convince them thereafter to sit quietly and stop attacking? Maybe had we hit (bombed) their civilian areas as much as the Israelis die in Beirut they would have been quiet today.

If you (IMO-SAMS Grad) read this, enough said, compare the multiple commentaries above with these facts. Do armies have problems, certainly. Are they organized differently in different countries, absolutely. Is the US model the best, not really. Every country is different and obtains its successes and failures using methods appropriate for its population and operating conditions as have the successful IDF, the NVA, and sometimes the US military, and in past history the Brits. Never take extractions from quoted sources and assessment by others at face value, do your own detailed homework.


Wed, 09/05/2012 - 9:33am

In reply to by IMO-SAMS Grad

You obviously haven't read Creveld's opinion of the contemporary Israeli military. It can be summarised as "They were never that good, but now what an awful shower." (There are definite minuses as well as pluses for the IDF as having one of the greatest living military historians as one of their citizens.)


Wed, 06/20/2012 - 4:35am

Wow!!!! What a lopsided article and I always thought that IDF had the best thinking minds. Proves that opinion wrong.


Wed, 09/05/2012 - 9:38am

In reply to by jjs110

The above is based entirely on untruths.

Firstly, the Iranians have never threatened to attack Israel. A'd's famous words actually translated to a commitment to end Israel as a Jewish exclusivist state, in the same way apartheidt was ended in South Africa. You might not like this, but it is not a nuclear death threat.

Secondly, the Israelis have started wars on multiple occasions - Suez, for example.

So in summary, not so much "get a grip" as "start telling the truth." Supporting Israel is fine, but basing a call for a war that will lead to a considerable number of deaths - including American ones - on lies is not.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 04/10/2012 - 2:47am

In reply to by jjs110

jjs110---just a quick response---to actually own nuclear weapons requires a country to fall under international inspection of those weapons something "Duh" Israel has never admitted to and or even allowed.

A country that "owns" nuclear weapons does not have to "issue any threats" against anyone with them---the ownership of them/perceived ownership is a solid enough "threat". In some aspects the odd concept of MAD does in fact work.

As some insiders have noted--outwardly Iran maybe erratic, but since even the Shah's time it has appeared to be erratic to us, and yet we supported the Shah. If I recall we supported Saddam/Iraq in their 8 yr war with Iran---maybe it is Iran that thinks we are the erratic ones. Do you think it was acceptable for the US to support Saddam during that war? Think about it before you respond---if you think it was alright then why in 2003 did we move on him after supporting him?

Many in the ME would challenge your comment that Israel is a rational acting country.

You still did not answer my comment of the killing by Israel of US naval personnel, the continued until today spying on US military/defense contractors by Mossad and the activity of Mossad inside Iraq which went counter to our interests from 2005 to 2009.

For years Soviet Jews coming from the former Soviet Union arrived by the hundreds in Berlin with falsified Exit documents and falsified documents indicating they were Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers in order to get high German support payments---when the German Government asked Mossad for assistance in stemming the false documents their response was "there are no Jewish crime syndicates working in Rome"---which was proved wrong after Interpol raids in Rome.

Think about it before one uses the term "get a grip". Some of us have been working ME problems before you were born.


Mon, 04/09/2012 - 4:24am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

To Outlaw 09: I'm always surprised that some people still ask this rather astonishing question. Why is there no discussion about Israeli nuclear weapons? Duh. Because they have never threatened anyone with them. That's why. They are not promising to wipe out Iran or any other country from the face of the earth like Ahmadinejad has been doing on a weekly basis for the last 5 years of more. So yes, Israel can have them because it's not threatening anyone and is a rational player, whereas no, Iran cannot have them because... well, it should be obvious enough by now given their erratic and unacceptable threatening behavior. How would you feel about Pakistan if its leaders had been threatening to wipe out the US for several years now? Would you question the US right to have nuclear weapons? Get a grip.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 04/09/2012 - 2:25am

Just a side comment to think about---why is there no discussion about the Israeli nuclear weapons---it seems this conversation is one sided. It seems to be about yes we can have them no you cannot have them--can anyone give me an answer to Why that is?

Still remember the Israeli attack on a US vessel costing us massive losses in US lives in an incident we the US did not start--you honestly think the State of Israel really cares about US security interests in the ME if they attack Iran?

Maybe in some aspects this is what the Israeli handliners really want-the simple fact is that Israel would not have to deal with any Arab state for the next 20 years if they attack-with the US having to carry the full load in human/financial costs--it is a valid thought.

Is it worth it from a US perspective?---some say that if the Israelis had been serious in discussions with the Arab world about issues that do intersect them we might not be at this point.

Plus another side comment---an attack would really cement the various AQ groups in the ME for years to come.

The AQ perspective if an attack is carried out--is one that we should give some thought to-as some are indicating that in fact rather than falling apart in some aspects their decentralization is becoming a strong point and they are slowly recovering-IMO

Rebonjour ADTS: To be candid, I am not knowledgeable on what book(s) are or are not good choices for open source material on the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osiraq reactor. I suspect “Raid on the Sun” is as good as any.

Having recently returned from Israel, it isn’t clear to me that Israel will accept Iran's attainment of a deliverable nuclear weapons capability, although just as it did in 1981, the public debate goes on, as it is reported it also is within Bibi's cabinet.

However, I think it’s fair to say the IAF has developed and exercised plans to attack selected Iranian nuclear facilities, and, although the likelihood of a successful attack ain't great, at some point they’ll have to make a decision whether to take that option, as time will take the option off the table...possible something Bibi may think Obama is stalling him on?

Have a fine Easter Sunday.

Rick - and actually, more or less anyone else; everyone seems very knowledgeable:

As long as I'm soliciting information, I regularly receive emails from Tel Aviv University - INSS detailing their research. Are there any other think tanks (in Israel or elsewhere) you'd care to highlight with respect to Osirak-related issues?

Thanks again,


You seem fairly knowledgeable about the attack on Osirak. I don't think any attack on Iran will resemble the attack on Osirak for a variety of reasons, but obviously there are good reasons to be familiar with what happened. I own Claire, "Raid on the Sun," and have pieces by CFR (Simon) and CSIS (Cordesman and Toukan) and in IS (Rass and Long) that reference the attack. Any other reading you recommend?



Sun, 04/08/2012 - 12:01pm

In reply to by Rick


Actually, the important difference is the path to a nuclear weapon - either uranium or plutonium. A plutonium-based program is more vulnerable to attack since it requires a reactor which is difficult to hide, easily attacked, and is the sole source for fissile material. The attack on Syria's al kibar reactor, for example, effectively ended Syrian ambitions. No reactor, no fissile material, no bomb.

Uranium is much more difficult, especially when enriched with centrifuges. Production of fissile material does not have to be concentrated in one easily-attacked location. Energy requirements are modest and cascades are relatively small and easy to hide. If you bomb a state's existing centrifuge facilities (ie. Natanz and Fordo), then the state can build more centrifuges and setup additional cascades in other locations. Unless one can effectively destroy existing centrifuges and the state's capacity to make more, then bombing a uranium-based program can only delay the inevitable. Is that within Israel's capabilities? In my judgment, no. The time factor for an Israeli attack isn't waning - it passed long ago. Iran's capabilities are, in all likelihood, already dispersed.

Entropy - The attack on the Osiraq reactor during the First Gulf War by Iran was only carried out by two of aircraft diverted for that was only handy and more likely meant to slow Iraq down.

Although at the time, there was no open source reporting that Israel was contemplating an attack themselves, they had been in intense international diplomatic negotiations over Iraq's nuclear program, to no avail. Just as they view the situation today.

Finally, as to how difficult attacking a known fixed intallation was or is, isn't the point. It was logistics: Israel had to detach fuel tanks from the aircraft to facilitate carrying the ordnance load needed, while also coming-up with the escort aircraft...the mission was scrubbed once that we know of prior to Operation Opera's final success.

Interestingly, the attack had consequences, in that countries saw they would have to harden and disperse sites in the future, which is what now adds to the complication of deciding what fixed installions are most important, since Israel can only launch one strike, with little margin for error...although their wild card may be their most capable submarine fleet.

Israel understands their time factor for any attack is wanning, as Iran further hardens its most important sites, putting them out of Israel's capability. Israel further understands the Obama Administration would rather they hold-off before the November election, since the likely resultant soaring oil prices wouldn't be helpful for Obama's re-election campaign...but the weather now lends itself to an attack, and I'm not sure Bibi really trusts Obama, who may view the situation as one of containment, a luxury Israel doesn't have.


Sun, 04/08/2012 - 12:42pm

In reply to by Entropy

Salute Entropy: I must admit all I know about nuclear material is that I had a lensatic compass once that had some in it, making it glow, and will concede the technical to you. However, Israel also understands what you’ve stated, and further, that they only have a one strike capability. . .a limited one at that, even including submarine launched missiles, but may be willing to settle on only setting Iran’s program back temporarily until another solution is found.

Although I am not advocating for an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran, as I think in the end a good risk analysis would show nothing good will come of it for anyone. Israel often looks at issues within the context of the Holocaust experience, and may view Iran’s possible acquisition of a deliverable nuclear weapons stockpile as unacceptable, and take a risk for a short term gain?

Keep in mind, in 1981, Israel took everyone by surprise and there may be a lesson here: as long as the Israelis are talking, nothing will happen. It may be that when the rhetoric ceases, an operation is being executed. . .maybe it already has, but was scrubbed?

Tagging onto Mark Pyruz's comment, I think the author glosses over the difficulty of actually achieving success in a strike.

Osirak and al Kibar were easy because they were one target, requiring a handful of aircraft at a relatively close range. The Iranian program is much more dispersed and distant which is a huge complication for planners, but that isn't the main problem with an attack. The main problem is that Israel can only damage Iran's program, not destroy it. Iran knows how to build uranium centrifuges and that technology is easily hidden. Iran can build more centrifuges and they certainly would if attacked. So, in the best-case scenario, a tactically successful strike would only delay Iranian capabilities. What will Israel do in a few years when the program is reconstituted, better protected and hidden?

There are other problems with this essay. This is simply wrong:

<blockquote>As with Iran today, many experts believed that Israel could not destroy the Iraqi Osirak nuclear plant. It was deemed too far and complicated given the distance and Israel’s resources. Israel gleefully proved them wrong.</blockquote>

That's just not true. Israel, ironically, gave Iran intelligence and Iran bombed the reactor but failed. And complicated? An airstrike against a large, fixed facility is about as uncomplicated as one could ask for.

Secondly, an airstrike against Osirak wasn't publicly discussed at all - I just went back and look at the press reporting two years prior to the attack and a strike wasn't even hinted at. So who, exactly, are these "many experts" that declared a strike beyond Israeli capabilities?

Israeli silence was an advantage - it was thanks to such secrecy that Israel achieved not only tactical surprise, but strategic surprise as well. With Iran, Israel will achieve no strategic surprise and all of Israel's talk has made tactical surprise more difficult. If planners really had an "innovative" solution to the tactical problem then it wouldn't have given away strategic surprise and spent the last couple of years very loudly and obviously trying to get the US to do the strike for them. If there was an "innovative" solution the Israelis would have remained silent and we'd wake up one morning to news reports about it. If you have an "innovative" solution to a difficult tactical problem you don't screw yourself my announcing your intentions to the world. Iran isn't dumb - they surely have taken steps to insure the continuity of their program in the event of an attack.

<blockquote>A successful attack on Iran – especially if it also includes successful operations against Hezbollah and Hamas – will significantly strengthen Israeli deterrence. </blockquote>

And what about an unsuccessful attack on Iran? What will that do for Israeli deterrence? Israeli talk about an attack have done two things: 1) They've decreased the chances of a successful attack at both the tactical and strategic level and 2) They've put Israel in a position where it looks weak if it does nothing. Israel has already weakened its deterrence and put itself in a position where it will look weaker.

Ultimately this situation exposes the strategic bankruptcy of Israeli doctrine. It's not 1973 anymore and Israel cannot continually attempt to destroy enemy capabilities or inflict pain through military action in order to achieve what Israel calls "deterrence," which is, in reality, just kicking the can down the road. Mr. Harmon mentions Hezbollah and Hamas, two groups that, ironically, owe their existence to previous Israel attempts to establish deterrence. A strategy that temporarily weakens enemies only to create new ones or make existing enemies stronger in the long term is not a strategy for a safe and secure Israel.

I recently remarked on Peter Munson's blog that the recent SWJ article advocating civilian graduate business school (e.g., Harvard Business School) for developing disruptive thinkers in the military was a bit rah-rah, with respect to its admiration for capitalism. And I recently remarked, in response to the SWJ article putting forth reading selections by which to understand the Arab Spring, that I have perhaps been ornery and cantankerous on SWJ of late.

Well, this article is more rah-rah by at least an order of magnitude, if no more, except this time with respect to the qualities possessed by some nominal archetypal Israel, and hence I will not cease being ornery and cantankerous.

I would simply note three problems with respect this article.

First, Israelis society strikes me as fairly fractious - Sabras versus newcomers, Sephardim versus Ashkenazim, religious versus secular, to name just a few divides, in addition (perhaps) to socioeconomic divisions resulting from Israel's relatively recent turn away from its socialist origins and turn toward free market capitalism. Yet this author's article has no problem positing some ideal-type Israeli. Moreover, this ideal-type Israeli miraculously possesses a great abundance of admirable traits - up for a challenge, etc. This caricature simply does not square with reality, and acknowledgment of complexity and diversity is warranted.

Second, this article exhibits glaring omniscience when I think cautious concessions as to imperfect information would be more justifiable. The author professes to know how Israel's adversaries perceive Israel and Israeli policies (e.g., deterrence). Yet misperceptions regarding Israeli policy do not necessarily appear any less likely than in any other domain. I personally have been quite taken by Nasrallah's comment that he did not anticipate the reaction that would ensue after Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers, initiating the 2006 War. What other misperceptions, miscalculations and misunderstandings currently exist or may evolve?

Third, one should seek to understand the relationship of mass opinion to elite decision-making. Yet here there is a striking congruence between mass preferences and ultimate outcomes. It does not seem inconceivable to me that there are divides between "the public" and "decisonmakers" (to say nothing of divisions between decisonmakers - for example, not all former IDF commanders think alike or, indeed, get along; Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkhenazi* do not like each other, nor, it seems, do Ehud Barak and Meir Dagan* seem necessarily to be of the same mind regarding Iran and the bomb). Modesty when engaging in the Israeli equivalent of Kremlinology is called for, and for purposes of clarity of analysis, one should be explicit about the constructs one possesses and is utilizing when pursuing that exercise. Precisely who needs to think or do what for Israel to pursue a strike or set of strikes or wage an air campaign against Iran's WMD programs (and/or, say, to facilitate such a raid, attempts to destroy Iran's integrated air defense system)?

*These are purely illustrative examples; I recognize that Ashkenazi is, with respect to this decision, "out of the loop," and Dagan seems possibly to be attempting some form of complex end-around, utilizing his status and position to influence mass opinion, as well as perhaps American elites, in order to ultimate realize a second-order effect of influencing Israeli elite decision-making.



Sat, 04/07/2012 - 1:56pm

First, if the Israeli public is "willing and able" to endure an Iranian retaliation, then the Israeli government is failing to properly inform the public of Iran's capabilities and Israel's ability to defeat them. The selected media coverage of the Iron Dome's success in the last year helps inflate a false confidence in Israel's defensive capabilities; a similar one shared by the American military leadership about their own ability to intercept Iraq's Scuds with Patriot batteries. We haven't seen Arrow in use yet -- is the Israeli government willing to put this system to the test by betting the lives of their own people?

Second, Israeli security is not guaranteed by its deterrence capabilities. Israeli deterrence has failed at every opportunity in which Arabs and Palestinians perceive an advantage in actually attacking Israel. Arab countries have stopped attacking Israel because the old coalition that enabled those attacks no longer exist as a result of shifting global and regional political alliances. Having to repeatedly demonstrate Israeli military superiority through military operations only demonstrates that no deterrence credibility really exists.

Mark Pyruz

Sat, 04/07/2012 - 11:53am

At first glance, I was full of hope this piece would provide a perspective on the details of an IDF/AF attack on Iran, particularly when the author states "I’m not going to discuss why I think Israel should or shouldn’t attack."

But then what follows is simply a list of exactly that: why he thinks Israeli leaders think Isreal should attack Iran. The actual mechanics of the attack are not mentioned, nor the latest public poll result showing a majority of Israelis against an attack.

There's plenty of whoppers in this piece, as well, such as "Israeli planners will come up with an innovative solution to the problem. They always do." Where was the innovative solution to the Lebanese rocket artiller campaign during the 33-Day War? There wasn't one, and the Israelis were forced to accept a ceasefire and withdraw.

And then there's the myth of Osirak, which wasn't part of an actual progressing nuclear weapon program when it was bombed, but the attack prompted an Iraqi nuclear weapon program in earnest, thereafter.

So we're still looking for an Israeli advocate piece that puts forward a realistic assessment on the actual mechanics of an IDF/AF strike against Iran.

BTW: Uzi Rubin, Israel's missile expert has recently put forward a very sober minded assessment on Iranian SSM capabilities and the limitations of Israeli ABM systems. And former IDF/AF Commander Dan Halutz has publicly stated his opposition to an Israeli strike. These two individuals expertise lay within the realms of a potential Israeli strike, where Harmon's does not.

Maybe at some point, but I doubt there will be a strike before the US November elections.