An Analysis of Israel’s Explicit Threat to Strike Iran

By Sean Osborne, Associate Director, Military Affairs

25 June 2008: For the past few days global media has been abuzz with the purposefully leaked news that Israel conducted a massive “dress rehearsal” for a strategic preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. This “dress rehearsal” reportedly involved a combined strike package of more than 100 Israeli Air Force F-15I Ra’am (Thunder), F-16I Sufa (Storm) strike aircraft, supported by KC-707 refueling tankers and heliborne SAR (Search and Rescue) troops in the eastern Mediterranean Sea extended to a distance equal to that required to reach the postulated primary Iranian nuclear infrastructure target set located at Natanz, Arak, Esfahan, and, possibly, the soon-to-be online Russian-built and fueled reactor at Bushehr.

It is apparent to this analyst that it was no mere coincidence this “dress rehearsal” mission was executed just prior to the anniversary of the daring June 7, 1981 IAF strike against the Iraqi Osiraq light-water reactor (Operation Babylon/Opera/Ofra). The obvious historical note to consider is that the Osiraq mission was originally scheduled to occur in October 1981 but was pushed forward due to several significant factors, not the least of which was the planned fueling of the Osiraq reactor in late October 1981. The delivery of Osiraq’s fuel rods was completed in the summer of 1981. This may be important because Iran announced on the same June 7, 2008 anniversary that the Bushehr reactor will go operational in October 2008 following the delivery of the Russian-supplied fuel rods. It is also a current assessment that Iran will have produced enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon core by the end of this year. Thus the totality of the message sent via the public announcement of this exercise is absolutely transparent.

As with the meticulous long-term planning and training regimen in the 1981 Osiraq strike, the IAF has been conducting even more meticulous planning and training missions this time around. Some training missions are reported to have been as distant as a complete round-trip transit of the Mediterranean Sea to Gibraltar and with other missions occurring over or near Italian, Greek and Turkish territory. The intensity of these training missions has steadily increased, culminating in the massive “dress rehearsal.”

Another historical perspective to consider in any analysis is the exchange of words between Israeli PM Menachem Begin and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Sam Lewis immediately after the Osiraq mission. Those words are a mirror image of what is being said at the highest levels of the Israeli government today.

Here is the text of that exchange:

USAMB Lewis: “I have to tell you in all honesty that I suspect some people in the White House will be pretty furious about this. Your weaponry was procured from us under the Arms Export Act, for purposes of self-defense only.”

Menachem Begin: “Self-defense? What greater act of self-defense could there be than to demolish Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, designed to bring Israel to its knees, kill our people, vaporize our infrastructure - in a word to destroy our nation, our country, our existence? Over these past months I’ve told you again and again, Sam, that either the US does something to stop that reactor, or we will have to.”

Unlike the conventional munitions used in the 1981 Osiraq strike an Israeli strike in 2008 against deeply bunkered Iranian nuclear facilities will almost of necessity require the use of BLU-113/GBU-28 penetrator warheads followed into the same hole by a tactical nuclear “bunker buster” weapon. The threat posed to Israel by Iranian nuclear weapons prudently requires that a strike to neutralize that threat utilize a combination of weapons from the Israeli arsenal most suited for that specific mission objective.

Barring an unlikely announcement from Iran concerning a cessation of its uranium enrichment activities and a full verification inspection of all its nuclear facilities, all there is left at this point to do is await the inevitable Israeli strike. This assessment reflects the unambiguous statement by former defense minister Shaul Mofaz: “If Iran continues its nuclear arms program — we will attack it. The sanctions aren’t effective. There will be no choice but to attack Iran to halt the Iranian nuclear program.

This analysis would be remiss not to mention that Israel also has exactly the right military commander to execute this mission. That commander is Major General Ido Nehushtan, a highly experienced combat pilot (A-4, F-4 and F-16) who developed some unique night-time operational capabilities for the Israeli Air Force. BG Nehushtan previously served as the head of IAF Intelligence, Air Operations, and the Planning Branch prior to assuming command as the IAF Chief of Staff.

Make no mistake; Israel will use all means at its disposal to achieve this end objective, and it has all the tools, skills, leadership and experience required for a successful execution of the mission.