Implications of an Israeli Attack on Iran
Would Israel risk losing American support and perform a preemptive strike on
Iran’s nuclear sites? Dr. Ehud Eilam discusses Israel’s strategy to thwart
the Iranian nuclear threat
Ehud Eilam | 2/10/2016
On September 22, 2016, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in
the UN that Israel would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. If Iran
beaches the nuclear agreement, the one from July 2015, Israel might attack
Iran’s nuclear sites before Iran produces a nuclear weapon. As a result, a
war might break out between the two countries, and then the United States
might not lend Israel full support, a matter the Jewish state would have to
consider in advance.
Nonetheless, it is possible that the Israeli government could conclude it
must take military action, despite the risk of losing American assistance,
albeit temporarily. Israel might assume it could initially manage alone,
banking on a later improvement of its relations with the United States, as
indeed happened after past crises between the two states.
Iran has been assimilating the S-300, an advanced antiaircraft missile.
Defeating it would require the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to train accordingly
and to update its equipment. The IAF has already conducted exercises
relating to this weapon system, in Greece. Russia has argued that the S-300
is a defensive system that wouldn’t put Israel at risk. Yet as Russia knows
very well – particularly following lessons from wars in the Middle East –
antiaircraft batteries can be used for offensive purposes.
The most famous example was the 1973 showdown, when Soviet antiaircraft
missiles, in both the Golan Heights and Sinai, protected Arab ground forces
when they attacked the Israeli lines. If Iran were to acquire a nuclear
bomb, for example, the S-300 would pose a problem for Israel in any
preemptive strike or retribution against Iran.
Some of Iran’s nuclear sites are heavily protected by natural or artificial
fortifications. In contrast to the American armed forces, it is unlikely
that Israel’s military could inflict heavy damage to Iran’s nuclear
infrastructure. Israel would also be seen by many as the aggressor, although
it is Iran that is planning to produce a nuclear weapon and is threatening
to destroy Israel.
Thus, Israel’s goal would be to point out the danger the Middle East faces
because of Iran’s nuclear project. The international community might
intervene, in order to avoid a future war between Israel and Iran, which
would be far more destructive if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons.
Israel might, therefore, hope that as a result of its strike, Iran would
come under substantial pressure to dismantle most of its nuclear
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has had to prepare for a future war by
improving its active and passive defense. This factor would play a key role
since Iran’s retribution would be based on several hundred missiles that
could hit Israel. Iran could also initiate terror attacks against Israeli or
Jewish targets around the world. It is possible, however, that Iran would
restrain itself to avoid becoming entangled in a war when the timing was
wrong for it. Iran faces other challenges, both internal and external, such
as fighting the Islamic State. It thus might choose to postpone any
confrontation with Israel, while focusing on rebuilding its nuclear
infrastructure following the potential Israeli raid. There is a risk,
however, for Iran that Israel would attack again.
This article is based on Ehud Eilam’s article: “Israel in the Face of
Evolving Security Challenges,” the Middle East Review of International
Affairs, Vol. 19, No. 2, Summer 2015