"An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is a risky and militarily-complicated endeavor, but within reach," says a leading strategic analyst, Prof. Efraim Inbar, who heads the prestigious Begin-Sadat Center at Bar Ilan University.
"Israeli ingenuity and determination could lead to a great operational and political success," opines Inbar, and the international responses "are likely to be bearable."
Israel's recent statements to the effect that it has the ability to strike and significantly damage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure reflect Israel’s "growing exasperation with the weak reaction of the international community to the Iranian 'charm offensive,' and a gradual realization that only military force can prevent the nuclearization of Iran," writes Inbar.
"Such an attack would require the capability to reach and destroy distant targets, while overcoming aerial defense systems. Yet the number of facilities that would need to be hit to deal a significant blow to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is generally overestimated."
Since the essential ingredient for building a nuclear bomb is uranium enriched to at least 90 percent, the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow must be taken out, he explains. The heavy water reactor at Arak – designed to produce plutonium, another fissionable material suitable for building a nuclear bomb – is not yet active but is also "a necessary target."
Inbar cites foreign reports according to which the Israel Air Force (IAF) has more than 400 fighter planes – more than most countries have – including the F-15I, one of the world’s most advanced planes, which can carry many precision-guided weapons over long distances.
The IAF also reportedly has a number of aerial refueling tankers that give its fighter jets the option to extend their flight range as far as Iran, and it has held exercises displaying this ability.
While the flight path to nuclear targets in Iran would cross over Arab countries, it is possible that these states would turn a blind eye or even cooperate with Israel, because the Sunni Arab world is very concerned about Iran attaining nuclear weapons.
Moreover, writes Inbar, the IAF has "a remarkable set of technological means that enable it to blind or paralyze air defense systems." He hints that reported IAF operations in Syria and Sudan "may be an indication of such capabilities." Iran "might have good air defense systems that could exact a price from the IAF, but it is unlikely that they could prevent the air force from conducting a successful attack," he estimates.
Regarding the ability to destroy underground targets, Inbar does not go into detail, but says that the US has provided Israel with bunker-buster bombs, and "it is likely that the Israeli military industries are also capable of developing and producing similar weapons."
"Iran’s ability to punish Israel is quite limited," he adds. Its missiles can "partially or perhaps largely" be intercepted by Israel’s anti-ballistic missile system, featuring the Arrow 2 missile. As for Iran’s allies on Israel’s borders, Hezbollah and Hamas – Inbar determines that "their full subservience to Iran remains to be seen". Even if they do act as Iran's proxies, "Israel has the military capability to invade the missile launching areas and limit the price they can exact from Israel’s home front."
In any case, he states, "preventing a nuclear Iran is an important objective that justifies Israeli losses."
The expectations for serious international negative reactions to an Israeli military strike on Iran are "greatly exaggerated," thinks Inbar, noting that Israel has attacked nuclear installations in the past, specifically in Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007), with few international repercussions.
"Many hypocritical denouncements are likely, accompanied by a private feeling of relief. Many countries, particularly in the region, are actually waiting for Israel to pull the nuclear chestnuts from the fire."
A decision by Israel to strike Iran would be a historic gamble, writes the expert. "Nevertheless, history, necessity, and common sense point toward an attack."