Why It Will Be Very Difficult For Israel to Attack Iran

Despite all the hoopla of late that Israel seems determined to strike Iran within the coming months, those who have been keeping up on the issue realize that Israel has little capability to do any serious damage. 

Israel’s best weapon for the job, its GBU-28 bunker busters — of which it has about 100 — are capable of penetrating 100 feet of earth or 20 feet of concrete; not good enough for Iran’s deeply entrenched facility at Fordow. Even if Israel rained down several of these on the site, they would have to hit with pinpoint accuracy to blast a hole deep enough to do serious damage.

Further, Israel’s F-15I aircraft are the only jets they have that can carry these bombs, and each jet can carry only one. While they would have F-16I jets to escort them, most of Iran’s nuclear sites are out of range for both models, making mid-air refueling necessary. Israel only has about 10 Boeing 707 mid-air refueling tankers. Given the long range nature of the mission, limited refueling capabilities, and the number of jets it would take to do serious damage to Iran’s nuclear sites — Israel has 125 fighter jets combined — the mission would have to literally be flawless.

Additionally, Iran has an air force of its own combined with old but capable surface to air anti-aircraft systems. The last thing Israel wants is to have to spend a considerable amount of time inside Iranian air space, which it may have to do, given its limited range, payload, and refueling capabilities. If Israel is focusing its air power on nuclear sites, it may have little time to worry about making sure Iranian sorties can’t make it off the ground to engage them in old school dog fights. 

Lastly, the air space Israel will have to use may further cause problems for those countries Israel will wish it has as allies once the smoke clears. Of the possible routes, through Jordan and Iraq is the easiest. Otherwise, Israel could fly north to the Turkish border and east along it — something Turkey would likely vehemently oppose — or south and east across Saudi Arabia. This path may be the most politically volatile, since a Saudi nod to Israel to attack a Muslim country may be bad for Saudi public relations in the region, and more than likely incite terrorist attacks inside its borders by Iran and other radical groups. Saudi Arabia better be sure that Israel can finish what it starts, or the Kingdom will pay.

It is hard to process that Israel believes a strike is the best course of action given the circumstances. It no doubt realizes the consequences of failure, which there is a high probability of. Unfortunately, it seems there is simply no talking sense into a country that believes its very existence is threatened by a strong Persian state.

Photo Credit: IDFonline

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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