A senior Israeli security official this week dismissed concerns about an Iranian military response to a potential Israeli military strike on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, claiming that Israel would be able to withstand any counterattack.
Experts and some American lawmakers have said in recent weeks that the U.S. and its partners should hold off on piling more sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program and to reignite a diplomatic push to solve the stand off in the wake of the election of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani as the country’s new president.
But hawks in the U.S. and in Israel are calling for more pressure and increased sanctions anyway, arguing, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did during a meeting Wednesday with an American congressional delegation, that Rouhani is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” who just “wants to talk and talk and talk” while Iran enriches uranium (Rouhani, for his part, said this week that he is “seriously determined” to solve the nuclear dispute).
While U.S. officials believe Iran has not made the decision to build a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu claimed during Wednesday’s meeting that “Iran’s work and quest towards the achievement of atomic weapons not only continues, it continues unabated — it’s actually accelerated.”
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for international affairs, strategy and intelligence, agrees with Netanyahu. “Rouhani is charming, he is cunning, and he will smile all the way to the bomb,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post, adding that Iran faces only two choices: cease all uranium enrichment or face a military attack. When asked about the consequences of such a policy, Steinitz “shrugged” them off:
The Israeli intelligence minister said Tehran should hear from the United States and the international community that it has only two choices — voluntarily shutter its uranium enrichment program or “see it destroyed with brute force,” which he envisioned as “a few hours of airstrikes, no more.”
Steinitz shrugged at the possible consequences and said he could envision Iran firing “several hundred missiles” at Israel in retaliation, producing “very limited damage because we can intercept many of them.”
Numerous experts and former and current government officials have repeatedly weighed in on some of the more undesirable consequences should Israel or the United States attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. One such official, former Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan, has been particularly vocal. Here’s what he said one year ago on the subject:
DAGAN: An Israeli bombing would lead to a regional war and solve the internal problems of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It would galvanize Iranian society behind the leadership and create unity around the nuclear issue. And it would justify Iran in rebuilding its nuclear project and saying, ‘Look, see, we were attacked by the Zionist enemy and we clearly need to have it.’ A bombing would be considered an act of war and there would be an unpredictable counterattack against us.
But would the Israelis really be able to handle any counter attack by Iran and/or its proxies? While the Israelis have been able to take care of rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas militants courtesy of the Iron Dome anti-missile system, Kingston Reif, the Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, has said that “[a] full-scale conflict with Hezbollah and/or Iran would present far greater challenges than those posed by Hamas.” He continues:
[M]any of the missiles possessed by Hezbollah and Iran are faster and more accurate than Hamas’s rockets. Not only has Israel never had to manage a sophisticated battle with hundreds of incoming missiles with different ranges, but in a conflict Hezbollah and/or Iran would likely target Israel’s defenses in an effort to neutralize them. Longer-range Iranian missiles could also carry decoys and countermeasures designed to fool defense systems such as Arrow-3 that operate in the vacuum of space, an intractable problem to which there is still no solution.
Colin Kahl, a former top Pentagon official in the Obama administration and current Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, agrees, telling ThinkProgress that “Israel’s defenses against longer-range Iranian ballistic missiles have not been tested under real-world battlefield conditions.” Kahl added, “And whether Israel’s multi-tiered defense system would provide adequate protection against hundreds or thousands of Hezbollah rockets and missiles plus some volleys from Gaza and dozens of Medium Range Ballistic Missiles fired from Iran toward densely populated central Israel is an open question.”
Al-Monitor’s Barbara Slavin reported last year that “If Israel attacks Iran, the Israeli heartland could face retaliation from more than 10,000 missiles based in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, according to Uzi Rubin, the founder and first director of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization.”