Friday, March 23, 2012


Might Iran Attack Israel?

What if the Iranians decide to attack Israel and blunt the Israeli counterstrike?

A quote from a critic: "I also obviously hold that the Iranian leadership is not so irrational as to start a nuclear war."

This assumption is at the nub of the attack argument, and lies between the sanity of some and the religious ferver of others in Iran’s government. Were I to set odds on the religious fanatics to carry out an audacious attack, it might rise to about 1 in 3. Were the Israelis to set the odds, I conjecture that it would rise to at least 2 in 3, based on their continuing antagonistic posture towards Iran, and their 8 to 7 vote for attack. (This is highly dependent upon the supply of modern missile systems to Iran from Russia over the next few years.)

There are a number of unknown unknowns here, among which is the possibility that Iran is not totally crazy in contemplating nuclear war against Israel, in that they have (or are developing) one or more weapons and one or more tactics that they feel confident can defeat the Israeli counter missile threat for the most part. So I will look at some of these possibilities as best I can, modeling my projections on current weapon developments in Russia in particular, since the Russians have supplied Iran with weapons.

1) Nuclear EMP weapons as an extension of their basic nuke capability. If you have nukes, you have the principal weapon basis for EMP. A few warheads and missiles would be needed, which could take a year or two.

2) A mobile missile system capable of a range of up to 175 km and 85,000 ft at Mach 6, with a homing infrared and laser guidance system. This is based on what the Russians have in service now in the S-300 ABM system and four S-300PMU missiles on a tracked vehicle. They are launched vertically, and guided until acquisition of the target by their homing infrared systems.

The idea of using this ABM weapon is to shoot down the Israeli nuclear missiles during the launch phase from positions just outside of Israel’s borders. We know that Iran has been requesting these advanced missiles for a while now from the Russians. If these tracked systems were to be deployed in Gaza, the Palestinian West Bank, Syria (who already possesses some S-300 systems!) and Lebanon, and perhaps in both Jordan and Egypt, they could cover just about all of the expected Israeli launch sites. Iran could well force this positioning in some cases.

Other S-300 missile systems could be deployed around key Iranian areas to defend against incoming missiles in their terminal phase, just as the Russians have done around Moscow. These missiles would catch the leakers from the EMP and launch phase shots.

3) The naval version is the S-300FM, and it can be vertically launched from destroyers and perhaps frigates, which Iran would have to purchase, which would take a few years to complete. It is unclear whether the S-300 can be or has been adapted to the two existing Iranian frigates, but there doesn’t seem to be any technical reason that they cannot be. A flotilla of 6 to 8 frigates could carry 8 missiles each for a total of possibly 64 missiles in box launchers. It is also possible to mount two of the S-300 box launchers on much smaller vessels, to swarm around in the Gulf. The idea here is to cover as much as possible of the launch areas of the two or three Israeli nuclear missile submarines, again to shoot the missiles down just after launch. (The tactic of shooting these types of missiles in pairs has long been the usual practice, and hit probabilities of .7 to .8 have been achieved against mach 3 missiles.)

4) Continued development of Russian S-300 and S-400 series of missile systems may well show significant improvements in the next few years. Perhaps Iran would share in these developments.

The Iranian scenario, which is easily 3 to 5 years away, would be to lay down an EMP field on Israel, and especially the probable nuclear missile sites, to disrupt the missile guidance systems, then to use the S-300s to hit any missiles that managed to launch anyway, followed by interception of incoming leakers. They would have to accept that some missiles would likely get through and cause massive damage. If the fanatics are in charge, this might well indeed be accepted. Meanwhile, at the proper timing, they launch both nukes and conventional weapons to destroy Israel.

The main conclusion I draw here is that if the Russians actually do supply Iran with large quantities of the S-300 ABM systems and training, say about 500 to 1,000 in some variation, over the next few years, not only does an Israeli air or missile attack on Iran become highly difficult and very costly, the same systems can be used to largely blunt an Israeli missile strike/counterstrike.

This possible procurement unfortunately raises the stakes for Israel once again in the direction of: attack now.

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