In an Israeli air force bunker in Tel Aviv, near the concert hall for the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, Major General Eliezer Shkedi might one day conduct operations of a perilous kind. Should the order come from the Israeli prime minister, it will be Shkedi’s job as air force commander to orchestrate a tactical nuclear strike on Iran.Speculating on the Israeli intentions of launching a pre-emptive on Iranian nuclear facilities seems to be a common theme for the Times. I am not really clear on why this piece wasn’t originally run in the newspaper’s predictions for 2007. In December 2005, the Times reported the Israelis had a plan and were currently in the midst for training for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilties. The Times speculated that an Israeli strike would occur around March 2006.
Two fast assault squadrons based in the Negev desert and in Tel Nof, south of Tel Aviv, are already training for the attack.
On a plasma screen, Shkedi will be able to see dozens of planes advance towards Iran, as well as the electronic warfare aircraft jamming the Iranian and Syrian air defences and the rescue choppers hovering near the border, ready to move in and pluck out the pilots should the mission go wrong.
Another screen will show live satellite images of the Iranian nuclear sites. The prime target will be Natanz, the deep and ferociously protected bunker south of Tehran where the Iranians are churning out enriched uranium in defiance of the United Nations security council.
If things go according to plan, a pilot will first launch a conventional laser-guided bomb to blow a shaft down through the layers of hardened concrete. Other pilots will then be ready to drop low-yield one kiloton nuclear weapons into the hole. The theory is that they will explode deep underground, both destroying the bunker and limiting the radioactive fallout.
The other potential targets are Iran’s uranium conversion facility at Isfahan — uncomfortably near a metropolis of 4.5m people — and the heavy water power reactor at Arak, which might one day be able to produce enough plutonium to make a bomb. These will be hit with conventional bombs.
In recent weeks Israeli pilots have been flying long-haul as far as Gibraltar to simulate the 2,000-mile round trip to Natanz. “There is no 99% success in this mission. It must be a perfect 100% or better not at all,” one of the pilots expected to fly on the mission told The Sunday Times.
The Israelis say they hope as fervently as the rest of the world that this attack will never take place. There is clearly an element of sabre-rattling in their letting it be known the plan exists and that the pilots are already in training. But in the deeply dangerous and volatile Middle East, contingency plans can become horrible reality.
NO nuclear weapon has been fired in anger since the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Should Israel take such a drastic step, it would inflame world opinion — particularly in Muslim states — and unleash retaliation from Iran and its allies. But Israelis have become increasingly convinced that a “second holocaust” of the Jews is brewing, stoked by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president and chief Holocaust denier, who has repeatedly called for Israel to be destroyed.
Western Europe and the United States have been trying to persuade Tehran to drop its nuclear ambitions, using the carrot of co-operation with a legitimate nuclear energy programme and the stick of UN sanctions. But they have had no effect.
As a result, Israel sees itself standing on its own and fighting for its very existence. It got a taste of what Iran was capable of during last summer’s war in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah, Tehran’s proxy troops fighting from bunkers secretly built by Iranian military engineers, humiliated the Israeli army and rained missiles into northern Israel.
Every Israeli government has vowed never to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. Ariel Sharon, when he was prime minister, ordered the military to be ready for a conventional strike on Iran’s nuclear programme. Since then, however, the Iranians have strengthened their nuclear facilities and air defences, making a conventional strike less likely to succeed.
ISRAEL’S armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran, military sources have revealed.
The order came after Israeli intelligence warned the government that Iran was operating enrichment facilities, believed to be small and concealed in civilian locations. Iran’s stand-off with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over nuclear inspections and aggressive rhetoric from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, who said last week that Israel should be moved to Europe, are causing mounting concern.
The Israelis having a plan and training for its implantation is not really news. Six months before the Times ran their piece, I quoted a Jerusalem Post report from July 2004:
"Israel has completed military rehearsals for a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear power facility at Bushehr, Israeli officials told the London-based Sunday Times. Such a strike is likely if Russia supplies Iran with fuel rods for enriching uranium. The rods, currently stored at a Russian port, are expected to be delivered late next year after a dispute over financial terms is resolved.
An Israeli defense source in Tel Aviv, who confirmed that the military rehearsals had taken place, told the paper: "Israel will on no account permit Iranian reactors - especially the one being built in Bushehr with Russian help - to go critical."
The source was also quoted as saying that any strike on the Gulf coast facility at Bushehr would probably be carried out by long-range F-15I jets, overflying Turkey, with simultaneous operations by commandos on the ground. "If the worst comes to the worst and international efforts fail," the source was quoted as saying, "we are very confident we'll be able to demolish the ayatollahs' nuclear aspirations in one go."
The source noted that the strike could be accompanied by an attack on other targets, including a facility at Natanz, where the Iranians have attempted to enrich uranium, and a plant at Arak, which produces heavy water.
I admit I have an incredibly low opinion on the current Olmert government in Israel. Recent events have shown that this administration couldn’t fight its way out of a paper bag without a bribe. At the same time, for the Israelis not to have a plan for a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be gross negliance on an unheard of scale even for the Israeli state. Furthermore, I can’t believe an old military hand like Ariel Sharon wouldn’t have had a war plan for an Iranian strike drawn up long before he won his second term as Prime Minister.
Are the Israelis training? No doubt about it. Will the Israelis launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities? Who really knows? But I would suggest this; Olmert is in absolutely no position politically to launch a pre-emptive strike. If you were Olmert; how likely would you to give a green light to launch a major military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities with any plan approved by Minister of Defense Amir Peretz and to be implemented by IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz – the chief architects of last summer’s Lebanon fiasco?
Not bloody likely, unless the plan had the full backing of the current US Administration, and after last summer’s adventures in Lebanon; I’d say the odds of the US Bush Administration giving even a token promise to watch your back if the strike goes south are highly suspect. Olmert is no Ben-Gurion or Begin. He’s more like the Israeli Jimmy Carter. I think it’s a safe bet that the Mullah’s can sleep relatively easy at night until the Israelis change governments.
What I would really like to know is; how much truth are there to those pesky rumors that Israeli commandos were training on the ground from Western Iraq and are they still deployed there, and if so, in what capacity?