Conflict & Justice

Is Israel's military capable of a successful strike on Iran?


Israelis wave flags as helicopters transporting Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and his family prepare to land at their home town of Mitzpe Hila following a landmark deal with Hamas which freed Gilad after five years of captivity, on October 18, 2011.



Media reports and opinion pieces in the Israeli press have debated the possibility of a pre-emptive military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities for weeks.

The media discussions over the likelihood of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran only increased following Tuesday’s report by the United Nations atomic watchdog, which stated that the Islamic republic was actively working to build a nuclear bomb.

Before the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report, Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak declined to state that active war plans were being drawn - but underscored that his country’s military would be prepared for such a strike if called.

“Israel is by far the strongest military force in the Middle East, and we will remain so for the foreseeable future,” said Barak. 

But could the Israeli military launch a successful attack on the Islamic republic? Some military experts have questioned the Jewish state’s ability to launch an effective strike against Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons-building facilities.

Richard Russell, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies in Washington recently told Bloomberg:

The Israelis actually have limited means of attacking Iran’s nuclear program... This is a very, very difficult problem for the Israelis, and it’s getting more and more acute.

Reuters reported that Israel's military could deploy everything from unmanned drones to elite foot soldiers to German-built Dolphin submarines armed with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles in any precision strike on Iran.

More from Tel Aviv: Israel reacts to Iran nuclear ambitions

Any successful Israeli attack would require up to 1,000 flights by military aircraft, according to retired U.S. Air Force General Charles “Chuck” Wald, who also spoke with Bloomberg.

That high number alone, said analysts, would stress the capabilities of Israel’s air force.

“The Israeli Air Force is capable of launching an attack on Iran and causing damage,” Yiftah Shapir, director of the Military Balance Project at Tel Aviv University, told Bloomberg. “It is far from capable of disabling the Iran nuclear program. That would take at least a month of sustained bombing. That’s not something Israel can carry out alone.”

Alain Rodier, an expert on military intelligence at a French think tank, recently told France 24 that Israel’s military would face several logistical problems by going into a fight with Iran on their own.

He called the Israeli military threat “empty rhetoric”:

First, the Israeli military would need to locate Iran’s nuclear facilities, which have been spread out all over the country. Several nuclear sites are believed to be buried deep underground, making them hard to spot. Israeli strikes are unlikely to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity and resolve the issue…They would only succeed in setting back Iran’s nuclear program a few years.