'Israel could attack Iran with missiles'

US think tank: Ballistic missiles hold lower political and operational risks.

jericho missile 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
jericho missile 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
A new report has assessed that Israel could use ballistic missiles to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, rather than air power. The report also warns that such action could trigger a response that would escalate to include the use of WMDs. Abdullah Toukan of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) wrote that Israel's use of Jericho III missiles to strike Iran's nuclear sites "could look much more feasible than using combat aircraft," because of the lower political and operational risks Israel would face in such an attack, since Iran still lacks an adequate missile defense system. Toukan estimated Israel would need about 40 Jericho IIIs for the initial volley, and cautioned that an Israeli-Iranian ballistic missile exchange would turn Jordan and neighboring countries into "Ground Zero." Of the possible routes for an air operation, Toukan presented a northern route hugging the Syrian-Turkish border as the least risky from an Israeli perspective. He described the central route - which would entail flying through Jordan and Iraq - and the southern route - through Saudi Arabia and Iraq - as too politically risky because of the chance those countries would refuse Israel the use of their air space and object to any overflights, as well as possibly compromising the mission. Though Turkey would pose a similar challenge, the report suggested the country could be largely avoided and that flights would be close enough to the border to be potentially presented as not occurring in Turkish air space. Syria, on the other hand, has no peace treaty that Israel could jeopardize by violating its air space, and the latter's ability to secretly attack an alleged Syrian nuclear site in 2007 shows that Israel has the ability to avoid detection by the Syrians. According to the 114-page report released Monday, based on publicly available information, Israel would have a major advantage in its air capabilities, since "what is known about the Iranian air defense system clearly shows how it has become largely obsolescent." After detailing the possible scenarios for an Israeli attack, Toukan warned of retaliation from Iran, which could include ballistic missiles headed toward Tel Aviv and military centers, as well as increasing terror attacks by proxy groups Hamas and Hizbullah. The exchange of ballistic missiles, he suggested, could potentially include WMD warheads. Other forms of retaliation could include increasing efforts to destabilize Iraq, supporting the Taliban against American-backed forces in Afghanistan, threatening US military forces and nearby countries that host them, such as Qatar and Bahrain, as well as possibly cutting off oil supplies. Toukan proposed that the US continue its plans for engagement with Iran to explore a gamut of regional issues. He also highlighted the importance of pressing for greater nuclear controls in surrounding countries, such as Pakistan and India. The CSIS report came out as IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was visiting Washington to talk to top US officials about Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and other regional threats. His visit came days after top American and US intelligence officials seemed to take contrasting views of the progress Iran has made in developing nuclear capabilities. However, Israeli officials here said the two countries were on the same page, a characterization US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen made in a recent interview. "We're in agreement and have been for, oh, the better part of the last six months or so. There was a time that we weren't, but we've actually worked pretty hard to understand where we both are," he told PBS's Charlie Rose. When pressed on whether Israel believed Iran was further along the path to nuclear weapons than the US, he responded, "Not by a significant degree." Mullen did, however, warn about the consequences of an Israeli attack, noting that American forces were stationed in the region and could be a target of reprisals. "What I worry about in terms of an attack on Iran," he said, "is the unintended consequences. It's the further destabilization in the region. It's how they would respond. We have lots of Americans who live in that region who are under the threat envelope right now." He added, "I worry about it escalating in ways that we couldn't predict. So that kind of option generates a much higher level of risk in terms of outcomes in the region, and it really concerns me."