Nearly everyday, a different pundit expresses their opinion on when and why there is going to be an Israeli surgical strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities. In their analysis, they almost always exclusively look at Israel’s red line, and America cooperation as the deciding factor for an Israeli attack. Consequently (for more than three years now), they seem to think that a strike is almost always imminent. I am here to say that a strike is not imminent; in fact, I argue that a strike will likely not take place until 2014 at the earliest. Moreover, the likelihood of such a strike is largely not based on Israeli red lines, but other factors. Of course I could be wrong, and there is a strike tomorrow, but below I will present what I believe to be compelling reasons as to why a strike is a long way off.
Israel knows that any strike on Iran will lead to a strong response; a response that is largely predictable and as a result, plays a significant factor in Israel’s internal calculus. If Iranian nuclear facilities were to be attacked, Israel would almost certainly receive a barrage of missiles reigning in from Lebanon and Iran. It is unlikely that Hamas would join in, but some response from other parties in Gaza and possibly in Syria as well depending on the situation could be expected.
This is going to be supplemented by a significant increase in global terrorism; likely with large attacks aimed at Western targets abroad. Probably the first and only time I can ever say this, but fortunately Iran/Hezbollah are already trying as hard as possible to harm Israeli/Jewish targets with terrorist attacks (Iran has attempted to launch over 20 attacks against Israeli/Jewish targets in the past year) and a strike on Iran would not change much. This would have a much bigger impact on other countries such as America and Saudi Arabia as they are much more prone to an Iranian attack and will likely be targeted in such an event.
All of this information pretty much means one thing only, that there will be a Third Lebanon War. Unlike the Second Lebanon War where Israel was caught off guard and unprepared, Israel will know exactly when this war is going to start and be able to plan their strategy years in advance. As soon as one looks at a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities from this perspective, it becomes much easier to understand why Israel is not likely to attack anytime soon.
There are three reasons why Israel should be waiting as long as possible before they deem it necessary to attack Iran. They are: missile defence, the Syrian civil war and the Iranian economy.
Israel’s missile defence system has come a long way since its inception as demonstrated by Iron Dome’s impressive performance during Operation Pillar of Cloud. However, the threat of Hamas does not even begin to compare to the threat of Hezbollah and Iran. Presently, the technology is far from where it needs to be, and far from where it will be by 2014. As of now, Iran has around 300 Shahab-3 missiles capable of hitting anywhere in Israel. On the other front, Hezbollah has close to 5000 missiles capable of hitting anywhere in the country with payloads of up to 800kg with precise accuracy, in addition to their reserve of over 45,000 other types of missiles.
Although the Iron Dome has already been deployed and has a success rate of over 85%, it is very limited in its function. The Iron Dome has a maximum range of 70 km, however Israel is steadfast in its work to improve its range to 250 km. Moreover, there only 5 Iron Dome batteries in operation now and they can only protect limited areas. Within these limited areas, the preference is to protect strategic areas opposed to the civilian population; as stated by head of the Home Front Command Major Eisenberg “That means protecting power plants and the air force bases before the big cities”. Eisenberg predicted that Israel would need an additional 10 batteries to have Iron Dome effectively protect the majority of regions in the country; it will take two years until Israel has 10 more Iron Dome batteries.
The most important missile defence Israel has against Hezbollah is called David’s Sling, a technology that will not be ready until 2014 (or maybe late 2013). David’s Sling is meant to intercept medium range missiles, specifically dealing with the more lethal missiles of Hezbollah. Lastly, Israel has the Arrow missile system to deal with long-range missile threats (Iranian). Although different variations of the Arrow 2 have been out for years, Israel is developing a new version called the Arrow 3 to be released in 2016. Aside from being much more effective than its predecessors, the Arrow 3 can intercept a rocket before it enters both Israeli territory and the earth’s atmosphere, making it suitable for disarming weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
The Syrian civil war is extremely important for Israel. From Israel’s perspective, the longer the war wages on for and the more damage the Syrian-Hezbollah-Iranian axis faces, the better off Israel will be. There are three factors to consider here. The first is that if the Syrian regime no longer exists (or is extremely crippled), they would be less likely to participate in the attacks on Israel. As Syria has chemical weapons in addition to hundreds of B and C type Scud missiles; Israel would not want to tempt a mad men on his death bed with nothing to lose. Additionally, Syria serves as a conduit for Iranian weapon smuggling to Hezbollah. Without Assad in control of Syrian territory, Hezbollah will find it significantly harder to receive new munitions. Moreover, Hezbollah also stores a significant amount of their weapons in Syrian territory in order to prevent the IDF from attacking it; if Assad were to be out of power, Israel would have a much easier time destroying Hezbollah arms caches. A demonstration of how important Syria is to Iran and Hezbollah is that in 2010, the Netanyahu government reportedly offered the entire Golan Heights back to Syria on the condition that they loosen their ties to Hezbollah and Iran. Lastly, there are thousands upon thousands of Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers fighting in Syria. Every single day the fighting goes on, their numbers dwindle and their resources deplete making them a weaker force.
As time progresses, the Iranian economy continues to get worse and worse. Although sanctions may not deter Iran from their nuclear ambitions, they have had a monumental impact on their economy. Their unemployment rate has more than doubled, their currency’s value has been halved, they are on the brink of hyperinflation and their cost of living has risen substantially. The Iranian economy is extremely important because it has a direct correlation to the amount of resources the Iranian army has, their ability to be engaged in a prolonged war and their commitment and funding to terrorist groups (such as Hezbollah). Moreover, as sanctions become more severe, Iran will continue to become more and more isolated, making a potential conflict with Israel easier to stomach in the international community.
In light of the aforementioned factors, it becomes obvious why Israel would want to wait every possible day before they deem it necessary to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Of course, this is all dependent on Iranian action. If Iran decided to cross Israel’s reddest of lines tomorrow, then all of these factors would become meaningless and Israel would be forced to act regardless. However, Iranian action such as diverting much of their 20% enriched uranium stockpiles for research purposes has shown that Iran is trying to consciously avoiding this line.