What Iran Can Do to Strike Back

Israel’s threats to bomb Iran have hinged on how much damage Israeli aircraft can inflict on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but another worry is how much destruction Iranian missiles can inflict on Israel, a danger that Israeli officials are downplaying, Gareth Porter writes from Tel Aviv for Inter Press Service.

By Gareth Porter

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been telling Israelis that Israel can attack Iran with minimal civilian Israeli casualties as a result of retaliation, and that reassuring message appears to have headed off any widespread Israeli fear of war with Iran and other adversaries.

But the message that Iran is too weak to threaten an effective counterattack is contradicted by one of Israel’s leading experts on Iranian missiles and the head of its missile defense program for nearly a decade, who says Iranian missiles are capable of doing significant damage to Israeli targets.

‘Iron Dome’ anti-missile site near Sderot, Israel. (Photo credit: Natan Flayer)

The Israeli population has shown little serious anxiety about the possibility of war with Iran, in large part because they have not been told that it involves a risk of Iranian missiles destroying Israeli neighborhoods and key economic and administrative targets.

“People are not losing sleep over this,” Yossi Alpher, a consultant and writer on strategic issues and former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, told IPS in an interview. “This is not a preoccupation of the public the way the suicide bombers were a decade ago.”

Alpher says one reason for the widespread lack of urgency about a possible war with Iran is that the scenarios involving such a war are “so nebulous in the eyes of the public that it’s difficult for them to focus on it.”

Aluf Benn, the editor in chief of Haaretz, told IPS in an interview, “There is no war mentality,” although he added, “that could change overnight.” One reason for the relative public calm about the issue, he suggested, is the official view that Iran’s ability to retaliate is “very limited”.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in Bloomberg on March 20 that “Some Israel officials believe Iran’s leaders might choose to play down the insult of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry gesture rather than declare all-out war.”

But Uzi Rubin, who was in charge of Israel’s missile defense from 1991 to 1999 and presided over the development of the Arrow anti- missile system, has a much more somber view of Iran’s capabilities.

The “bad news” for Israel, Rubin told IPS in an interview, is that the primary factor affecting Iran’s capability to retaliate is the rapidly declining cost of increased precision in ballistic missiles. Within a very short time, Iran has already improved the accuracy of its missiles from a few kilometers from the target to just a few meters, according to Rubin.

That improvement would give Iran the ability to hit key Israeli economic infrastructure and administrative targets, he said. “I’m asking my military friends how they feel about waging war without electricity,” said Rubin.

The consequences of Iranian missile strikes on administrative targets could be even more serious, Rubin believes. “If the civilian government collapses,” he said, “the military will find it difficult to wage a war.”

Rubin is even worried that, if the accuracy of Iranian missiles improves further, which he believes is “bound to happen,” Iran will be able to carry out pinpoint attacks on Israel’s air bases, which are concentrated in just a few places.

Some Israeli analysts have suggested that Israel could hit Iranian missiles in a preemptive strike, but Rubin said Israel can no longer count on being able to hit Iranian missiles before they are launched.

Iran’s longer-range missiles have always been displayed on mobile transporter erector launchers (TELs), as Rubin pointed out in an article in Arms Control Today earlier this year. “The message was clear,” Rubin wrote. “Iran’s missile force is fully mobile, hence, not pre-emptable.”

Rubin, who has argued for more resources to be devoted to the Arrow anti-missile system, acknowledged that it can only limit the number of missiles that get through. In an e-mail to IPS, he cited the Arrow system’s record of more than 80 percent success in various tests over the years, but also noted that such a record “does not assure an identical success rate in real combat”.

The United States and Israel began in 2009 developing a new version of the Arrow missile defense system called “Reshef” – “Flash” – or “Arrow 3”, aimed at intercepting Iranian missiles above the atmosphere and farther away from Israeli territory than the earlier version of the Arrow. The new anti-missile system can alter the trajectory of the defensive missile and distinguish decoys from real missile reentry vehicles.

Until last November, the Arrow 3 system was not expected to become operational until 2015. And that plan was regarded by U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) as probably too ambitious, because such a system would normally take a decade from conception to deployment.

But Xinhua news agency reported in November that Israeli Air Force officials said they expected Arrow 3 to become operational by mid- 2013, cutting even that abbreviated timeline for development of the system in half.

Nevertheless, the ability of the Arrow 3 system to shoot down an incoming missile still has not been announced, although an Israeli official said March 1 that such a test would take place after the meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In December 2008, Western intelligence sources were reported by Israel’s Ynet News as saying the improved version of the Shahab 3 missile had gone into production earlier that year and that Iran was believed to be able to produce 75 of the improved missiles annually.

Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, then IDF chief of staff, told a visiting congressional delegation in November 2009 that Iran already had 300 missiles capable of hitting Israeli targets, according to a U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks.

Those reports suggest that Iran now has roughly 450 missiles that can reach Israel, half of which are improved models with much greater precision. Even if only one-fifth of those missiles get through Israel’s missile defenses, Israeli cities could be hit by at least 100, most of which are able to hit targets with relative accuracy.

The Netanyahu government has sought to minimize the threat of Iranian retaliation for an Israeli strike against Iran in part by likening war with Iran to those fought against Hezbollah and Palestinian rockets in recent years, which have resulted in relatively few Israeli civilian casualties. That was the message that Israeli military officials conveyed to the Israeli news media after an escalation of violence between the IDF and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza earlier this month.

Columnist Zvi Barel of Haaretz speculated on March 11 that the purpose of the escalation, provoked by the IDF assassination of Zuhair al- Qaisi, the secretary-general of the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza, was to show the Israeli public that Israeli missile defense system could protect the population against rockets that the IDF linked to Iran.

Barel went even further. “After Iron Dome demonstrated its 95 percent effectiveness,” he wrote, “there is no better proof to Israel’s citizens that they will not suffer serious damage following an assault on Iran.”

The success of the Iron Dome against short-range rockets from Gaza is irrelevant, however, to what could be expected from a relatively untested Arrow system against Iranian ballistic missiles aimed at Israeli targets.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006. 

9 comments for “What Iran Can Do to Strike Back

  1. Riddel
    April 3, 2012 at 00:04

    Does anyone on this site know what a dirty bomb is .( not a question). Iran can do this now.( not a question)

  2. Judah The Lion
    April 2, 2012 at 20:14

    Herr Roger,

    This is especially for leftonazis like you;
    Never a peep about anti Jewish bias on this hypocritical site.

    March 27, 2012

    Who will stand up for the Jews of Toulouse?
    Dear Friend of FLAME:
    As you are no doubt aware, a gunman killed three children and a rabbi last week at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. The French authorities have now apprehended and killed this assassin, a young Muslim man they believe was trained by the Taliban and also had connections to al-Qaeda. Not only did the gunman drag one of his young victims around by her hair before murdering her execution-style, but he also filmed the attack.
    What continues to be appalling in the aftermath of this tragedy is the persistence of inflammatory and false reporting about Jews and Israel in the media. Recently a United Nations employee tweeted a photo allegedly showing a Palestinian child killed by recent Israeli air strikes in Gaza. The photo was a fake, actually taken more than three years ago. Once a retraction is issued and even if the employee is fired—as she should be—the impact on world opinion remains and the damage has been done. Israel and Jews are vilified once again.
    Even after the events in Toulouse, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Baroness Catherine Ashton compared the murders of four innocent Jews to “what is happening in Gaza.” Again, the requisite retraction of said statement occurred and naturally Ashton also subsequently strongly condemned the Toulouse attacks, but the damage of her initial comments remains—another public figure openly displaying her biased thoughts. What would her response have been if the situation were reversed—if a Jew had killed Muslim children? Would she have compared it philosophically to Palestinian murders of a Jewish family in the West Bank? Hardly. It is high time to call this form of bias what it is—pure anti-Semitism.

    In fact, any comparison or comment hinting that Israel may be targeting Palestinian children in Gaza is a form of anti-Semitism. A recent editorial in The Commentator succinctly points out the baseless nature of these claims:
    “Let us be clear. There has not been one single instance, ever, of the Israeli military deliberately targeting Palestinian children in a school in Gaza. Palestinian children have died in the overall conflict of course. But even that indirect responsibility lies with the people who have started all the wars, namely Palestinian terror groups such as Hamas.”

    These are very scary times in Europe, and we are scarcely 60 years removed from the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people. As the Simon Wiesenthal Center reports:
    • Almost a third of Europeans show significant levels of anti-Semitism
    • Over half of Europeans view Israel as “the greatest threat to world peace”
    • Traditional anti-Semitic stereotyping of Jews as a money-hungry, power-seeking minority remains strong
    • Anti-Jewish hate crimes, ranging from verbal harassment to vandalism and arson, and violence have become a fact of life across “the new Europe”
    As Holocaust survivor and author Eli Wiesel argues in this week’s FLAME Hotline, in the aftermath of the Toulouse tragedy perhaps the only truly effective response available to us is “to remain Jewish and do everything to become more Jewish.”

    May Wiesel’s brief but moving article below inspire each of us, Jew and non-Jew alike, to rise to this occasion to increase our support of Israel. I urge you to pass these powerful thoughts along to friends, colleagues, and fellow congregants using the “send to a friend” button at the bottom of this email, or using the buttons above to share it via social media.
    Thanks for your continued support of Israel, and thank you for your support of FLAME.
    Best regards,
    Dave Nogradi
    FLAME Hotline Contributor

    P.S. One of the biggest reasons that Muslims cannot accept a Jewish state in the Middle East is the anti-Semitism inherent in the culture of most Muslim countries and in the Koran itself.

    While there are those who believe it’s not politically correct to say such things in public, we at FLAME believe it’s a worse sin to ignore this source of hate and this major obstacle to peace with Israel. That’s why I invite you to review one of our recent position papers, which has appeared in national media reaching more than 10 million readers, including college newspapers.

    It’s called “Muslim Arab Anti-Semitism: Why it makes peace very difficult – almost impossible.” Please take a look, and if you agree that these kinds of outspoken public relations efforts for Israel are essential, I urge you to support us.

    The Tragedy in Toulouse
    by Elie Wiesel, The Algemeiner, March 21, 2012

    Will the hatred of the Jews ever finally vanish? Will Jewish children always be in danger?
    This time, a murderer slew four Jews: a teacher and three young children.
    When a blood-thirsty Jew-hater wants to kill Jews, he goes first to the Jewish schools. Jewish children are his primary target.
    It’s always been this way. This is what Pharaoh, King of Egypt did, what Hitler did. And this is what happened now.
    This is the background to the tragedy that occurred in the French city, Toulouse.
    I have visited that city many times. The Jewish community there is old and well-established – it dates back to the Middle Ages – but it is dynamic.
    In the streets, you can see Jews wearing yarmulkas. Nobody thinks of anti-Semitism. Spiritually, it is one of richest Jewish communities in France.
    Obviously, the terrible murderous attack evoked tears and rage among both Jews and non-Jews. The President, his ministers, and other political figures in France, as well as all the newspapers, have demanded that the murderer be found and punished.
    It often happens like this. Jewish blood is spilled and, temporarily, sympathy for Jews grows; the world warms to them.
    But the pain does not go away, nor does the anger. We think about the martyrs: Rabbi Yochanan Sandler, his sons Aryeh and Gavriel, and Miriam Monsonego. We say, as is Jewish tradition: “May G-d avenge their blood.” That will be the response from Above.
    Our own answer must be concrete and to the point. When we are persecuted, our response must be: We will remain Jewish – and do everything to become more Jewish.

  3. Judah The Lion
    April 2, 2012 at 20:10

    You know how Iran can strike back? Just take out their leaders! Then they can install Roger Thomas a/k/a Adolf Light!

  4. March 30, 2012 at 21:25

    The most interesting aspect of these article series and discussions is the fact that they are so unilateral and blind. It looks as if the whole situation is viewed from a one way mirror. It is discussed what will happen to the people of six million people almost all mesmerized by a group of Messianic and paranoid politicians.
    All supporting argument are carried out under the umbrella of preventing Iranian nuclear proliferation and all that it refers to. In the meantime the same group do not consider the fact that Iran admittedly possesses enriched uranium of 3-20%. They are housed in facilities that are close to some large population centers. None of the group asks the question ” what will happen when the radioactive material contained in these facilities are released in the atmosphere, how many people will die as a result, and how far the fallout will spread?”.
    Just for fun let us consider that the populations centers close to the Iranian facilities are the Holy city of Qom, over one million, Tehran, ten million and Isfahan, close to three million.
    Something to think about while we are calculating whether the Israeli casualties would be 500 or 5000 !!!

  5. Judah the Lion
    March 30, 2012 at 20:29

    typical drivel by arab apologist ostriches in the sand

  6. Donald
    March 30, 2012 at 17:14

    Anti Zionism is not anti-Semitism, that expression is a little worn.
    Israeli Hawks are part of the 1%, not representative of the majority.

  7. Bolshevik_Joos
    March 30, 2012 at 17:08

    Well!!! The Lion of False Flag’s comments have been erased. Just as well.

    Down with drug trafficking, funny money pushing, murderous zionist mafiosi.

  8. bb
    March 30, 2012 at 12:14

    In all the world , containment of radioactive material is a goal.
    If the usa and israel bomb a nuclear site , radioactive material will spread in the atmosphere for thousands of miles,
    Causing a Nuclear Disaster is a Very Bad, and criminal act!

  9. rosemerry
    March 30, 2012 at 10:52

    How even Israeli “intelligence” can compare homemade rockets from a completely surrounded, starved population of Gazans constantly attacked and plundered by the “IDF” with a large sovereign state with Russian missiles, shows their paranoia and reliance on US immoral support.
    Attacking Iran is a WAR CRIME. Even the constant threats are war crimes.
    If Israel ever decides to be a real nation, it will need to treat others with respect and try to understand normal reaction to threats.

Comments are closed.