Can Israel surprise Iran? Maybe not, but could still strike

An Israeli F-16I fighter plane takes off from Ramon Air Base in southern Israel November 19, 2008.  REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen(Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cancellation of a security cabinet session on Iranfollowing a media leak last week laid bare a conundrum long troubling Israeli strategists: could they count on any element of surprise in a war on their arch-foe?

Possibly not. Years of public speculation, much of it stoked by official statements in Israel and abroad, about the likelihood and timing of such a conflict have afforded the Iranians plenty of notice to fortify their threatened nuclear facilities and prepare retaliation.

Given the difficulties Israel’s jets would face in reaching and returning from distant Iran, as well as their limited bomb loads, losing the option of mounting sneak attacks may seem to have put paid to the very idea of an attack launched without its ally the United States.

Yet experts are not rushing to rule that out. Some believe Israel is still capable of achieving a modicum of surprise, and that in any case it might hope a combination of stealth, blunt force and, perhaps, hitherto untested innovations can deliver victory – even if Iran is on high alert.

Israel, whose technologically advanced military has a history of successful derring-do, might place less importance on catching Iran completely off-guard and instead strike openly and with combined forces, causing disarray among the defenders in hope of delivering enough damage to a select number of targets.

“The probability of achieving surprise is low, but I think the Israelis will count on their technical competence in defense suppression to allow them in,” said Walter Boyne, a former U.S. air force officer and a writer on aviation history.

He predicted the Israelis would mesh air raids with a swarm of strikes by ground and naval units, a view echoed by Lynette Nusbacher, senior lecturer in war studies at Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. She suggested Israel could also incorporate cyber-attacks to blind Iran as an assault began.

“There is no question that Israel can achieve tactical surprise if required,” Nusbacher said, differentiating the short-term shock from Iran’s long readiness for an attack.

“As long as the direction or timing or form of the attack is unexpected then surprise is possible.”

Israel and its Western allies believe Iran is covertly seeking means to build nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists it wants only to generate electricity and medical isotopes. U.S. President Barack Obama says he hopes sanctions and diplomacy will deflect Iranian policy. But Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have made clear they might soon resort to force.

Nusbacher indicated that pinpoint intelligence and planning might also help Israel overcome Iran’s anticipation and counter-measures, making up for limitations on the element of surprise:

“Remember that while the Iranian nuclear facilities are each more or less defended, their locations are known to the meter,” she said. “Precision can’t entirely make up for surprise.

“But surprise isn’t everything.”


Reuters has the full article

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