Can and will Iran strike Israel?

Source: Can and will Iran strike Israel? – Opinion – Jerusalem Post

Israel today has fewer people and resources than Iraq had in the 1980s, but Iran knows that Israel is a regional power with a formidable military.

BY EHUD EILAM
Missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran

In recent months, Israel bombed Iranian objectives inside Syria several times.

Iran absorbed casualties, serious damage and international humiliation. Iran is eager for revenge, but what can it do? Does Iran want to go to war? Iran still remembers the trauma of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, which cost Iran dearly.

Israel today has fewer people and resources than Iraq had in the 1980s, but Iran knows that Israel is a regional power with a formidable military.

In the war against Iraq in the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed. Iran does not want to repeat this grim experience. In the war in Syria, Iran lost about 2,100 troops, a sensitive issue in Iran.

Many Iranians, including those who are against their regime, might separate between their loyalty to their homeland and their severe criticism of the regime. They could support the government, particularly if it seems to them that Iran was attacked and it must retaliate.

Yet as long as the fight between Israel and Iran is contained to Syria, then the Iranian regime will have a problem in mobilizing its people against Israel.

There is already opposition in Iran to their country’s ongoing involvement in Syria, where Iran has invested heavily since 2011 – about $20 billion. This money was taken from the Iranian people, who struggle to make ends meet. The more money Iran pours into Syria, the greater the chance that the Iranian people might not tolerate it anymore and confront their regime. The Iranian aid, aimed at saving their Syrian ally, Bashar Assad, might eventually be one of the reasons for the downfall of the Iranian regime. The Iranian-Israeli collision in Syria could turn out to be an Israeli trap, as part of the Israeli strategic goal: to weaken the Iranian regime, hopefully to topple it.

Iran can hit Israel directly from Iran, with its SU-24, a long-range attack aircraft, but the aircraft might not have the range to reach and return from Israel, which is more than 800 kilometers west of Iran. If the SU-24 can land and refuel in Iraq or even closer to Israel, in Syria, it will be easier for Iran. Yet even then, some and maybe all the SU-24s might be intercepted by the Israeli air force (IAF), which has a very impressive reputation in this field and its forces, aircraft and air defense, are on high alert following the growing tension with Iran.

Iran also has the Shahab-3, a long-range surface-to-surface missile that could hit Israel.

Iran can’t launch hundreds of those missiles at the same time, which will enable the Israeli anti missile system, the Arrow, to intercept them. In spite of that, some Iranian missiles might penetrate. In addition, Israeli aircraft and Special Forces will try to destroy Iran’s bases from which Iran can fire its missiles.

Iran might disperse and hide its launchers in its vast territory of more than 1.6 million square kilometers.

Iran might try to pound military targets, since Israel attacked Iranian military objectives in Syria, but Iran might hit Israel’s population centers. In response Israel might not necessarily bomb Iranian cities, but rather strike key facilities that belong to Iran’s energy industry.

The IAF might even strike Iran’s nuclear sites. It could be another Israeli trap, pushing Iran to attack Israel so the latter will have an opportunity to bomb Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

The two states might be dragged into a war that will last weeks and maybe more, even if both sides are not interested in that. In such a case, there is a need of a broker, maybe Russia and/or the European Union, since they have ties with both Iran and Israel. Eventually a cease-fire, even if only an unofficial one, could be achieved, since Israel and Iran, like Israel and Hamas, don’t recognize each other. If Iran raises too many demands, Israel might escalate the war in order to convince Iran to end the fight.

Iran might not seek to risk a war. Therefore Iran can try to limit its retribution and exploit its proxies, its favorite mode of action. It can also conduct terrorist attacks worldwide without taking responsibility and/or use its quite advanced cyber capability.

The current stage is part of the long cold war between Israel and Iran, which started in 1979. Iran has several ways to strike its adversary, which in the worst case might lead to a war.

The writer, a national security analyst, formerly worked for the Israeli military.

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