The Australian – Nov 12, 2012
ISRAEL’S military planners have been forced to conclude that a conventional assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities might fail after evidence emerged that Tehran has hidden far more of its uranium enrichment capacity beneath a mountain than previously suspected.
Western defence experts say much of Iran’s Fordow enrichment site near the city of Qom is now deep underground in a “zone of immunity” safe from conventional airstrikes.
They claim this narrows Israel’s response to two options: the deployment of special forces in a ground attack, or the use of ballistic missiles carrying small tactical nuclear warheads.
The phrase “zone of immunity” was coined by Defence Minister Ehud Barak to emphasise that time was running out for Israel as Iran moved closer to being able to make a nuclear weapon.
“Israel’s plans have been constantly evolving in recent years according to the progress Iran is making,” a senior defence source said. “A decade ago when Ariel Sharon (the former prime minister who suffered a stroke in 2006) was in charge, it was relatively easy to strike Iran as its air defences were almost non-existent. Now they’ve upgraded and our tactics have to change.”
Western sources believe a single Israeli Jericho-3 missile could carry a tactical nuclear warhead with a yield of less than one kiloton, which would be sufficient to “bury” the plant. In a conventional attack Israel might, according to experts, lose up to 20 per cent of its planes.
Well aware of the hostile international response to even the suggestion of a nuclear attack, the option is not being debated publicly. But last week it was referred to indirectly by Shaul Mofaz, head of the Kadima party and leader of the opposition.
For some time Mr Mofaz, 64, a former defence minister and one of the few Israeli politicians privy to the country’s nuclear secrets, has believed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing a dangerous game.
Mr Mofaz shocked many Israelis last week when during a press conference he unveiled a poster showing a red mushroom cloud with the slogan: “Bibi will endanger Israel.”
Most Israelis assumed the poster referred to the Iranian threat. But its message may have been more subtle, hinting at an argument that Mr Mofaz cannot articulate in public: that he believes Mr Netanyahu could be considering a nuclear option.
Mr Netanyahu signalled in a television interview last week that he was prepared to strike Iran without the support of the US. “When David Ben-Gurion declared the foundation of the state of Israel, was it done with American approval?” he asked.