It may be shocking to some, but the Commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was correct when he said a few days ago that Israel can not survive a nuclear weapon attack. He didn't add, but it is certainly true, that these need only be lower yield devices. A brief study of the industrial topography and demography of Israel shows that a minimal number (3-4) well targeted nuclear weapons would leave Israel inoperable as a modern state.
President Obama clearly has been provided with adequate technical intelligence to inform him of the details involved. Iran already has adequate delivery systems as outlined by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last February when he referred to the effective operational state of the Shahab-3 and the medium range ballistic missile, Ashura, as being able to hit Israel and Eastern Europe. The White House knows that Israel is in danger of obliteration if Iran is allowed to launch even a modest attack on Israel. So far the American presidential response appears to be, "Iran knows the U.S. will respond appropriately, and that is adequate deterrence."
The theoretical punitive response by Washington would be too late to save the continued existence of Israel. While the threatened U.S. counterattack might destroy Iranian nuclear development facilities, in order to have a serious lasting impact the economic base of Iran would have to be destroyed. Its oil production and distribution facilities would have to be targeted for demolition. Such an action defines the term "counter-productive " if the international importance of Persian oil resources are taken into consideration. And, of course, Israel would be in ashes.
To be specific about Iran's current nuclear weapon capability, one need only refer to the recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA): "Iran… has produced 418 pounds of 20% enriched uranium." This uranium could be converted to weapons grade product before the end of this year. This is an increase over the 321 pounds of similar grade uranium reported available in May 2012. More importantly, the IAEA reported a doubling of the enrichment centrifuges since May, bringing the total to 2,140 at the advanced nuclear facility a Fordo, a deep buried mountain site outside the ancient city of Qom.
Fifty-five pounds of 90% enriched uranium is considered necessary to construct one nuclear explosive device. Taking 20% enrichment up to 90% weapons grade has been referred to as not difficult and solely dependent on processing time. With the increased number of centrifuges in operation reported by the IAEA, the calculation has been made that it would have take no more than a few months for the Iranians to accomplish this. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that the Iranians will have launch-capable nuclear missiles in 6-7 months.
It is generally accepted in defense circles -- and reported earlier in this column -- that the Iranians already have the short-term capability of constructing several "Hiroshima" implosion bombs. The issue at hand is the ability to construct smaller, higher yield devices capable of being placed on, and detonated from, the existing medium-range Iranian missiles. The IGRC already have enough of these appropriately-ranged and target-guided missiles to simultaneously hit all of Israel's scientific and production centers as well as its various deep bunkered military installations.
Pentagon sources have indicated it's not difficult technically to calculate how quickly Iranian scientists and technicians could handcraft the needed marriage of high-weaponized explosive product and the guided missile-connected delivery system. This information is well known by all existing nuclear-armed countries. This is why the intensity level of anxiety on the international scene has risen so sharply in the past few months.
The only mystery still extant is how this nearly open secret has been so successfully kept from publication. The reason is that such information is tantamount to pulling the trigger on a holocaust that Iran is not yet prepared to create -- even on Israel. And against which the Israelis are not yet fully ready to defend. The problem that the Israel Defense Command and PM Netanyahu face is whether they can fully destroy Iran's offensive capability aimed at Israel and/or effectively defend against the expected Iranian counter-thrust to an Israeli preemptive attack. One thing is certain: Israel can not and will not depend on the current American administration to assist in Israel's initial attack.
Considerable emphasis has been placed on the White House's desire for Israel to wait until after the American presidential election before taking any offensive action. A new logic has been introduced by events in many Moslem capitals following the original riots in Cairo and the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. If anything, the Obama Administration has hardened its position against Israeli military action against Iran. In turn, however, the Israeli choices have been reduced as Tehran now has the chance to exploit the anti-American/anti-Israel political support engendered by the wave of "holy war" spirit contained in the widespread radical Islamic demonstrations and attacks.
In brief, the Iranians do not fear the potential of an Israeli counterstrike. There is consequently nothing but Tehran's own current technical limitations to restrain the initiation of a Persian first strike nuclear attack on Israel's key centers. Bibi Netanyahu knows this and so do his military strategists. As soon as Israel has the wherewithal to effect an initial strike wiping out Iranian nuclear weapon-launching capability, the strategic instinct would have to be to do it as soon as they can. The question is: When can Israel be sure it can destroy all of Iran's nuclear launch assets?