JERUSALEM – As 2021 came to a close, Israel had raised the so-called “Iran Threat” issue to a whole new level. Upon his promotion in December to Commander of the Israeli Air Force, General Tomer Bar was asked by the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot (Ynet), “Are you able to attack Iran tomorrow?” His answer was “Yes!” He was then asked, “Will you be able to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities?” His reply: “There is no scenario where we act over there, and I don’t return and say ‘mission accomplished.’”
In the summer of 2020, The Times of Israel reported that Israel had what it called a “Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate,” which focuses principally on “Israel’s fight against Iran.” The wording, “Israel’s fight against Iran,” is particularly apt: though more often than not it is described as “Iran’s fight against Israel,” it is, in fact, Israel that is a threat to Iran and not the other way around.
Returning to the interview with the Israeli Air-Force commander, it is as though Israel cannot wait for the opportunity to attack, and indeed, the Ynet reporter who interviewed General Bar was eager. “Bar,” the story continues, “who will be tasked with carrying out a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities should one be ordered, understands that he may be required to carry out one of the most complex operations in the country’s history.” Interesting choice of words, considering this possible mission is described as a complex, even daring mission rather than pure madness.
Not leaving out any details, the interview with Bar continued, “I must assume that it might happen during my tenure, and I understand the magnitude of such an order… Preparations have been underway for a while, including procurement of the F-35 jets and missile defense systems.” If such an order is given, “there is no way that I will fly 1,000 kilometers and come home without succeeding in my mission.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, however, this might not be as simple as General Bar thinks. The U.S. has so far rejected an Israeli request to fast-track the delivery of two tanker aircraft, which are needed to allow the Israeli fighter jets to refuel on their way to Iran. If plans for a possible military option against Iran’s nuclear plan move forward, Israel will need these tankers. When asked about the U.S. refusal to expedite the sale of refueling aircraft despite Israel’s request, Bar said the matter has not been finalized and that he “remains hopeful the necessary aircraft would be supplied early.” One would think they were planning a party.
Iran under threat
Iran has been facing continuous threats of attack from Israel and the United States for far too long. With a population of close to 85 million and a record of not having invaded or initiated a war against another country, one is puzzled at the persistent anti-Iranian rhetoric in the United States and Israel. Furthermore, even if we consider Iran’s unrelenting support for the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice and the Iranian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist occupation of Palestine, the Israeli threats seem unjustified. Iran’s positions, while obviously unwelcome to the Israeli government, have remained essentially unchanged and stable for decades and there is no threatening drumbeat coming from Tehran.
Since Iran has had to live under these ongoing threats of attack and has been the victim of crippling U.S. sanctions, it is no surprise that it has invested in building what seem to be impressive military capabilities. According to a report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA:
Iran has adapted its military capabilities and doctrine to account for developments by the United States and its allies. Although still technologically inferior to most of its competitors, the Iranian military has progressed substantially over the past few decades.
Furthermore, the report states:
Iran continues to rely on its unconventional warfare elements and asymmetric capabilities – intended to exploit the perceived weaknesses of a superior adversary – to provide deterrence and project power. This combination of lethal conventional capabilities and proxy forces poses a persistent threat.
The problem with this analysis is the idea that Iran is the one that poses a threat. On the contrary, Iran is the one under threat. Furthermore, at least one of the “proxy forces” the report refers to is Hezbollah, an organization created to respond to the brutal Israeli assaults against Lebanon and the consequent 20-year occupation of southern Lebanon.
Finally, the report points out that Iran has a “substantial arsenal of ballistic missiles” and that this arsenal is “designed to overwhelm U.S. forces and our partners in the region.” This is the most effective deterrent Iran has against an impending Israeli attack.
Iran versus Israel
Iran has over 80 million people with an official defense budget in 2019 of approximately $20.7 billion, or roughly 3.8% of GDP. Israel has a combined population of around 12 million, though fewer than half are actual citizens with rights, and has a defense budget of just under $19 billion. The debate over a possible war between Israel and Iran is a favorite among pundits. As a result, one can find a great deal of information comparing the sizes and capabilities of the two militaries.
A piece in Business Insider from August 2021 titled, “A shadowy fight between Israel and Iran is at risk of becoming a bigger war. Here’s how their militaries stack up,” is one of many such articles. It concludes that an allout war between the two countries is unlikely but we are likely to see more of the “shadowy” assaults like the attack on a vessel in the Arabian Sea, which was owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. In 2018 Newsweek published a piece called, “How Does Israel’s Military Compare to Iran?” The article claims that, while “Israeli military might is underscored by its top notch military-industrial complex, Iran’s military is aging and sub-par.” Still, Newsweek admits, “[b]oth nations have considerable military clout, and any prolonged confrontation between them would be bloody.”
One would do well to remember that, with all the admiration for Israeli military capabilities and technological superiority, Israel has never fought a war against a disciplined, well-trained, well-equipped, highly motivated military force.
Israel did attack its neighboring countries and destroy their militaries several times, but then it retreated to the safety of its borders. Iran is not such a proximate neighbor and, should Israel need to deploy forces, something it never had to do in the past; it would be a logistical nightmare. Even assuming Israel would rely only on its air force, Iran is a large country, and it is a long flight to Iran and back. Logistically, this would demand an enormous effort by Israel while the Iranians would have to do nothing but wait and then use their air defenses and long-range missiles. Furthermore, should a war take place on Iranian soil, there is no military force large, effective or motivated enough to defeat Iran.
Israel’s last face-to-face encounter with a well-disciplined and motivated fighting force was in 2006 in Lebanon. Israeli ground forces encountered Hezbollah fighters, and things did not go well for the Israelis, who were forced to retreat in humiliation. Israeli officers who participated in that assault against Lebanon said there were serious logistical and intelligence flaws, and this was just a few short kilometers from their home base. Imagine what would happen if they were thousands of miles from home.
As the new year begins, we should be thankful that the United States, having suffered two colossal military defeats in the last two decades — one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan — has no stomach or resources to attack a formidable country like Iran. Apart from that, it would be fair to say that two things prevent an all-out war between Israel and Iran. The first is that Israel knows that attacking Iran will end in a total Israeli defeat. The second is Iran’s exercise of discipline in the face of ongoing threats by both the U.S. and Israel.
Feature photo | Original photo by Tomer Bar | Editing by MintPress News
Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are”The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”