Strategic Weapons: October 7, 2004


Many pundits believe an Israeli air force strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would be a clean-cut strike similar to the 1981 Israel strike against Iraq's Osirak's nuclear reactor. The reality is quite different. The Iraqis centralized their nuclear facility at one site, but the Iranians have dispersed their nuclear weapons operations across the country,  with some facilities hidden underground. An air strike would require hitting multiple targets at around the same time and would require high quality intelligence data on locations, defenses, and equipment. 

Over the past two months, Iran and Israel have been conducting a war of words about their respective long-range missile and anti-missile capabilities. Iran has made it clear that any Israeli military strike against them would result in a retaliatory action, most likely with Shahab-3 missiles. While the Shahab-3 is not fully perfected, U.S. intelligence officials believe that Iran could launch several missiles in an emergency. The Shahab-3 is designed to be delivered from a mobile launcher, has enough range around 1500 kilometers -- to strike Israel and is capable of carrying a conventional warhead of between 1,600 to 2,500 pounds. Estimated accuracy is within 190 meters accurate enough to get a warhead uncomfortable close to Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor complex. At the moment, the Iranians could use high explosive, chemical or "dirty bomb" (high explosives surrounded by radioactive material) warheads. Israel fears that in a few years, Iran will have nuclear warheads.

Iran has also flight-tested what analysts are calling a new Shahab design that appears to significantly borrow from the Soviet-era SS-9 ICBM. The "Shahab-4" as it is sometimes called,  uses a smaller re-entry vehicle design that looks like a baby-bottle neck, rather than a cone-shaped design. Senior Iranian officials are claiming that it has a range of 2,000 kilometers. Former Soviet and Chinese rocket engineers are alleged to have helped the Iranians design their latest missile.

Israel's response has been to flaunt their operational Arrow anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. Arrow has had mixed test results, proving able to intercept Scud-like targets, but having difficulty with faster missiles (like Shahab). Arrow is backstopped by two batteries of Patriot missiles, bought from the United States. Arrow is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missile warheads between an altitude of 10 and 50 kilometers, at a distance of up to 90 kilometers, using a blast-fragmentation warhead. The anti-missile version of Patriot is designed to hit-to-kill incoming warheads at ranges of up to 20 kilometers. Doug Mohney




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