Western intelligence: Iran is preparing to attack Israel

Western intelligence: Iran is preparing to attack Israel
Western intelligence says Iran is preparing to attack Israel / bne IntelliNews
By bne Tehran bureau April 12, 2024

The already fragile security landscape in the Middle East has been rocked by the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, with the spectre of an even wider regional conflict now looming. The latest concerning development is Iran's vow for revenge after a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Syria killed 13 people, including two senior Revolutionary Guard commanders.

This deadly attack has severely heightened tensions between Iran and Israel, longtime adversaries who have engaged in a vicious war of words that now threatens to spill over into all-out confrontation. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has promised retaliation, while Israel's Foreign Minister has defiantly stated that if Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond by striking inside Iran. This dangerous escalation comes on the heels of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza that killed the sons and grandchildren of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Experts warn that a direct military conflict between Iran and Israel could have catastrophic consequences, likening the current situation to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis between the United States and Soviet Union. While neither side may be able to achieve outright victory, the potential for mass destruction is high, with the citizens of both countries and their neighbours certain to suffer greatly.

Will cooler heads prevail?

The fundamental question is whether cooler heads will prevail, or whether the rhetoric and tit-for-tat attacks will spiral out of control and ignite a wider regional war. There are clear military advantages and disadvantages on both sides, but the geographic realities mean a conventional land battle is highly unlikely. The real flashpoint is likely to be in the form of aerial assaults, missile strikes and the utilisation of Iran's vast network of proxy forces.

On paper, Israel's military appears significantly more advanced, with a technologically superior air force equipped with the latest American-made fighter jets, including the F-35 stealth bomber. However, Iran's sheer numerical advantage in terms of manpower, artillery and missile systems poses a formidable challenge. And Iran's use of proxy forces such as Hezbollah, Iraqi militias and the Houthi rebels in Yemen could overwhelm Israel's defences. Iran also has a price advantage over the Israelis. The cost of their drones is around $10,000, while an Israeli counterpart is probably ten times that amount.

Hezbollah in particular has emerged as a major threat, with a diverse arsenal including rockets, drones and even tanks that could pummel Israel from the north. If Tehran were to order these various proxy groups to launch a coordinated offensive, the Israeli military – already engaged in the conflict with Hamas in Gaza – would be severely stretched trying to defend its borders on multiple fronts. Iran knows this point very well, as much as the Israelis are trying to control the battle on its northern border.

Iran's preferred mode of retaliation would likely involve long-range missile strikes and drone attacks rather than a direct conventional assault. While Israel's vaunted air defence systems called “Iron dome” provide some protection, they are not impenetrable and could potentially be overwhelmed by salvos of missiles. Iran's fleet of kamikaze drones, first tested in battle by Russia to devastating use in Ukraine, could also prove highly effective.

The risk is that these tit-for-tat attacks could spiral into a broader conflagration, with the United States likely to be drawn in, given its staunch support for Israel. Any direct strike by Iran on Israeli soil would almost certainly provoke a devastating response, potentially including precision strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel's F-35s or the deployment of Israel's nuclear-armed submarines. The US would also very likely join the fray, raining down a torrent of cruise missiles, bomber strikes and other air power on Iranian targets.

Tehran has options to hit Tel Aviv

Despite the grave risks of military escalation, Tehran has various means at its disposal to retaliate against Israel without sparking a full-blown war. Engaging in covert, asymmetric actions may be a more prudent course of action for Iran compared to overt, conventional attacks.

One such avenue could be launching crippling cyberattacks on Israeli infrastructure. Such digital assaults could inflict significant damage on the country without incurring the same level of risk as direct military confrontation. Iran has demonstrated its cyber capabilities in the past, and ramping up these efforts could prove a highly effective means of retaliation.

Furthermore, Iran has a history of employing more discreet methods, such as organising terrorist attacks and assassinations of Israeli individuals and assets worldwide. This shadowy approach would allow Iran to exact a degree of revenge while minimising the chances of triggering an uncontrolled regional conflagration. Despite Iran's denials, its involvement in the deadly 1990s bombing in Buenos Aires serves as a sobering precedent.

Iran warns the west

Meanwhile, the United States and several Western nations are actively preparing for the potential evacuation of their diplomats from Israel. This comes amid warnings of an impending Iranian missile strike on Tel Aviv, first publicly acknowledged by President Joe Biden on April 10. The American leader reaffirmed Washington's unwavering commitment to Israel's security in the face of threats from Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah.

US intelligence is also assessing the possibility of a concurrent Hezbollah assault from Lebanon targeting northern Israel. According to reports, Iran has even warned the US about the planned attack, potentially giving American citizens time to evacuate. In response, Western countries are developing contingency plans for their diplomatic missions in Israel.

Adding to the tensions, the commander of the US Central Command, General Michael "Erik" Kurilla, is expected to visit Tel Aviv for high-level meetings with Israeli defence officials. This underscores the gravity of the situation and the close coordination between the two allies.

The suspected Iranian missile strike would be retaliation for a recent Israeli attack in Damascus that killed several senior Iranian military officers. This marked the first-ever Israeli assault on Iranian diplomatic facilities, further exacerbating the already volatile regional dynamics.

Ultimately, while the risks of open warfare between Iran and Israel remain high, Tehran appears to be weighing more subtle, clandestine options for retaliation. This could allow Iran to save face and project strength without triggering a catastrophic regional conflict. However, the danger of miscalculation and unintended escalation persists, demanding utmost caution from all sides.