Bombing Iran: Tough Tasks for Israeli Intelligence

Bombing Iran: Tough Tasks for Israeli Intelligence

From detection to long after destruction, the prospect of an attack on Iran puts big demands on Israel's spies.

Israeli intelligence will also have to assess the impact of a confrontation with Iran on the threat perception of the Arab states. If Iranian ballistic missiles prove incapable of penetrating Israeli defense systems, then this lesson will significantly affect the security concepts of the Arab states that have acquired large quantities of missiles in part to achieve strategic parity with Israel. This would be particularly relevant to Syria and Egypt. The result could be that this lesson will increase the determination of Arab states to develop nuclear weapons.

Intelligence will need to assess the Iranians' response. Specifically, this involves: determining whether they will launch ballistic missiles and, if so, the type and agents they will use; determining whether they would use fighter planes; determining whether they will use Hezbollah's arsenal of rockets (and perhaps Palestinian groups); and determining whether they will carry out terror operations against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world. With regards to the ballistic-missile threat, the main question would be whether these are armed with nonconventional or conventional warheads. Some of these missiles are allegedly hidden and protected in underground silos. It would be difficult for Israeli intelligence to identify these silos and preparations for an attack. With regard to the threat posed by Iranian fighter planes, intelligence will need to assess their capabilities to inflict damage and overcoming Israel's air force and air defense systems. With regard to proxy groups such as Hezbollah, intelligence will need to assess the threat they pose, their intentions and capabilities, and how to best deal with them. Specifically, this involves assessing whether the threat from Hezbollah could be dealt with by using air power only, or whether Israel would need to include a ground invasion of Lebanese territories south of the Litani River to prevent Hezbollah from fully using its arsenal of short-range rockets. Israeli intelligence will therefore have to collect information on the location of these missiles, Hezbollah positions, as well as other strategic targets. It needs to assess the implications of imposing a naval and air blockade to prevent weapon supplies from Iran. It will also need to collect information on weapon transportation routes between Lebanon and Syria. Specifically, it will need to locate advances weaponry in Syria and monitor any removal of such weapons over the Syrian-Lebanese border.

The threat posed to Israel and Jewish targets overseas would probably be more difficult to assess. This threat is likely to correlate with the defensive capabilities of the home front. In general, the less success of Iran's retaliations on Israel's home front, the more it would focus on attacking targets overseas. Israeli intelligence will therefore need to evaluate the vulnerability of Israeli and Jewish targets overseas, as well as increasing the monitoring of groups and individuals suspected of planning attacks.

Although it is debatable whether the current negotiations will lead Iran to scale back its nuclear program, even if it did, it is unlikely that the Iranian regime would publicize and broadcast such a decision. Saddam Hussein told U.S. investigators after his capture that although he did not have WMDs in the late 90s, he did not want to give weapon inspectors access to confirm this in order to not appear weak and reveal Iraq's vulnerabilities to its main external threat, Iran. Intelligence will therefore have to, at all times, seek to answer whether disarmament is in fact taking place. The question, then, would be what nuclear disarmament look like. This may not be easy to determine. The task of intelligence will be to ensure that no secret nuclear facilities are operating and that no clandestine nuclear weapon program continues to run.

Lastly, since the Israeli-Iranian game is not played once but is continuous, Israel needs to prepare for how to respond to Iran's initial response. Thus, even after an attack is conducted, Israeli intelligence will have to continue to assess Iranian intentions and capabilities, as well as Israel's and others' potential responses.

Thomas Saether is a Norwegian security analyst and a post-graduate from the MA program in security studies at Tel Aviv University.

Image: Flickr/Israel Defense Forces. CC BY-NC 2.0.