Amir Rapaport’s Column: How Will Israel Respond to the Iranian Attack, and Why It Should Urgently Prepare for the Ayatollahs’ First Nuclear Bomb?

Intense American pressure on Israel vs. a regional alliance that had a phenomenal debut, a message to Iran and Hamas that things have “flipped” in the meantime, and also implications on the hostages’ return and the issue of Rafah

Amir Rapaport’s Column: How Will Israel Respond to the Iranian Attack, and Why It Should Urgently Prepare for the Ayatollahs’ First Nuclear Bomb?

Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

Iran’s stunning attack on Israel on the night between Saturday and Sunday did not come out of nowhere: it is the peak, most likely a temporary one, of direct warfare between the two countries, which has become largely overt in 2019. We'll delve into this further.

Similarly, Israel's retaliatory action cannot be disconnected from the international context: on one hand, Israel is committed to responding. On the other hand, it cannot overlook the interests of its allies from the Sunni Arab world and the West, as evidenced by the almost complete thwarting of the attack.

Following the overnight attack on Isfahan, which was still not officially addressed by Israel ("sources" have told American press that this small attack was meant to convey a message) - at the end of the day, Israel is not obligated to directly attack Iran on its territory. A retaliatory action that could avoid leading to full-scale war could, for example, occur in the cyber realm. Israel may be capable of paralyzing Iran through attacks on its computer systems. In cyber, as in the aerial domain, Israel has absolute superiority over Iran. And that's just one "reasonable" response option.

In the meantime, even before Israel’s full response to the April 14th attack is clarified it is already evident that this is an event of historical significance that will be remembered for generations.

On the bright side, the alliance of regional states – including Jordan which is under pressure from Iran and is dealing with internal unrest not to cooperate with Israel – and Western nations led by the United States, has come to light. 

Beyond that, the suppression of the attack is also a significant achievement for Israeli defense industries, primarily led by the Directorate of Defense, Research, and Development (DDR&D) in the Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for developing technological infrastructures, including those that will yield security benefits for decades to come. 

In the case of the “Arrow” and "David's Sling" systems, intercepting missiles outside and within the atmosphere, it sounds like science fiction when the Israel Missile Defense Organization started its journey within the directorate after the trauma of the First Gulf War in 1991. For comparison, during that war, which paralyzed the country for weeks, only 40 ballistic missiles were launched toward Israel, with warheads much smaller than those of the Iranian missiles). The Israel Missile Defense Organization is currently working on the production of “Arrow 4” missiles, which will also be able to intercept fragmentations of warheads dispersed in the air. Long-range plans also include the "Arrow 5."

By the way, since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, the DDR&D has also been involved in developments for very short-term purposes. For example, providing psychological assistance to thousands of combatants during the war (out of 8,000 new disabled soldiers). The directorate recently reached out to apps and companies with ideas on how to provide technological psychological support to soldiers and invited them to submit proposals.

One nuclear bomb is all it takes

And now, to the less favorable implications of the attack. Much less: Iran is exploiting the fact that a new world order has emerged since the Russia-Ukraine war, in which it finds itself aligned with Russia (with some backing from China) - to attempt to break towards its first nuclear bomb without significant oversight. Iran has already enriched the material needed for a first bomb through centrifuges, in the underground enrichment facility in Natanz. 

All that remains for Iran now is to produce a detonation mechanism for the bomb and place it on a launcher. And if Iran goes nuclear, even a phenomenal achievement of 99 percent interception won't suffice. After all, just one nuclear bomb penetrating defense systems, like the missiles that hit the Air Force base in Nevatim, is enough. It's chilling to even consider the thought of Iran armed with nuclear weapons.

And this too: Israel’s defense apparatus and the diplomatic echelon, which have invested heavily over decades in defense systems, are lagging significantly behind in developing offensive means suitable for when Iran becomes a nuclear state. For example, ensuring that a nuclear missile will be destroyed before it's even launched, or retaliating as a deterrent to whoever launches it. Investment in this area is imperative. Until now, all Israeli efforts have been focused on trying to prevent the bomb. Now, there's a need to prepare for the "day of the bomb," assuming it will come sooner or later.

The Iran-Israel war

Now, back to 2019: Around that time, the Israel-Iran shadow war escalated and became increasingly overt. Suddenly, more and more reports began to emerge about reciprocal attacks – like a cyberattack on Israel’s water company “Mekorot” and attacks on Israeli ships in the Persian Gulf on the one hand – and Iranian targets being bombed throughout the region on the other. There also began a wave of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, for which Israel did not claim responsibility.

With or without a connection to the string of election campaigns it faced, Israel began to boast about its attacks. For the first time, Benjamin Netanyahu broke the ambiguity of activity between wars when he said on February 13, 2019, on camera, "We operate every day, including yesterday, against Iran and its attempts to entrench itself in the region."

Events in the entire region began to unfold at a dizzying pace. In September 2019, Iran was behind a spectacular attack by suicide drones launched by its Houthi proxies from Yemen targeting the oil fields of Aramco in Saudi Arabia. On January 3rd, it suffered an unexpected, devastating blow: an American airstrike killed Qasem Soleimani, the mythical and ruthless commander of the Quds Force, which operates Iran's revolutionary guards. Soleimani was a key figure in Iran's rise across the Middle East. He was assassinated while traveling in a convoy near Baghdad International Airport.

At the Natanz centrifuge facility, two explosions took place, attributed to Israeli sabotage: in July 2021, a blast occurred at the upper part of the enrichment facility, and on April 11, 2022, an explosion destroyed a significant part of the centrifuges' electrical system.

One of the peaks in this blitz was on September 18, 2021: the international media claimed that Israel assassinated a senior Iranian nuclear scientist and the head of its nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, using a remotely operated robotic firing machine that discharged bullets at a rate of 600 per minute. Fakhrizadeh was found dead in the car in which he was traveling with his wife. By the way, when Netanyahu presented the nuclear documents, three years earlier, he said, "Remember this name, Fakhrizadeh."

In June 2022, an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated at the research center in Parchin, east of Tehran. Iranian opposition media claimed that two other scientists died under mysterious circumstances in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. 

Death in an explosion also marked the end of Revolutionary Guard officer Saeed Samareh, who, according to reports, was assassinated in Shiraz in July 2022. Those reports attributed to him a senior role in the Iranian missile project, which is supposed to enable the launch of a nuclear bomb (when ready) as a long-range weapon.

On January 29, 2023, it was alleged that Israel was also behind an explosion at a key missile production site in the city of Isfahan. The Iranians themselves claimed that the attack was carried out by three waves of suicide drones. According to another version, suicide drones similar to those provided by Iran to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine were manufactured at the factory.

These reports created a sense that the Mossad and other Western intelligence services were operating on Iranian soil repeatedly and almost with impunity.

In August 2021, then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stated, "The Iranians need to understand that they cannot sit quietly in Tehran and ignite the entire Middle East from there. This thing is over.”

And only three weeks before October 7th, the head of the Mossad, David Barnea, made a stunning statement at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy conference at Reichman University. He stated, "In the past year alone, we have foiled, together with our partners in the Israeli security community and our partners around the world, 27 terrorist attacks planned against Israelis worldwide... The time has come to exact a price from Iran in a different way. 

Thus far, we have only reached the operatives and the commanders responsible for carrying out the operations. Any attack against an Israeli or a Jew anywhere in the world, whether by a proxy or by Iran or by Iranian combat means infiltrating into Israel, will lead to operations against the Iranians who dispatched the terrorists and also against the decision-makers from the operational level to the highest decision-making level. I mean it. These prices will be exacted precisely, deep within Iran and even in the heart of Tehran."

Indeed, this sets the stage for the attack on April 14th: in hindsight, it can be determined that Israel has been attempting to change the rules of the game against Iran and Hezbollah in recent weeks so that they would pay a heavy price for their attacks through their proxies – from Yemen to militias in Iraq and Syria, and of course Hezbollah and Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and even terror funding in the West Bank. However, the incomprehensible Iranian response has delivered a reverse message to Israel in the meantime.

Similarly with Hezbollah's arena: the escalation of attacks and assassinations targeting senior figures of the Lebanese organization this week was met with a severe retaliation from the Lebanese side. Particularly severe was the incident in the village of Arab al-Aramsha on Wednesday, where Hezbollah launched two suicide drones toward a reserve force while it was busy rescuing casualties from an earlier attack of two anti-tank missiles shortly before. 

The positioning of the force within direct range of Hezbollah's fire, in the heart of the Arab village where 80 percent of its residents returned to their homes despite the evacuation order in October, is proving to be a serious tactical mistake, at least in hindsight.

What about the hostages held in Gaza?

In a broader context, this week in meetings in New York, I deeply understood how Israel isn't truly of interest to America, which is entrenched in its election system. The Americans are pressuring Israel by significantly delaying the transfer of armaments and withholding approval for the special security assistance totaling 14 billion dollars. They will have a significant influence on how Israel responds to the Iranian attack."

Meanwhile, the escalation against Iran and Hezbollah, which seems far from its peak, shifts the focus away from Gaza. In the administration dealing with the issue of hostages, led by Reserve Major General Nitzan Alon, there is immense frustration that all efforts to return the captives appear to be stuck. The IDF has almost withdrawn all its forces from the Gaza Strip, humanitarian aid is entering the Strip in enormous quantities, residents "evacuated" in the south are beginning to return to their homes in the north of the Strip, while many of our refugees are still far from home.

As worrying as it sounds, it seems that we have lost momentum to exert significant pressure on Yahya Sinwar to reach an urgent deal that includes the return of the captives. The main preparations of the IDF at this time are towards the possibility of a comprehensive war against Hezbollah.

And what about Rafah? The possibility of an Israeli operation in the city bordering Egypt, an operation that is likely to occur sooner or later, now seems like a relatively marginal defense issue. It is clear to all that this is not what will bring the hostages back or topple Hamas. 

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