July 1, 2008 / 8:45 AM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX-How might Israel attack Iran's nuclear sites?

(Reuters) - A large-scale Israeli air force drill over the Mediterranean sea last month has stoked speculation that Israel might attack arch-foe Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Though Israel’s conventional military is widely assumed to be too small to destroy the Iranian nuclear programme outright, a successful attack could still delay by years Tehran’s bid to develop technologies with bomb-making potential.

Following is an overview of Israeli armed forces and the tactics they might employ in any future conflict with Iran.

AIR

Israel has around 500 combat-ready warplanes, including advanced U.S.-made F-15 and F-16 jets capable of reaching western Iran for a bombing run — further, should aerial refuelling be an option.

Onboard stealth and radar-jamming equipment could allow the warplanes to overfly hostile Arab territory en route to a sneak attack in Iran, and withstand ground fire.

Armed with ground-penetrating “bunker buster” bombs, Israeli jets could significantly damage key nuclear sites. Satellite guidance systems would allow for bombs to be released at high altitude and great distances, perhaps with some of the planes remaining outside Iranian airspace.

The Israeli air force also commands ballistic missiles, a capability shrouded in secrecy. Israel is assumed to have dozens of long-range Jericho missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads as far as the Gulf. Conventional Jerichos could damage targets in Iran, but the salvoes would lack the element of surprise given the likelihood of launches being immediately spotted, and reported on, in Israel.

GROUND

Israel does not border Iran, making most ground forces irrelevant to any future war.

Should there be Israeli air strikes on Iran, commandos could be inserted to mark targets and monitor the damage to them.

Special forces could also be deployed to hunt and destroy Iranian missile batteries before they can fire at Israel in retaliation.

SEA

Israel has three German-made, diesel-powered Dolphin submarines that dock at its Haifa port and are in theory capable of reaching the shores of Iran, though this would likely entail sailing around Africa — about a month-long voyage requiring stops for fuel and provisions.

Each Dolphin has 10 torpedo tubes, four of them expanded in girth at Israel’s request. Some independent analysts believe this was to accommodate cruise missiles capable of reaching Iran from the Mediterranean, or with supersonic engines allowing them to defeat enemy air defences.

Cruise missiles are not, however, considered powerful enough to cause significant damage to fortified installations.

Sources: Middle East Military Forces Database, Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University; "Osirak Redux? Assessing Israeli Capabilities to Destroy Iranian Nuclear Facilities" 2006, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Israeli air force and naval officials

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