As readers know, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel just met with President Obama in the USA, and the topic of Iran was undoubtedly the main issue discussed. Many media articles have indicated that while the Israelis are drawing closer to attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, Obama is urging the Israelis to wait to allow more time for sanctions to work. The first link discusses these issues and also mentions that Israel has to make a decision soon before Iran’s nuclear facilities become so well buried or concealed that they cannot be attacked effectively.
Many articles I’ve seen argue, truthfully, that Iran’s ability to build a crude nuclear device is one thing, but its ability to fire it at Israel is something else again. Those pointing this out tend to think that Iran has to not only build delivery missiles but also sufficiently miniaturize the warheads to fit on a missile before Iran can attack Israel. This logic argues that there are years before Iran can successfully attack Israel with nuclear-tipped missiles and that the Israelis have plenty of time to wait for sanctions to work. However, this mindset has one huge fallacy. It is dominated by western thinking which forgets that there are non-traditional ways for Iran to attack Israel with nukes once it has some primitive, but effective, nuclear warheads. As the second link notes, the Iranians can put a nuclear warhead “on a missile or other delivery device (emphasis added).”
An Iranian nuke would need to be delivered to Israeli targets by air, land or sea even if a missile was not used. Let’s examine these options. A crude nuclear Iranian device, if shipped overland, would need to be smuggled into Israel. Given the distance that this device would need to travel to reach Israel, and given Israel’s tight border security, I think the odds of this happening are pretty well nil. Iran could place a nuclear device on an Iranian commercial or passenger airplane traveling close to Israeli airspace and have it divert to an Israeli target at the last moment and explode itself on or over an Israel target. For example, an Iranian flight bound from Tehran to Egypt would be traveling very close to Israeli airspace and it could make a slight course correction and be over Israeli airspace very quickly. To make it more surreptitious, it could be transited via another nation’s airspace to make it look less threatening than a flight coming direct from Iran. However, I’m sure Israelis are aware of this possibility, especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 events, and are watching the itineraries of any airplane that ever stops in Iran for any purpose. If such an airplane ever made an unscheduled and unapproved movement to enter Israeli airspace, I believe it would be shot down very quickly by Israeli warplanes. Therefore, I think the odds of this happening are minimal, but higher than a land route option.
The real challenge Israel could face is a ship carrying an Iranian nuclear device in its cargo hold and docking at an Israeli port with prior clearance from some third-party nation. If a ship with an Iranian nuke reached an Israeli port, its suicide-crew would simply detonate the nuke in an Israeli port and do immense damage. Since Iranian warships are already transiting the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea, such ships are already close to Israel when they leave the Suez Canal and could quickly redirect their course to take them to Israel’s coast to detonate a nuke. However, an Iranian surface warship or submarine would attract very intense Israeli scrutiny and would be attacked well before it reached Israeli soil if it acted in a threatening manner. The real danger is that an Iranian nuke might slip past the overseas detection system of the Mossad and reach an Israeli port via a nondescript merchant ship with an approved itinerary. I’m sure Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu explained these dangers to President Obama in their recent meeting. To guard against this happening, the Israelis may have to attack Iran sooner rather than later to prevent Iran from even developing any nuclear weapon. That is also why the second link comments on the Israeli decision, openly announced to the world, that it may attack Iran without giving any prior notice to the USA. That step was taken, I believe, because Israel does not trust the Obama administration to keep any such secret notice from quickly reaching Iran’s rulers via well-placed anti-Israeli staffers and officials in the Obama administration or the IAEA or certain NATO allies who would quickly learn of it as well.
Another point worth making is that the public discussions between Obama and Netanyahu showed Netanyahu reminding Obama that Iran considers the USA the “great Satan,” and Israel only the “little Satan.” If the Iranians get a crude nuclear weapon, they might try to have it shipped to a US port via a nondescript merchant ship and have its suicide crew detonate it in a US port city. American port security is thought to be rather porous. Americans living in or near port cities have a lot at stake in hoping Obama takes the threat of an Iranian nuke very seriously.