American and Israeli intelligence experts attach little credence to Tehran’s assertions that Iran will not strike first against Israel but only retaliate “painfully and destructively” for an Israeli attack on its nuclear installations.
Indeed, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources, strategists in Washington and Jerusalem warn Israel to brace itself for a pre-emptive Iranian attack in 2009, by which time the Islamic republic is expected to have built one or more nuclear bombs.
The sources have gone so far as to examine a list of potential delivery vehicles, ranging from ballistic missiles and nuclear-armed bombers to a commercial jet or cargo vessel – or even a submarine striking from mid-sea opposite Israel’s Mediterranean coastal cities.
Israel’s misgivings were strengthened by a confidential briefing given in London two weeks ago by Seyed Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and leaked to the media this week.
He disclosed that senior officials in Tehran recommend a pre-emptive strike to forestall an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations.
Israeli officials have treated the leak as deliberately aimed at putting Jerusalem on notice that an Iranian war initiative was in the offing unless Israel followed Washington’s example and took its military option off the table.
Tehran may play safe with unconventional means of war
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that Iranian planning appears to have gone as far as ruling out military measures in favor of unconventional weapons that would save the Iranian war machine from being struck down by superior Israeli military capabilities, such as its ability to shoot down ballistic missiles before they penetrate Israeli airspace – particularly since the US FBX-T radar was installed in the Negev last month.
They also accept that intruding Iranian bombers would be no match for Israeli Air force warplanes’ superior speed, technology, equipment and armaments.
So instead of frittering away its meager missile and air force resources, Tehran will probably bank on the element of surprise, according to US and Israeli intelligence analysts. They have found signs that one option considered by Iranian war planners is to load a bomb or nuclear device aboard a regular commercial flight from Tehran to Rome, Paris or Zurich. It would be dropped over the Mediterranean and detonated under water. Israeli experts calculate the blast would trigger a sea surge that would swamp large sections of greater Tel Aviv and neighboring coastal towns with polluted floodwater.
A similar effect might be achieved by detonating a cargo vessel with a nuclear device in its hold opposite Tel Aviv. The ship would reach the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal.
In either case, the loss of life would be colossal, estimated at between 100,000 and a million fatalities, at no military cost to Iran, although Israel’s neighbors might also pay a price.
US, Israel invest in early spotting of radiation emissions
America and Israel are therefore investing heavily in a crash program to develop long-range tracking facilities for early warning of radiation emissions from air or sea craft in motion in the air or on the waters of the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Mediterranean.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that this effort was redoubled after the bizarre episode of the Iranian freighter MV Iran Deyant.
The ship was hijacked on Aug. 21 and released by an Iranian delegation, which secretly landed in Somalia two weeks ago and ransomed the vessel for a huge sum.
The Somali pirates who hijacked the MV Iran Deyant as it passed the Horn of Africa en route for the Suez Canal little dreamed that many of them would find their tomb in the 44,458 weight bulk freighter.
The gang of 40 pirates, armed to the teeth with Kalashnikov automatic rifles and RPGs, seized the vessel by their standard MO of blocking its path with speedboats and swarming aboard.
The captain put up no resistance. After dropping anchor at Eyl, a fishing village in northeastern Somalia, the hijackers ransacked the ship to examine their prize. They discovered that the MV Iran Deyant belonged to the state-owned Iranian Shipping Lines, which ferries cargoes past UN proliferation regulations with the help of fake shipping documents that hide the cargo’s end-users and its nature.
The pirates succumbed to radiation from Iranian cargo
The hold held seven locked containers. When the crew denied having codes to open them, the hijackers smashed one and found it held packets of a substance that looked like “powdery fine sandy soil.”
Three days later, the hijackers who had touched the opened packet developed serious skin burns and loss of hair. Two weeks later, 16 were dead.
The cause of their symptoms was efficiently spirited away by the Iranian delegation. But their description was enough for WMD experts to hypothesize that the vessel was an enormous “floating dirty bomb.”
It was heading for the Mediterranean and may have been rigged to detonate in proximity to Israel’s coastal cities after the crew had abandoned ship and taken to life boats. An easterly wind would have driven the deadly radioactive cloud thrown up by the explosion ashore.
Chemical experts have judged the description of the pirates’ symptoms as consistent with exposure to radiation.
The high exposure won by the seizure of the Ukrainian weapons vessel MV Fiana by Somali pirates obscured the episode of the Iranian nuclear ship; it aroused no comment, even in Israel.
Israeli military sources consulted by DEBKA-Net-Weekly were cautious: They found some exaggeration in the way the Iranian ship’s cargo and the pirates’ symptoms were described and diagnosed. However, most reliable informants have told this publication that experts in Washington and Jerusalem do not rule out the possibility that the MV Iran Deyant was conducting a dry run for a possible attack on Israel.
Nothing would have come out had the ship not run foul of pirates.