WASHINGTON – Analysts say because Israel now believes diplomacy has failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program and the Jewish state’s very survival is at stake, Israelis have not ruled out a Jericho III missile launch to detonate a single electromagnetic pulse warhead at high altitude over central Iran.
The assessment is underscored by recent comments from Israeli officials that the Islamic republic is reaching its “zone of immunity” from conventional military attack on its nuclear sites.
In addition, analysts point out the use of long-range aircraft with refueling capability would be highly complex and pose many logistical problems. Israel also probably would not be allowed overflight permission from Turkey, Iraq or Saudi Arabia to reach its Iranian targets. Further, such an approach would minimize any element of surprise.
Meanwhile, top religious and political officials in Iran have issued repeated warnings they plan to obliterate the Jewish state.
Israel has made an assessment that Iran is on the threshold of a breakthrough to make a nuclear weapon. However, some national security experts, including some in the United States, believe Iran is several years away from making such a device. And they say actual weaponization – the ability to miniaturize a nuclear bomb to fit on its nuclear-capable missiles – still is further off.
Debate over just how close Iran may be to making a nuclear weapon has raised the issue of the quality of the intelligence to back Israeli claims. Sources point to the example of the intelligence used to assess Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that prompted the U.S. to attack Iraq in March 2003.
With Iran continuing its enrichment program, however, Israel and some Western countries are concerned that the amount of low-level uranium it has enriched could be enriched further to some 90 percent purity – which is what is required to make nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials don’t assess that Iran has reached that point.
Given that Iranian sites may be hardened against a conventional military attack, several Israeli and foreign sources believe that Israel has a nuclear device to create an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, that would produce little radiation on the ground but could knock out all of Iran’s electronics.
Israel also is assessed to be able to launch nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles from its German-supplied Dolphin electric submarines that could carry a one-kiloton or more device and explode over Iran, effectively neutralizing all of Iran’s electronics.
This would include Iran’s command and control capabilities and its ability to launch ballistic missiles in retaliation to a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, which Western intelligence has assessed is a cover to make nuclear weapons.
Sources say that an Israeli EMP attack also would effectively halt Iran’s ability to launch its forces to block the Strait of Hormuz, which the Islamic republic has threatened to do if it is attacked, along with targeting a number of U.S. military facilities in the region, as well as Israel.
An electromagnetic pulse occurs following a nuclear weapon exploded at a high altitude, creating a very strong electrical field that can overwhelm all electronics, knocking out or seriously damaging any electronic devices connected to power sources or antennas, including communications equipment, computers, electrical appliances, automobile and aircraft ignitions systems. Experts say it also can adversely affect a person’s implanted heart pacemaker device.
The effect from an EMP would be very similar to electronics in a near lightning strike or a solar storm which also can affect electronics but on a lesser scale than a pulse from a high-altitude nuclear explosion.
Another scenario discussed among some Israeli leaders is the detonation of an EMP over the entire Middle East, including Israel, whose military infrastructure has been hardened against such attacks. This would allow Israel to fly its jets directly to Iran without concerns about detection. Though it would also turn out the lights in Israel, sources there say the Jewish state could bring power back for civilians in a matter of days. A detonation at an altitude of up to 250 miles not only would affect all electronics in Iran but could damage electrical systems from the Middle East and much of Europe, these experts add. Such an EMP event also would dramatically affect all U.S. military facilities in the region.
An EMP attack on the United States, for example, from a 30-kiloton nuclear weapon exploded at an altitude of 62 miles, or 100 kilometers, effectively would knock out 70 percent of electrical systems up to a thousand miles in every direction. A similar explosion at a higher altitude of some 250 miles would virtually affect all electronics from Boston to Los Angeles and from Chicago to New Orleans, according to experts.
Consequently, a detonation limited to Iran would have to be at a much lower altitude to avoid such far-ranging effects on the electronics in the region and beyond.
According to U.S. intelligence sources, Israel not only possesses nuclear devices of one kiloton or more which would be sufficient to create an effective result from an electromagnetic pulse but has Jericho III missiles which it tested in 2009 capable of carrying nuclear payloads some 2,500 miles. The distance between Israel and Iran is approximately 1,000 miles.
U.S. sources knowledgeable about ways to “harden” buildings and other facilities against an EMP attack say business in this area has been booming throughout the Middle East for months.
In recent weeks, U.S. intelligence officials have told WND/G2Bulletin that they have detected Israel handling propellants for its Jericho missiles.
The prospect that Israel has this capability was first made known by an ex-CIA case officer, Chet Nagle, at a Capitol Hill EMPact America press conference held in Washington, D.C., in November 2011.
“Any Israeli attack on Iran is sure to make of Israel an international pariah, Nagle argues,” Timmerman said in quoting Nagle in a conversation. “Plus, the likelihood of success – that is, in destroying or disabling all of Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities (by conventional means) so they have nothing to launch on the morning after the attack – is low.
“If you’re going to go to all that trouble and be a pariah,” Timmerman quoted Nagel as saying in their conversation, “why not take one of those Jericho missiles, and detonate it 300 miles above the surface and deliver an EMP strike on Iran? That would stop their clock – if it’s electric – as well as all those centrifuges and everything else. Then the Greens can take over the country and we can go back in and rebuild the grid.”
The prospect for this doomsday approach has arisen due to a comment made by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak last February that Iran was entering a “zone of immunity” from military attack. Other officials in recent days have suggested that such a “zone of immunity” will be reached before the end of the year.
“The world, including the current U.S. administration, understands and accepts that Israel necessarily views the threat differently than they do, and that ultimately, Israel is responsible for taking the decisions related to its future, its security and its destiny,” Barak said.
Given that this “zone of immunity” could be reached before the end of the year, there has been increasing speculation in recent days that Israel may launch an attack prior to the U.S. presidential elections in an effort to force the U.S. to act. Sources say that the Israelis have assessed that if President Obama is re-elected, he may want to continue down the path of negotiating with the Iranians.
The sources add that by attacking prior to the U.S. elections in November, the U.S. then will have no choice but to back Israel due to the U.S. commitment to ensure Israel’s security. They add that it also will help Obama’s re-election efforts.
Iran, however, insists that its nuclear development program is for peaceful purposes as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Under the terms of the NPT, Iran has the “right” to enrich uranium as it is doing. Iran has enriched up to 20 percent, which is more than enough for refueling its nuclear reactors but is considered an acceptable level for medical research.
As early as 2005, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa, or religious decree, that is a legal pronouncement in Islam, that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic republic “shall never acquire these weapons.” Last February, Khamenei reiterated his 2005 fatwa.
“The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons,” he said. “There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”
Sources say that the edict from Khamenei is considered more than a fatwa, given that he not only is an ayatollah but also the supreme leader of Iran. For that reason, what he said is considered a hukm, or decree of the Supreme Jurisprudent, or Vali-yi Faqih, that determines the legal framework of the Islamic republic in accordance with Islamic law.
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