Yaakov Katz is the military correspondent and defense analyst for the Jerusalem Post. He has reported on numerous Israeli conflicts, including the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. He is the co-author of Israel vs. Iran — The Shadow War, which is a bestseller in Israel. He spoke with National Review editorial intern Noah Glyn about the big issues surrounding the Iranian nuclear program.
Noah Glyn: Can you tell me about your book that was recently published in Israel?
Yaakov Katz: The book’s title is Israel vs. Iran — The Shadow War. It will be out in the U.S. in May, published by Potomac Books. I wrote it together with Yoaz Hendel, an Israeli historian and currently director of communications for Prime Minister Netanyahu. The book chronicles the Israeli–Iranian conflict, which we describe as the “shadow war” between Israel and Iran, from the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006 until today. The conflict with Iran is on two different levels. The first is the nuclear level — if Iran goes nuclear, what happens? We assess Israel’s ability to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. The second is the terrorist level. We look at Iran’s support of Hezbollah, its support of Hamas, and we write about Israel’s war with Hezbollah, and how it was a wakeup call for Israel that Iran is on its northern border, in Lebanon. Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was Israel’s reaction to Iran’s building up a military force, through Hamas, on Israel’s southern border. And then we talk about the assassinations, the covert operations, the cyber warfare, the defection of Iranian nuclear scientists, and the sabotage of Iranian nuclear equipment. We also talk about Israel’s struggle against Iran’s smuggling of weapons, which is this whole other front that we don’t hear about very much, but which is dealt with on a daily basis by the Israeli defense establishment.
Glyn: Going back to the idea of a “shadow war,” an Iranian plan to assassinate Israelis around the globe was foiled recently. If you compare this to Israel’s success at assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists and deploying the computer virus Stuxnet, it seems that Israel has the upper hand in this shadow war.
Katz: The shadow war is in both directions. It’s Israel, or the West, against Iran. You have four Iranian scientists assassinated on the streets of Iran in the past two years. We’ve seen the Stuxnet virus. We’ve seen the assassination of Hamas and Hezbollah leaders in Dubai, in Damascus, and elsewhere. But we also know that Iran has built up significant terrorist infrastructure throughout the world. A recent example is what we saw in February, when car bombs went off in New Delhi and the Republic of Georgia. There was another Iranian plot discovered in Azerbaijan, and one in Thailand. Although a lot of these were unsuccessful, they do show Iran’s determination and the danger that Iran poses to the entire world. I think Iran wants to signal to the world that it can reach almost anywhere. There was an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the United States. All that together shows how extensive Iran’s infrastructure abroad is and how much the Iranians invest in it.
Glyn: Can you lay out the consequences of an Israeli strike on an Iranian nuclear facility?
Katz: You have to look at it in the light of the two instances so far of Israel’s moving against a nuclear threat: in 1981, when Israel bombed Iraq’s reactor, and in 2007, when Israel bombed Syria’s reactor. In both instances, there was no response. Israelis would like to think this would be the case with Iran, but the prevailing assessment within the defense establishment is that it would be exactly the opposite. Iran would unleash its full wrath against Israel. Iran has a quite significant arsenal. It is believed to have several hundred ballistic missiles that are capable of reaching Israel, whether the Shahab or the Sajil, and they’ve been moving from liquid fuel to solid fuel as a propellant for their missiles. This means they have greater range and superior accuracy. Hezbollah is estimated to have close to 50,000 rockets of various types, but basically their range encompasses the entire State of Israel. Hamas has also significantly increased its arsenal since Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and is now believed to have rockets such as the Iranian artillery rocket Fajr-5, which can strike Tel Aviv from Gaza. So I think Israel is potentially looking at a number of attacks from various terrorist organizations on various fronts — from the south, the north, and the northeast, from Iran itself. It’s also possible that Hezbollah and Hamas will calculate whether it is in their own independent strategic interest to retaliate on Iran’s behalf. Ultimately, Hezbollah and Hamas will have to make their own decision whether they want to risk everything by retaliating. Of course, we can assume that if one or both of them does, there will be a counteroffensive by Israel against Lebanon and Gaza. They have to take that into consideration as well.
Glyn: If Israel faced a three-way war against Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, how effective would Israel’s missile-defense systems be?
Katz: Currently, Israel has the Arrow, which is capable of intercepting long-range ballistic missiles. Israel also has the Iron Dome — but with just a small number of batteries. This system is supposed to be capable of intercepting short-range rockets, which make up the backbone of Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s arsenals. These systems are not 100 percent. Israel is still waiting to purchase more batteries for the Iron Dome, and it is currently building a third battery for the Arrow. Israel is also developing another system called David’s Sling, which is supposed to be capable of intercepting medium-range rockets. Nothing’s hermetic, but I think this will be instrumental in intercepting some of these missiles and saving Israeli lives. You can’t wait forever for these systems to come, although you think Israel should be investing more in speeding up the deployment. There’s no such thing as perfect defense, but this is a crucial factor when considering what would happen after a strike against Iran.