A senior Israeli official is warning his countrymen that they should prepare for a possible missile attack from Iran.
Rafi Eitan, a former intelligence chief who now serves as part of Prime Minister Olmert's decision-making inner cabinet, told Israel radio that the Jewish state would likely be attacked first--if the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West deteriorates.
We are liable to face an Iranian missile attack. The Iranians have said very clearly that if they come under attack, their primary target would be Israel," said Eitan.
Iran could fire missiles at the Jewish state "therefore we must prepare for what could come, and prepare the entire country for a missile strike attack, to prepare all the civilian systems so they are ready for this," Eitan said.
The radio said Eitan meant that Israel should prepare its bomb shelters to protect against a possible Iranian attack.
"Prepare its bomb shelters" is a carefully calibrated term for precautions against chemical or biological attack. Israeli bomb shelters are already capable of handling conventional attacks, as demonstrated during the recent Katyusha strikes by Hizballah. However, additional preparations would be required for chemical or bio attacks, similar to those observed before the first Gulf War back in 1991. Implementing those steps--including distribution of gas masks to the general populace, or installing chem/bio "barriers" in shelters--would be a good indicator of how seriously Israel is taking the Iranian threat.
Emboldened by Hizballah's recent victory in Lebanon--and its own refusal to meet the U.N.'s nuclear demands--Iran is probably more willing to strike at Israel than in the past. But Israel is not defenseless against an Iranian missile attack. The Arrow II missile defense system was deployed specifically for that purpose; it is more than capable of defeating Iran's medium-range missile, the Shahab-3, and U.S.-built Patriot batterys provide redundant capabilities. The missiles launched by Iran last week were short-range models and provide no threat to Israel. Tehran's last test of a Shahab-3 occurred months ago, and was only partially successful. However, the missiles have been declared operational by the Iranians, and could be launched with minimal warning. Given that capability--and a resurgent Iran--advance preparations certainly make sense.
One final thought: given its recent setback in Lebanon, Israel is perhaps less likely to use force against Iran--at least for the short term. There's a lot of finger-pointing going on in Israel right now, as generals and politicians try to pin the blame for what went wrong against Hizballah. In that environment, the Israelis might be less willing to mount a bold strike against Iran's nuclear program, unless they had clear proof that Tehran was about to get the bomb--and they could pinpoint the weapons (or final assembly) to a few, targetable locations.
At this point, Israel desperately needs a change of government--and new leadership of its defense apparatus.