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Shahab Air Defense: Iran's Ballistic Missile Defense Program?

Shahab air defense could counter the threat of Israeli 11,500 km Jericho intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Although no official statistics exist, it has been estimated that Israel possesses up to 400 thermonuclear weapons, believed to be of Teller-Ulam design, including strategic warheads in the megaton-range.

Delivery mechanisms include Jericho intercontinental ballistic missiles, with a range of 11,500 km. Additionally, Israel is believed to have an offshore nuclear second-strike capability, using submarine launched nuclear-capable cruise missiles.

The Israeli government maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity on whether it has nuclear weapons, saying only that it would not be the first to "introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East." Former International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei regarded Israel as a state possessing nuclear weapons.

Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, on July 13, 2008, Israel took part in a regional conference of the Union for the Mediterranean which pledged to pursue a Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

Israel could use ballistic missiles against Iran

Ballistic missiles could be Israel's weapon of choice against Iranian nuclear facilities if it decides on a pre-emptive attack and deems air strikes too risky, according to a report by a Washington think-tank.

Israel is widely assumed to have Jericho missiles capable of hitting Iran with an accuracy of a few dozen metres (yards) from target. Such a capability would be free of warplanes' main drawbacks -- limits on fuel and ordnance, and perils to pilots.

Extrapolating from analyst assessments that the most advanced Jerichos carry 750 kg (1,650 lb) conventional warheads, Abdullah Toukan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said 42 missiles would be enough to "severely damage or demolish" Iran's core nuclear sites at Natanz, Esfahan and Arak.

"If the Jericho III is fully developed and its accuracy is quite high then this scenario could look much more feasible than using combat aircraft," he said in the March 14 report, titled "Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development Facilities".

Israel, whose jets bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981 and mounted a similar sortie over Syria in 2007, has hinted that it could forcibly deny Iran the means to make an atomic bomb.

But many experts believe the Iranian sites are too distant, dispersed and protected for Israel's warplanes to take on alone.

Israel neither confirms nor denies having Jerichos, as part of an "ambiguity" policy veiling its own assumed atomic arsenal.

Sam Gardiner, a retired U.S. air force colonel who runs war games for various government agencies in Washington, cast doubt on the usefulness of ballistic missiles against Iran, noting, for example, the robust fortification at Natanz.

This, he said, would required that attackers "burrow" into the targets using multiple, precision-guided bombs dropped by plane: "The American conclusion is that the only way to get deep enough is to put a second warhead into the hole of the first."

Loath to see further destabilisation of a combustible region, the Obama administration has championed engaging Iran diplomatically. Some U.S. officials have signalled unhappiness at the idea of Israel going it alone against its arch-foe.

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