'Leaked Israel memo': propaganda or Iran war plan?

By Jonathan Marcus
BBC Diplomatic Correspondent

image captionGerman-built Dolphin submarines are capable of firing cruise missiles

Richard Silverstein - the American blogger who says he has been given the text of a memo outlining Israel's plans for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities - is clear about what he thinks it is.

He says it came from a senior Israeli politician - a former minister - and he describes it as a "sales pitch", used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak to try to win round sceptical members of Israel's divided inner security cabinet.

The text supplied to the BBC is just that - text.

There is no document as such and thus it is impossible to verify if it is indeed an Israeli cabinet paper of some kind. But its purpose for Mr Silverstein is clear.

He believes it was passed by a serving officer to the politician and then leaked by him precisely to alert the outside world to the scale of Israel's military plan to strike at Iran and thus to reduce its chances of ever happening.

An unprecedented public debate is under way in Israel on the wisdom of launching an attack against Iran. And this leaked document, whatever its source, and whatever its original purpose, has become an element in that debate.

media captionUS journalist Richard Silverstein says he has received a leaked Israeli "document" stating "that an attack on Iran would go smoothly"

'Paralyse the regime'

The document itself is striking in both the scale and scope of the military operation that it proposes.

It also employs a range of technologies, many of which we have known that the Israelis are developing, but this document suggests that they are battle-ready and fully operational.

The text suggests that an Israeli operation would begin with a massive cyber attack against Iran's infrastructure, to "paralyse the regime and its ability to know what is happening within its borders".

Ballistic missiles would be fired at Iranian nuclear targets, albeit with conventional non-nuclear warheads. Cruise missiles would be fired from Israeli submarines in the Gulf.

It has long been assumed that Israel's small force of German-built Dolphin-class submarines has been adapted to fire cruise missiles, though it is not clear if these are a version of the US-made Harpoon or a derivative of the much longer range Israeli-built Popeye.

image captionIt is not clear if Israel's submarine-launched cruise missiles are a version of the US-made Harpoon

According to the text, it will not be just the main Iranian nuclear facilities that are struck, but command-and-control systems; research-and-development facilities and the residences of senior personnel in the nuclear and missile development apparatus.

'Futuristic battle plan'

After the first wave of attacks the Israeli memo suggests there will be a rapid assessment of the damage done by satellite, after which manned aircraft will go in to attack "a short-list of those targets which require further assault".

At almost every stage Israel will be using key technologies and weapons systems that it has developed itself, including what the memo describes as equipment that "will render Israeli aircraft invisible"; technology that it has not even shared with its US ally.

At one level it all reads like a futuristic battle plan out of a Tom Clancy novel.

There is nothing in the text about how Iran might respond, nor anything about the potential for a regional war, which could embroil Israel on its northern border should Iran's ally Hezbollah rain down missiles on Israeli cities.

The proposed mission is huge and with potentially far-reaching consequences. We know that most of the Israeli top military command and intelligence chiefs are sceptical about bombing Iran now.

They don't so much question Israel's ability to conduct such a mission - though the scale and scope of what is proposed in the leaked text sounds as though it would test Israel's military machine to its limit.

They fear of wider ramifications in a febrile and unstable region.

They wonder at what exactly the gains would be?

A delay in Iran's nuclear development programme, yes, but for how long?

And above all, they fear the damage that a unilateral Israeli decision to attack Iran might have on the Israel-US relationship, especially if such an attack went ahead so close to a US presidential election in November.

The debate is in full swing. Some analysts suggest that Israeli leaders are preparing Israeli public opinion and indeed the outside world for a strike.

The two key players, Mr Barak and Mr Netanyahu, insist that if the fateful decision has to be made, they will not flinch.

Israel's security cabinet is well qualified in military matters, though at this stage it is said to be almost evenly divided on the merits of a strike.

Of course, the differences of opinion and the airing of the arguments itself sends a signal to Tehran, to Washington and anywhere else that may be listening.

The text may or may not be a precis of Israel's battle plans.

But it is now an integral part of the increasingly feverish national debate and a debate that resonates well beyond Israel's own borders.

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