The attack perpetrated by the Iranians on the Saudi refineries – be it directly or indirectly – has direct implications for our security. These ramifications still have not been widely discussed in public, but I intend to do so here because they require rethinking Iran’s capabilities vis-à-vis Israel.
1. A total of 20 cruise missiles and drones were used in the attack. Such an operation requires a high degree of coordination, real-time communication, navigation and target selection. The Iranians had previously demonstrated the ability to operate a large number of drones (nearly 50) in a military exercise this past July. The Iranians also demonstrated impressive communications capability when they seized control of an advanced American drone, brought it down in their territory and copied it to suit their needs. Drone wreckage discovered in Saudi Arabia shows that the Iranians are manufacturing and operating drones so advanced (with jet engines and significant stealth capabilities) that they do not lag behind Israeli capabilities in this field.
2. Seventeen targets incurred a direct hit in this concentrated bombardment. Considering the 20 projectiles whose debris was found at the attack site, that’s an 85-percent success rate, which indicates the very high capability and reliability of the technology that was used. By comparison, 60 percent of the targets were hit in cruise missile attacks conducted by the United States. And in Russia’s missile strikes on ISIS in Syria, some of the missiles went astray in the desert. The Iranian technology is reliable and advanced, and the Iranians are capable of producing and operating simultaneously a large number of drones and cruise missiles.
3. The combination of drones and cruise missiles (for marking targets, final guidance or measuring damage) proved highly effective in hitting pinpoint targets, and possibly as well for non-stationary targets. The photos show the precision that was achieved in the attack. Each one of the spherical gas tankers in the picture was hit in the center. The pictures also show that the strike precision was one meter, much greater than what is possible with simple satellite guidance or setting a pre-calculated ground trajectory.
4. The Saudi military has radar aircraft that should have been able to spot the imminent attack, but this did not happen. Nor did the United States spot signs that would have enabled it to identify the incoming attack (and its origin, which may have been from Iran or from Yemen). These facts mean one of two things: Either the Saudi defense system failed or communication between the Iranian missiles was hidden and hard to discover. Either way, the attack was successful and effective. In addition to the gas tanks that were hit, which may be quickly repaired, the refinery towers were also destroyed. It won’t take just a few days or a couple of weeks to restore the site to full capacity, as the Saudis claim. It will take much longer.
5. How does all of this affect us? The Iranians, or their proxies, showed that they can hit specific targets with great precision and from a distance of hundreds of kilometers. We have to accept the fact that we are now vulnerable to such a strike. Yes, we can also carry out such strikes and perhaps inflict great damage on them, but so what? Does rational deterrence always work in the Middle East? I believe we must make different preparations in the face of such a proven possibility.
What do I mean? For one thing, it is very good that the ammonia tank in Haifa has been mostly emptied (this only took 20 years). It's good that the Pi Glilot fuel terminal was relocated further from Tel Aviv. It would also be good to bury gas and fuel tanks underground. Power stations should be better protected against a direct hit. And, above all, of course, operation of the Dimona nuclear reactor should be halted. It has now been shown to be vulnerable, and the harm it could cause would likely exceed its benefits.
Uzi Even is a professor of chemistry and was one of the founding scientists of the Dimona reactor.