For all the myriad challenges facing Israel over the past decade it is the potential threat from a nuclear-armed Iran that has pre-occupied the country's military planners.It is this that in large part has guided the development of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) over recent years.
The IAF has purchased 125 advanced F-15I and F-16I warplanes, equipped with Israeli avionics and additional fuel tanks - tailor-made for long-range strike missions.
In addition, Israel has bought specialised bunker-busting munitions; developed large, long-endurance, unmanned aircraft; and much of its training has focused on long-range missions.
Israel has a track-record of pre-emptive strikes against nuclear targets in the region.
In June 1981, Israeli jets bombed the Osirak reactor near the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
More recently, in September 2007, Israeli warplanes attacked a facility in Syria that Israel, the US and many experts believed was a nuclear reactor under construction.
However, a potential strike against Iran would be nothing like the attacks in Iraq and Syria. These were both against single targets, located above ground, and came literally out of the blue.
An Israeli attempt to severely damage Iran's nuclear programme would have to cope with a variety of problems, including range, the multiplicity of targets, and the nature of those targets.
Many of these problems are daunting in themselves, but when put together, they only compound the difficulties facing Israeli military planners.
How to get there?
For a start it is a very long way from Israel to Iran. As a rough estimate many of the potential targets are some 1,500km (930 miles) to 1,800km (1,120 miles) from Israeli bases. Israeli warplanes have to get to Iran and, equally important, get back.
At least three routes are possible.
- There is the northern one where Israeli jets would fly north and then east along the borders between Turkey and Syria, and then Turkey and Iraq
- The central, more likely route would take Israeli warplanes over Iraq. With the US military gone, the Iraqi authorities are far less able to monitor and control their air space, effectively opening a door to an Israeli incursion
- The third, southern route would take Israeli jets over Saudi air space. Would the Saudis turn a blind eye to such a move given their own concerns about Iran's nuclear programme? Could this route be used by Israeli aircraft on the return leg of their journey? We just do not know...read more