Fact and fiction in Israel's fight behind enemy lines

When trying to make sense of some of the recent reports to come out on secret Israeli missions and plans for attacks on Iran, it is useful to simply open an atlas.

Take, for instance, the "news" on Israeli operations from the Kurd regions in northern Iraq, which appeared in the Sunday Times last month. This is the same report that has been recycled for the past nine years - but how true is it?

A quick look at the map confirms that since Israel does not border Iran itself, the closest point from which to launch any type of ground mission would be the Iraqi border. This also happens to Iran's longest land-border and, due to the weakness of the Iraqi army, also one of the least policed.

So if Israel is going to be operating in Iran - and the series of bombings last year would indicate that someone who is worried about Iran's nuclear programme is doing so - northern Iraq would be the place to go in. That would also be geographically a likely starting point for patrols going in to collect geological and atmospheric evidence of nuclear activity. Such evidence is necessary to convince Western powers that Iran is indeed developing the necessary components and enriching uranium to weapons-grade.

It is hard to believe Israel would have a base in Iraq

On the other hand, another look at the map reminds us that this part of Iraq is the land bridge that Iran is reportedly using to ship arms to Bashar al-Assad's regime. In other words, an area in which Iran's elite Qods Force is very active. This puts into doubt at least one detail of the Sunday Times report, that Israel has bases in northern Iraq. While the region certainly could be the starting-point for missions, it is hard to believe that Israel would risk basing personnel there for any length of time.

On the subject of bases, another spate of reports have been focusing on Israel's alliance with Azerbaijan. Last week, the US magazine Foreign Policy went as far as to claim that the Azeris have agreed to Israel using former Soviet airbases on its territory for an attack on Iran.

Opening the atlas again, half of this story makes sense - Azerbaijan is another back-door into Iran. And it is no coincidence that the Iran-wary Baku government has just signed an arms deal worth a £1bn with Israel. But a cursory glance at the map shows that the idea of Israel using Azeri bases does not make much sense as they would have no air route by which they could fly back to Israel. Mossad and the IAF have extraordinary capabilities but changing the geography of the Middle East is not one of them.

    Last updated: 2:10pm, April 11 2012