Analysis: Israel hits higher up supply chain

As Israeli disquiet grew this week over the extent to which its recent action in Gaza succeeded in slowing arms smuggling, news emerged of a strike by its air force against an arms convoy in Sudan.

Excellent intelligence meant Israel had early warning of an arms shipment containing suspected long-range missiles for Hamas and was able to identify it among hundreds of ships crossing the Red Sea and convoys traversing the desert.

Israeli planes and ships operated extensively along the Sudanese coast during the 1980s, smuggling out Ethiopian Jews heading for Israel. Today, that is where most of the Hamas-bound arms shipments come from. Many links from that period are still in place and Mossad maintains close relations with its counterparts in Ethiopia, keeping an eye on the activities of both Iran and al-Qaeda in East Africa.

Better training and dedicated equipment also helped the mission. Over the past decade, the IAF has developed its long-range capabilities, and it is now equipped with F-15I and F-16I fighter-bombers designed for those kinds of missions. Hundreds of pilots have trained for 2000km missions and practised air-refuelling over the Mediterranean. The squadrons now are much more flexible in adapting themselves at very short notice. They would have only had a few days warning at most.

A satellite-based, real-time information system integrates all the planes into one network, enabling them to receive the coordinates of a moving target hundreds of kilometres away while in the air. This network uses intelligence collected by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which can track potential targets for more than 24 hours.

Former IAF generals were quick to point out these capabilities and the fact that the Iranian nuclear installations are within the same range as Sudan. All these factors will certainly be crucial to a successful attack against Iran, but there are still some fundamental differences.

Sudan had not been expecting the attack, and its technological and military capabilities are small. Iran has a formidable air-defence system and is on high alert. Its nuclear infrastructure is mainly in underground fortified bunkers, and it will take a concentration of heavy bombing to take it out. A moving target is not always harder to hit.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010