Israeli soldiers walk near an Iron Dome anti-missile defense battery on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Israel, September 9, 2013. UPI/Debbie Hill | License Photo
TEL AVIV, Israel, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Amid growing unease in Israel at the prospect of a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, Israeli leaders are reported considering military strikes against long-range missiles controlled by the Tehran-backed Hezbollah to threaten the Jewish state's cities and strategic centers.
Israeli Home Front Minister Gilad Erdan claims Hezbollah has "more than 200,000 missiles capable of hitting any house in Israel" -- many more than the 45,000 cited a few weeks ago along the border with Syria, and across south Lebanon.
Erdan's claim should be viewed against the backdrop of the government of hard-line Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which is convinced that Tehran is hoodwinking U.S. President Barack Obama while pursuing nuclear weapons that threaten the Jewish state's very survival.
While Obama seems determined to do all he can to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough with Tehran that could dramatically change the strategic calculus in the Middle East, Israeli analyst Yoel Guzansky says Netanyahu is "afraid the deal will become a slippery slope" for Israel's security.
It should also be viewed through the prism of the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, in which the Jewish state was taken by surprise and nearly crushed.
For some time, Israel's media have been lavishing great attention on the military's preparations for a conflict with Iran and its faithful Arab ally, Hezbollah, with stories on military training, weapons development, civil defense preparations and the awesome scale of the combined missile threat from Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Palestinian militants.
Great attention has been shown to recent long-range air force exercises, a thinly veiled warning to Tehran since it's that kind of operation that would be required if Israel launches threatened unilateral strikes against Iran's nuclear program.
Guzansky, an expert on Iran with Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, says despite the bluster, even the hawkish Netanyahu is unlikely to unleash any assault on Iran on his own.
Indeed, his generals reportedly blocked an apparent move in that direction a few months ago because Israel doesn't have the firepower to knock out Iran's nuclear infrastructure without U.S. support and because such an attack would likely trigger a regional conflagration with uncontrollable consequences.
So, Erdan's doom-laden scenario is arguably over the top. It's more likely that Hezbollah's arsenal amounts to the lower estimate of 45,000 missiles and rockets, including a few hundred capable of hitting anywhere in Israel, rather than 200,000 -- a number more likely to reflect the total number of missiles and rockets held by all Israel's adversaries together.
Any pre-emptive attack on Hezbollah's missile arsenal would likely knock out hundreds of weapons but probably not prevent a missile onslaught beyond anything Israel has ever endured.
In the first 36 hours of Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah, the Israeli air force, armed with accurate intelligence, destroyed virtually all of Hezbollah's long-range weapons in the Bekaa.
Even so, Hezbollah was able to bombard Israel on an unprecedented scale throughout the 34-day conflict, with nearly 4,000 missiles, mostly short-range systems.
Meantime, it has absorbed the lessons of that war.
"According to our worst-case scenario, Israel could find itself under attack from thousands of rockets that could last three weeks," Erdan said last week.
Israeli Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel's chief of staff, warned of a war on many fronts, and declared Hezbollah a major threat. It's widely seen as a tool of the Tehran regime, which if the Islamic Republic was to be attacked would be its instrument of reprisal and revenge.
"The accuracy of their missiles will increase dramatically," Gantz warned. "And if Hezbollah chose to strike a pinpoint target, almost anywhere in Israel, it could do it."
Add to this the threat of Hezbollah getting chemical weapons from its Syrian allies, and the idea of pre-emptive Israeli strikes -- a tactic much favored by the Jewish state, most notably in 1967 -- doesn't sound so outlandish.