Israel has a plan to go it alone. So does the United States. And there may even be a plan for the two countries to collaborate. On Dec. 20, the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told CNN: “We are examining a range of options” and “I am satisfied that the options that we are developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable if necessary.”
In any event, the plans exist, and they illustrate the difficulties in carrying out what some people think would be a simple operation.
For example, should Israel act alone, it would face the extraordinary problem of needing to refuel its bombers en route to targets about 1,000 miles away and refueling them again on the way back. That is why in the new Bipartisan Policy Center report, “Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock,” former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) and retired Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald suggest that the United States provide Israel with three KC-135 refueling tankers.
Robb and Wald do not advocate that the Israelis undertake such an attack, but they say that providing the tankers would “extend the effective range of Israeli aircraft” and “improve Israeli credibility.”
Then there are questions about what targets should be hit, and how many planes would be needed, to stop Iran’s nuclear program, even temporarily. Israel’s two past successes hardly count.
When Israel knocked out Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in June 1981, it was essentially one ground-level building, yet the mission required 14 Israeli aircraft — F-16 fighter-bombers with some of their fuel tanks removed to carry heavy bombs, and F-15 fighters to handle any Iraqi planes that came up to meet them. Israel’s other success, hitting a partially constructed Syrian facility in September 2007, again targeted a single, ground-level building.
Now look at the potential targets in today’s Iran.
There is the fuel-enrichment plant at Natanz, a collection of below-ground facilities used to produce enriched uranium. There is the newer Fordow fuel-enrichment plant near Qom, built into the side of a mountain and heavily fortified. This is where Iran has already moved 3.5 percent enriched uranium from Natanz and where most analysts believe it will be enriched to weapons grade, if Tehran decides to take that step.
Of course there would be other targets if a strike is to do more than set back Iran by one to three years. At Parchin, one of the nation’s leading munitions centers, Iran is suspected of testing high explosives for use in nuclear weapons, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s November report. There is a uranium conversion plant at Isfahan, a heavy-water facility being constructed at Arak and centrifuge factories outside Tehran.