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U.S. Is Studying Military Strike Options on Iran

Unlike the Israeli air attack on Osirak, a strike on Iran would prove more complex because Iran has spread its facilities across the country, guarded some of them with sophisticated antiaircraft batteries and shielded them underground.

Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices. The Natanz facility consists of more than two dozen buildings, including two huge underground halls built with six-foot walls and supposedly protected by two concrete roofs with sand and rocks in between, according to Edward N. Luttwak, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The targeteers honestly keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels," said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst. "Could we do it with conventional munitions? Possibly. But it's going to be very difficult to do."

Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, an expert in targeting and war games who teaches at the National Defense University, recently gamed an Iran attack and identified 24 potential nuclear-related facilities, some below 50 feet of reinforced concrete and soil.

At a conference in Berlin, Gardiner outlined a five-day operation that would require 400 "aim points," or targets for individual weapons, at nuclear facilities, at least 75 of which would require penetrating weapons. He also presumed the Pentagon would hit two chemical production plants, medium-range ballistic missile launchers and 14 airfields with sheltered aircraft. Special Operations forces would be required, he said.

Gardiner concluded that a military attack would not work, but said he believes the United States seems to be moving inexorably toward it. "The Bush administration is very close to being left with only the military option," he said.

Others forecast a more surgical strike aimed at knocking out a single "choke point" that would disrupt the Iranian nuclear program. "The process can be broken at any point," a senior administration official said. "But part of the risk is: We don't know if Natanz is the only enrichment facility. We could bomb it, take the political cost and still not set them back."

Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said a more likely target might be Isfahan, which he visited last year and which appeared lightly defended and above-ground. But he argued that any attack would only firm up Iranian resolve to develop weapons. "Whatever you do," he said, "is almost certain to accelerate a nuclear bomb program rather than destroy it."


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