Perspective 60. Iran's Nuclear Program: Can Israel Take It Out?
Talks to restore the deal containing Iran's nuclear weapons potential are going nowhere. Consequently attention is turning to a possible Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Could the Israeli air force, in fact, destroy the key facilities?
Probably not. At least not in the near future. Recent leaks from Israeli military and intelligence sources indicate that an attack now would at best delay the program. One anonymous official estimates that it would take two years to put together a bombing campaign that would put the Iranians back to zero.
In perspective, an airstrike now would simply be an extension of the covert war that Israel has already been waging through sabotage, targeted assassinations, and cyber warfare. At best these actions have only delayed the Iranian program. After each successful strike, the Iranians have simply built back better, to borrow a phrase from another context.
The Iranian program is carried out at dozens of sites, and the two key facilities -- Natanz and Fordow -- are buried deep underground. The "bunker buster" bombs that would do the job require aircraft that would require refueling for the mission, and Israel reportedly lacks this capacity. Israel has ordered new refueling tankers from Boeing -- but the first one will arrive only in late 2024.
Iranian air defenses have also been significantly improved over the years, and they also possess missiles capable of reaching any place in Israel. This, added to the huge missile inventory of Iran's client Hizballah in neighboring Lebanon, means that any Israeli attack would involve widespread devastation in Israel itself. Any Israeli government might well hesitate before igniting a retaliatory conflagration of these dimensions.
So why is Israel currently making it a point to threaten such an attack? Recently the Defense Minister, the Chief of Staff, and the head of Mossad (Israel's foreign intelligence service) have all made public pronouncements that Israel is preparing to act. In fact, the threats have been so blatant that one is led to believe that an attack is NOT imminent. If and when an attack is ordained, surely policymakers would not go to such lengths to warn Iran.
So presumably the intention is, first, to force the Iranians to back down as they did in 2015, and secondly to pressure the six other parties in the current negotiations to stand tough.
The Irony is that although the government of Israel opposed the Iran deal at the time, some within it now say that the Trump administration's exit from the deal was a mistake. In the end, it enabled the Iranians to resume enriching uranium to near-weapon level. Returning to the deal is a no-brainer. If it were only that simple!
Leaving the deal was, on the other hand, brainless, and we are now living with the consequences.