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Could Israel Take Out Iran's Nuclear Sites? Experts Say Perhaps, But...

Gary Thomas

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington next week to discuss his country’s heightened concern over Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli officials have warned of a possible preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, but the U.S. is trying to dissuade Israel from such action.  An attack would present formidable obstacles for Israel and might only bring a temporary halt to Iranian weapons-related nuclear activity.

Israel is concerned that a window of opportunity is fast closing as Iran starts moving some of its uranium enrichment facilities to hardened underground sites.   The concern has fueled talk of possible Israeli bomb and missile strikes on Iranian facilities.

Michael Eisenstadt, director of Military and Security Studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says Israeli aircraft could reach the Iranian targets if they know where all of them are.  

“I think they have the range, they have the weapons systems, they have the ordnance that they could drop on these facilities.  The question is whether they have the intelligence and whether they have the ability to impose significant enough damage to justify the risk from their point of view,” Eisenstadt said.

But analysts say that for a successful strike, the attack plan would have to be perfect, the intelligence flawless, the weather clear, and the targeting accurate.  

Analysts say the Israelis would have to jam Iranian warning systems and also knock out - “suppress” in military jargon - all air defenses, assuming that they know where they are.

Intelligence historian Matthew Aid says the chances of success, at least in theory, are not good.  He questions whether Israel has sufficiently powerful bombs, known as “bunker busters,” capable of destroying hardened facilities.

"They may be able to damage badly the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which is near the city of Esfahan.  But the Fordow uranium enrichment facility, which is near the holy city of Qom, is built into the side of a mountain and may be impervious to the kind of munitions that the Israelis currently possess," Aid said.

Any aerial path from Israel to Iran would require refueling en route, making the fighter-bomber aircraft vulnerable over potentially hostile airspace, such as Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, or Syria.  Michael Eisenstadt, however, believes that may not be a problem.

"Given attitudes in the Arab world towards Iran and Iran’s nuclear program, I think a lot of Arab countries would quietly applaud if Israel were to do this.  And if Israel had to overfly their territories in order to get to Iran, I don’t think that they would do anything," Eisenstadt said.

But on one point analysts agree: any strike at Iran will at best retard Iran’s nuclear program, perhaps for a year or two…and will almost certainly invite Iranian retaliation against Israel and perhaps against U.S. and allied interests as well.

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by: Nzughul Paul
March 02, 2012 10:38 AM
The greatest mistake Israel would make is their failure to strike hard on Iran. All that Israel need now is to hit hard on the Iranian Nuke facilities as well on their defense system. The Israelis should act fast now, because any further delay would be too dangerous as this may give the Iranians more time to build a Nuke bomb and improve their defense capabilities.

by: James edward
March 02, 2012 6:20 AM
A terrible mistake indeed, it would signify the beginning of an end for Israel.

by: Peter Franzen
March 02, 2012 2:18 AM
Israel is not a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and does not acknowledge the existence of its offensive nuclear arsenal or allow any inspections of its nuclear facilities.
Yet Israel has the audacity to dictate to other states, such as Iran, that they cannot develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
It’s about time the world woke up to the real threat in the Middle East, the terrorist state of Israel.

by: Ly Thuong Kiet
March 01, 2012 6:52 PM
I think Israel preemptive strike against Iran's sites would be an unforgivable mistakes because Israel would face terrible retaliation and huge destruction. How a tiny country like Israel could survive after its mad action?

by: peter
March 01, 2012 5:45 PM
People who think Israel can do any damage to the Iranian nuclear facilities must be living in another planet. God will not help Israel this time. That would be the end of the zionist regime as we know it. I hope theyh will atatck and then we will see who will win.
Israel has to learn a lesson this time not to bully other nations especially the Persians.

by: Dennis Pyland
March 01, 2012 5:36 PM
Sooner or later someone will have to engage Iran and I would say netter now to strike than later when the idiots in Iran develop a true nuclear arsenal. If necessary bomb Iran back to the stone ages. I want world peace in the worst way and Iran stands in the way. This not a religous war it is survival of the world. Go Israel and don't depend on a US socialist, islamic useless USA President who wants to be a dictator by destroying America's Constitution.

by: dave
March 01, 2012 4:29 PM
Israel has over 400 nukes, used Depleted Uranium and white phosphorous arms against civilians in Lebanon. Pure double standard. After the Holocaust, you'd think Israelis would be reluctant to act like Nazis, but not so. Israeli snipers target children in the largest concentration camp in the world, called the West Bank, and the other smaller concentration camp called the Gaza Strip. Evil is as evil does....
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