Friday, September 21, 2012

The Problems Israel Would Face in Attacking Iran

Here are some of the problems facing the Israelis if they attempt to attack Iranian nuclear facilities by air:

According to Joffe, the US air force ordered MOPs [massive bunker busting bombs] when the Fordo facility was uncovered, the first were delivered last fall. Israel does not have MOPs or American B2 bombers, which would be used to transport the bombs if the Americans attack. Yet Fordo is only one of the problems Israel is facing.

Another difficulty in a military strike against Iran is the distance. Out of the eight central air force targets in the Islamic Republic, only the Arak facility is reachable without refueling.

"An F-16I 'Storm' flies very high in very thin air, with extra fuel tanks it can cover 1500 km. Yet if it flies low to evade radar in Jordan, Iraq and Iran, its combat radius shrinks by half. The F-15I 'Thunder', the IAF’s mightiest jet probably has similar specs: 1000 to 1500 kilometers.

Joffe goes on to explain in detail why it just is not enough: "The pilots would have to turn back about a hundred kilometers short of the enrichment sites at Fordo and Natanz. If they were to fly on anyway, they would have to refill their tanks over territory that’s not exactly friendly: Jordan and Iraq using the direct route; or, on the northern variant, along the Syrian-Turkish border.

"They could fly undetected only over the sea, around the Arabian Peninsula. That would mean 5000 kilometers: an absurd venture…Geography, then, remains Israel’s foremost enemy, one that can be overcome only by midair refueling."

Yet refueling might be Israel's main problem, says Joffe: "Israel has only five tanker jets modified Boeing 707s. Time for some mental math: The IAF has 100 Storms and 25 Thunders. If they’re all deployed at once, they would have to be refueled twice, on each leg of the mission. 125 times two equals 250 – with a handful of tankers?

"Then with half the fleet, perhaps? That wouldn’t change much either, because bombers have to arm themselves against fighters and ground-to-air missiles. The Iranians’ 50-odd fighters (F-14s, Mirages and MiG-29s) may be old to obsolete, but still have to be reckoned with."

In line with American assessments claiming that Israel cannot destroy all of Iran's nuclear facilities, and would only be able to delay Tehran's efforts to achieve nuclear capability, Joffe believes that the IDF would choose to hit a few of targets rather than all eight of them.

He concludes that the air force might try to take out key components in the nuclear supplies chain by destroying the enrichment facility at Natanz, which is more vulnerable than Fordo, as well as the uranium converter facility at Isfahan.

Joffe explains that without the possibility of converting uranium to gas, Iran would be forced to halt enrichment activities.

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