Attacking Iran’s nuclear sites is a big topic of discussion. A new Pew poll from October 6 found a whopping 61% of Americans agree its “more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action” than to stand aside and let Iran acquire weapons.
Leaving aside the immense political calculations, just what does the military option look like? A punitive strike against all or part of Iran’s nascent nuclear capability would be a tough target set. No doubt the hyper-professional Israeli air force would be willing to try it like they did in destroying Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 or their 2007 mystery raid on a site in Syria. But Iran today is harder. Probably the only forces capable of success would be a force led by U.S. Air Force B-2 bombers and F-22 stealth fighters.
A casual look shows Iran has multiple research and production facilities plus other sites like uranium mines. That’s a lot of aimpoints – the specific impact coordinates to be struck to damage a target. One complex may have numerous aimpoints. Would the plan be to hit most of them, or enough to make a point?
The top concerns for the International Atomic Energy Agency are enrichment facilities, especially the one at Natanz. Enrichment sites process uranium ore to fuel a nuclear reactor or build a bomb. Iran also has sites like the heavy water reactor at Arak, theoretically capable of plutonium production. The dilemma comes from the suspected uranium enrichment sites – will the UN ever really know how many there are?
Take the site at Qom revealed a few weeks ago in a pre-emptive media strike by the Obama White House. According to pictures on the Internet the only good thing about this site is it’s not close to a population center. It’s deep into Iranian territory and it wouldn’t be too hard for Iran to haul some surface-to-air missiles up there.
What will be the goal? Expect joint planners to hand-pick aimpoints around the suspected complexes. They’ll want to do enough damage to set back Iran’s alleged weaponization programs but every target will be evaluated for collateral damage. It would not be a surprise if final target approval went all the way to the White House with General Petraeus, CENTCOM commander, in attendance.
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