March 5, 2012 | New York Daily News

Israel Has the Power to Knock Out Iran’s Nuclear Facilities

March 5, 2012 | New York Daily News

Israel Has the Power to Knock Out Iran’s Nuclear Facilities

Israel's “determination to prevent confrontation states . . . from gaining access to nuclear weapons” is the preemptive foreign policy doctrine of the Jewish state.

Those were the historic words of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s administration. This week marks the 20th anniversary of Begin’s death, and his legacy is currently playing out in Israel’s drive to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The Begin doctrine has been implemented twice in Israel’s history. In June 1981, Israel launched Operation Opera to destroy the Osirak nuclear reactor outside Baghdad. In September 2007, Israeli jets launched Operation Orchard, targeting Syria’s secret nuclear facility at al-Kibar.

Unlike Syria and Iraq, the Iranians have multiple nuclear installations scattered across the country, each over 1,000 miles away from Israel. To knock out the six key sites and return home safely would be the greatest challenge the Israeli air force has faced since its founding.

The heavy water reactor at Arak and uranium enrichment facility at Isfahan both sit above ground, making them vulnerable. Similarly, Iran’s nuclear plant at Bushehr is, like Osirak, a wide-open target.

The vast military complex at Parchin, where Iran denied access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections last month, has more than 100 buildings, many of which lie deep underground. The uranium enrichment complex at Natanz consists of both buried and ground-level buildings.

A second enrichment facility is buried deep into the side of a mountain at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom. Burrowed under 300 feet of rock, the Fordo facility is located in a hardened tunnel.

This would require successive bunker-busting attacks to knock out its operation.

President George W. Bush promised — and President Obama delivered — untold numbers of GBU-28 bunker busters, which can tunnel through concrete before exploding deep underground. President Bush is also rumored to have sold Israel several midair refueling aircraft.

Writing in last month’s daily Die Welt, Hans Rühle, who directed the planning department of the German Defense Ministry from 1982 to 1988, expressed almost supreme confidence that Israel’s air force could obliterate Iran’s main nuclear sites. He believes that with 25 of its 87 F-15 fighter planes and a smaller deployment of F-16 jets, the Israelis could destroy all six of Iran’s key sites.

Israeli jets could fly directly over Jordan and Iraq. In 1981, Jordan chose not to challenge the IAF, and the withdrawal of U.S. forces today effectively leaves Iraq with no air defenses.

They might also approach Iran through Turkey, but its termination of military ties with Israel and preoccupation with the Syrian civil war bode poorly for this option.

Finally, Israeli jets could swoop south and enter Iran through Saudi airspace. WikiLeaks dispatches on the Iranian nuclear threat reveal Saudi King Abdullah’s desire to “cut off the head of the snake.”

Benjamin Netanyahu is not likely to be the first Israeli prime minister to abandon the Begin doctrine. And however the Israelis might get to Iran, more than likely, they can.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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