Plot­ting against Ira­nian nuke sites

Is­rael could use ev­ery­thing from worms to bunker busters

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The first in­di­ca­tion that Is­rael has re­sorted to mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram would be ex­plo­sions across the Is­lamic repub­lic.

The Is­raeli De­fense Forces (IDF) — with its vaunted pi­lots and Amer­i­can- sup­plied war­planes — are so adept at sur­prise that Iraq and Syria never knew what hit them un­til their nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties lay smol­der­ing.

But Iran and its scores of buried and ce­mented nu­clear sites present a much more daunt­ing cam­paign — one of days, not hours, and mul­ti­ple weapons, not a few laser-guided bombs.

And un­like Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007, Iran can be ex­pected to launch a fierce coun­ter­at­tack that likely would draw the United States into a low-level war with Tehran.

The strikes and coun­ter­strikes could un­fold this way:

If Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben-

jamin Ne­tanyahu per­suades his Cab­i­net to ap­prove strikes, long-range F15Is and F-16IS (“I” for Is­rael) would take off from the Hatzerim air base on a moon­less night.

Is­rael’s most ad­vanced war­planes, the “I Team” would carry U.s.-made, 5,000-pound bunker-bust­ing bombs that drill be­low ground be­fore ex­plod­ing. Is­rael’s older F-16s and F-15s would stay home to deal with an­tic­i­pated reprisals.

Is­rael has been re­vis­ing its tar­get list for years as it has gained in­ti­mate knowl­edge of Iran’s in­fra­struc­ture and mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions via U.S. in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing and its own net­work of spy satel­lites.

The low-fly­ing “I” jets could take one or more routes to pen­e­trate Ira­nian airspace on flights as long as 1,000 miles or more.

Saudi Ara­bia, which sees Iran as the big­gest threat to Per­sian Gulf oil states, might al­low Is­raeli jets to ac­cess its airspace to cross into Iran from the south­west.

Is­rael also could opt to fly over Iraq, given that the U.S. and its war­planes have left and Bagh­dad has not re­built an air de­fense force.

‘Dif­fi­cult, but not im­pos­si­ble’

Iran’s thick net­work of radars and anti-air­craft mis­siles would be at­tacked first, per­haps by cy­ber­war­fare viruses or some type of elec­tronic jam­ming that makes the bombers in­vis­i­ble.

An­a­lysts pre­sume that Is­rael has probed Iran’s com­puter net­works and has a plan to dis­able them with viruses and worms that would break down com­mu­ni­ca­tion lines and dis­rupt elec­tric power.

Once Is­raeli jets have pen­e­trated Ira­nian airspace, their tar­get list un­doubt­edly would in­clude the large uranium-en­rich­ment plant at Natanz and the nu­clear re­ac­tor on the Gulf coast at Bushehr.

Is­rael has tracked the where­abouts of Iran’s atomic sci­en­tists and also would tar­get their homes.

Is­raeli pi­lots have prac­ticed lon­grange mis­sions, com­plete with in-air re­fu­el­ing via so­phis­ti­cated aerial tanker-fighter ma­neu­vers to ex­tend their air­craft’s range of op­er­a­tion by hun­dreds of miles.

“The United States has pro­vided the air­planes, bombs and mis­siles, and the aerial re­fu­el­ing tankers to sup­port the kind of sus­tained strikes that would be re­quired to at­tack the known sites in­side Iran,” said James Rus­sell, an in­struc­tor at the Naval Post­grad­u­ate School in Mon­terey, Calif., who worked at the Pen­tagon on arms trans­fers to U.S. al­lies.

“This is not a mat­ter of blow­ing up a re­ac­tor in a sin­gle mis­sion,” he said. “Iran’s in­fra­struc­ture is spread out over the coun­try. Some of the sites, like Natanz, are said to be deeply buried and built to with­stand aerial bomb­ing by the kinds of bunker­buster bombs the United States has pro­vided.

“Con­duct­ing these strikes would be dif­fi­cult, but not im­pos­si­ble.”

Is­rael would po­si­tion diesel-pow­ered Dol­phin-class sub­marines within mis­sile range, per­haps in the Ara­bian Sea. Sub-launched Har­poon cruise mis­siles could strike Ira­nian radars, air-de­fense jets and nu­clear sites.

“I think a lot of it is go­ing to be done through the use of sub­marines,” said Michael Maloof, a for­mer Pen­tagon pol­i­cy­maker who fo­cused on the Mid­dle East and Cen­tral Asia. “They have very ca­pa­ble mis­sile sub­marines.”

Is­rael also has an arse­nal of Jeri­cho sur­face-to-sur­face mis­siles that were built pri­mar­ily to carry nu­clear war­heads. The Jewish state is es­ti­mated to own about 85 nu­clear weapons.

It is likely that Is­rael’s mil­i­tary, which is skilled at adapt­ing mul­ti­task weapons, has re­con­fig­ured the Jeri­cho to carry con­ven­tional ex­plo­sives.

Two years ago, Vice Prime Min­is­ter Moshe Ya’alon boasted of the IDF’S combat readi­ness.

“This ca­pa­bil­ity can be used for a war on ter­ror in Gaza, for a war in the face of rock­ets from Le­banon, for war on the con­ven­tional Syr­ian army and also for war on a pe­riph­eral state like Iran,” said Mr. Ya’alon, who served as IDF chief of staff in the 2000s.

Is­raeli off icials re­port­edly are mulling a mil­i­tary at­tack on Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, which they re­gard as an ex­is­ten­tial threat, given the Is­lamic repub­lic’s calls for the destruc­tion of the Jewish state.

Is­rael and Western na­tions sus­pect that Ira­nian atomic re­search is geared to­ward bomb-mak­ing, de­spite Iran’s as­ser­tions that its nu­clear pro­gram is only for peace­ful, civil­ian uses.

A ques­tion of ca­pac­ity

Re­tired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Dep­tula knows how to con­duct an air war.

He is a for­mer fighter pi­lot who ran the air-op­er­a­tions cen­ter dur­ing the early days of the Afghanistan War. He ended up as the Air Force’s top uni­formed in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer. He can find and hit a tar­get.

Gen. Dep­tula asks a key ques­tion: Does Is­rael own the mil­i­tary ca­pac­ity to in­flict suf­fi­cient dam­age to set back Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram for sev­eral years?

For in­stance, a U.S. cam­paign would un­leash an air­borne ar­mada of B-2 stealth bombers, Air Force and Navy strike fight­ers, sea- and air-launched cruise mis­siles, and elec­tronic jam­mers to blind radars. It also would field com­mand-and-con­trol air­craft to syn­chro­nize flights and warn of threats.

Is­rael has some of those as­sets, but in much smaller num­bers — a com­bined to­tal of about 100 F-15 and F-16 I’s. That means it could not hit as many tar­gets as a sus­tained U.S. air war would.

“Is­rael has one of the most ca­pa­ble mil­i­taries in the world, and they have one of the most in­no­va­tive and creative sets of plan­ners, as far as na­tions around the world are con­cerned,” Gen. Dep­tula said.

“The is­sue is not whether they are ca­pa­ble of con­duct­ing se­lected strikes in­side Iran. The is­sue is the ca­pac­ity of their forces to in­flict enough de­sired ef­fects on the weapons-pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties to ac­com­plish what­ever the endgame ob­jec­tive is.

“Yeah, they would con­duct a cou­ple of strikes. But the ques­tion is, to what end?” the gen­eral said.

The task is even more dif­fi­cult, he said, given Iran’s widely sep­a­rated nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties that are “deeply hard­ened and buried.”

De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta has taken note of Ira­nian de­fenses as chal­lenges to U.S. forces, let alone Is­raeli forces.

Asked in De­cem­ber how long mil­i­tary ac­tion would set back Iran, he said: “It de­pends on the abil­ity to truly get the tar­gets that they’re af­ter. Frankly, some of those tar­gets are very dif­fi­cult to get at.”

Press re­ports from Jerusalem have quoted Is­raeli of­fi­cials as say­ing they will not tip off the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion about any strike on Iran.

The U.S., how­ever, is main­tain­ing a large mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Gulf, in­clud­ing a com­bined op­er­a­tions cen­ter at Al Ud­ied, Qatar, that mon­i­tors all air cor­ri­dors in the re­gion.

“Is­rael’s air­planes would be tran­sit­ing over third-coun­try airspace, not to men­tion hav­ing to de-con­flict airspace man­age­ment with the United States,” Mr. Rus­sell said.

What would the U.S. do if it de­tected Is­raeli fight­ers en route to Iran?

“It re­ally de­pends on where, and what agree­ments have or have not been made in ad­vance,” Gen. Dep­tula said.

‘Stand­off’ war­fare

Is­rael likely has looked at an “Op­tion B” for at­tack­ing Iran that would not in­volve the risky busi­ness of manned flights through in­hos­pitable airspace.

Such “stand­off” war­fare would rely heav­ily on drones to de­liver bombs, com­ple­mented by sea- and land-based mis­siles, cy­ber­at­tacks and sab­o­tage by Ira­nian dis­si­dents try­ing to oust Iran’s hard-line mul­lahs.

“They are prob­a­bly pretty close to what the United States has in cy­ber­war­fare,” Mr. Maloof said. “If they, along with the United States, de­vel­oped the Stuxnet bug, that shows they do have a high level of tech­ni­cal and cy­ber­war­fare ca­pa­bil­ity.

“They re­ally fo­cus on these things that give the great­est punch for the least amount of ef­fort.”

No one has claimed own­er­ship of the Stuxnet worm, which can at­tack in­dus­trial ma­chin­ery and pro­cesses that are op­er­ated by com­put­ers.

In Iran’s case, the worm was de­signed to in­fil­trate and dis­able ura­ni­u­men­rich­ment ma­chin­ery in Iran, which dis­cov­ered the sab­o­tage in June 2010.

Sus­pi­cion im­me­di­ately fo­cused on Is­rael, per­haps in part­ner­ship with the CIA or the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency be­cause pre­cise knowl­edge of Iran’s en­rich­ment process would have been needed to de­sign a suc­cess­ful worm. Iran last year ac­knowl­edged re­mov­ing dam­aged cen­trifuges from its ma­jor plant at Natanz.

The ques­tion is, was Stuxnet an Is­raeli test? Will it send a bar­rage of ma­li­cious com­puter pro­grams into Iran’s nu­clear com­plexes at some point?

“They can do this with­out air­planes,” Mr. Maloof said. “Stand­off war­fare is the com­ing thing.”

Shadow war

Some­one is killing Ira­nian nu­clear sci­en­tists.

Most re­cently, chem­i­cal en­gi­neer Mostafa Ah­madi Roshan was killed Jan. 10 by a “sticky” bomb at­tached to his car by a motorcyclist who fled the Tehran neigh­bor­hood af­ter the ex­plo­sion.

Roshan was the fourth Ira­nian atomic sci­en­tist as­sas­si­nated in the past two years. Cou­pled with the Stuxnet at­tack and var­i­ous in­dus­trial ex­plo­sions in Iran, the killings point to some sort of sab­o­tage un­der way.

Iran blames Is­rael. So does NBC News, which re­ported that Is­rael’s in­tel­li­gence agency, the Mos­sad, is in ca­hoots with Iran’s largest op­po­si­tion group in a shadow war to dis­rupt Iran’s nu­cle­ar­arms abil­ity through as­sas­si­na­tions, ex­plo­sions and cy­ber­war­fare.

Re­tal­i­a­tion came last month. In New Delhi, a car car­ry­ing the wife of an Is­raeli diplo­mat was bombed, and she was hos­pi­tal­ized. A sticky bomb found on an Is­raeli diplo­mat’s car in the for­mer Soviet state of Ge­or­gia was de­fused the same day.

War plan­ners at the Pen­tagon and U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand are try­ing to pre­dict how Iran would coun­ter­at­tack if Is­rael launches a mil­i­tary strike.

An ad­viser to the com­mand tells The Washington Times that Iran likely would fire mis­siles into Is­rael, pos­si­bly us­ing chem­i­cal weapons. It also would launch mis­siles at U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Iran also would ac­ti­vate its prox­ies in Le­banon and the Gaza Strip to pinch Is­rael from the north and south.

Is­rael, which has used the Iron Dome sys­tem to de­flect rock­ets fired from Gaza, thinks the Ira­nian-backed Lebanese mil­i­tant group Hezbol­lah has stashed an arse­nal of 50,000 rock­ets.

Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, the army of more than 100,000 troops that pro­motes ter­ror­ism abroad and tamps down dis­sent at home, would spring into ac­tion.

Guard op­er­a­tives would en­cour­age Shi­ite ex­trem­ists in Iraq to kill U.S. diplo­mats, ad­vis­ers and se­cu­rity per­son­nel.

The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps’ naval forces would tar­get ship­ping in the Per­sian Gulf, us­ing speed­boats to swarm around and blow up com­mer­cial oil tankers as its war­ships try to choke off the Strait of Hor­muz.

The U.S. would be in a naval and air war against Tehran, at­tack­ing Ira­nian ves­sels and launch­ing strikes at Ira­nian mil­i­tary sites to stop the vol­ley of land­based mis­siles at Amer­i­can troops.

Pol­icy of rec­i­proc­ity

Michael Eisen­stadt is a re­tired Army Re­serve of­fi­cer who served in the Pen­tagon dur­ing the Afghanistan War and was de­ployed to Iraq and other Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries dur­ing the past decade.

Now at the Washington In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy, Mr. Eisen­stadt has been brain­storm­ing how Iran would re­act. He has con­cluded that the rul­ing mul­lahs would di­rect most fire­power at Is­rael, launch­ing Sha­hab bal­lis­tic mis­siles at pop­u­la­tion cen­ters and at the mil­i­tary base in the desert at Di­mona, the site for the Jewish state’s un­de­clared nu­clear arse­nal.

Mr. Eisen­stadt thinks Iran also would em­bark on long-term reprisals world­wide by at­tack­ing Is­raelis, one by one, in third coun­tries.

“Any Ira­nian re­sponse would be guided by the per­ceived need on their part, first of all, to not let what they see as an act of ag­gres­sion to go un­pun­ished, and it’s very im­por­tant to them to respond in kind.

“First, they will respond to an at­tack on their nu­clear in­fra­struc­ture with an at­tempted mis­sile strike on Di­mona. The as­pect of rec­i­proc­ity is deep-rooted in Ira­nian pol­icy,” he said.

“Then I think there would prob­a­bly be some fol­low-on op­er­a­tions, ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tions aboard,” Mr. Eisen­stadt added. “I think they will want to strike the U.S. in a way that does not draw the U.S. into a con­flict, but en­ables them to get a cheap shot, to pun­ish the U.S. for sup­port­ing Is­rael.”

Mr. Panetta has warned of Iran’s likely re­tal­i­a­tion: “The United States would ob­vi­ously be blamed, and we could pos­si­bly be the tar­get of re­tal­i­a­tion from Iran, strik­ing our ships, strik­ing our mil­i­tary bases.”

The Amer­i­can who would have to deal with an Is­rael-iran war is Ma­rine Corps Gen. James Mat­tis, chief of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, which over­sees all U.S. forces in the Mid­dle East and Afghanistan.

He clearly does not want war, given his re­marks this month to the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. He told sen­a­tors that Western eco­nomic sanc­tions need more time to work, and per­haps turn the Ira­nian peo­ple against the mul­lahs.

“They’re very much a prob­lem, and I don’t see this go­ing in the right di­rec­tion un­til the full ef­fect of the sanc­tions can ac­crue,” Gen. Mat­tis said. And I say ‘un­til,’ be­cause even now . . . we see in in­fla­tion go­ing up, un­em­ploy­ment go­ing up [in Iran].

“The in­ter­nal fric­tions have got to start telling here. At some point, I think the Ira­nian peo­ple are go­ing to ques­tion, ‘Is this the right di­rec­tion?’

“So if we can keep this at a diplo­matic, eco­nomic track and get full ad­van­tage of what these sanc­tions are do­ing and the in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion is do­ing, this coun­try ba­si­cally lacks any sig­nif­i­cant strate­gic ally.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

IN THE WINGS: An Is­raeli air force F-16I fighter plane sits at the ready in a han­gar at Ra­mon Air Force Base in south­ern Is­rael. The F-16I, which is equipped with ex­ter­nal fuel tanks, is re­port­edly ca­pa­ble of reach­ing Ira­nian airspace with­out re­fu­el­ing. It could carry U.s.-made bunker-bust­ing bombs that drill be­low ground be­fore ex­plod­ing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

TEHRAN TALK: Iran was high on the agenda as Pres­i­dent Obama met with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron at the White House on Wed­nes­day.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu sits in the cock­pit of a F-15I fighter jet dur­ing a visit to the Hatzerim Air Force base in south­ern Is­rael in 2009. Long-range F-15IS and F-16IS (“I” for Is­rael) would likely be used in a strike against Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad vis­its the Natanz uranium-en­rich­ment fa­cil­ity about 200 miles south of the cap­i­tal, Tehran, in April 2008.

A Fateh mis­sile of the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps is launched in a Septem­ber 2009 drill near the city of Qom, 80 miles south of Tehran, in a show of force. Iran would likely re­tal­i­ate for an Is­raeli at­tack with such mis­siles.

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