Iran and India had earlier closed ranks to support the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the Taliban-al Qaeda combine. Israeli or US attacks could cause Iran to make expedient tactical shifts and provide support to Taliban and al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan.
Natanz. The paper identifies the Natanz facility as the next critical link. This site is 200 miles south of Tehran and 40 miles from the nearest city. It comprises a pilot fuel enrichment plant, and, as the paper asserts, a much larger commercial plant underground which is awaiting arrival of thousands of centrifuges. As such the optimal time for the strike, Raas and Lang feel, would be once the centrifuges are installed but before a large quantity of UF6 has been introduced. Bombing the empty hall prior to centrifuge installation would be futile in terms of an anti-proliferation strike.17
Arak. The HW plant and plutonium production reactor at Arak constitute a very large facility, located some 150 miles south-west of Tehran. The site itself is some 20 miles from the nearest town. The paper claims that Iran has a small research reactor that uses HW as coolant, but the Arak HW facility, will be able to produce more than 16 tons of HW per year”“a capability, it asserts, is far in excess of the civilian requirements. The two Arak reactors are scheduled for completion by 2014, and as Raas and Lang assert, they could produce weapons grade Plutonium.18
Israeli Strike Options
Heaving defined the Iranian target sets, Raas and Lang have gone on to examine in comprehensive detail, the Israeli strike options. The capabilities of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) are far more advanced today (in terms of enhanced accuracy and ability to penetrate hardened targets such as reactor containment) than they were in 1981 at the time of the Osirak raid. Acquisition of Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) in 1980s and 1990s, means that the dynamics of IAF bombing have been transformed. The Lo-Lo-High mission profile would now be redundant. Accurate delivery would no longer require approach at low altitudes and then popping up to dive directly on target.
The Israeli strike package would now come at mid or high altitude, navigate accurately due to GPS, and attack the target with laser-guided bombs (LGBs) or GPS-guided munitions from standoff ranges of at least 15 kms or more. CEP at the time of the Osirak raid was of the order of 8-12 metres (due to computerised aiming system of the F-16). GPS guided munitions can achieve the same accuracy today from a 15 km standoff range and high altitude delivery. Laser-guided bombs could give a CEP of about 3 metres from the same stand off range.19
Target penetration levels have also been greatly enhanced with the use of “bunker busters” or penetrating warheads with delayed action fuzes. These are delivered from high altitudes at steep angles and can penetrate tens of feet of earth and even several feet of reinforced concrete. Possible options in the Israeli inventory are :-
- PB 500 AI A 1,000 lb class penetrating bomb.
- BLU-109 A 2,000 lb class penetrating war head.
- BLU-113 A 5,000 lb class penetrating war head.20
Accuracy could be further enhanced by laser designation of the targets by Israeli Special Forces (SF). The article cites Maj Gen Etyan Ben Elyahu (former Commander of IAF who took part in Osirak raid) as saying that even if one BLU-113 did not penetrate the earth and concrete at Natanz, two successive strikes could do so. A combined blast of three BLU -113s he felt, could destroy the Natanz facilities. For complete assurance levels, a combination of BLU-113s and BLU-109s may be required. The other two target sets at Isfahan and Arak are not hardened as of now, and would be relatively easier to tackle. These may well be targeted by the smaller BLU-109 warheads.21
The Israeli strike at PLO headquarters at Tunis in 1985 amply demonstrated Israeli deep strike capabilities upto a range of almost 4,000 kms. Today these capabilities remain centered on the F-15s and F-16s. The IAF now has 25x F-151 Raas and 25 or more F-161 Soufa aircraft which have been specially configured for deep strike. Both these planes have an unrefuelled combat radius of 1,700 kms with external drop tanks. The F-16 I could deliver 2Ã—2,000 lb bombs while carrying external fuel tanks. Both types of aircraft have advanced ECM suites and remain capable of air”“to”“air combat. Whitney Raas and Austin Lang have envisioned a 50 strong strike package of 25x F-15 Is and 25xF-16 Is.