Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities

14 Mar 2009

Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities

By Abdullah Toukan and Anthony H. Cordesman

Center For Strategic & International Studies

March 14, 2009


• It is always difficult to evaluate a nuclear weapons program without access to concrete intelligence information. This study is based on open sources and we do not claim to be one hundred percent accurate and complete. The aim of the study is to try and get some insight into the level the Iranian Nuclear Program has progressed, and if the intent of the leadership is to produce nuclear weapons then what would the possible timeline be.

•Based on these estimates the study then addresses the possibility of an Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities, with the objective of either destroying the program or delaying it for some years. The success of the Strike Mission will be measured by how much of the Enrichment program it has destroyed, or the number of years it has delayed Iranian acquisition of enough Uranium, or Plutonium produced from the Arak reactor, to build a nuclear bomb.

•It is not known whether Iran has some secret facilities where it is conducting uranium enrichment and a nuclear weapons program. So far no concrete intelligence information points to this being likely. However, this study refers back to the vast literature on Iran‘s nuclear program, and on some interviews of the Iranian leadership, such as the VOA of August 29, 2008 ―Iran claims to have 4,000 working nuclear centrifuges‖ and the April 8, 2008, (Time on Line), ―Iran: now we have 6,000 nuclear centrifuges‖, and ―Iran‘s Nuclear Chief Explains Nuclear Fuel Cycle, Comments on US Concerns‖. (Source: Tehran Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network C2 in Persian-state run television)

•This study does not claim that if Iran might have accumulated over 1000 kg of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU), which is sufficient to produce Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU), that it has done so, and now possess nuclear weapons.

•The Israeli time frame as to when Iran will have a Nuclear Weapon is between 2009 and 2012, whereas the U.S. time frame is after 2013. Israel states that Iran should not be allowed to obtain any nuclear capabilities that could eventually allow it to produce nuclear weapons. Israel views Iran as an Existential Threat and must be dealt with in the immediate future.

• New US policy, under Obama Administration, is to leave all options on the table, and presently favors diplomacy against any military strikes. Containment could be the future course of U.S. Policy if Diplomatic Engagement does not work, and after all other options have been exhausted. 4

•A military strike by Israel against Iranian Nuclear Facilities is possible and the optimum route would be along the Syrian-Turkish border then over a small portion of Iraq then into Iran, and back the same route. However, the number of aircraft required, refueling along the way and getting to the targets without being detected or intercepted would be complex and high risk and would lack any assurances that the overall mission will have a high success rate.

• With regard to the Arab States, they have become extremely frustrated with the U.S. and the West double standard when addressing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East. Most probably they will not condone any attack on Iran under the pretext that Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and a security threat to the whole region, whilst Israel has some 200 to 300 nuclear weapons, and the delivery means using the Jericho missiles, in addition to Israel still occupying the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights.

• The more there is an Israeli threat to the survival of the regime in Iran, the more Iran will be determined to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran would withdraw from the NPT based on the argument that it needs to acquire nuclear weapons to protect its sovereignty and any further aggression by Israel and the U.S.

• A strike by Israel on Iran will give rise to regional instability and conflict as well as terrorism.

• Iran should be engaged directly by the U.S. with an agenda open to all areas of military and non-military issues that both are in agreement or disagreement. Any realistic resolution to the Iranian nuclear program will require an approach that encompasses Military, Economic, Political interests and differences of the U.S vs Iran.

• The U.S. will have to try to make Comprehensive Verification of Iran‘s Nuclear Development Program as one of the priorities in any diplomatic dialogue, while trying at the same time to persuade Iran to stop its enrichment program. However, in this area the U.S. will have to walk and negotiate along a very fine line between Israel‘s WMD and Ballistic Missiles capabilities and the Iranian Nuclear development program. The U.S. must recognize that both are very closely inter-related and are fueling each other. So the U.S. should be prepared to address both issues simultaneously while trying not to be perceived as though it has double standards when it comes to Israel.

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