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If push came to shove could Israel take out Iran's nuclear weapons program?


17thfabn

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For the sake of debate.

At some time in the near future if Israel's intelligence agencies determined that Iran was about to develop a nuclear weapon. Could the Israelis take out the nuclear program with little or no outside help?

Of course they crippled the Iraqi nuclear program in 1981.  Iran would be tougher for three reasons that come immediately to mind:

1.) Iraq was distracted by its war with Iran. Iran does not have this same distraction.

2.) Distance. Iran is much further away than Iraq.  Any path they take puts them over countries that would not be enthusiastic about the  Israeli Air Force flying over them.

3.) Area. Iran has about 4 times the area that Iraq does. This gives them much more area to hide and spread out their program.

I'm sure there are many more difficulties the Israelis would face in 2021 and beyond they didn't face 40 years ago.

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Possibly the Israelis could use unconventional techniques aka special operations.

If the Israelis wanted to use airpower, their new pals in the region who share an antipathy towards the Iranian regime mean that they could base forces close to Iran. Also their new pals might want to participate in cooperation with Iran. Israel joined by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE would have formidable capabilities.

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You could halt any progress they have, and stall progress for several years. I dont believe it would stop it. And come to that, it would mean that when work resumed, they would put everything they had into completing it quickly, to stop any further attack in future.

There is only one sure way to stop Iran getting a bomb, and that is to occupy it as we did with Iraq. I dont believe anyone is up for that again. Even if we had the forces to do it, I doubt any Western Politician is going to do it and risk being seeing as the next Dubya if it turns out not to be as advanced as we have been led to believe. Would be better to put resources into subversion rather than using kinetic force I think. Or if you must use military force, avoid going after the nuclear facilities and try and bring their economy down by hitting targets like oil facilities, which are incredibly vulnerable.

Ultimately, its hard to destroy the knowledge, unless you kill ALL the scientists and the technical backup whereever it is.

Edited by Stuart Galbraith
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10 hours ago, 17thfabn said:

Could the Israelis take out the nuclear program with little or no outside help?

Define your conditions, please. At which point is a nuclear program "taken out"?

"Taking out know-how" would mean to neutralize every nuclear technician and scientist of the country.

"Taking out the will to pursue the nuclear program" is a political goal where either you create a positive motivation for Iran to give it up, or create a sufficient deterrence (which however can also have the opposite effect), or regime change.

"Taking out the nuclear stockpile" requires knowledge of the whereabouts of warheads that may or may not yet have been assembled, and the means to destroy them or make then inaccessible.

"Taking out the ability to further enrich fissible material" would probably only stave off/delay the program for a few months. Most military action, I think, is likely to only delay the nuclear program, but at the same time increase the risk of Iran's decision to use their nuclear weapons later.

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11 hours ago, 17thfabn said:

For the sake of debate.

At some time in the near future if Israel's intelligence agencies determined that Iran was about to develop a nuclear weapon. Could the Israelis take out the nuclear program with little or no outside help?

Of course they crippled the Iraqi nuclear program in 1981.  Iran would be tougher for three reasons that come immediately to mind:

1.) Iraq was distracted by its war with Iran. Iran does not have this same distraction.

2.) Distance. Iran is much further away than Iraq.  Any path they take puts them over countries that would not be enthusiastic about the  Israeli Air Force flying over them.

3.) Area. Iran has about 4 times the area that Iraq does. This gives them much more area to hide and spread out their program.

I'm sure there are many more difficulties the Israelis would face in 2021 and beyond they didn't face 40 years ago.

The comparison with Iraq is not pertinent. iraq was a single point of failure program, all was stacked in the reactor, so taking out the reactor killed the program, although they seemed to have explored alternate ways to enrich uranium. Iran's approach is similar to Pakistan, using enriched uranium and foregoing plutonium, meaning heavier, smaller bombs of the gun type that would fit in the warhead of a missile (or linear type bombs).

Such an approach enables a dispersed, more clandestine development of the bomb, which is harder to take out by conventional military means but has proven to be vulnerable to unconventional approaches (Stuxnet, targeted killings). With enough time and effort, the Iranians will get there, but as the price rises and with enough carrot, they can be disuaded from completing it.

The problem with the carrot is that it gives them money to pursue other endeavours (Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq) 

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Short answer: Yes

I think your precondition that Israel will go at it alone is wrong, because eventually Israel and the US are allies, are cooperating in the region, and both have fully accepted the fact that if any escalation occurs, both will have to fight Iran. And of course most if not all actions are coordinated, so if Israel attempts a strike, it will be fully coordinated with the US which will offer help, or vice versa.

But because the only type of planning that exists is for the worst case, we'll assume the following:

  1. Israel will indeed be isolated.
  2. Deep intelligence infiltration projects are nullified.
  3. Classified weapons/systems on which there is only speculation are not used.

What constitutes the nuclear program?

Physical weapon infrastructure

Various nuclear large facilities are spread around Iran, scattered around the country. Some are deep underground.

Physical delivery infrastructure

Many ballistic missiles are in underground facilities, at least a large portion are mobile and ready to fire from random locations. Cruise missiles are another potential delivery system. Air force could assist in early stages of weapon delivery.

Intellectual capabilities

The nuclear program is led by hundreds of scientists who accumulated years, some decades of knowledge. Thousands more engineers, technicians, and low level employees have retained potentially vast knowledge. 

Targets of opportunity

  • Economical targets like oil infrastructure.
  • Government infrastructure like media centers, trade agencies, sea ports, and airports.
  • Military targets like logistical bases, electronics factories, tooling factories, air bases, and radar installations.

Israeli capabilities

  1. Air force - current inventory, relevant for mission planning and capable of reaching Iran. Expect 70% availability, and :
    • 24 F-35 (multirole)
    • 25 F-15I (multirole)
    • 58 F-15 Baz-2000 (air superiority)
    • 224 F-16 Barak-2020 (multirole)
    • AEW&C - 3
    • SIGINT - 3
    • Refueling - 13
    • Transport - 18
    • Heavy lift - 23
    • Drones - classified.
  2. Navy - current inventory:
    •  13 ships carrying 8 cruise missiles each.
    • 5 submarines with 10 torpedo tubes each, potentially fitted with cruise missiles.
  3. Strategic:
    • Jericho missiles.

Notes on inventory

The IAF in itself is disproportionately large. It can afford to conduct such a strike, attack many targets of opportunity, and still keep enough inventory at home for homeland defense, all whilst keeping the regular rate of aircraft in the hangars for repairs and maintenance.

The navy is not going to bring much to the table, because its cruise missiles can't reach Iran without passing through the Suez which will make them highly visible. Even if speculations on the submarine launched cruise missiles, regarding the range, are correct, it might still require flying them over hostile territory that could detect them and notify Iran.

Jericho missiles exist in an unknown quantity, and with unknown warheads.

Strategies

Even without the Arab states, Israel possesses the capability to reach Iran, set up temporary airfields, and launch additional missions from there.

Deep underground facilities - Ground forces + IAF

Surface facilities - IAF

Targets of opportunity - IAF drones

Human targets - IAF drones

The current inventory of F-15 and F-16 has proven more than enough to deal with the air defenses possessed by Iran, and it can refuel over Iran if Israel manages to keep fuel supplies to its Iranian bases steady. The F-35 will only make life easier by neutralizing defenses and highly protected strategic assets.

Edited by Mighty_Zuk
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Militarily, setting up Israeli airbases within Iran proper is an aspect not often considered. Doing so will also require the deployment of Israeli ground troops, and accountability for potential contact with Iranian armor.

Politically, striking Iranian government infrastructure (media, trade agencies, ports, and airports) may exceed the "proportionate action" constraints on preemptive attacks by nations in self defense as set by Article 51 of UN Charter.

The prerequisite for this worst-case scenario would involve a level of Israeli desperation that I hope they are nowhere near approaching.

 

 

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16 hours ago, Nobu said:

Militarily, setting up Israeli airbases within Iran proper is an aspect not often considered. Doing so will also require the deployment of Israeli ground troops, and accountability for potential contact with Iranian armor.

Politically, striking Iranian government infrastructure (media, trade agencies, ports, and airports) may exceed the "proportionate action" constraints on preemptive attacks by nations in self defense as set by Article 51 of UN Charter.

The prerequisite for this worst-case scenario would involve a level of Israeli desperation that I hope they are nowhere near approaching.

 

 

Yes, not often considered. But possible. Iran is a large country, with large swaths of land in between any form of civilization. Contact with Iranian armor is not even debated, because the immediate threat would be Iranian ballistic missiles, drones, artillery, and air force. As soon as they're spotted, they fold.

The IDF already has a unit (Yahak 5700) that specializes in creating and handling austere runways, both in and out of Israel.

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4 minutes ago, Mighty_Zuk said:

Yes, not often considered. But possible. Iran is a large country, with large swaths of land in between any form of civilization. Contact with Iranian armor is not even debated, because the immediate threat would be Iranian ballistic missiles, drones, artillery, and air force. As soon as they're spotted, they fold.

The IDF already has a unit (Yahak 5700) that specializes in creating and handling austere runways, both in and out of Israel.

I think 5700 is now part of 6 or 7 IDF wing

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18 minutes ago, WRW said:

I would be thinking of industrial accidents, software issues, suicides and falling out windows and car crashes

That suggests that you have a very low opinion of Iran's internal security.

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7 hours ago, Mighty_Zuk said:

Yes, not often considered. But possible. Iran is a large country, with large swaths of land in between any form of civilization. Contact with Iranian armor is not even debated, because the immediate threat would be Iranian ballistic missiles, drones, artillery, and air force. As soon as they're spotted, they fold.

The IDF already has a unit (Yahak 5700) that specializes in creating and handling austere runways, both in and out of Israel.

Interesting. Nobody can ever accuse Israel and Israelis of not being aggressive/ballsy when it comes to operations.

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Israel is probably not going to be constructing austere airstrips, when Iran can crater them with ballistic missiles.

Besides, the USMC is rapidly getting out the amphibious assault business, whether you believe them right or not. Nobody is going to invade Iran. 

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2 hours ago, Stuart Galbraith said:

Israel is probably not going to be constructing austere airstrips, when Iran can crater them with ballistic missiles.

Besides, the USMC is rapidly getting out the amphibious assault business, whether you believe them right or not. Nobody is going to invade Iran. 

Part of the point of covert operations is that you can very easily counter them, UNLESS you keep the covert details covert.

And of course the USMC is irrelevant for this debate. OP asked whether Israel could do it alone without American help.

As for you, I believe you're overly traditional about this. An invasion of Iran is not necessary. In fact, all objectives would be much better achieved WITHOUT any conventional ground element.

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If push ever came to shove, and Israel went in alone, the boldness of the act itself would have my respect. My advice would be to hold nothing back, as history will be written by the victor.

One man's justifiable preemptive strike in self defense is another's day that will live in infamy.

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Israel can do Israel. IMO, not my country's problem. I don't think they can eliminate Iran's program but I'm sure they can postpone it rather drastically. Up to them. The US can simply destroy Iran as a nation and culture if push comes to shove. Israel doesn't have the luxury of range or space, but that is their problem.

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On 12/26/2020 at 10:25 PM, Mighty_Zuk said:

Part of the point of covert operations is that you can very easily counter them, UNLESS you keep the covert details covert.

And of course the USMC is irrelevant for this debate. OP asked whether Israel could do it alone without American help.

As for you, I believe you're overly traditional about this. An invasion of Iran is not necessary. In fact, all objectives would be much better achieved WITHOUT any conventional ground element.

Im just making the point, you are not going to be making airstrips in Iran without securing the ground first. That means an ampibious landing to put enough troops ashore to secure one, and its still going to be vulnerable to rocket or air attack unless you put something like a Brigade or Division sized forces ashore.. I dont see anyone travelling several thousand miles to make a parachute drop to secure an airstrip. Yes, there is Entebbe, but they didnt have much of an airforce.

Oh, im surprisingly unconventional. I believe Iran could be attacked militarily on the ground and probably dismantled. Im not sure anyone is willing to pay the price or take the risk to do it. And its not as if a collapsed Iran is going to be less of a risk as far as proliferation of nuclear weapons. Every terrorist group under the sun is going to get access to what material they have unless its swiftly secured.

Lets face it, if there was a good option, someone would already have done it.

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You could play 10,000 itegrations with 10,000 different outcomes. One of them might be eerily similar to the real operation, if it were carried out. But which one? That's the problem with using computer simulations of complex systems with highly granular outcomes. Anything from total victory to a complete wipe-out is thinkable. But there's no way to assign a meaningful likelihood to simulated results because you simply have no idea how well the model and its parameters in the simulation fit your specific real-life case, or which insignificant little detail that is being abstracted or ignored in the model might actually play a crucial role, in hindsight.

Simulations can only predict the past.

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Modelling and simulation are different things. E.g., from another field:

Quote

The key difference between modeling and simulation is that optimization modeling provides a definite recommendation for action in a specific situation, while simulation allows users to determine how a system responds to different inputs so as to better understand how it operates.

https://www.riverlogic.com/blog/what-is-the-difference-between-optimization-modeling-and-simulation

Or, from other field, once one knows the stresses a mechanical structure -welded, riveted, or bolted-  must withstand, one can build a mathematical model of the structure in order to know if the structure will fail or not, with quite a 100% success ratio. Of course, the stresses have to be known, and the materials and building techniques have to fulfill their specs.

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Ive recently been reading a few books on the Iran Iraq war, and one thing is clear from reading them. A war with Iran is kind of like a war with the USSR, or Nazi Germany, or any other state where nationalism gets a grip on good sense. Im willing to bet even people who wholly loathe the regime would come out swinging for it, if foreigners tried to impose their will on Iran.

Not much of an insight, but its amazing what has been forgotten from the 1980's. The regime might be older now, but I doubt its less intractable, and Iran sure as hell hasnt grown any smaller.

Best thing we can do is stall for time, and keep cutting their ability to create a functioning economy, something the Iranian regime has always been bad at, even when we were trading with them. Either they will have a perestroika moment, or they will have another 1979 moment. Which yes, might be an even worse regime, although at this point its difficult to invisage one harder to deal with.

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