Target: Iran

Iran's headlong rush to develop nuclear weapons has been the top story in both the legacy and the new media  for the last several months.  The mullahs' on again/off again deals with the E—3 (UK, France, and Germany) and Russia, and their resistance to IAEA inspections, shows that Iran is not really serious in giving up its nuclear quest, nor are Germany and Russia anxious to place their decades—long investments in jeopardy.

Therefore, don't read any significance into President Bush's talks about Iran with German Chancellor Schroeder and Russian President Putin during GW's recent trip to Europe. The deal proposed by Putin that sets the condition that all spent fuel used in the Bushehr light water reactor be returned to Russia is, in my view, a meaningless gesture.  The deal is dependent upon a strict UN and IAEA inspection regimen that, to date, they have been unable or unwilling to effectively implement.

So, the President remarked that we have no plans to attack Iran, but that 'all options are on the table.'  Thankfully, the option that he has chosen is a long—term regional operation that not only rolls back Iran's previous gains in the last decade , but also stymies the development of a nuclear Iran by encouraging and backing the Iranian people's march to freedom.

But if absolutely necessary, would an air campaign succeed in disrupting Iran's development of nuclear weapons?  The answer is yes, but it would not be very easy or quick, such as when we bombed the Russian—made reactor and the Italian—made enrichment lab in Gulf War I, or when the Israelis knocked out the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981.  Unlike Saddam's cluster of research facilities, Iran's installations are scattered in multiple locations, with many labs located underground.  A few examples will illustrate the complexity of trying to destroy the mullahs' very robust and redundant nuclear program.

The reactor at Bushehr (a true commercial power reactor) is the facility that is at the center of the proposed Russian deal with the Iranians.  The concern is that the spent fuel, which is actually non—weapons grade plutonium, would be diverted to facilities where the spent fuel rods would be chemically processed to extract weapons grade plutonium.  Putin claims that these spent fuel rods would be returned to Russia for safekeeping, and would be verified by the UN.  This, of course, is the sticking point with the Bush Administration given the IAEA's past lackluster performance.  But while Bushehr garners all of the press attention, it is also located on the Persian Gulf and is a ripe target for naval aviation.  That is, the most publicized facility is also the easiest to take out.  For comparison purposes, if land—based aviation were used, the straight—line, one—way distance from Baghdad to Bushehr is about 800 kilometers (500 miles), and from Tel Aviv it is about 1500 kilometers (940 miles).  Therefore, a Carrier Battle Group in the Gulf would probably be the force of choice.

Another target must be the reactor currently under construction in the town of Arak.  This facility is one that poses a real threat, since it is virtually an updated version of the old Osirak 'research reactor' at Al—Tuwaitha, southeast of Baghdad.  Dubbed a heavy water reactor, Arak is, in truth, a breeder reactor for weapons grade plutonium, and will be operational in one to four years.  This is a prime target, but is located well inland, and has some of its labs located underground.  Straight line distance from Baghdad is 500 kilometers (315 miles), and from Tel Aviv it is about 1200 kilometers (750 miles).

The final example is the Parchin munitions and research site just southeast of Tehran.  As mentioned, this installation has been in the news recently, because IAEA inspectors have been snubbed from conducting a second inspection of the facility.  Parchin is an extensive underground site that is ideal for clandestine weapons development, and perfectly illustrates the difficulty of destroying a huge underground facility. This target would require extensive ground and UAV reconnaissance, and precise plotting by SOF target designation teams.  Parchin is 700 kilometers (440 miles) from Baghdad and about 2400 kilometers (1500 miles) from Tel Aviv.

These examples only scratch the surface of Iran's extensive nuclear research capability.  This aspect and the distances involved reveal that, despite the capability of some Israeli aircraft to fly one—way to some of the targets  (most notably the F—16i ), the option to sit back and wait for Israeli Air Force (IAF) to do our dirty work for us is simply wishful thinking.

The Coalition would not allow the IAF to transit Iraqi airspace to permit a direct route to the potential targets.  Air routes around Iraq are not feasible since the air defense and early warning networks of Turkey and Saudi Arabia are much more sophisticated than they were in 1981, and, given the distances involved with a circuitous route, the IAF would need to stage tanker support well—forward.  This would occur where?  Of course, if Iran launches a first strike, then all bets are off as far as Israel is concerned.

Given these circumstances, any strikes on Iran would have to consist of a sustained Coalition operation involving naval and air—launched cruise missiles, long—range bombers with JDAMs, and fighter—bombers with the full range of precision guided munitions.  Reconnaissance and target designation teams must infiltrate early to confirm intelligence data.  However, this type of operation risks extensive damage to the Iranian infrastructure and places Iranians themselves in danger.  This could result in turning the Iranian people against the US and the Coalition.

Therefore, it is much better that CENTCOM operations take the indirect approach. Given recent events in the region, it seems GW has in fact, set the stage for the Iranian people to move their country in the direction of freedom and democracy, and to rid themselves of the scourge of Islamo—fascism. The alternative of military operations against the nuclear facilities is far, far worse.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent.

Iran's headlong rush to develop nuclear weapons has been the top story in both the legacy and the new media  for the last several months.  The mullahs' on again/off again deals with the E—3 (UK, France, and Germany) and Russia, and their resistance to IAEA inspections, shows that Iran is not really serious in giving up its nuclear quest, nor are Germany and Russia anxious to place their decades—long investments in jeopardy.

Therefore, don't read any significance into President Bush's talks about Iran with German Chancellor Schroeder and Russian President Putin during GW's recent trip to Europe. The deal proposed by Putin that sets the condition that all spent fuel used in the Bushehr light water reactor be returned to Russia is, in my view, a meaningless gesture.  The deal is dependent upon a strict UN and IAEA inspection regimen that, to date, they have been unable or unwilling to effectively implement.

So, the President remarked that we have no plans to attack Iran, but that 'all options are on the table.'  Thankfully, the option that he has chosen is a long—term regional operation that not only rolls back Iran's previous gains in the last decade , but also stymies the development of a nuclear Iran by encouraging and backing the Iranian people's march to freedom.

But if absolutely necessary, would an air campaign succeed in disrupting Iran's development of nuclear weapons?  The answer is yes, but it would not be very easy or quick, such as when we bombed the Russian—made reactor and the Italian—made enrichment lab in Gulf War I, or when the Israelis knocked out the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981.  Unlike Saddam's cluster of research facilities, Iran's installations are scattered in multiple locations, with many labs located underground.  A few examples will illustrate the complexity of trying to destroy the mullahs' very robust and redundant nuclear program.

The reactor at Bushehr (a true commercial power reactor) is the facility that is at the center of the proposed Russian deal with the Iranians.  The concern is that the spent fuel, which is actually non—weapons grade plutonium, would be diverted to facilities where the spent fuel rods would be chemically processed to extract weapons grade plutonium.  Putin claims that these spent fuel rods would be returned to Russia for safekeeping, and would be verified by the UN.  This, of course, is the sticking point with the Bush Administration given the IAEA's past lackluster performance.  But while Bushehr garners all of the press attention, it is also located on the Persian Gulf and is a ripe target for naval aviation.  That is, the most publicized facility is also the easiest to take out.  For comparison purposes, if land—based aviation were used, the straight—line, one—way distance from Baghdad to Bushehr is about 800 kilometers (500 miles), and from Tel Aviv it is about 1500 kilometers (940 miles).  Therefore, a Carrier Battle Group in the Gulf would probably be the force of choice.

Another target must be the reactor currently under construction in the town of Arak.  This facility is one that poses a real threat, since it is virtually an updated version of the old Osirak 'research reactor' at Al—Tuwaitha, southeast of Baghdad.  Dubbed a heavy water reactor, Arak is, in truth, a breeder reactor for weapons grade plutonium, and will be operational in one to four years.  This is a prime target, but is located well inland, and has some of its labs located underground.  Straight line distance from Baghdad is 500 kilometers (315 miles), and from Tel Aviv it is about 1200 kilometers (750 miles).

The final example is the Parchin munitions and research site just southeast of Tehran.  As mentioned, this installation has been in the news recently, because IAEA inspectors have been snubbed from conducting a second inspection of the facility.  Parchin is an extensive underground site that is ideal for clandestine weapons development, and perfectly illustrates the difficulty of destroying a huge underground facility. This target would require extensive ground and UAV reconnaissance, and precise plotting by SOF target designation teams.  Parchin is 700 kilometers (440 miles) from Baghdad and about 2400 kilometers (1500 miles) from Tel Aviv.

These examples only scratch the surface of Iran's extensive nuclear research capability.  This aspect and the distances involved reveal that, despite the capability of some Israeli aircraft to fly one—way to some of the targets  (most notably the F—16i ), the option to sit back and wait for Israeli Air Force (IAF) to do our dirty work for us is simply wishful thinking.

The Coalition would not allow the IAF to transit Iraqi airspace to permit a direct route to the potential targets.  Air routes around Iraq are not feasible since the air defense and early warning networks of Turkey and Saudi Arabia are much more sophisticated than they were in 1981, and, given the distances involved with a circuitous route, the IAF would need to stage tanker support well—forward.  This would occur where?  Of course, if Iran launches a first strike, then all bets are off as far as Israel is concerned.

Given these circumstances, any strikes on Iran would have to consist of a sustained Coalition operation involving naval and air—launched cruise missiles, long—range bombers with JDAMs, and fighter—bombers with the full range of precision guided munitions.  Reconnaissance and target designation teams must infiltrate early to confirm intelligence data.  However, this type of operation risks extensive damage to the Iranian infrastructure and places Iranians themselves in danger.  This could result in turning the Iranian people against the US and the Coalition.

Therefore, it is much better that CENTCOM operations take the indirect approach. Given recent events in the region, it seems GW has in fact, set the stage for the Iranian people to move their country in the direction of freedom and democracy, and to rid themselves of the scourge of Islamo—fascism. The alternative of military operations against the nuclear facilities is far, far worse.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent.