Where are Iran's nuclear weapons facilities and who might suffer retaliation if they are struck?
If Israel alone, or in concert with the U.S., decides to slow Iran's nuclear development program by force, strike aircraft would be likely to hit a mix of uranium enrichment and reactor facilities, ballistic missile cantonments and mobile launchers, radar surveillance sites and air bases.
The target set could include five main nuclear facilities (Natanz, Parchin, Isfahan, Fordow and Arak), eight missile bases (Bakhtaran, Abu Musa Island, Bandar Abbass, Imam Ali, Kuhestak, Mashad, Tabriz and the Semnan space and missile center), 15 missile production facilities and 22 mobile launchers, according to an attack scenario formulated in a report by analysts Anthony Cordesman and Abdullah Toukan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Other probable strike sites are fighter bases along the country's eastern, western and southern borders.
Israeli analysts confirm those targeting priorities.
â€śAny nuclear weapons program has three parts,â€ť says Ephraim Asculai, senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). â€śThe most important part is the production of fissile materials. The second is the weaponizationâ€”putting the explosive and fissile materials together and making them work. The third part is the delivery system [in this case, Iran's ballistic missiles].â€ť
However, there would be another tough problem for strike plannersâ€”long-range radar facilities located in Syria and Lebanon are linked to Iran and could provide Tehran with early warning of a raid. Iran has tried to modernize its defenses, but the resulting mix of Russian, Chinese, U.S., European and Iranian equipment is expected to be vulnerable to anti-radiation weapons and other defense-suppression systems, undoubtedly including cyber- and electronic attack.
Iran is considered far more vulnerable than any of the surrounding countries it might be tempted to retaliate against. A level of 75% damage to each target, created by an attack force of 10 B-2 bombers and 90 strike aircraft, could delay Iran's nuclear program by â€śat least 5-10 yearsâ€ť and substantially weaken Iran's ballistic missile retaliatory capability, according to the CSIS report. Cruise missiles also are sure to be part of the mix.
Nonetheless, the CSIS report notes that â€śa massive retaliation strike [by Iran] with whatever launching sites that have survived the U.S. first strike could still cause quite considerable damage to the [Gulf Cooperation Council] states' energy, finance and other critical infrastructure centers.â€ť
Four countries on the Arabian Peninsulaâ€”Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Omanâ€”are gaining new missile-defense capabilities through the sale or deployment of TPY-2 missile-defense radars and Patriot missile batteries. The UAE has signed a contract for two batteries of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense () missiles, which can engage faster-moving enemy threats than can the Patriot. In addition, -equipped warships have been stationed nearby.
There could be an unknown in coalition strike-planning, however. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Qods Force has been supplying Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon with â€śincreasingly sophisticated weapons, including a wide array of missiles and rockets that allow Hezbollah to launch weaponsâ€ť at Israel, according to the CSIS.
There are some interesting omissions in the CSIS report, including cyberattack and network-invasion efforts and air-launched, anti-ballistic missile capabilities that have been developed by the U.S. and its allies.
The U.S. has demonstrated during Red Flag exercises the ability to send airborne-generated databeams loaded with malicious algorithms into enemy air defense networks to see what the enemy sensors see, take control of networks as system managers, and invade mobile missile launchers through their wireless command and control links.
In addition,has been developing long-range variants of its AIM-120 air-to-air missile that can serve as interceptors of ballistic missiles and even low-flying satellites. The company has also launched a program to design electronics-disabling, high-power microwave warheads for most of its air-launched missile programs.
The CSIS report, in a section on ballistic missile defense systems that can protect against weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, has an intriguing reference to â€śmodern-technology combat aircraft that can be launched within a very short window of time to block any first-wave attack.â€ť
Whatever the attack includes, its predictable effectiveness â€świll give the U.S. strike force the freedom . . . to conduct a sustained campaign of strikes over a few days,â€ť the CSIS report says.