Israel Planning Nuclear Strike on Iran?

Israel is planning to strike Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with bunker buster nukes, Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter report in the Sunday Times of London. They cite “several Israeli military sources” who say two Israeli air force squadrons are currently training for the mission.

The specifics of the purported plan:

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open “tunnels” into the targets. “Mini-nukes” would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout. “As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished,” said one of the sources.

The plans, disclosed to The Sunday Times last week, have been prompted in part by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad’s assessment that Iran is on the verge of producing enough enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons within two years.

Israeli military commanders believe conventional strikes may no longer be enough to annihilate increasingly well-defended enrichment facilities. Several have been built beneath at least 70ft of concrete and rock. However, the nuclear-tipped bunker-busters would be used only if a conventional attack was ruled out and if the United States declined to intervene, senior sources said.


Israel has identified three prime targets south of Tehran which are believed to be involved in Iran’s nuclear programme:

  • Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges are being installed for uranium enrichment
  • A uranium conversion facility near Isfahan where, according to a statement by an Iranian vice-president last week, 250 tons of gas for the enrichment process have been stored in tunnels
  • A heavy water reactor at Arak, which may in future produce enough plutonium for a bomb

Israeli officials believe that destroying all three sites would delay Iran’s nuclear programme indefinitely and prevent them from having to live in fear of a “second Holocaust”.

The fallout, both literal and political, could be significant.

Scientists have calculated that although contamination from the bunker-busters could be limited, tons of radioactive uranium compounds would be released.

The Israelis believe that Iran’s retaliation would be constrained by fear of a second strike if it were to launch its Shehab-3 ballistic missiles at Israel. However, American experts warned of repercussions, including widespread protests that could destabilise parts of the Islamic world friendly to the West. Colonel Sam Gardiner, a Pentagon adviser, said Iran could try to close the Strait of Hormuz, the route for 20% of the world’s oil.

Thursday’s announcement that Admiral Bill Fallon was going to take command of CENTCOM while it was fighting two ground wars had many of us scratching our heads. Pat Lang and others suggested that a naval strike against Iran, on the other hand, would be one plausible explanation. Ralph Peters agrees.

While Congress obsesses on Iraq and Iraq alone, the administration’s thinking about the future. And it looks as if the White House is preparing options to mitigate a failure in Iraq and contain Iran. Bush continues to have a much-underrated strategic vision – the administration’s consistent problems have been in the abysmal execution of its policies, not in the over-arching purpose.

While eliminating Iran’s nuclear program would be a boon to humanity, I fear a military strike–let alone one with the added taboo of a nuclear first strike–would have catastrophic consequences. Given that any action by Israel would be viewed regionally as a proxy strike by the United States, whether or not it was done with tacit approval from the Bush administration, it would almost certainly create a ripple effect throughout the Arab world and lead to more terrorist strikes. Indeed, the repercussions would likely exceed those of successful Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons.

It should be noted that we have seen similar reports, including from the Times, over the last couple of years. The level of detail in this one, though, makes me take it seriously.

Interestingly, the early blogospheric reaction on both sides of the aisle is almost uniformly negative or skeptical of the report. I’m not seeing much cheerleading for nuking Iran’s nukes, even among people who usually have a militarist view of foreign policy. See: Jonah Goldberg, Kim Priestap, Michael Stickings, Larisa Alexandrovna, Cenk Uygur, Joe Gandelman, AllahPundit, John Hinderaker, Jay Stevenson, Gaius, John Donovan, Jill, John Little


Skeptical of the existence of a plan but generally supportive of the idea: Ed Driscoll, FullosseousFlap, Dave

Just plain enthusiastic: Rob Farrow, George Mellinger

Trackposted to Stop the ACLU, Perri Nelson’s Website, Stuck On Stupid, The Amboy Times, The Uncooperative Blogger ®, Pursuing Holiness, 123 Beta, Rightwing Guy, third world county, The HILL Chronicles, Woman Honor Thyself, The Uncooperative Blogger ®, stikNstein… has no mercy, Pirate’s Cove, Renaissance Blogger, The Pink Flamingo, Right Voices, The Random Yak, Adam’s Blog, Don Surber, Jo’s Cafe, Conservative Cat, Wake Up America, Diary of the Mad Pigeon, Faultline USA, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, The World According to Carl, Blue Star Chronicles, Diggers Realm, Gulf Coast Hurricane Tracker, Dumb Ox News, and High Desert Wanderer, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steve says:

    1. The Israeli government would be derelict in their responsibilities if they didn’t have contingency plans to degrade the Iranian nuclear program. No surprise there.

    2. Regardless of what the Iranians actually say in confidential internal meetings, their leaders’ publicly belligerent stance creates tension where clarity is what is needed.

    3. Six millions of your ethnic kinsman already consumed in one holocaust.

    Teheran’s boasts may be about domestic politics and regional influence. But, wars have started over far smaller misunderstandings.

    Taunting a well armed and capable foe, one with a historical memory of genocide, is not a good plan.

    “The World” may be united in opposing Iran’s nuclear ambitions; but, our coalition does not have the whole hearted support of Russia and China. Two nations with short sighted leaders who can not see the grave risks looming beyond short term economic benefit.

    Our best plan would be to buy off the Russians and isolate the Chinese.

  2. Skeptic says:

    I would not be surprised if this plan exists, but as one of a number of options being studied. I think it unlikely that Israel has decided to take this step, but I would be surprised if they have not considered it. Given the limitations of conventional weapons against these targets and the absolute necessity of having a viable plan if (and only if) they have to go it alone, they’d be stupid not to be looking at it.

  3. A cruise missile in time saves nine…

  4. Angel says:

    Israel will do what she needs to survive unlike Europe and I daresay even the good ole US!..good posting.:)

  5. carpeicthus says:

    I’m a skeptic. Militaries make plans. I’m sure we have a plan to nuke Canada somewhere; doesn’t mean we’ll do it. Unless they piss us off.

  6. floyd says:

    Just like Luke used to Bullseye Womp Rats from his T-16,in beggar’s canyon, Back Home on Tatooine!!

  7. MichaelB says:

    What worries me most about this kind of plan is the possibility that use of nuclear weapons will come to be seen as acceptable. Forget about terrorists, Iranian retaliation in the immediate aftermath, and whatever else; nuking Iran, even with small tactical weapons, makes it a lot more likely that someone else will decide that using nuclear weapons is a viable solution to a hard security problem. Somehow after World War Two, pandora’s box seemed to get closed again – I would sure like to keep it that way!

  8. Anderson says:

    Unfortunately I suspect JJ is more sensible than most anyone in the White House, or in Israel for that matter. (The “Hezbollah War” last summer removed any illusions of Israeli competence that I had nursed.)

    What worries me most about this kind of plan is the possibility that use of nuclear weapons will come to be seen as acceptable.

    Bingo. I suspect a minority of Iranians truly think that a nuke attack on Israel would be a good idea. That will become a permanent majority, in a nation that will surely have nukes sooner or later, if Israel hits Iran first.

    It’s possible to argue, given the relative sizes of the two countries, that an Israeli nuke on Iran is less catastrophic than vice-versa; but I daresay most of the Mideast would find that reasoning too subtle.

  9. ken says:

    If Israel starts a war with Iran they will lose and Israel will be wiped off the map. It really is that simple.

  10. Alex says:


    Also an article on why Ahmadinejad should be indicted:

  11. floyd says:

    ken; you’re wrong

  12. ken says:

    floyd, ok, it might not be simple but still, if Israel were to start a war on Iran they certainly will lose. Not right away but in a long drawn out fighting war Israel doesn’t stand a chance.

    Iran would have the moral and legal right to wage all out war on the aggressor country that attacked it. What could anyone do? The way things are now, thanks to Bush, the US would not be able to intervene diplomatically to stop it. And it would be against all our principles to side militarily with the war aggressor.

    Perhaps Israel could sue for peace, try to surrender to an international body, promise to pay war reparations and such but I doubt if anyone in the middle east would accept that outcome, Iran least of all.

  13. bernie says:

    Yoy forgot category: Can’t Wait

    I linked to you from Israel Denies Nuke Plans against Iran

  14. Ticketplease says:

    Israel Planning Nuclear Strike on Iran?

    If I was them I would. I’m sure we have 1 to nuke Iran.

  15. McGehee says:

    Ken, why are you echoing the Iranian government’s spin?

  16. Anderson says:

    Ken, why are you echoing the Iranian government’s spin?

    McGehee, that is out of line.

    Ken is stating the “obvious.” If the obvious is apparent to the Iranian gov’t, then they’re a good bit saner than our own.

    I guess if I say we’re not winning in Iraq, I’m echoing the terrorists’ spin?

  17. LJD says:

    If the obvious is apparent to the Iranian gov’t, then they’re a good bit saner than our own.

    How many times do you have to fall on your head to think things like that?