The first indication that Israel has resorted to military action against Iran’s nuclear program would be explosions across the Islamic republic.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) - with its vaunted pilots and American-supplied warplanes - are so adept at surprise that Iraq and Syria never knew what hit them until their nuclear facilities lay smoldering.
But Iran and its scores of buried and cemented nuclear sites present a much more daunting campaign - one of days, not hours, and multiple weapons, not a few laser-guided bombs.
And unlike Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007, Iran can be expected to launch a fierce counterattack that likely would draw the United States into a low-level war with Tehran.
The strikes and counterstrikes could unfold this way:
If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu persuades his Cabinet to approve strikes, long-range F-15Is and F-16Is (“I” for Israel) would take off from the Hatzerim air base on a moonless night.
Israel’s most advanced warplanes, the “I Team” would carry U.S.-made, 5,000-pound bunker-busting bombs that drill below ground before exploding. Israel’s older F-16s and F-15s would stay home to deal with anticipated reprisals.
Israel has been revising its target list for years as it has gained intimate knowledge of Iran’s infrastructure and military installations via U.S. intelligence-sharing and its own network of spy satellites.
The low-flying “I” jets could take one or more routes to penetrate Iranian airspace on flights as long as 1,000 miles or more.
Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as the biggest threat to Persian Gulf oil states, might allow Israeli jets to access its airspace to cross into Iran from the southwest.
Israel also could opt to fly over Iraq, given that the U.S. and its warplanes have left and Baghdad has not rebuilt an air defense force.
‘Difficult, but not impossible’
Iran’s thick network of radars and anti-aircraft missiles would be attacked first, perhaps by cyberwarfare viruses or some type of electronic jamming that makes the bombers invisible.
Analysts presume that Israel has probed Iran’s computer networks and has a plan to disable them with viruses and worms that would break down communication lines and disrupt electric power.
Once Israeli jets have penetrated Iranian airspace, their target list undoubtedly would include the large uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz and the nuclear reactor on the Gulf coast at Bushehr.
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