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Simon S, Nov-2009. Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 5 - An Israeli Strike on Iran, Council on Foreign Relations

Simon S, Nov-2009. Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 5 - An Israeli Strike on Iran, Council on Foreign Relations

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An Israeli Strike on Iran
Steven SimonNovember 2009
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, thinktank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business execu-tives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in orderto help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and othercountries. Founded in 1921, CFR carries out its mission by maintaining a diverse membership, with spe-cial programs to promote interest and develop expertise in the next generation of foreign policy leaders;convening meetings at its headquarters in New York and in Washington, DC, and other cities where se-nior government officials, members of Congress, global leaders, and prominent thinkers come togetherwith CFR members to discuss and debate major international issues; supporting a Studies Program thatfosters independent research, enabling CFR scholars to produce articles, reports, and books and holdroundtables that analyze foreign policy issues and make concrete policy recommendations; publishing
Foreign Affairs
, the preeminent journal on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy; sponsoring Inde-pendent Task Forces that produce reports with both findings and policy prescriptions on the most impor-tant foreign policy topics; and providing up-to-date information and analysis about world events andAmerican foreign policy on its website, CFR.org.The Council on Foreign Relations takes no institutional position on policy issues and has no affiliationwith the U.S. government. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion contained in its publicationsare the sole responsibility of the author or authors.The Center for Preventive Action (CPA) Contingency Roundtable series seeks to organize focused dis-cussions on plausible short- to medium-term contingencies that could seriously threaten U.S. interests.Contingency meeting topics range from specific states or regions of concern to more thematic issues anddraw on the expertise of government and nongovernment experts. The goal of the meeting series is notonly to raise awareness of U.S. government officials and the expert community to potential crises but alsoto generate practical policy options to lessen the likelihood of the contingency and to reduce the negativeconsequences should it occur. A summary memo of the resulting recommendations is distributed to par-ticipants and important policymakers.For further information about CFR or this paper, please write to the Council on Foreign Relations, 58East 68th Street, New York, NY 10065, or call Communications at 212.434.9888. Visit CFR’s website,www.cfr.org.Copyright © 2009 by the Council on Foreign Relations®, Inc.All rights reserved.Printed in the United States of America.This paper may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form beyond the reproduction permitted bySections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law Act (17 U.S.C. Sections 107 and 108) and excerpts byreviewers for the public press, without express written permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.For information, write to the Publications Office, Council on Foreign Relations, 58 East 68th Street, NewYork, NY 10065.
Successive Israeli governments have held that a nuclear weapons capability in the region, other thanIsrael’s own, would pose an intolerable threat to Israel’s survival as a state and society. Iran’s nuclearprogram—widely regarded as an effort to obtain a nuclear weapon, or put Tehran a “turn of a screw”away from it—has triggered serious concern in Israel. Within the coming year, the Israeli governmentcould decide, much as it did twenty-eight years ago with respect to Iraq and two years ago with re-spect to Syria, to attack Iran’s nuclear installations in order to delay its acquisition of a weapons capa-bility.While U.S. officials—including the president––have declared a nuclear armed Iran to be “unac-ceptable,” the administration has been clear in wanting to prevent such an outcome through peacefuldiplomatic means. Without forswearing the eventual use of military force, senior U.S. officials havealso indicated that a preventive strike on Iran by Israel would be “ill advised,” “very destabilizing,” and“likely very bad,” and thus not in the U.S. interest. These concerns have evidently been transmittedprivately to the Israeli government.This contingency planning memo assesses the likelihood of an Israeli strike against Iran despiteU.S. objections, the implications for the United States should it take place, the policy options availa-ble to reduce the chances of its occurrence, and the measures that could be taken to mitigate the po-tentially negative consequences.
An Israeli attack would likely concentrate on three locations: Isfahan, where Iran produces uraniumhexafluoride gas; Natanz, where the gas is enriched in approximately half of the eight thousand cen-trifuges located there; and Arak, where a heavy water research reactor, scheduled to come on line in2012, would be ideal to produce weapons-grade plutonium. It is conceivable that Israel may attackother sites that it suspects to be part of a nuclear weapons program if targeting data were available,such as the recently disclosed Qom site, whose location is known, or centrifuge fabrication sites, thelocation(s) of which have not yet been identified. The latter would be compelling targets since theirdestruction would hobble Iran’s ability to reconstitute its program. But attacks against the sites atNatanz, Isfahan, and Arak alone would likely stretch Israel’s capabilities, and planners would proba-bly be reluctant to enlarge the raid further.Israel is capable of carrying out these attacks unilaterally. Its F-16 and F-15 aircraft, equippedwith conformal fuel tanks and refueled with 707-based and KC-130 tankers toward the beginningand end of their flight profiles, have the range to reach the target set, deliver their payloads in the faceof Iranian air defenses, and return to their bases. The munitions necessary to penetrate the targets arecurrently in Israel’s inventory in sufficient numbers; they include Bomb Live Unit (BLU)-109 andBLU 113 bombs that carry two thousand and five thousand pounds, respectively, of high-energy ex-plosives. These GPS-guided weapons are extremely accurate and can be lofted from attacking aircraftfifteen kilometers from their target, thereby reducing the attackers’ need to fly through air defenses.Israel also has a laser-guided version of these bombs that is more accurate than the GPS variant andcould deploy a special-operations laser designation unit to illuminate aim points as it is reported tohave done in the attack on the al-Kibar facility in Syria.

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