Small Wars Journal

The Iran Attack Plan

The Iran Attack Plan - Anthony Cordesman, Wall Street Journal.

Iran's acknowledgment that it is developing a second uranium-enrichment facility does little to dispel the view that the regime is developing a weapons program. Israel must consider not just whether to proceed with a strike against Iran - but how.

... Iran has all of the technology and production and manufacturing capabilities needed for fission weapons. It has acquired the technology to make the explosives needed for a gun or implosion device, the triggering components, and the neutron initiator and reflectors. It has experimented with machine uranium and plutonium processing. It has put massive resources into a medium-range missile program that has the range payload to carry nuclear weapons and that makes no sense with conventional warheads. It has also worked on nuclear weapons designs for missile warheads. These capabilities are dispersed in many facilities in many cities and remote areas, and often into many buildings in each facility - each of which would have to be a target in an Israeli military strike.

It is far from certain that such action would be met with success. An Israeli strike on Iran would be far more challenging than the Israeli strike that destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981. An effective Israeli nuclear strike may not be possible, yet a regional nuclear arms race is a game that Iran can start, but cannot possibly win. Anyone who meets regularly with senior Israeli officials, officers and experts knows that Israel is considering military options, but considering them carefully and with an understanding that they pose serious problems and risks.

One of the fundamental problems dogging Israel, especially concerning short-ranged fighters and fighter-bombers, is distance. Iran's potential targets are between 950 and 1,400 miles from Israel, the far margin of the ranges Israeli fighters can reach, even with aerial refueling. Israel would be hard-pressed to destroy all of Iran's best-known targets. What's more, Iran has had years in which to build up covert facilities, disperse elements of its nuclear and missile programs, and develop options for recovering from such an attack...

More at The Wall Street Journal.


Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 09/27/2009 - 10:18pm


Interesting post and some very valid points. I haven't been in the area for almost 40 years but some caution may be advisable.<blockquote>"...Turkmens, there are also 35 million Kurds, Azeris, Baluchs, Arabs(Khuzestan Province- wher 90% of the oil and gas is ), Talysh, Gilakis, Mazandarins, Lurs and Qashqai.These ethnic groups generally live in their own regions and there are separtist movements within most of these ethnic groups."</blockquote>That was true then and I'm sure it is more true today but I question the strength of commitment to a separatist path on the part of most non-Persians.

They're generally very pragmatic and are aware that they generally will have little as separate fiefs but great potential as Iranians. The Luri / Bakhtiari and the Azeri in particular are pretty well embedded throughout Iranian society.

Agree totally that an attack would be ill advised and that all would unite in opposition. You have an excellent counterpoint to that idea point and your statement is accurate; I'm merely suggesting that it may not be as easy as one might wish to fragment the Iraniha into their precursor roots. Excepting the Baluchi of course -- they'd split in a second as would many Arabs but even some of them fought for Iran against Iraq...

Faha (not verified)

Sun, 09/27/2009 - 9:12pm

The acquisition of nuclear weapons b Iran will be very destabilising to the Middle East. There are several Arab nations that are currently exploring the development of nuclear power and/or weapons. With so many nations potentially acquiring nuclear weapons there is a high risk that they may eventually be used. Israel, which already posseses nuclear warheads, will not allow the proliferation of nuclear weapons as this will threaten their very existence.
However, Israel and the United States cannot become involved in a prolonged war with Iran. The USA does not have the manpower nor resources to subdue and occupy Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran ( not to mention Pakistan ). An attack on Iran would unify most of the Iranian people, and with 75 million people, it would be a much more difficult war than Iraq or Afghanistan. We once had a much more formidable adversary- the Soviet Union. No one considers the Soviet Union a threat to our security anymore. WHY ? BECAUSE IT NO LONGER EXISTS !!! The Soviet Union is no longer a threat not because we defeated them in war. Rather it is no longer a threat because it broke up into its constituent republics, and this breakup, along with the loss of Eastern Europe, ended the threat of Communism. So too with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. These nations should be partitioned into smaller nations. These nations would consist of the homogenous ethnic groups within the current nations of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. The nations of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan would gladly annex the Tajik and Uzbek regions of Afghanistan ( 40% of the population of Afganistan ). Turkmenistan would annex the Turkmen region of Afghanistan and Iran ( 4 million Turkmens ) which are directly bordering Turkmenistan. Iran is only half Persian. Including the Turkmens, there are also 35 million Kurds, Azeris, Baluchs, Arabs(Khuzestan Province- wher 90% of the oil and gas is ), Talysh, Gilakis, Mazandarins, Lurs and Qashqai.These ethnic groups generally live in their own regions and there are separtist movements within most of these ethnic groups. Any move against Iran should be yoked with a plan to partition Iran into at least 10 separate nations. With this strategy, the 35 million Persians will be unable to defeat the 35 million non Persians, many of whom would support independence for their own ethnic groups.Many of these ethnic groups have been violently supressed by the dominant Persians and this history is mainly unknown in the West. The Soviet Union actually occupied Southern Azerbaijan in 1945-46, incorporating it into the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan following WW2 but was forced to withdraw due to US pressure. There was also an independent Kurdistan Republic which seceded from Iran following WW2 but its independence was short lived. A partitioned Iran would have no oil or gas, no access to the Caspian Sea and would NEVER again be in a military or economic position to develop nuclear weapons. Of course, if we had already partitioned Iraq into independent Kurdish, Shiite Arab and Sunni Arab nation then the annexation of the Kurdish and Shiite regions or Iran would be much more practical. Unfortunately, our political and military leaders are not creative when it comes to long term solutions to the problems of the Middle East and South Asia.

blert (not verified)

Sat, 09/26/2009 - 5:47pm

The only way to cut this Gordian Knot is to effect regime change.

WRT the standard air strike option: it's over exposed, over promoted.

It is far more likely that effective action is taken against critical players as against facilities.

The 'turnover' within the higher ranks of the Islamic Republican Guard Corps in recent years is notable.

Cordesman's notion that Iran could actually speed up her atomic program is absurd: it's already running full tilt.


If Obama were to seek a $20 per bbl tariff on non-North American oil imports Tehran would be spanked. Of all the worlds exporters Iran is in the weakest position and would, at the margin, suffer significant effects. A drop of even 500,000 bbl per day could be a back-breaker for Tehran.

Mark Pyruz

Sat, 09/26/2009 - 2:36pm

Sorry, Dave. I'll try to make good:

Cordesman's many defense assessments on Iran have contained a number of elements which have been successfully discredited by other independent defense specialists, such as Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop, to name just a couple. Such specialists maintain reliable contacts within Iran's military, where Cordesman apparently does not. (This is actually a not-too-infrequent topic of discussion on Iran subjects over at the ACIG military forum, which can be accessed through membership at

However, when it comes to analyzing Israel's military capabilities, Cordesman certainly possesses the advantage of having high-ranking contacts within the Israeli military organization.

Wargames Mark

Sat, 09/26/2009 - 1:14pm

By attacking facilities in Iran's nuclear program directly, you expose some of what you know about their program and more of what you don't know about it. Certainly, Iran makes efforts at deception. Almost as certainly, intelligence agencies are in fact deceived by some of these efforts. A set of strikes against targets that Israel or the U.S. thinks are critical to the Iranian program would at best delay the Iranians. Maybe another approach would work better: Striking the IRGC in order to disrupt that arm of the Iranian government, reduce its capabilities, and influence the Iranian regime to comply with demands for cessation of any nuclear weapons programs and verification of the same. By striking the IRGC, you do not expose the extent of your knowledge of the Iranian program and you leave the Iranian leadership to assume the worst.

An anonymous comment has been deleted. Anon, your post was nothing more than a personal attack concerning the credibility of the author and his work concerning Iran. Not much more than a blanket statement that you imply we should take at face value. In the future please direct commentary at specific assessments and cite examples. We are doing our best to keep this site free of drive-by attacks that offer up no substance to the debate. Thank you. - Dave

Seaworthy (not verified)

Sat, 09/26/2009 - 10:11am

There are some tid-bits of information that Israel and Saudia Arabia may have discussed an option of flying over Saudi airspace which would allow the IAF to fly a more direct route to targets in Iran.

Though everyone knows the advancement in Arab air defense systems has increased since Israel attacked the reactor at Osirak in 1981, the airspace involved over the Kingdom isn't that populated and the House of Saud could claim ignorance publically.

If this scenario was played-out, the question would be whether an attack by Israel would draw the U.S. in militarily, since Tehran would never believe America wasn't complicit in giving Israel the go ahead?

Just as a caveat: Iran's proxy, Hezbollah operates in the southern hemisphere of the triangle region of South America, and the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. interests and/or soil are something to consider as a result, as well.