What would a strike on Iran by the U.S. and/or Israel look like? The question has been posed countless times, but perhaps few have the insight of retired US Gen. James Cartwright and Israeli Maj.Gen. Amos Yadlin, who in a recent article in The Atlantic try to imagine how an attack on Iran would play out.
The duo poses ten hypothetical questions that the U.S. President and Israeli Prime Minister would pose to their respective advisers. The first question: “What approach would give the West more room to exhaust peaceful options: leaving the timing of a potential attack to Israel or the United States?”
“Israel’s military capability to strike Iran’s proliferating nuclear sites — especially those bunkered deep within a mountain, such as Fordow — is more limited than that of the United States. Israel’s window for military action is therefore closing, while Washington’s more advanced capabilities mean that it can wait, affording the West a final attempt to exhaust all other options,” write the generals.
But the conclusions the two arrive at aren’t so clear cut. For instance, they believe “any Israeli attack would necessarily be quick and surgical, with less collateral damage. This is a significant advantage.” However, a “U.S.-led strike is preferable from a military perspective,” because of its advanced weaponry. But again, the conclusion comes with a caveat: “The U.S. military’s superior capabilities — including B-2 stealth bombers, air refueling craft, advanced drones, and 30,000-pound massive ordnance penetrators — are more likely to severely damage Iranian targets. Yet the United States has no operational experience in strikes against such facilities, unlike Israel, which successfully conducted similar operations against the Osiraq nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981 and, according to foreign press, against a Syrian reactor in 2007.”
Then there’s the matter of world opinion. Israel also has the benefit of being able to claim self-defense while the U.S. has little moral high ground if it leads an attack on another Muslim country.
No matter who does carry out the attack, one thing is for certain, Cartwright and Yadlin believe: “Attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities is but a tactical step toward the strategic goal of permanently halting the regime’s drive toward nuclear weapons. Mechanically damaging the program is not an end goal in itself, since no amount of bombs can destroy Iran’s nuclear knowhow. Any strike must necessarily be followed by negotiations and a self-enforcing diplomatic deal that prevents Tehran from reconstituting the program or achieving breakout capability in the future.”