The Playbook for an Israeli Airstrike on Iran's Nuclear Facilities

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Thanks to a host of military analysts, cartographers, and TV graphics departments, we have plenty of ideas about how an Israeli airstrike on Iran's nuclear facilities would be carried out.

The latest hypothetical rendering came in a New York Times article Monday, in which Pentagon officials cast serious doubts about Israel's capability of pulling off the attack. "Its pilots would have to fly more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace, refuel in the air en route, fight off Iran’s air defenses, attack multiple underground sites simultaneously — and use at least 100 planes," wrote Elisabeth Bumiller. 

But while that rough sketch is generally agreed upon, a number of other geographic and tactical factors also come into play and have been mapped out. Put together, you have a dispassionate, calculated atlas of what such a conflict would look like.

The simplest map we've seen is a Fox News graphic outlining the four most widely discussed nuclear target areas: Arak, Fordo, Natanz, and Isfahan. On Monday night, Greta Van Susteren spoke with Major General Bob Scales who said, "This is gonna take days, maybe weeks, [and] the enemy's going to fight back."

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What will the Israelis be aiming for? The Center for Strategic and International Studies has mapped out a comprehensive chart of the various nuclear sites and what is known about them:


As we've seen in Iran and Israel's shadow wars thus far, their disputes have spread out across a range of countries (today, we're hearing more about Azerbaijan). An airstrike would also embroil a handful of Israel's neighbors, depending on what airspace the country should choose to invade. In 2009 Reuters mapped out three routes (north, central and south) for carrying out the attack. Whatever the method, it looks as though jamming radars and dodging potential anti-aircraft munitions will be on the agenda. 

Then of course, there's the weaponry involved. Equilibri, a European think tank that analyzes events and international dynamics, has outlined the air and sea power involved in a likely attack, which include 20 F-15s, 20 F-16s, 22-26 F15 C/Ds and F-16-Ds, 7 tanker KC-707/135s, and 2 dolphin class-submarines to enter the Gulf of Oman. (Other estimates say at least 100 planes are needed)

Of course, any invasion would also take into effect Iran's missile sites, which CSIS has rendered here:

One of the main targets, and most difficult, is the underground plant near the city of Qom. On Monday, the BBC reported that Iran is poised to expand its nuclear site in Qom, installing thousands of new centrifuges at the plant. According to The Times, the underground site is going to call for American-made GBU-28 5,000-pound bunker buster bombs to destroy the facilities. Here's a satellite view of Qom, courtesy CNN:

Without knowing whether Israel will actually carry out such an attack, what we can say is this would surely be one of the most pre-meditated, pre-discussed, and publicly scrutinized military campaign in recent memory. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.