Should the U.S. actually take Benjamin Netanyahu’s advice and attack Iran, don’t expect a few sorties flown by a couple of fighter jocks. Setting back Iran’s nuclear efforts will need to be an all-out effort, with squadrons of bombers and fighter jets, teams of commandos, rings of interceptor missiles and whole Navy carrier strike groups — plus enough drones, surveillance gear, tanker aircraft and logistical support to make such a massive mission go. And all of it, at best, would buy the U.S. and Israel another decade of a nuke-free Iran.
There’s been a lot of loose talk and leaked tales about what an attack on Iran might ultimately entail. Anthony Cordesman, one of Washington’s best-connected defense analysts, has put together a remarkably detailed inventory of what it would take to strike Iran (.pdf), cataloging everything from the number of bombers required to the types of bombs they ought to carry. He analyzes both Israeli and American strikes, both nuclear and not. He examines possible Iranian counterattacks, and ways to neutralize them. It leads Cordesman to a two-fold conclusion:
* “Israel does not have the capability to carry out preventive strikes that could do more than delay Iran’s efforts for a year or two.” Despite the increasingly sharp rhetoric coming out of Jerusalem, the idea of Israel launching a unilateral attack is almost as bad as allowing Tehran to continue its nuclear work unchallenged. It would invite wave after wave of Iranian counterattacks — by missile, terrorist, and boat — jeopardizing countries throughout the region. It would wreak havoc with the world’s oil supply. And that’s if Israel even manages to pull the mission off — something Cordesman very much doubts.
* The U.S. might be able to delay the nuclear program for up to 10 years. But to do so, it’ll be an enormous undertaking. The initial air strike alone will “require a large force allocation [including] the main bomber force, the suppression of enemy air defense system[s], escort aircraft for the protection of the bombers, electronic warfare for detection and jamming purposes, fighter sweep and combat air patrol to counter any air retaliation by Iran.”
But the first attack might actually be the easy part, writes Cordesman, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.