Checking Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

By Henry Sokolski; Patrick Clawson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7

THE CHALLENGES OF U.S. PREVENTIVE MILITARY ACTION
Michael EisenstadtFor some U.S. policymakers and military planners, Israel's 1981 raid on Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor may serve as an object lesson regarding the potential benefi ts of preventive military action against Iran's nuclear program. Not widely appreciated is how risky and difficult the Osiraq raid was, and how the factors which ensured its success make attempting similar action against Iran's nuclear facilities so challenging. U.S. preventive action against Iran's nuclear program would necessarily bear little resemblance to the Osiraq raid, and the results would unlikely be as decisive and lasting.The success of the Osiraq operation obscured difficulties in planning and execution. The raid was the longest mission the Israeli Air Force had undertaken at that time. The strike package (eight F- 16s escorted by six F-15s) flew nearly the entire 2,000 km mission over hostile airspace, yet managed to achieve surprise. The F-16s were operating very close to their maximum unrefueled combat radius; had they been challenged by Jordanian, Saudi, or Iraqi aircraft, they would have lacked endurance to engage in evasive maneuver or sustained aerial combat. The raid on Osiraq pushed Israel's air force to the very limits of its operational capabilities. 1Several factors contributed to the Israeli success in 1981:
The Osiraq reactor—a highly visible and vulnerable target— was the centerpiece of Iraq's nuclear program, and its destruction set the effort several years back. 2 Learning from this experience, Iraq subsequently dispersed and hid its nuclear infrastructure. Other proliferators—including Iran— have since done the same. 3

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