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ISIS: “Can Military Strikes Destroy Iran’s Gas Centrifuge Program? Probably Not.”

8 August 2008

Here is one of the best public reports yet IMO about the mechanics of striking Iran’s atomic facilities. 

Update:  also note “As Iran Tests Missile Fleet, Experts Map High-Tech Israeli Attack“, Popular Mechanics, 9 July 2008 — hat tip to Instapundit.

“Can Military Strikes Destroy Iran’s Gas Centrifuge Program? Probably Not.”, David Albright, Paul Brannan and Jacqueline Shire, Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), 7 August 2008, 15 pages — Here is the link, 2.2 meg PDF.  About the ISIS.  Conclusion:

From the time that Iran halted the suspension of its centrifuge manufacturing efforts and its adherence to the Additional Protocol, the IAEA’s knowledge of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing complex has degraded dramatically. U.S. and other intelligence agencies appear to have only partial information about Iran’s centrifuge complex and its ability to reconstitute its program following an attack.  Iran’s decision to disperse and keep secret several of its key sites further hinders the development of a full picture of its centrifuge complex.

Considering the modular, replicable nature of centrifuge plants, we conclude that an attack on Iran’s nuclear program is unlikely to significantly degrade Iran’s ability to reconstitute its gas centrifuge program.

An emphasis on military responses to this conflict also has the effect of discouraging Iran from allowing more effective IAEA inspections, something necessary for the successful conclusion of a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran is understandably concerned that more transparency on its part could lead to the U.S. and Israeli militaries gaining better targeting information on its nuclear program.

Finally, calls for military action against Iran may have the result of increasing pressure on Iran and hesitant allies to seek a meaningful diplomatic solution. If carried out, however, military strikes would likely fail to deliver on their promises and risk leading to a general war that could spill over throughout the region. It is time to set aside the military option and concentrate instead on credible diplomatic approaches to end Iran’s growing nuclear weapons capabilities.

Update

Is Iranian enrichment a realistic target set?“, W. Patrick Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired), posted at his blog Sic Semper Tyrannis, 10 August 2008 — Lang validates the ISIS report.

Albright knows his business.  If it is his judgment that it would be this difficult to severely damage the centrifuge enrichment program, then it is probably so.

This analysis places the putative Israeli onslaught against these facilities in sharp perspective. The Israelis lack the capability for this.

Only a full fledged US air campaign would have any chance of doing the necessary degree of damage to that complex of facilities. Such a US campaign would involve hundreds if not thousands of strike sorties plus many, many more support sorties.  Then, there is the issue of whether or not available targeting intelligence is adequate for the job.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

My posts about a strike at Iran by Israel

Esp. note #2!

  1. Is Iran dangerous, or a paper tiger?   (13 November 2007)
  2. Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran  (22 December 2007)
  3. Does reading Debkafile make us smarter, or dumber?  (15 June 2008)
  4. A new story about a possible war with Iran  (21 May 2008) — About the 20 May Jerusalem Post story, originally reported by Army Radio.
  5. “As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon”  (3 June 2008) — About the Fischer story in the 30 May Daily Star.
  6. “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”   (8 June 2008)  — War-talk by a former Defense Minster of Israel.
  7. Der Spiegel: “Israeli Ministers Mull Plans for Military Strike against Iran”  (17 June 2008) — Rumors in Der Spiegel of a strike by Israel on Iran.  
  8. More rumors of a strike at Iran by Israel  (1 July 2008)
  9. Leaks about a possible strike at Iran (are there any hotter issues today?)  (7 July 2008)

Here is the full archive of my posts about a possible strike at Iran by Israel or the US.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 August 2008 12:07 am

    David Albright is a CIA stooge who, since he founded ISIS, has regularly denounced Iran. Albright, a claimed “physicist,” knows nothing about air-delivered munitions. Just reading your excerpt (I won’t waste more time on the whole document) he is merely taking this opportunity to debase the IAEA, a long-standing US goal, while pontificating on other matters he knows nothing about. Albright and his ISIS, which entirely consists of him, Brannan and Shire, was the source of a recent WaPo article on the Iran “threat.” His work will pop up every now and then, like a chronic disease, whenever the checks come in to ISIS from Langley.

    Regarding the WaPo article, here is Gordon Prather: “According to the Washington Post, David Albright – a man their sycophantic reporter inexplicably considers to be “a prominent nuclear weapons expert” – has charged that an “international smuggling ring,” having already “sold bomb-related parts to Libya, Iran and North Korea,” has somehow acquired “blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon,” which Albright contends were intended to be – or already had been – “sold” to any number of countries, including Iran. . . etc.”
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    Fabius Maximus replies: A basic rule of intel — and life — is to evaluate the information first, then the source. This information matches that from many other sources, including public reports. Much of it needs validation from other sources, of course.

    Any evidence that he is a CIA stooge? Would that make what he says more or less accurate?

    However, this is interesting background material. Thanks for posting it.

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  2. 14 August 2008 11:41 am

    Here is how I would destroy the Iranian nuke program at least temporarily.

    1. Take out likely parts of the Iranian electrical grid.
    2. Look for the heat signatures of backup generators.
    3. Take them (or their exhaust/intake) out.

    As to a blockade of Iran? Who knows? The source I found refers back to Debka. And you know they get it right about 50% of the time.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The point of a “surgical strike” is to remove the atomic facilities without otherwise damaging Iran, and forcing a counterattack that slides into full-scale war. A strike like you suggest is an outright war. Not a good idea with the US military fully engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. And what will Iran do in response?

    As for Debkafile, a coin is also right 50% of the time. Also, your article did not describe these rumors as having a 50% odds of being true. It read like fact.

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  3. 14 August 2008 11:45 am

    BTW Israel need not strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. A better target would be its refineries. However that would need to be done well in advance of bomb production. Let me add that no one is sure what the Iranians are doing.

    In any case due to economic inefficiency their net oil output is declining. Expected to go to zero in the 2010 to 2015 time frame.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You raise two interesting points.

    (1) Hitting its refineries would inflict massive damage on Iran, unlike a “surgical strike” at its atomic infrastructure. That could easily escalate into a full-scale war, as Iran would likely counter-attack. This seems quite mad, IMO.

    (2) Agreed. Mexico is on a similar course. Unless both greatly invest more in their oil industry, their production will suffer.

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  4. 31 August 2008 10:49 pm

    Fabius says: “mad to destroy Iran’s oil infrastructure”; Well, perhaps it is even more mad to “negotiate” with a regime who’s declared goal is the destruction of Israel, and “a World without America”. I don’t think we don’t want the nuclear armed Ahmedinajad any more than a nuclear armed Hitler.

    As far as I can see the idea of negotiations is a TOTAL nonsense. Negotiations have been going on for 7 years and all along Iran has continued it’s nuclear work. It seems clear that any other negotiations will only be for the purpose of lending time to Ahmedinajad.

    I think that destroying Iran’s oil and gas infrastructure is at least one avenue that can bring change. Also, after destroying their oil and gas, they will not be able to afford a war, nor will they be in a position to support Hisbullah and other terrorist organizations.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Well, that’s a clear statement. No unlike similar statements — fortunately not by those in authority — that our only alternative was to nuke the Soviet Union, before they inevitably did so to us.

    Destroying the oil infrastructure of Iran, having the 2nd largest conventional oil reserves, seems mad to me (Canada’s bitumen deposits are not comparable, as discussed in this article). This is the type of shock that economists fear (economic effects are largely about rates of change).

    If the global economy, now slowing rapidly, tips over into a long, deep recession as a result … then even our allies might reconsider the wisdom of allowing such an unpredictable and aggressive nation to weild so much military power. They will not be thinking about Iran.

    Yes, I agree with you. Destroying Iran’s oil infrastructure “can bring change.” Whether we will like the resulting changes is another matter.

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  5. 12 January 2012 8:10 pm

    I do wonder how much information the US and Israel have about Iranian centrifuges. Stuxnet encoded some pretty detailed information about the cascade; where did that come from?

    Centrifuges are complex engineering but they’re just engineering and are relatively straightforward once you decide to pay the price to do the research and build them. A.Q.Khan was able to build centrifuges fairly quickly (5-10 years) after what he learned at Siemens.

    Like

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