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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Iran's nuclear maze

The New York Times has a lengthy story about Iran's maze of tunnels that hide its nuclear program. The gist of the article is that the tunnels complicate any military option to destroy or set back Iran's nuclear weapons program, and are more of an impediment for Israel than for the United States.

The Obama administration says it is hoping to take advantage of domestic political unrest and disarray in Iran’s nuclear program to press for a regimen of strong and immediate new sanctions. But a crucial factor behind that push for nonmilitary solutions, some analysts say, is Iran’s tunneling — what Tehran calls its strategy of “passive defense.”

Indeed, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has repeatedly discounted the possibility of a military strike, saying that it would only slow Iran’s nuclear ambitions by one to three years while driving the program further underground.

Some analysts say that Israel, which has taken the hardest line on Iran, may be especially hampered, given its less formidable military and intelligence abilities.

“It complicates your targeting,” said Richard L. Russell, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst now at the National Defense University. “We’re used to facilities being above ground. Underground, it becomes literally a black hole. You can’t be sure what’s taking place.”

Even the Israelis concede that solid rock can render bombs useless. Late last month, the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, told Parliament that the Qum plant was “located in bunkers that cannot be destroyed through a conventional attack.”
You will all recall the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP or bunker buster) that the United States is hoping to bring online later this year.
The device — 20 feet long and called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator — began as a 2004 recommendation from the Defense Science Board, a high-level advisory group to the Pentagon.

“A deep underground tunnel facility in a rock geology poses a significant challenge,” the board wrote. “Several thousand pounds of high explosives coupled to the tunnel are needed to blow down blast doors and propagate a lethal air blast.”

The bomb carries tons of explosives and is considered 10 times more powerful than its predecessor. It underwent preliminary testing in 2007, and its first deployments are expected next summer. Its carrier is to be the B-2 stealth bomber.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in October that budget problems had delayed the weapon but that it was now back on track. Military officials deny having a specific target in mind. Still, Mr. Whitman added, war planners consider it “an important capability.”
But will it be online before Iran has nuclear weapons? No one knows for sure.

Read it all.


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