“I think it would take an extraordinarily dumb move on the part of the Iranians to force U.S. kinetic interventions before the U.S. presidential election [by abandoning negotiations],” says the first official. However, “post-election, I think the viable responses [negotiations, more cyberattacks and bombing] are wide open.”
By 2013, U.S. political pressure to avoid an attack will be at its lowest ebb with the presidential election just over and the mid-terms still two years away. The situation has also stabilized in Israel. “Israel has fewer reservations [to a U.S. kinetic attack] given the recent solidification of their government,” he says.
The nearest window of opportunity—that carries the least potential for political backlash from a bombing attack on Iran—is 2013 or 2014. However, there are threats of retribution attacks on the U.S. by Hezbollah. The stateless Islamist organization occupies southern Lebanon and is supported by Syria and Iran.
“The assessment I'm betting on is continued watching, but [with U.S. forces] close to action,” says the second planner.
The tools for such an attack are all operational.
“We would employ a totally stealthy force of F-22s, B-2s and Jassms [joint air-to-surface standoff missiles] that are launched from F-15Es and [Block 40] F-16s,” says the third planning veteran. “We should give Iran advanced warning that we will damage and likely destroy its nuclear facilities. It is not an act of war against Iran, the Iranian people or Islam. It is a pre-emptive attack solely against their nuclear facilities and the military targets protecting them. We will take extraordinary measures to protect against collateral damage.”
Lockheed Martin F-22s upgraded for the use of independently targeted, ripple-fired GBU-39 small-diameter bombs, which are designed to destroy or suppress enemy air defenses, began delivery this year. The AGM-158 Jassm-ER, with range increased to 575 mi. from 230 mi. compared with the original model, will be deployed in 2013.
Also available for 2013 missions will be a composite-skin, jamming version of the miniature air-launched decoy (MALD). The modification will make the MALD lighter (thereby increasing payload) and lower its radar signature (making it more of a problem for air defenses). The 300-lb. missile has a range of roughly 575 mi. and is currently integrated on the Lockheed Martin F-16. It is designed to penetrate air defenses. The jammer payload can blind or confuse radars from close range, and advanced payloads could be used as anti-electronic or even cyberattack weapons.
The U.S. also has two aircraft-carrier task forces in the Arabian Sea that could provide Tomahawk missile strikes as well as electronic warfare and standoff missile attacks.
During a February security conference in Israel, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Dani Halutz, former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, said that the Iranian uranium-enrichment plan should not be used as an excuse for Israel to attack unilaterally.