How to bomb those tunnels (in Iran)


The Iran problem deepens.

Now that President Obama’s year-end deadline on engagement with Iran has passed with no positive sign from the Islamic Republic, the question is what to do about it.

JTA’s Ron Kampeas reports that Congress is eager to push for a broad array of tough new sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector, but the White House reportedly favors narrower measures targeting Iran’s leadership (read Ron’s story here). The way things are going at the United Nations, however, the United States may have to go it alone: China, a veto-bearing U.N. Security Council member, objects to tougher sanctions.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports in its lead story on Wednesday, Iran is shielding its nuclear efforts in a hidden maze of tunnels dug deep underground and possibly impenetrable by U.S. bombs (not to mention Israeli bombs). While the U.S. military reportedly is "racing" to build a tunnel-busting weapon with a name that seems ripped from an Austin Powers flick — it’s called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator — the military isn’t quite there yet.

The Times reports:

Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Now, with the passing of President Obama’s year-end deadline for diplomatic progress, that cloak of invisibility has emerged as something of a stealth weapon, complicating the West’s military and geopolitical calculus.

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.”

Full story here.

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