Bunker-Buster Bomb No Sure Way to Stop Iran If Negotiations Fail
Defense officials and private analysts say that a military attack against Iran would only delay Iran's effort by a few years, even assuming use of the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday that while a military strike would cause a “setback” for any Iranian nuclear-weapons efforts, “it doesn’t prevent the reconstitution over time.”
So in planning for such a situation, the Pentagon has anticipated the possibility of an open-ended military operation against Iran if necessary to prevent nuclear-weapons development.
“The military option isn’t used once and set aside,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news briefing. “It remains in place, so we will always have options and the massive ordnance penetrator is just one of them.”
A single military strike “would only delay an Iranian drive” for “a finite period” so a credible “military option would have to envision a long-term campaign of repeated follow-up strikes as facilities are rebuilt or new targets identified,” Kenneth Katzman, Middle East analyst for the Congressional Research Service, said in an e-mail.
In May 2013, retired Marine Corps General James Cartwright and former chief of Israeli defense intelligence Amos Yadlin reiterated the limits to U.S. military action in a policy note for the Washington Institute.
“Mechanically damaging the program is not an end in itself since no amount of bombs can destroy Iran’s nuclear know-how,” they wrote. Cartwright, who retired in August 2011 as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was involved in contingency planning against Iran.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that” after a U.S. attack “there would not be hundreds of centrifuges left intact, or at least that hundreds could be assembled from the parts that remained salvageable,” Greg Thielmann, senior fellow at the Washington-based Arms Control Association and a former State Department intelligence official, said in an e-mail
“With no inspectors on the ground and a united Iran establishing nuclear weapons as a very high priority, I would think it could recover its position in three to four years, no matter how impressive the U.S. air campaign.” Thielmann said.
Even if Iran's nuclear facilities were severely damaged during an attack, it is possible that Iran could embark on a crash programme to make one nuclear weapon. In the aftermath of an attack, it is likely that popular support for an Iranian nuclear weapon capability would increase; bolstering the position of hardliners and strengthening arguments that Iran must possess a nuclear deterrent. Furthermore, Iran has threatened to withdraw from the NPT and, should it do so post-attack, would build a clandestine programme free of international inspection and control.