The Question of Military Action Against Iran – Of Busted Bunker Hopes and Short Fuses

Dorle Hellmuth

The Catholic University of America

Dr. Hellmuth is Associate Professor of Politics at The Catholic University of America and serves as the academic director of the politics department’s parliamentary internship programs in Europe. Her book, Counterterrorism and the State (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), analyzes post-911 counterterrorism decision-making and responses in the United States, Germany, Great Britain, and France. Professor Hellmuth has briefed members of parliament, law enforcement, and government representatives on counterterrorism, national security, and defense issues. She is a non-resident fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies and serves as a fellow at the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies (GIRDS). Her research and teaching covers world politics, particularly the study of transatlantic security, counterterrorism, counterradicalization, homeland security, European and general comparative politics, and American foreign policy. Professor Hellmuth has held appointments as Assistant Professor at American University’s School of International Service and as a Research Fellow at the National War College, National Defense University. She has been awarded fellowships and grants from the Earhart Foundation, the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, the Embassy of France, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

She is a 2016-2017 participant in AICGS’ project “A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation: Global Responsibility, Joint Engagement,” sponsored by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi).

2012 has seen a flurry of belligerent activities and bellicose talk related to Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program and the question of how to put an end to Iranian nuclear ambitions. The debate has centered on two core questions: first, will Israel resort to preventive military action in 2012—either with or without Washington’s (tacit) approval? And second, should the U.S. use its unique bunker busting capacities instead to slow down the military dimension of Iran’s program, assumed to be dispersed in various above and underground facilities across Iran, a country the size of Alaska (or, to provide a European frame of reference, the combined size of Germany, France, Spain, and Italy)?

International actions and rhetoric showed a new kind of resolve and urgency ever since the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations (UN), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in November 2011 for the first time made a “credible” case that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,”[1] possibly ongoing, and not for electricity production or medial purposes, as claimed by Iran. These revelations resulted in the thus far unprecedented decision of the European Union (EU) to impose sanctions against oil exports of the Iranian regime, and were further complemented by additional U.S. sanctions against Iran’s central bank. Iran responded to these new levels of transatlantic economic coercion by conducting military exercises near the entrance to the Gulf of Hormuz in December 2011 and also threatened to block the Strait, which carries about 20 percent of the world’s oil exports. Moreover, in January 2012 Iran began enriching uranium at a deeply buried underground site near Qom.

The tit-for-tat has also played out as part of a series of deaths and assassinations. January marked the death of a fifth Iranian nuclear scientist since 2007, the killing is suspected to have been staged by Israel’s secret service, Mossad; soon after, Israeli diplomats became the target of deadly attacks in three countries thought to have been the work of Iranian intelligence. Israel’s drumbeat of war against Iran has been clearly heard on all sides.[2] In fact, the rhetorical saber rattling is of the caliber that not only has government officials and observers across the world nervous, but may also result in a self-fulfilling prophesy. Amidst the emotionally charged atmosphere a critical look at recent events, the arguments presented on all sides, and how far they differ from past developments, appears in order.

What’s the Problem with Iranian Nukes?

After all, the debate has been ongoing for at least the past decade, ever since Iran’s nuclear ambitions were revealed with the discovery of the Natanz enrichment facility in 2002—even if its military dimension has always been denied by Iranian officials. Back then, Iran appeared to quickly tone down its activities, only to renew efforts in the mid-2000s. At the time, the U.S. became increasingly tied up in post-invasion Iraq, while waging another military campaign in Afghanistan, and was wary of any preventive wars designed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Since then, various U.S. intelligence and IAEA estimates have put forth different assessments on Iranian nuclear intentions, progress, and how long it will take for them to reach nuclear weapon status.[3]

With few exceptions, there is tremendous international consensus that a nuclear Iran is far from desirable. Apart from general non-proliferation concerns, a nuclear-armed Iran is considered a security dilemma by numerous members of the international community (be they located in the regional neighborhood, Western hemisphere, or in Europe), and viewed as an existential threat by Israel in particular.[4] Iran has relied on proxy terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas to extend its strategic reach, achieve regional hegemony, and meet other foreign policy objectives—which include “wiping out” Israel.[5] These same Iranian-sponsored groups have wreaked havoc on U.S. troops and civilians abroad. The United States views the opaque theocracy not only as a state sponsor of terrorism, but also as a danger to vital U.S. interests in the Middle East, including the protection of Israel and oil supplies. This view is further echoed by a number of European countries polled in the 2011 Transatlantic Trends by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S.[6] Regional neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have repeatedly urged the U.S. to take care of the “evil” Iranian problem.[7]

However, not everybody agrees that a nuclear Iran would be the end of the world, that military strikes represent the only remaining policy option (as it may require just the right combination of economic sanctions, sabotage, diplomacy, and military threats, the policy advocated by the Obama administration), or that Iran can be prevented indefinitely from acquiring nuclear weapon status.

Among the chief critics of contemporary bellicose talk are the nuclear optimists[8] who focus on Iran’s potential as a responsible nuclear state that can be deterred and contained. According to this school of thought, a nuclear Iran will be as rational as others who have joined the nuclear club in the past and will adhere to rules of nuclear deterrence, as the Iranian regime is interested in its own survival and in having a country to govern. In line with this view, Iran’s actions have proven rationality all along: the quest for nuclear weapons is designed to once and for all put an end to Iranian security dilemmas—be they related to U.S. actions or regional enemies and rivals. Historic memories of U.S. meddling in domestic Iranian affairs remain fresh: a CIA-led coup resulted in the ousting of democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953 and the reinstallation of the much-hated, pro-American Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (who during the 1979 revolution also was granted asylum in the U.S.) During the eight year Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. mostly sided with the aggressor, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and afterward pursued a strategy of dual containment until George W. Bush singled out both regimes in his 2002 axis of evil speech. From Tehran’s perspective, it also bears mentioning that it is surrounded by numerous U.S. bases and troops deployed in Iran’s immediate neighborhood (especially in the two neighboring countries that suffered U.S.-led invasions over the past decade, where since 2003 combined troop levels have never been below 80,000 and even been close to 200,000 during various surge periods).[9] Nuclear weapons status would vastly alleviate Iran’s security concerns, increase Iran’s international prestige and freedom of action, and serve as an important bargaining chip—similar to the one that has empowered the North Korean leadership over the past decade. Based on optimists’ logic, due to the immense value of the weapon and the difficulties associated with obtaining it, Iran would not be interested in sharing its “precious” nuclear goods with other states or (non-state) actors, and also be sure to take the necessary safety measures needed to secure its future arsenal.

According to nuclear pessimists,[10] Iran’s rational qualifications must be questioned in light of an erratic president, who, if mostly a figurehead, frequently denies the Holocaust and has called for the destruction of Israel.[11] Religious factors further fuel rationality concerns, also with respect to the notion of national martyrdom, when the supreme leader, and real power wielder in the Shia theocracy, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, refers to the “Zionist regime” as a “cancerous tumor that should … and will be cut. [12] Should Iran achieve nuclear weapon status, nuclear pessimists further point to the danger of a nuclear first strike between Israel and Iran. As Israel would be tempted to decimate the still fledgling Iranian arsenal, Iran might want to preempt just such an action. The danger of a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel would be further amplified by short missile flight times, and lacking lines of communication. Most importantly, however, this school of thought expresses concerns about lacking civilian oversight of the nuclear program, making the first-strike option even more likely as military organizations are considered more offensive-minded and war prone. At any point in time, events may spin out of control due to inadvertent action, human errors, and accidents. Others point to the dangers of a regional arms race—would Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Turkey merely stand by and watch Iran reap the benefits from the regional power-shift?  Even if they were to rely on the reassuring power of the U.S. nuclear umbrella and other security guarantees, at the end of the day they might still have to yield to the pressure of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The Military Option – Of Closing Windows and Rattling Sabers

Over the past decade, opinions have also differed regarding the use and timing of the most appropriate instruments of statecraft in “solving” the Iranian nuclear dilemma. While the possibility of military strikes has been a subject of debate in U.S. government circles since at least 2006,[13] and one that remains a much-highlighted option in Obama’s policy arsenal, the Obama administration (similar to the Bush administration before) has pursued a mix of ever-tougher sanctions and diplomacy (with a likely sprinkle of covert action and sabotage a la Stuxnet). In the best possible scenario, this approach might even lead to regime change; in the worst case scenario, it could have the opposite effect and strengthen support for the regime, while buying Tehran the time needed to achieve nuclear capability.

It may not even be Obama’s call after all, as Israel’s leadership used the November 2011 IAEA report to drastically step up harsh war talk against Iran. Official statements and interviews about red lines and a closing window of opportunity have been complemented by discussions about Iran’s emerging “zone of immunity”[14] as Tehran appears to be moving more and more centrifuges into its Fordow enrichment facility—which was only uncovered in 2009—protected by massive mountains. Estimates about when Iran will be in a position to produce weapons (maybe as late as 2015), and how long the process to assemble the bomb will actually take (as little as 6 months and as long as 2 years) as opposed to a more compact warhead (anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, too) have varied significantly over the years.[15] Moreover, high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials, including the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), James Clapper, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), David Petraeus, have repeatedly stated that it is not even clear that the Supreme Leader has ordered their development, a sentiment that has been echoed by the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[16] Across the board, Israeli estimates tend to be far more pessimistic—in line with Israeli strategy designed to force the issue to the top of the international agenda and alert Europe and the U.S. about the severity of the matter. In stark contrast to U.S. assessments, the Netanyahu government estimates that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing and only leaves Israel time until fall 2012 and the more powerful U.S. military until spring 2013, to effectively prevent Iran from entering the zone of immunity.[17]

Apart from the IAEA report, domestic factors and regional changes have provided an opportune setting for sending a serious message to Europe and the U.S., in addition to Iran. During an election year, President Barack Obama would be hard-pressed to side with Israel should Netanyahu’s security cabinet decide to authorize military steps—regardless of whether Obama tacitly lends support to these actions or even silently disapproves of them. The Arab Spring has weakened Iran’s most valuable ally, Syria, which therefore cannot supply Hezbollah forces in Lebanon the way it used to. Since the U.S. has pulled out of Iraq, there is no need to get U.S. approval for crossing into and over Iraqi air space on route to Iranian nuclear sites—a request that was supposedly denied several years ago. Be that as it may, Netanyahu’s more moderate predecessor, Ehud Olmert, authorized the (admittedly far less risky) air strikes against a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 without asking Washington for a “green light,” and also after President George W. Bush refused to lend a hand in the mission.[18]

On the other side of the Atlantic, various policy and media outlets have fueled the public debate in DC circles, especially after a January article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal written by a “semi-insider” (an academic fellow who spent the past year at the Pentagon) made the case for U.S. military action.[19] In a nutshell, the article argued for military action as the “least bad option,” and cast the U.S. as the only country capable of conducting these complex strikes. The least bad option becomes the only option, so the argument continues,  due to the immense costs of containing and deterring a nuclear Tehran and assuring regional neighbors in view of the Israeli-Iranian rivalry; it is urgent due to Iranian nuclear progress and its ability to manufacture weapons within 6 months; and finally, it even becomes a manageable affair if planned correctly, escalated in stages and if sending the right messages to Tehran and allies during and after the military campaign (e.g., that the campaign is designed to destroy the nuclear program, and not overthrow the regime).

What’s more, a detailed New York Times Magazine article based on interviews with Israeli security officials, including defense minister Ehud Barak, predicted that an Israeli attack will occur within 12 months[20]—in view of these “insights,” various former and current Bush and Obama administration officials have felt compelled to caution against military strikes, and also leak information regarding not only lacking Israeli but also U.S. military capacities, in addition to other negative caveats and “side-effects.” Even if Iran can be delayed by means of sustained military action, the question remains for how long and at what cost. There are significant long-term military, economic, and political risks associated with this option, as it could lead to full-blown war in the Middle East, steep oil prices, and a global economic crisis, in addition to rally-around-the-flag effects in Iran. These concerns have been echoed by esteemed members of Israel’s security circles, including former Mossad Director, Meir Dagan.[21] Apparently, Israeli threats have also been too loud to ignore by the respective leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah, who stressed on separate occasions that they would remain on the sidelines should Israel go to war against their sponsor, Iran.[22]

If Israel’s actual goal is to secure tougher international sanctions by means of almost daily drumbeat about possible war, a significant victory has been achieved by getting the EU on board (as the EU’s oil-buying potential is estimated at roughly 20 percent of all Iranian exports). However, the glass is only half full. The implications of the November IAEA report, and Israeli rhetoric, were serious enough for the European Union to finally target Iran’s oil exports and put an end to substantial and growing trade links between European Union members and Iran. While the EU oil embargo is scheduled to begin on July 1, Iran has already unilaterally suspended oil sales to all French and British companies as of mid-February (considered largely symbolic as  France receives  less than 4 percent of its oil from Iran, and Britain currently does not import any oil from Iran ). However, Security Council members China and Russia are still not on board. This is noteworthy as Chinese gas and oil imports from Iran still overshadow even those of the EU. The UN Security Council managed to approve four rounds of sanctions since 2006 but these have not targeted oil exports, the backbone of Iran’s economy.

U.S. (and Israeli) Bunker Buster Blues…

Israeli war talk and President Obama’s insistence that all, including military, options remain on the table have been complemented by details on U.S. and Israeli bunker busting capacities sporadically leaked to various U.S. media outlets over the past few months. Interestingly, much focus was placed on how the most advanced generation of conventional U.S. earth penetrators, the so-called Guided Bomb Units (GBU)-57/B Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs), lacks the capacity to sufficiently destroy deeply buried (anywhere below 200 feet) and fortified targets in hardened underground chambers, such as Fordow near Qom.[23] While MOPs are deemed insufficient for destroying these underground facilities in their entirety, however, sustained military strikes could still inflict a significant setback on the Iranian nuclear infrastructure and equipment, and possibly delay the program for years to come[24]—even if in the aftermath of the attack Iran might be more determined than ever to pursue these weapons (and without the administrative hurdles and glimpses of transparency provided by IAEA oversight), similar to Iraq’s resolution in the aftermath of Israel’s 1981 decision to decimate the Osirak reactor near Baghdad.

Discussions about lacking U.S. capacities help put reports into perspective that the U.S. finally heeded Israel’s requests and sold their less capable GBU-28 bunker busters to Israel in fall 2011.[25] Especially since Israeli capacities have always been considered more limited—a recent New York Times article cited concerns of American defense officials and military analysts who described an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear sites a highly “complex” endeavor.[26] Pentagon officials commented on the logistical and technological hurdles Israel would face should the Netanyahu government decide in favor of preventive strikes. These would therefore be far different from Israel’s “surgical” raids against Iraqi and Syrian above-ground reactors during Operation Opera in 1981 and Operation Orchard in 2007. Israel would struggle with the distance, having to cover more than 1,000 miles of potentially unfriendly airspace. The central, most direct route would cross over Iraq, and would still require Israel to refuel in the air en-route. The northern and southern routes, crossing over Turkey and Saudi Arabia, respectively, would be even more problematic as they are longer and require more fuel. Also, Israel would have to attack multiple sites simultaneously and ensure continuous bombing of underground targets at a particular angle.  U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, recently estimated that an Israeli attack would delay the Iranian nuclear program no longer than two years “at best.”[27]

While the location of Iranian facilities is considered public knowledge, as verified by IAEA and intelligence sources, it may also not be taken for granted in a country still larger than the combined size of California, Texas, and Montana. Primary targets include enrichment facilities in Natanz and more recently Fordow, in addition to other centrifuge sites nearby. The former is underground and reinforced by concrete; the latter is significantly deeper and also protected by mountains, apart from air defenses. In addition, the uranium conversion plant at Isfahan, and the heavy water reactor at Arak are of interest.

In fact, concerns about the limited reach of conventional bunker busters are also not new and led to efforts to develop nuclear bunker busters and low yield “mini-nukes” during the George W. Bush administration. Only if deeply buried weapons of mass destruction storage and manufacturing facilities of rogue states could be held at risk by means of usable nuclear weapons, so the argument went, would foreign leaders be deterred from producing these weapons. Robust nuclear earth penetrators (burrowing deep enough so that any fallout would be completely contained) and “mini-nukes” would thus ensure the protection of most noncombatants and uphold the principle of proportionality. Conversely, opponents argued that this new generation of specialized weapons blurs the distinction between nuclear and conventional war, thereby lowering the threshold for nuclear use. In addition, the technological viability of these concepts was being questioned, as it was not clear that the thermal pulse, heat blast, and radioactive fallout of a nuclear bunker buster will in fact be largely absorbed by the surrounding geology. A Republican Congress eventually put an end to these “feasibility” studies, which they viewed as an attempt to move the programs beyond the research stage. Based on a recent funding request to Congress, the Obama administration appears to be (given that there is always the possibility of additional classified bids) focused on improving its current generation of conventional earth penetrators.[28]

The Bottom Line?

Most of the arguments, concerns, and even many of the suggested policy options and implemented responses surrounding Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program have not changed much since the discovery of its uranium enrichment facilities in 2002. By the same token, the past ten years have likely worked to Iran’s advantage—regardless of whether Ayatollah Khamenei has actually given the green light and ordered production of nuclear weapons—as time translates into ongoing nuclear progress, especially from an Israeli perspective. Events since November 2011 suggest that Israeli patience is running out. Even if Israeli rhetoric could be viewed as part of a wider campaign (and even somewhat coordinated with the U.S.) designed to get the key international players (and oil buying countries) to agree to tougher sanctions, the sheer volume and quality of the comments signals a different degree of saber rattling, the kind that could also turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Iran may be “guilty of” the same thing—looking to create ambiguity about nuclear progress and increasing invulnerability in an effort to deter future attacks—even if, on other occasions, Khameni has referred to nuclear weapons as sinful and undesirable weapons. In the meantime, U.S. rhetoric serves a dual purpose and is just as much directed toward Iran as Israel, warning the former by telling the latter to hold its horses (and be serious about the latter), while always hinting at the possibility of future military action.

Given the numerous unknown factors, a military campaign against Iran cannot be in Obama’s interest in an election year and in view of the ongoing Arab Spring. Various Middle Eastern political elites would surely applaud such a move in private, but it would also inflame anti-American sentiments on the streets, serve as welcome ammunition for any embattled authoritarian regimes, and divert attention away from regime criticism and toward the “imperialist U.S. and Zionist regimes.” While the military option remains on the table (as showcased in President Obama’s State of the Union address and during Netanyahu’s March visit in the U.S.), the U.S. military brass has gone on record suggesting that any permanent solution to the Iranian nuclear quest would require troops on the ground.[29] Add to that the demonstrated tendency of the Obama administration to bring the two inherited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end and rely on surgical technology (drones), Special Forces, and covert action when countering terrorism. International support for a preventive attack against a sovereign country would certainly be spottier than for the carefully forged agreement over sanctions. Lacking legitimacy would mean that U.S. would have to carry the burden of the attack and any post-war containment arrangements.

Ultimately, President Obama may not have the luxury of having a say in this matter as the decision might be Israel’s. However, Israel has worked very hard to achieve the current level of international resolve and is also very aware that it would likely have to bear the brunt of the Iranian counterattack. While having succeeded in restraining Israel for the time being (or in playing the good cop), surely it will become harder for the U.S. to hold back Israeli leaders over the course of the next fifteen months—especially if Iran continues to refuse full-fledged inspections at Parchin military base (where the trigger for an atomic bomb has allegedly been tested); even more equipment is moved to the hardened underground bunker in Fordow;[30] and once IAEA inspectors become expelled or uranium enrichment reaches weapons-grade levels. For the time being, the costs of stopping Iran militarily appear to still outweigh the costs of not stopping Iran, as Israeli officials await the effects of thus far unprecedented sanctions as well as renewed 5 plus 1 negotiations between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—Russia, China, Britain, France, and the United States—plus Germany. The next time around, e.g., in late fall 2012, this may not be the case. Israeli fuses are getting shorter as the perceived threat of Iran’s emerging nuclear immunity is becoming more imminent and the stage for war has been set, at least rhetorically.


[1] IAEA Board of Governors, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 8 November 2011 (derestricted 18 November 2011), available at; “Barak: Iran Less Than a Year Away From Producing Nuclear Weapon,”, 19 November 2011.
[2] See, e.g., “U.S., Britain Urge Israel Not to Attack Iran as White House Security Adviser Arrives,” Washington Post, 19 February 2012; “Panetta Believes Israel May Strike Iran this Spring: Reports,” Reuters, 2 February 2012.
[3] According to a 2005 intelligence review, Iran was estimated to be a decade away from building nuclear weapons, see Dafna Linzer, “Iran is Judged 10 Years from Nuclear Bomb,” Washington Post, 2 August 2005; A 2007 U.S. intelligence estimate remains both contested and influential. While the press release suggested that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, critics note that the actual NIE report warned that the enrichment of uranium fuel still continued, even if work on warhead designs had been stopped. National Intelligence Council, National Intelligence Estimate, Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities (Washington, DC: ODNI, November 2007),; Ron Rosenbaum, “Six Questions About the Nuclear Crisis in the Middle East,”, 15 March 2012.
[4] For a detailed analysis, see Alon Ben-Meir, “An Iranian Bombshell,” Harvard International Review, 1 May 2010.
[5] Glenn Kesser, “Did Ahmadinejad Really Say Israel Should Be ‘Wiped Off the Map’?” Washington Post, 5 October 2011.
[6] German Marshall Fund of the U.S., Transatlantic Trends: Leaders 2011 (Washington, DC: The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 15 March 2011), 13.
[7] Ian Black, “Arab States Scorn ‘Evil’ Iran,” The Guardian, 28 November 2010.
[8] Kenneth Waltz is the most prominent proponent of the nuclear optimists, see, e.g., Kenneth Waltz and Scott Sagan, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons (New York: Norton, 2003).
[9] Amy Belasco, “Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues,” CRS Report for Congress, 2 July 2009; Ben Rhodes, “Infographic: Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq,” The White House Blog, 23 June 2012, available at
[10] Scott Sagan is considered the most prominent representative of the nuclear pessimists, see Sagan and Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons (New York: Norton, 2003); Scott Sagan, “How to Keep the Bomb from Iran,” Foreign Affairs (Sept./Oct. 2006).
[11] See, e.g., Kevin Whitelaw, “Ahmadinejad: Holocaust ‘Opinion Of Just A Few,’” NPR, 29 September 2009.
[12] Alex Spillius, “Iran’s Supreme Leader Vows to Confront ‘Cancerous Tumour’ of Israel,” The Telegraph, 3 February 2012.
[13] Josh Rogin, “Bush’s CIA Director: We Determined Attacking Iran Was a Bad Idea,” Foreign Policy, 8 February 2012.
[14] “Barak: World Must Act Against Iran Before it’s Too Late,”, 27 January 2012.
[15] Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, “Israel and U.S. at Odds Over Timetables and Red Lines for Iran,”, 15 January 2012; “U.S. Defense Secretary: Iran Could Get Nuclear Bomb Within a Year,”, 20 December 2011. Both 2005 and 2007 National Intelligence Estimates projected that Iran would likely not be able to manufacture a nuclear weapon before 2015. The 2012 NIE has recently been completed, but remains classified, see Josh Rogin, “Exclusive: New National Intelligence Estimate on Iran Complete,” Foreign Policy, 15 February 2012.
[16] James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb,” Washington Post, 24 February 2012.
[17] Ronen Bergman, “Will Israel Attack Iran?” New York Times Magazine, 25 January 2012.
[18] Glenn Kessler, “Bush Rebuffed Israeli Request to Bomb Syrian Reactor,” Washington Post, 19 November 2010.
[19] Matthew Kroenig, “Time to Attack Iran:  Why a Strike is the Least Bad Option,” Foreign Affairs (Jan/Feb 2012); see also responses by: Alexander Debs and Nuno P. Monteiro, “The Flawed Logic of Striking Iran,” Foreign Affairs, 17 January 2012; Colin Kahl, “Not Time to Attack Iran,” Foreign Affairs, 17 January 2012.
[20] Bergman, “Will Israel Attack Iran?”
[21] Barak Ravid, Natasha Mozgovaya and Haim Handwerker, “Former Mossad Chief: Israel will Know Before Iran Begins Producing Nuclear Weapons,”, 21 March 2012; Bergman, “Will Israel Attack Iran?”
[22] Abraham Rabinovich, “Leaders: Hamas Will Sit Out if Israel and Iran Go to War,” Washington Times, 6 March 2012.
[23] “Iran Nuclear Sites May be Beyond Reach of “Bunker Busters,” Reuters, 12 January 2012.
[24] Joby Warrick, “Iran’s Underground Nuclear Sites Not Immune to U.S. Bunker-Busters, Experts Say,” Washington Post, 29 February 2012.
[25] Thom Shanker, “U.S. Quietly Supplies the Israel with Bunker Busting Bombs,” New York Times, 23 September 2011.
[26] Elisabeth Bumiller, “Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets,” The New York Times, 19 February 2012; see also Jim Michaels, “Israeli Attack on Iran Would be Complex,” USA Today, 14 February 2012.
[27] Shlomo Shamir, Natasha Mozgovaya and Barak Ravid, “Panetta: Military Strike Would Delay Iranian Nuclear Project by No More than Two Years,”, 12 December 2011.
[28] Adam Entous and Julian Barnes, “Pentagon Seeks Mightier Bomb vs. Iran,” Wall Street Journal, 28 January 2012; “U.S. Bombs Not Strong Enough to Destroy Iran’s Nuclear Program, Report Says,”, 28 January 2012.
[29] Kim Ghattas, “US Weighs Iran Military Option,” BBC News, 21 April 2010.
[30] David Sanger and William Broad, “Atomic Agency Says Iran is Making Fuel at Protected Site,” Washington Post, 24 February 2012.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.