Israel, Iran and the Entebbe/Rambo option

It turns out Centcom hasn’t the slightest idea how Israel might strike Iran’s nuclear programme. And where facts are light, the imagination takes over:

In this scenario, the Israelis would forego a massed air attack and instead mount a high-risk but high-payoff commando raid that would land an elite Sayeret Matkal (special forces) unit outside of Iran’s enrichment facility at Fordow, near Qom. The unit — or other elite units like it — consisting of perhaps as many as 400 soldiers, would seize Iran’s enriched uranium for transport to Israel.

The operation’s success would depend on speed, secrecy, simplicity, and the credibility of Israeli intelligence […]

The Israeli unit would be transported on as few as three and perhaps as many as six C-130 aircraft (which can carry a maximum of 70 troops) that would be protected by a “swarm” of well-armed F16Is, according to the scenario being considered by U.S. military officers. The C-130s would land in the desert near Fordow. The Israeli commandos would then defeat the heavily armed security personnel at the complex, penetrate its barriers and interdict any enemy units nearby, and seize the complex’s uranium for transport back to Israel. Prior to its departure, the commando unit would destroy the complex, obviating the need for any high-level bombing attack.

As it happens, the US has some people who know a thing or two about Entebbe:

In the mid-1990s, William McRaven, then a U.S. Navy SEAL [now commander of U.S. Special Operations Command], wrote a book about commando operations. Entitled “Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice” (Presidio Press), the book featured six case studies. One chapter was devoted to Entebbe, beginning with the lessons learned in the Israel Defense Forces as a whole, and in the Sayeret Matkal special operations unit in particular, after the failure to save the lives of 25 hostages in Ma’alot two years earlier. It included a discussion of Israeli intelligence gathering, decision-making processes, creation of the command and control system, personnel conflicts and the actual rescue operation in Entebbe Airport in Uganda, on July 4, 1976.

Except, here’s the thing: Entebbe Airport (and Bin Laden’s Abbotabad compound, for that matter) were not designed to detect and resist a major armed assault. Entebbe’s was an ordinary civilian airport, and Bin Laden’s compound was protected through secrecy, not fortification.

Neither of these facilities was 26 feet underground (the main enrichment hall at Fordow is under 295 feet of rock). Bin Laden’s compound was about 30,000 square feet, whereas Fordow is about 270,000 square feet.

And neither the Israeli units at Entebbe nor the SEALs at Abbotabad had to obliterate a huge facility on their way out, or take ~100kg of reactor-grade uranium out with them.

Even if special forces may be used for intelligence gathering (as Israel did before the 2007 strike on Syria’s reactor), this scenario just doesn’t seem plausible.

Oh, and then there’s this:

That said, “In some scenarios,” the U.S. military planner who told me of the potential operation said, “there would be very high Israeli casualties because of nearby Republican Guard divisions. This operation could be quite bloody.

Iran, which does not have a Republican Guard, will be alarmed to learn that Saddam-era shock troops are still hanging around on Iranian soil, all those years later.


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