How the Israeli Air Force could bring Iran to its knees

Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, especially Fordow’s main chamber, located about 80 meters underground, represents a challenging target.

Iran has launched a significant air offensive against Israel, deploying more than 100 ballistic and cruise missiles, along with a fleet of more than 100 drones. This coordinated assault has involved more than 300 attack vectors from multiple directions.

Israel’s retaliation strategy: Considerations and potential scenarios

In the face of this escalation, the question arises as to whether Israel will opt for a counterattack and whether it will use this moment to target Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This scenario, long contemplated, could be triggered in the following way:

Teams of Israel’s F-35 stealth aircraft could be deployed on strategic missions along divergent routes into the Islamic Republic’s extensive geography, hitting targets at ranges of up to 1,200 miles.

Some squadrons could opt for routes bordering Syria and Turkey, while others could transit Iraqi or even Saudi airspace, depending on the political and security conditions at the time of the attack.

These aircraft would have as their main mission to neutralize the advanced Iranian air defenses that protect key nuclear locations, identified and selected by the intelligence of the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

These defenses are considerably more robust than any systems that Lebanon, Syria or Hamas possess. The coordination of the attacks could vary, being carried out simultaneously or in successive waves.

After the first wave of F-35s, a second would be expected with F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, the latter carrying 5,000-pound GBU-72 bombs and other smaller caliber munitions suitable for a variety of targets.

Additional waves could subsequently be launched to ensure the penetration and destruction of critical underground facilities, such as those located at Fordow and Natanz, essential to the Iranian nuclear program. This multidimensional operation would reflect Israel’s ability to conduct precise and coordinated strikes in response to imminent threats.

Strategic capabilities and risks in Israeli retaliation against Iranian targets

How the Israeli Air Force could bring Iran to its knees
Images released by the Israeli Air Force showing aircraft returning after intercepting Iran’s direct attack, April 14, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

Continuing with the analysis of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ‘s retaliation capabilities, the extensive use of surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and specialized drones in attack operations and intelligence collection is anticipated.

Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, especially Fordow’s main chamber, located about 80 meters underground, represents a challenging target. Although 30,000-pound “bunker buster” bombs could effectively neutralize this facility, to date, the United States has chosen not to supply these devices to Israel.

However, the total destruction of the facilities is not the only means to neutralize Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Consecutive operations could effectively block access to essential resources such as electricity, bury access and isolate the facilities from the outside. Air operations are not free of significant risks.

Despite the possibility of having advanced refueling operations or strategic landing points, there is a risk that some aircraft will not be able to return due to fuel problems. Furthermore, the adversary could shoot down aircraft during the war. Despite the inherent dangers, the IDF’s operational record in the region offers a degree of optimism.

The numerous missions carried out in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza have demonstrated the resilience and effectiveness of Israeli fighter aircraft, including the F-15 and F-16 models. Since the beginning of 2018, Israel has only recorded the loss of one F-16 and has suffered no losses of its F-35s, which testifies to the technical and tactical superiority maintained by Israel in contexts of air conflict.

Evaluation of Secondary Objectives in the Israeli Strategy against Iran

How the Israeli Air Force could bring Iran to its knees

The involvement of special forces or Mossad agents on Iranian territory presents inherent risks, with the potential for significant losses during covert operations. Beyond the main nuclear facilities, Israel could consider additional targets that, although part of the preliminary stages of the nuclear weapons cycle, such as the heavy water reactor in Arak and the uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, are of strategic importance.

Other sites, such as the research reactors at Bonab, Ramsar and Tehran, also figure as potential targets, reflecting the depth and breadth of the Israeli strategy against Iran’s nuclear and military capabilities.

In mid-2023, it was revealed that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intelligence has established a new unit dedicated exclusively to intelligence collection and evaluation for the purpose of developing a broad target bank.

This effort not only focuses on the nuclear program but also seeks to significantly weaken the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ( IRGC ) by attacking its essential energy sources and other critical infrastructure.

This comprehensive approach seeks to replicate the success achieved in intelligence campaigns against terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, putting into practice years of experience in intelligence gathering and defining strategic objectives.

Reassessment of Israeli strategy in the face of threats of retaliation

How the Israeli Air Force could bring Iran to its knees

Israel could choose not to launch a full-scale attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities nor use its extensive target bank against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The reluctance to expand its military campaign is based on the need to maintain the support of the United States and its allies, a crucial factor in the geopolitics of the region.

Historically, the main reason Israel has avoided a direct attack on Iran has been the risk of retaliation by Hezbollah Hamas and possible aggression via drones and ballistic missiles. However, with the escalation of tensions and active confrontations, including the participation of Yemen—an actor not previously considered in theoretical war scenarios—the situation has changed.

The current reality suggests that, compared to previous decades, there may be fewer impediments to Israel acting more decisively at this time.