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3 Reasons Israel won't bomb Iran

A long article in the latest Atlantic argues there's a strong chance Israel will unilaterally attack Iran next summer over its nuclear program. While there are strong arguments for an attack, here are three reasons why it won't happen.

By , Staff writer

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An Israeli F-16 warplane takes off from an air force base in southern Israel in June 2006. Many of Iran's nuclear facilities are located at the outermost range limits of Israeli tactical aircraft.

Ariel Schalit/AP/File

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It's a long trip for Israeli planes and there's no certainty of success

Israel has the jets and munitions to strike some of Iran's key nuclear sites. But it would be a long, risky flight. A strike would probably involve about 100 US-made F-15 and F-16 fighter jets - some outfitted with extra fuel tanks, others relying on Israeli refueling planes that would have to circle in international airspace, well back from the intended targets.

Iran has 17 known nuclear sites. The most important is probably the underground enrichment facility at Natanz. Any Israeli strike plan would include this site, which is about 1,100 miles from Israel, near the outer limits of its air power. Other targets could include the recently disclosed enrichment facility at Qom, or the nuclear plant further south at Bushehr, which Russia has promised to finish soon.

In an assessment for the Council on Foreign Relations last year, Steven Simon said an attack is technically possible, but within severe constraints.

"The sheer distances involved pose a challenge," he writes. "The targets lie at the outermost (1,050-mile) range limits of Israeli tactical aircraft. Diplomatic and military factors would confine Israeli refueling operations to international airspace where tankers [refueling planes] could orbit safely for long periods. These locations ... are suboptimal. They would yield the attackers little leeway to loiter in their target areas, or engage in the fuel-intensive maneuvering typical of dogfights and evasion of surface-to-air missiles. The limited number of tankers would limit the number of sorties."

There are other worrisome questions: Does Iran have important sites no one outside knows about yet? Are some of the known sites decoys?

The flight plan would also involve flying over some combination of Saudi Arabian, Iraqi, or Turkish air space. Permission to do so is unlikely. That would cause diplomatic fallout, including for the US, which will still have 50,000 troops in Iraq next summer and remains responsible for that country's airspace security.

Downed Israeli pilots in Iranian hands would be a political nightmare for Israel, and a damaged Israeli plane that crash lands over Saudi Arabia, say, would be awkward, to say the least.

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