To destroy Iran’s nuclear threat, Israel should attack its missile launch sites

Israel’s Prime Minister ­Benjamin Netanyahu may feel he faces an impossible dilemma following the successful neutralisation of Iran’s missile and drone onslaught over the weekend.

President Biden is counselling him to ‘take the win’ and refrain from escalation of ­hostilities. But the hawks in his war ­Cabinet and the Israeli public want their PM to press home his advantage and take the battle to Tehran. After all, the mullahs have never been closer to developing a nuclear bomb.

While there is no doubt Iran’s nuclear ­ambitions pose a grave threat to Israel and the West, as David Ben-Gurion — Israel’s prime minister from 1955 to 1963 — once said, the Jewish state cannot afford long wars.

He was right then and he’s right today. Even with its allies’ help, defending itself against that single Iranian attack is ­estimated to have cost Israel no less than $1 billion and the last thing it needs is a long and drawn-out internecine conflict with the theocrats of Persia.

But nor can Jerusalem do nothing. In my firm view, the answer is for Israel to mount surgical strikes against Iran’s missile launch sites and the factories that make its ­ordnance. Even if Iran does develop a bomb, without a delivery system, it will be unable to use it against its enemies.

­Benjamin Netanyahu may feel he faces an impossible dilemma following the successful neutralisation of Iran’s  onslaught over the weekend

Israel's Iron Dome air defence system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran

Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran

And we should be in no doubt as to the danger an Iranian bomb would present — and just how terrifyingly close the regime is to building one.

In a desolate mountainous region 140 miles south of Tehran is a one-square-mile site ­protected by anti-aircraft batteries and a detachment of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard: the Natanz nuclear facility.

Over the years, Natanz has been subjected to a remorseless ­campaign of sabotage in a bid to prevent it creating the wherewithal for a nuclear warhead.

In 2009, it was hit by a sophisticated cyber attack using a ­computer virus called Stuxnet believed to have been created by Israel, with the Americans.

For months, Iranian technicians scratched their heads in puzzlement as its centrifuges, vital tools in the uranium ­enrichment process, failed at an unprecedented rate. Israelis also organised the ­targeted assassinations of key scientists involved in the nuclear programme and destroyed ­elements of the Natanz facility using bomb-carrying drones.

But now there are signs that great strides have been made in improving security at Natanz, to the point where it has become virtually impregnable.

An analysis of satellite images of the site conducted last year ­concluded that the Iranians are building an underground facility at Natanz at a depth of between 260ft and 328ft.

As the Americans’ most advanced bunker-busting bomb, the GBU-57, is designed to plough through just 200ft of earth before detonating, this is bad news for the Israelis and their allies.

Meanwhile, in the five years since Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from a nuclear accord that strictly limited Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 3.67 per cent purity — enough to fuel ­civilian power stations — and keep its stockpile to just some 300kg (660lb), it has made good progress towards developing weapons-grade uranium.

Last year, inspectors discovered that it had produced uranium particles that were 83.7 per cent pure, just short of the 90 per cent weapons threshold.

And Natanz and its sister sites are not the Iranians’ only nuclear option. Just as Britain and ­Russia developed ‘civil’ nuclear energy, which produces plutonium as a by-product of the electricity-­generating process, to give themselves a source of the necessary nuclear warhead material, so Iran has acquired a plutonium-­powered plant of its own.

At the port of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, there is an atomic energy plant controlled by ­Russian engineers.

Conventional wisdom has it that the plant will not bring Iran any closer to building a nuclear bomb, because Moscow supplies the enriched uranium for the reactor and — under a ‘peaceful use’ clause in the deal — repatriates to Russia spent fuel rods that could be reprocessed into ­weapons-grade plutonium.

But much has changed in the world of geopolitics since that deal was struck. Russia has turned itself into a pariah following its unprovoked, brutal war against Ukraine, for example.

It was also striking quite how pro-Iran Putin’s UN ambassador was at the Security Council meeting on Sunday. Who’s to say Russia would object to Iran purloining enough plutonium to produce a range of nuclear warheads?

Using the plutonium produced at Bushehr would be a quicker route to making a bomb than waiting for Natanz to come up with sufficient enriched uranium.

Given that Tehran could, theoretically, have a bomb within months, the need for Israel to take out Iran’s ability to make delivery systems could not be more urgent. The destruction of manufacturing facilities for rockets, guidance systems and detonator plants at centres such as Parchin would mean Iran would not have a deployable nuke even if it had sufficient highly-enriched uranium. Precision strikes would also spare civilian Iranians the calamity engulfing Gaza.

Such a move would also send a powerful signal to Iran’s increasingly restive population. A decisive Israeli military strike now, added to the fiasco of Iran’s mass attack on Saturday could destabilise the Ayatollah’s regime and remove fear of his Revolutionary Guards enforcers. What will really make Israel and the world safe is when Iranians liberate themselves from rulers who threaten us all.