Western counterintelligence experts believe that Iran’s nuclear facilities are buried so deep in the ground that it would be difficult for Israel to destroy them, or even significantly damage them, with a quick airstrike.
In order to deal a serious blow to Iran’s nuclear program, at least four major locations inside Iran would have to be struck, according to a Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity discussing the sensitive information. The equipment, however, is located in tunnels fortified with barriers more than 60 feet thick. According to this official and other US experts, Israel does not possess the conventional weapons capable of reaching and destroying the equipment. Breaking through the thick shell would require, at a minimum, multiple bunker busting bombs precisely hitting the same spot. “It will be very difficult to destroy these targets,” said David Albright, a former UN nuclear expert. Theoretically, Israel could do much more damage with a nuclear strike.
Efforts by the US and its allies to label Iranian nuclear weapons suffered a blow recently due to a double espionage (double agent in the jargon) problem in Germany. For more than 10 years, according to two Western counterproliferation officials, the BND (the German equivalent of the CIA) employed an Iranian-Canadian informant known by the code name “Sinbad.” Sinbad peddled the technology to the Iranians, and in turn brought the BND high-quality Iranian government documents, including what German magazine Der Spiegel described as images of tunneling machines and documents from information on nuclear delivery systems. But the spy operation recently failed when German customs officers, unaware of Sinbad’s spy role, arrested and prosecuted him for illegally shipping missile technology to Iran. Sinbad had been hiding extra-program arrangements from the BND, and the counterintelligence service couldn’t stop the customs investigation. One of the counter-proliferation officials said Sinbad’s arrest was a significant blow to ongoing espionage efforts against Iran’s nuclear program.