Israel Air Force, F-15, fighter jet
An IAF jet refueling an F-15, above Tel Aviv. Photo by IDF Spokesperson
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Israel will need to use at least 100 planes and fly more than 1,000 miles above unfriendly airspace should it decide to attack Iran, the New York Times reported on Monday, citing the assessment of U.S. defense officials close to the Pentagon.

According to the report, American military analysts and defense officials believe that an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would be a highly complex operation, and say that it would be very different from Israel's "surgical" strike on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981 and would also differ from the strike that Israel is believed to have carried out in Syria in 2007.

"All the pundits who talk about ‘Oh, yeah, bomb Iran,’ it ain’t going to be that easy,” the report quoted Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who retired last year as the Air Force’s top intelligence official.

Andrew R. Hoehn, a former Pentagon official, was also quoted as saying, "I don’t think you’ll find anyone who’ll say, ‘Here’s how it’s going to be done — handful of planes, over an evening, in and out.'"

Meanwhile, the report also cited comments by former CIA director Michael Hayden, who said that Israel is not capable of carrying out airstrikes that would seriously set back Iran's nuclear program, partly due to the distance the aircraft would have to travel.

According to the report, U.S. military analysts believe that Israel will have a serious problem reaching Iran's four major nuclear sites – the urnainum enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordo, the heavy water reactor near Arak, and the uranium conversion plant near Isfahan.

Israel has three possible routes to those facilities – north over Turkey, south over Saudi Arabia, or a central route across Jordan and Iraq.

U.S. defense analysts believe that the route over Iraq would be preferable, since Iraq effectively has no air defenses and the U.S. is no longer defending Iraq's airspace. According to officials, should Jordan allow Israel to fly over its territory, the next issue for Israel is that the range of its fighter jets falls short of the 2,000-mile round trip.

For this reason, officials say, Israel would need to use airborne refueling planes, called tankers, and then those tankers would need to be protected by more fighter planes, which significantly increases the number of planes needed for the operation.

Another problem U.S. officials see is penetrating Iran's Natanz facility, which is believed to be buried under 30 feet of concrete, and the Fordo facility, which is built inside a mountain. Israel has American-made GBU-28 5,000-pound "bunker buster" bombs that could damage such targets, but it is not known how far down they could go, the report said.