On May 23, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevy said, “Israel may take action against Iranian nuclear facilities due to potential negative developments on the horizon. Israel has the ability.”
In January 2023, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered uranium particles enriched to a purity of 83.7%. Enriched uranium to a purity of 90% is considered weapons-grade uranium.
Israel made a clear statement in 2021 that if Iran crosses the 60% purity mark, Israel will consider military action. Iran achieved 60% purity in April 2021.
Iran has also added thousands of advanced fast centrifuges to enrich uranium. But the United States persuaded Israel not to escalate the issue, given the current global instability. However, Iran appears to have crossed the nuclear threshold.
Previous Israeli strikes on nuclear plants
The destruction of the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities by the Israeli Air Force shows Israel’s determination to ensure that states, which do not recognize Israel as a nation-state, are not allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
Is Iran in the same basket? However, the success of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities will not be as simple as it was in the case of Iraq and Syria for two reasons:
• First, Iran’s nuclear facilities are located in scattered locations safely buried in the hills.
• Secondly, Israel does not have a weapon to penetrate such facilities embedded in the hills.
Can Israel bomb Iranian facilities?
It is likely that Israel will overcome the limitations of weapons capability. The revival of the F-15 Eagle as a forward-looking fighter for the USAF has not made the headlines it deserves.
A new version of the F-15 called the F-15EX is already in production with advanced avionics, an ECM/ECCM package and powerful AESA radar.
But presumably the most exciting change to the F-15EX is its enhanced weapons-carrying capacity.
According to Boeing, the F-15EX will be able to carry 29,500 pounds of weapons. If the claim is true, it would be the highest weapon load carried by any fighter anywhere in the world.
The strategic importance of the modified F-15 version will be enormous. Israel has already shown as much interest in acquiring the F-15EX as it is in acquiring the aircraft of the century, the F-35A.
The acquisition of the F-15EX will allow Israel to study and plan a third strike on a nuclear reactor, the first being Osirak in Baghdad, Iraq, and the second at the Syrian Al Kibar facility.
The IAF inventory consists of F-16I and F-15 E/I fighters and recently acquired the F-35A stealth fighter. None of these planes can carry a weapon that penetrates the fortified underground nuclear facility, where the Iranian nuclear facility is located in Natanz.
So far, such a weapon is only in the US Air Force and is prohibited for export to any country, including Israel.
The Israeli Air Force modified each weapons platform imported from the United States and operated it with a different suffix. For example, the US Air Force’s F-15 Strike Eagle modified by Israel is called the F-15I Ra’am (Thunder).
They consider it in the category of strategic aircraft. However, even this aircraft could not carry the 30,000-pound GBU-57, the heaviest precision-guided weapon.
The Israelis are able to modify the new version of the F-15 to carry the GBU-57. The F-15 is supposed to be able to take off with a maximum takeoff weight of about 80,000 pounds. The F-15’s curb weight is about 32,000 pounds. That would save about 48,000 pounds of fuel and weapons.
Excluding the GBU-57’s 30,000 pounds, the F-15 can carry 18,000 pounds of fuel with the option of mid-air refueling at a suitable turn of flight. Indeed, mounting the GBU-57 on the centerline of the F-15EX would be a huge and possibly impossible task. However, the Israeli Air Force is known to have achieved the “impossible” before on many occasions.
The GBU-57 installed on the centerline of the aircraft may create problems with the center of gravity, but Israeli technicians will find a way to overcome them.