Bombs could not stop Iran from getting nukes

An anti-aircraft gun position is seen at Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran, in this this Sept. 2007 file photo.
AP/File Photo

(CBS News) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he has not made a decision on whether to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. In the past, Israel has destroyed nuclear facilities in Syria and Iraq, but Iran is a different matter.

CBS News correspondent David Martin reports Iran can't build a nuclear weapon without the massive complexes of centrifuges that enrich uranium to bomb-grade level. One enrichment plant called Fordow is buried 250 feet beneath a mountain, where not even America's most powerful conventional weapon - a 30,000 pound bunker buster - can reach it. General James Cartwright, recently retired from the number two job in the U.S. military, said so just the other day during a panel discussion.

The Fordow facility is "deep enough underground that there aren't weapons to go down to penetrate that kind of activity," Cartwright said.

That does not mean Fordow is safe from attack. Its entrances could be sealed off, and there is a large, rectangular building which provides ventilation inside the mountain.

Admiral William Fallon, retired head of the U.S. Central Command, which would conduct a strike, says it's much more complicated.

"There are a lot of targets. This is not a one-time shot. It could take a fair amount of work," Fallon said.

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Israel is capable of a one-time strike, but only the U.S. has the air power to go back and hit targets again and again. Still, not even the U.S. could wipe out Iran's nuclear program.

"Even if you could, again, you're not going to kill the intellectual capital to just rebuild the centrifuges someplace else and continue on," Cartwright said.

Iran has plans to build 10 more enrichment plants, which is why Israel, with its relatively small air force, has said it cannot afford to wait much longer before it strikes.

The U.S. can afford to wait, but that would leave Israel entrusting its national security to another country, something it has never done.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.