Israel won’t achieve much by bombing Iran. Our attack on Iraq was successful because its military program had a highly vulnerable spot, the reactor. Even so, Iraq fully recovered in just ten years, and by the time of the Desert Storm war it had nearly completed its nuclear cycle, which took Israeli intelligence and Western agencies by surprise. Face it: most countries are large enough to hide their covert activities, and nuclear technology is so simple by now that it can be mastered secretly. And for the lazy ones there are always know-how providers in Pakistan and North Korea. With Iranian money, Syria simply bought an over-the-counter reactor from Korean communists. There were no development activities for Israel to detect, and no time-span to make a leak likely.

The problem with the Iranians is that they saw the Iraqis. The Ayatollahs took the lesson and structured their nuclear program around centrifuges instead of a reactor. Their method is more provocative: reactors can be used, in theory, for power generation or research, but the presence of centrifuges clearly shows their desire to master the full nuclear cycle. No one would run centrifuges when uranium rods for reactors are available on the world market for competitive prices, usually from the same companies that built the reactor. The world went crazy over the Iranian nuclear program because it did not even attempt to politely hide its aims. Iran has it both ways: it enriches uranium on centrifuges with military goals in mind, but has also built a reactor, which serves two purposes: it somewhat legitimizes the centrifuges, which ostensibly produce peaceful fuel, and it provides the backup option of a plutonium bomb. Every part of Iran’s nuclear program is multipurpose, and every part is redundant: the centrifuges and reactor serve both military and civil purposes, and military goals can be achieved with either centrifuges or the reactor. To beef up the redundancy, the Iranians introduced a small enrichment facility in Qom. Again, it was multipurpose: secretly enriching the Natanz uranium to weapons-grade and providing a backup enrichment facility if Natanz is bombed. No wonder Qom is protected better than Natanz: Iran is more jealous over lightly enriched uranium stocked in Qom than uranium ore stocked at Natanz.

Logically, if Israel bombed a reactor in Iraq, then all the more we should bomb the one in Iran. Israel lost a good chance to bomb the Bushehr reactor before the Russians loaded it with fuel. Even Menahem Begin was concerned about radioactive fallout from the Osiraq reactor, and hurried the attack before it was loaded. The fallout in Bushehr won’t be great: a tactical nuclear weapon would make the cleanest strike, but the implosive effect can also be achieved with bunker-busting bombs or collateral use of vacuum bombs. Rather, radioactive fallout is a convenient pretext to avoid bombing a Russian installation.

Qom presents another challenge to aerial attack, and IDF wouldn’t be happy about having to launch such a large commando operation, except against SAM batteries. The problem is not only that the site is buried deep in a mountain, but that it is small. If Israel strikes this one, Iran will build another one in apartment buildings. It has already experimented with the plasma method of enriching, which has the smallest footprint.

Bombing Natanz cannot produce long-term results. Once Iran has mastered centrifuge technology, it can replenish the bombed stocks of them in no time. A hall of centrifuges cannot be compared to a reactor in its simplicity.

Crucial pieces of nuclear know-how are indestructible. Israel cannot make the Iranians forget how to metallize the enriched uranium and form it into hemispheres or warheads.

It wouldn’t take Iran more than three years to fully recover its nuclear program from an Israeli strike. This time, Iran will do things faster, in more remote locations, with far fewer people involved—and possibly succeed in maintaining secrecy until the test explosion.

Striking Iran is not the best option. It would be far preferable for Israel to align with Iran against Egypt, a country which started three wars with us recently, and will start more wars eventually. But if the decision is made to attack Iran, Israel must not limit herself to destroying nuclear infrastructure. Rather, the strike must be sufficiently painful to discourage any attempts at repeating the nuclear cycle.

Israel is wrong to bomb Iran’s military installations only. Britain and Germany bombed each other’s military targets for weeks before the British air force conducted its first raid on Berlin, and that was the decisive moment: for the first time the population started questioning Nazi policies. The bombing of Tehran, rather than sanctions, can topple the mullahs’ regime. Iranians will rally behind the ayatollahs only if they hope to be protected; when protection fails, they will topple the regime.