The Vulnerability of Iran’s Nuclear Facilities to Drone Strikes

Dr Bahram Ghiassee

Iran’s nuclear facilities are at “high-risk” of attack and destruction as part of a coordinated drone attack if it does not agree to a much tougher nuclear restrictions regime that allays the fears of other countries about its intentions.   


The Vulnerability of Iran’s Nuclear Facilities to Drone Strikes identifies 4 facilities at “high risk” of targeted drone attack with a further 7 said to be at varying risk of attack. 


The warning comes as the UK and other western powers are locked in negotiations in Vienna over a return to the nuclear deal first agreed by President Obama and cancelled by President Trump.   Iran has repeatedly threatened to derail the talks prompting fears – including amongst Iran’s near neighbours – that Western powers will offer compromises that risk regional security to secure a deal. 


According to the author, Dr. Bahram Ghiassee, attacks could be capable of being launched on commercially available drones engineered to carry loads of explosives.  The attacks would be almost impossible to trace and would be easily deniable by any perpetrator. 


Alternatively, military drones – as used in the recent Azerbaijan/Armenia conflict – could be used to inflict severe disruption at the facilities. 


Among the likely targets are Arak, Iran’s heavy water processing facility; Esfahan Nuclear Technology Centre, which converts Uranium ‘yellowcake’ into material for centrifuges; and the Natanz Enrichment Centre, which enriches Uranium fuels.  


The paper even warns of a potential “all-out strike” on several facilities which could have “severe radiological and environmental implications” that “could result in loss of life, injury, psychological damage, economic loss, disruption to public amenities and ecological harm”.   


Iran’s facilities and nuclear production would likely be severely derailed and delayed by the attacks according to the paper which cites attacks on Nantanz and Esfahan as particularly high-value targets. 


In the past, Iran’s nuclear facilities have been targeted for suspected limited attacks, including a series of attacks launched at or around nuclear facilities in 2020. Iran blamed responsibility for the attacks which included a large explosion at the Natanz enrichment facility on Israel despite providing no evidence for the assertion.  The leader of Iran’s nuclear programme, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was also assassinated in an attack media reports have attributed to Mossad. 


Middle East nations including Saudi Arabia and Israel were vocal critics of the previous Iran Deal, negotiated under President Obama, pointing out that the agreement at best delayed Iran’s nuclear ambitions rather than permanently curtailing them.  In recent years, Israel has repeatedly published evidence of Iran’s breaches of the agreement. 


Despite the difficulties in ascribing blame for any attack, the Dr Ghiassee argues that Iran is likely to respond aggressively to even limited attacks on its prized nuclear facilities no matter the strength of evidence as to the perpetrator.  Such an attack would likely be followed by retaliatory measures including attacks on nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates.  




“Both Iran and ardent defenders of the current, failed Iran Deal claim that its nuclear facilities are impervious to attack.  The reality – as this paper shows – is that even hastily-militarised commercially available drones would be capable of causing wholesale disruption to the programme.  

It is essential that any deal negotiated with Iran therefore carries the full support of all parties in the region who have reason to fear Iranian aggression from its actions in supporting terrorism and insurgents, and threatening genocide.  A return to the mistakes of the past could easily spill over into violent conflict, with countries facing existential threats taking matters into their own hands.

Iran should heed this warning that its options are now to negotiate a real and meaningful settlement that promotes peace in the Middle East, or face potential military consequences for its dangerous nuclear proliferation.  Likewise, we in the West need to recognise that full regional buy-in is needed for any deal to be sustainable.” 

Dr Alan Mendoza, Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society 


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