An Israeli strike on Iran: Easier said than done

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 20, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: What if this happens? What if Israel attacks Iran and that it happens soon? Right now, Israel is sending signs that it is running out of patience. And here's what we do know. Over the weekend, the United States and Britain publicly urging Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to strike.

And some officials, though -- they went even further, suggesting that Israel's military would fail, that an attack on Iran would be extremely difficult. To start with, Israel would have to strike Iran's four major nuclear sites, and one is buried beneath 30 feet of concrete and another built into a mountain. But that's not all. The Israeli fighter jets would have to overcome all kinds of obstacles. And what are they?

Major General Bob Scales joins us. Good evening, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Before we even talk about the obstacles, I'm curious, is that the Israelis seem to be talking right now so much about -- I hear about the possibility of striking Iran. And the United States wants to talk more -- they want to do more sanctions.

It sounds like there's two sets of intelligence gathering here. One seems to be worried that we're running out of time, and the other one seems to say we have more time before we have to worry about Iran with a nuclear weapon.

SCALES: Well, I think the big difference is threat. I mean, to Israel, Tehran is a threat that portends national annihilation. To us, it's more of a distant threat. So I think...

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, but I think if we thought Iran had a nuclear weapon tomorrow we would act faster. The fact that we are still doing sanctions and talking, we think there is a longer runway.

SCALES: We think there is a longer runway.

VAN SUSTEREN: Israel must think it's happening -- must have different intelligence. Why are they talking about it in the next month or two?

SCALES: Probably, not so much because of threat but frankly because of the conditions. The weather is one thing. Also the fact that the Iranians are working hard to harden this even more and disperse it. So the Israelis want to start when the weather is right, which means sometime in the spring or summer.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is the difficulty? The U.S. officials are making it sound like it's difficult for the Israeli military to strike in Iran, those nuclear facilities.

SCALES: Oh, boy, it's a tough mission. First of all, the distances. We're talking about 1,000 miles in and 1,000 miles out. That's a long way for a fighter strike.

Secondly is the complexity of the admission. Remember in 1981 against the Iraqi nuclear facilities and 2007 against the Syrian nuclear facilities, those were strikes. This is a campaign. This is going to takes days and maybe weeks.

Third is the enemy is going to fight back. We're talking about an integrated air defense that's third generation Soviet SA-3 missiles and our F-14s that we sold to the Shah will put up some resistance.

And I got to tell you, the last thing that is most difficult is nature of the target. This stuff is dispersed. It's hardened. Some of is it in urban areas. It's multiple targets spread over a vast area. Its' not just striking a single reactor and flying home.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can Israel penetrate a nuclear facility that is under 30 feet of concrete?

SCALES: Very difficult. The answer is no with what they have now, which leads to us to really the important part of the whole deal, which is how much of the United States willing to support Israel when they actually conduct this raid? We supported them in '73. We supported the British in the Falklands. We have a habit of supporting our allies who fight a sort of unilateral war. The question is, are we willing to give the bombs, the electronic warfare support, the tanker support, the intelligence support and those other things that we can provide to the Israelis that they can't provide for themselves.

VAN SUSTEREN: They have F-15s and F-16s.

SCALES: Yes, 125.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, and if they leave Israel and head to these nuclear facilities about 1,000 miles, you have to get permission to fly in the airspace over the countries you're going to fly. And you have about three different choices.

SCALES: I think you can go the northern route through Turkey, the central route through Jordan and Iraq, and the southern route through Saudi Arabia.

VAN SUSTEREN: Any problem getting permission?


VAN SUSTEREN: That's not a problem. How about fuel?

SCALES: That is a big issue. These planes will be heavy loaded with the bunker busting bombs and other air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons, which will force them to tank, that is refuel from an aircraft as they go in to the target and out to the target. And that makes it a much, much more complex operation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Of course then they may do loitering or fighting.

SCALES: They have to take out the air force, they've got to take out the air defense, and then they have to attack the targets, and they have to attack the targets multiple times because these are very, very tough targets to hit.

VAN SUSTEREN: This is made public, all these obstacles, discussion over the past three or four days. It almost seemed to like the Obama administration was unsuccessful privately so they want to send a message publicly to Israel. It is peculiar it's so public.

SCALES: I think they're afraid the Israelis will strike too soon. I think the administration wants to give sanctions more time to work. I think the administration thinks that they can probably talk the Iranians out of weaponizing their nuclear weapons program. And, you know, we are fighting two wars. We're fighting a war right now, just finished another one, and I think the administration is extremely reluctant to participate in a third.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, getting intelligence to find out answers is sometimes very difficult. Is there a chance the Israelis have intelligence, different information than we do with how far along the Iranians are?

SCALES: Yes, there is. My sources tell me Iranian intelligence is actually better than ours for reasons we can't discuss on the air.

VAN SUSTEREN: The Israelis, you mean?

SCALES: The Israelis have excellent intelligence. I think the big issue here is the timeline. The Israelis want to go soon. We want to give it more time.

VAN SUSTEREN: See, that's what I think is peculiar. They don't want Tel Aviv to go up in flames. And so why are they talking about it now? I think they have a sense of urgency. I fear that they have intelligence that we don't have. That is just my wild guess.

SCALES: Yes. Just like Ambassador Bolton said, though, if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, and in my opinion the only thing standing between them having a nuclear weapon and not is a preemptive strike, then that changes the whole strategic complexion of the Middle East. We are in an entirely different ballgame. And I believe in the long term this country will be threatened by it.

VAN SUSTEREN: General, thank you.


SCALES: Thank you, Greta.