As usual, Drudge oversold it. They’re training for the mission as a contingency and the only nukes involved are bunker-busters with a one-kiloton yield, roughly the power of the Trade Center collapse, to be used at a single site.

Still, the missiles-down-the-chute bombing scenario should please Star Wars fans.

Two fast assault squadrons based in the Negev desert and in Tel Nof, south of Tel Aviv, are already training for the attack…

The prime target will be Natanz, the deep and ferociously protected bunker south of Tehran where the Iranians are churning out enriched uranium in defiance of the United Nations security council.

If things go according to plan, a pilot will first launch a conventional laser-guided bomb to blow a shaft down through the layers of hardened concrete. Other pilots will then be ready to drop low-yield one kiloton nuclear weapons into the hole…

In recent weeks Israeli pilots have been flying long-haul as far as Gibraltar to simulate the 2,000-mile round trip to Natanz…

“There are 24 strong batteries around Natanz, making it one of the most protected sites on earth,” said an Israeli military source. Its centrifuge halls, where the uranium is enriched, are heavily protected at least 70ft underground…

Should Israel launch a tactical nuclear strike, the consequences could be catastrophic. Gardiner believes that there would not only be “low DNA operations” — difficult to trace directly back to the Iranians — such as terrorist attacks, but the Muslim world would also be so inflamed that the stability of pro-western regimes would be threatened.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to see Pakistan (a nuclear power) falling to Islamic fundamentalists,” Gardiner said. “It could mean that in order to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons, we could be handing them to a terrorist nation.”

Partly because of the taboo on nukes, partly because the Times has been alarmist in this vein before, but mostly because Israel risks total isolation and regional war if it follows through, I’m skeptical. But … what’s the alternative? To wait and hope that the UN’s weak-tea sanctions cripple the regime before it gets the bomb? The lesson here is, if your leader talks like Hitler, don’t be surprised if he’s treated like Hitler. Especially by the neighborhood Jews.

Root causes, in other words.

Will the U.S. beat Israel to the punch? Maliki said today, for what it’s worth, that the long-awaited attack on the militias is at hand. Given that Bush is set to announce a surge on Wednesday, he might finally be telling the truth. The U.S. will be worried about Iranian pushback, especially given the newly-discovered extent of their influence inside Iraq. If things escalate, we may seize the opportunity to take out their reactors. In fact, Ralph Peters and Debkafile both see significance in the appointment of Admiral Fallon to replace Abizaid at Centcom. Peters:

Why put a swabbie in charge of grunt operations?

There’s a one-word answer: Iran.

Assigning a Navy aviator and combat veteran to oversee our military operations in the Persian Gulf makes perfect sense when seen as a preparatory step for striking Iran’s nuclear-weapons facilities – if that becomes necessary.

While the Air Force would deliver the heaviest tonnage of ordnance in a campaign to frustrate Tehran’s quest for nukes, the toughest strategic missions would fall to our Navy. Iran would seek to retaliate asymmetrically by attacking oil platforms and tankers, closing the Strait of Hormuz – and trying to hit oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates.

Only the U.S. Navy – hopefully, with Royal Navy and Aussie vessels underway beside us – could keep the oil flowing to a thirsty world.

Debka, after declaring that Bush is ready to stake “every US resource to hand” on victory in Iraq:

DEBKAfile’s military and Washington sources report that the new Bush policy will brook no look-in for Iran, Syria or Hizballah in Iraq’s affairs. Exceptionally offensive US military resources have been marshaled to bar any interference with the White House’s plans for Iraq…

[Admiral Fallon] specializes in deploying large-scale navy, air and Marines forces simultaneously in different arenas.

And the White House is making sure that Adm. Fallon has plenty of resources to deploy, a veritable buildup, the second in four months, in the Persian Gulf and other waters opposite Iran. The USS John C. Stennis strike group is heading for the Persian Gulf with a mighty air arm of 9-10 fighter-bomber squadrons. Saturday, some sources reported that another task force, the USS Ronald Reagan Strike Group, had been ordered out of Sand Diego on Jan. 4 and was heading in the same direction.

I hope Bush is prepared to have his bluff called.

Update: Steny Hoyer takes the hardline. Until Israel actually acts, in which case he’ll repudiate his support, declare that he was misled, and do a photo op with Cindy Sheehan.

Update: Mubarak’s not counting on Israel to deal with the Shiite bomb.