U.S.-Israel sign new arms deal, but Obama team refuses to sell bunker buster bombs. What message does that send to Iran?

"Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, and Moshe Yaalon of Israel on a helicopter tour of the Golan Heights on Monday." (Pool photo by Jim Watson)

“Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, and Moshe Yaalon of Israel on a helicopter tour of the Golan Heights on Monday.” (Pool photo by Jim Watson)

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on a tour of Mideast allies this week. His first stop was Israel. Then he heads to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

En route, Hagel announced a $10 billion arms deal — selling advanced weapons systems both to Israel and several Arab countries — apparently to send a message to Iran that the U.S. will protect its friends against Tehran’s dangerous nuclear program.

Yet it was a mixed message, at best. Yes, it’s good the U.S. is helping arm our allies against Iran. But why is the Obama administration refusing to sell Israel the “bunker buster bombs” it needs to truly and decisively neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat? Such a decision tells Tehran that Washington is really not that serious about preventing them from getting The Bomb.

“American and Israeli defense officials welcomed a new arms sale agreement on Monday as a major step toward increasing Israel’s military strength, but Israeli officials said it still left them without the weapons they would need if they decided to attack Iran’s deepest and best-protected nuclear sites,” reported the New York Times.

“The mixed message came as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon, reaffirmed their commitment to stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, while sidestepping a continuing disagreement between the two countries about how close to allow Iran to get toward such a goal,” noted the Times. “In public, Mr. Hagel again said that Israel had the right to decide by itself how to defend the country, and both officials said military action should be a last resort. But a close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that ‘the fundamental difference of views on how much risk we can take with Iran is re-emerging.'” 

“It’s all about timetables,” Dore Gold, the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s inner circle of strategists, told the Times. “If you say the goal is to halt Iran in the enrichment phase, you don’t have much time. If you are waiting for Iran to weaponize” — the position the Obama administration has taken — “maybe you can give it another year or more.”       

Mr. Yaalon suggested that there was still time, the Times reported. “There are other tools to be used and to be exhausted, whether it is diplomacy, economic sanctions,” Yaalon said.

Excerpts from the Times story:

  • The new weapons sale package includes aircraft for midair refueling and missiles that can cripple an adversary’s air defense system. Both would be critical for Israel if it were to decide on a unilateral attack on Iran.       
  • But what the Israelis wanted most was a weapons system that is missing from the package: a giant bunker-busting bomb designed to penetrate earth and reinforced concrete to destroy deeply buried sites. According to both American and Israeli analysts, it is the only weapon that would have a chance of destroying the Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment center at Fordo, which is buried more than 200 feet under a mountain outside the holy city of Qum.       
  • The weapon, called a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, weighs about 30,000 pounds — so much that Israel does not have any aircraft capable of carrying it. To do so, Israel would need a B-2 bomber, the stealth aircraft that the United States flew nonstop recently from Missouri to the Korean Peninsula to underscore to North Korea that it could reach its nuclear sites.

The Israeli news service Ynet also reported: “Under the agreement…Israel would buy new missiles designed to take out an adversary’s air-defense radars, as well as advanced radars for its own warplanes, new KC-35 refueling tanker planes and — in the first sale to any foreign military — the V-22 Osprey troop transport aircraft, which can take off and land like a helicopter but fly with the speeds and range of an airplane.”

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