On the Bunker Buster Transfer to Israel

On Eli Lake’s ‘Daily Beast’ article on the Obama administration’s transfer of bunker buster bombs to Israel a few months after it took power in January 2009, Ali has helpfully added to the story on the thinkprogress security blog by quoting from a Wikileaks cable from Nov 2009 confirming the forthcoming delivery and suggesting that it be “handled quietly to avoid any allegations that the [U.S. government] is helping Israel prepare for a strike against Iran.”

The best instant analysis of the worrisome implications of this transaction come from Paul Pillar on his National Interest blog, which, incidentally, I read daily. One excerpt:

The even bigger worry about the bunker busters concerns what they would be used for. The one possible use that looms above any others one could conceive of is an attack on Iran and specifically its nuclear facilities. Providing the bunker busters was a mistake insofar as it increases Israel’s ability to initiate a war with Iran in this way. Even more serious (because Israel probably could develop the bunker-busting technology on its own, albeit at greater expense), is that providing the bombs could be interpreted as a green light to go to war. Even more serious than that (because Israel, notwithstanding all that aid, does not wait for green lights from the United States anyway), is that the use of U.S.-made bombs to initiate war with Iran would accentuate the already-existing association of the United States with any Israeli action and intensify the resulting damage to U.S. political, economic, and security interests.

As Pillar notes, this is one more example — and a very substantial one at that — why former Pentagon chief Robert Gates reportedly believes that the Netanyahu government has been ungrateful for all the things Obama has provided Israel, especially with respect to military assistance and cooperation. Because the transfer was held up so long by the Bush administration, one assumes that the delivery of these bombs was the subject of an Oval Office decision. It would be interesting to know who participated in the debate that resulted in the go-ahead and what their positions were. After all, it was in June 2008, only one year before, that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen went to Israel precisely to make clear to his counterpart there that he and his boss were dead-set against an attack on Iran. So did Gates and Mullen, the most important holdovers from Bush, take part in the debate? If so, were they overruled by the politicos in the White House, or did they buy into the Dennis Ross argument that the only way to gain concessions from Israel on the “peace process” front was to make them feel super-secure? Did the administration obtain any assurances about how these weapons will be used or not used?

During my conversation with M.J. Rosenberg for the article I wrote yesterday on Obama’s cave-in to Netanyahu at the UN, he asserted outright that, “from the point of view of the Israel crowd, Obama has been the most pliant and most pro-Israel president ever,” even more than Bush. (He made this into a major theme of his weekly comment at Media Matters in which he compared Obama’s Israel-Palestine policy to Rick Perry’s.) Eli Lake’s piece, a longer version of which is due to come out Monday in the new issue of Newsweek Monday, is yet another major piece of evidence — and a particularly scary one — that this analysis is not far off the mark.

Lake’s article also should prompt some additional reflection among those readers who dismiss the possibility of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. I still believe it’s much more of a possibility than a probability, but, given Obama’s abject surrender on the peace process, the obvious influence of Ross and other White House hawks, and the likelihood that the bunker busters were delivered over the Pentagon’s objections, there is clearly cause for concern.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Being one of those readers who (now) “dismiss the possibility of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities,” I will weigh in on this issue. My personal belief (I stress the word “belief,” as I have no inside sources on this matter) is that the bunker-busters were indeed provided as a confidence-building measure by an administration that believed it was going to both engage Iran and pressure Israel to make real concessions on Palestine (first on settlements and then in an overall peace agreement). Of course, the administration has failed miserably on both of these fronts, but I think they believed, in the first flush of their electoral triumph, that they could remake the Middle East.

    Present circumstances indicate that a U.S., Israeli, or joint attack on Iran is highly unlikely. I’ve ticked off the reasons here and elsewhere before, so I won’t bore anybody by stating them again. As I have also stated before, an incident in the Persian Gulf could conceivably lead to hostilities between Iran and the U.S., and should that happen then a strike on the nuke facilities might indeed take place. But that aside, I see almost zero chance of war while Obama is president. Now, should a Republican win 2012, we will all have to recalibrate. But it’s the outcome of the presidential election and not the presence of bunker-busters in the Israeli arsenal that should worry us.

    It should be noted that Israel has had the capability to build its own bunker-busters for some time. Selling our bunker-busters to Israel gives us some say over how they are used — certainly more than we would have if the Israelis built their own instead.

    It’s interesting that the transfer of the bunker-busters to Israel is being made public now, in the wake of the Republican victory in the race for ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner’s seat in New York. Not a coincidence, I assure you.

  2. President Obama’s unconscionable dissing of the Palestinian people during his UN General Assembly speech last week, and his cruel attempts to bury Palestine for his own selfish agenda was truly disgusting to watch.

    His crass attempt to use an international forum, and the sad plight of an oppressed people, to pursue his desperate 2012 re-election bid was sacrilegious to all decent people everywhere.

  3. Who needs Bunker Busters when you’ve Eli Lake

    More effective than bombs, are fraudulent assertions such as “A fraudulent election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power in Iran left Israelis even more concerned about their security—and the new U.S. president’s intentions” which Mr Lake makes in his Newsweek article.

    Mr. Lake is wrong. see http://brillwebsite.com/writings/iran2009election.html

    This unsubstantiated, baseless, irresponsible assertion by Eli Lake, and others, has forestalled any possibility of engaging Iran, and has therefore ratcheted up tensions to the detriment of US interests.

  4. Jon, you wrote of these bunker busters as being “sold”. Do you have evidence of this? Jim writes that they were “transferred.” We shouldn’t assume that we were compensated in any way by Israel.

  5. I thought I read that these weapons were part of a $319 million arms sale to Israel. But maybe I’m wrong. And of course we give them so much military aid, it’s hard to say if they actually pay us for anything. Try googling it or looking in the NYT index if you’re really curious.

Comments are closed.