David Sanger has been a very busy chief Washington correspondent. His report on the “sheer scariness” of the insecurity of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal appears today in the New York Times Magazine, but he also had a major article in the paper yesterday. The Saturday article, "U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site," discusses the Israeli desire for a U.S. attack on Iran to which Bush said no – but also claims that Bush turned down the Israeli request for key assistance for an Israeli launched operation.
In place of a direct attack by either country, Sanger reports that Bush "told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials."
We seem to be back in “sheer scariness” territory again but there’s a problem with Sanger’s report. He gets a central fact wrong in his very first sentence which reads:
President Bush deflected a secret request by Israel last year for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex …
He later repeats the claim saying that:
The United States did give Israel one item on its shopping list: high-powered radar, called the X-Band, to detect any Iranian missile launchings. It was the only element in the Israeli request that could be used solely for defense, not offense.
Yet, as we discussed back in September, the U.S. actually did approve the sale of 1,000 GBU-39, those “specialized bunker-busting bombs.” As we noted then, Ha’aretz reported the sale on September 14th:
Despite reservations in Washington regarding a possible Israeli strike on Iran, the American administration will supply Israel with sophisticated weapons for heavily fortified targets, the U.S. administration announced…
The Pentagon’s announcement, which came on Friday, said the U.S. will provide Israel with 1,000 units of Guided Bomb Unit-39 (GBU-39) – a special weapon developed for penetrating fortified facilities located deep underground.
The $77 million shipment, which includes launchers and appurtenances, will allow the IAF to hit many more bunkers than currently possible. Although each bomb weighs 113 kilograms, its penetration capabilities equal those of a one ton bomb, according to professional literature.
And the Jerusalem Post has reported that Israel is now using those GBU-39 “bunker busters” in Gaza
Reuters is now reporting that the U.S. in a “rare” move has commissioned a merchant vessel to transport “hundreds of tons of arms to Israel” and:
stipulated a ship to be chartered for 42 days capable of carrying 989 standard 20-foot containers from Sunny Point, North Carolina to Ashdod.
The tender document said the vessel had to be capable of "carrying 5.8 million pounds (2.6 million kg) of net explosive weight," which specialist brokers said was a very large quantity.
The Reuters report notes that this is a very unusual amount of arms for one shipment and goes on to speculate that the shipment is in fact GBU-39s.
Such a shipment could either be the delivery of the balance of those 1,000 bombs – or replacements for those already used in Gaza.
Either way Mr. Sanger’s claim that Bush “deflected” Israel’s request for the weapons needed to attack Iran is wrong.
And while Israel seems unlikely to undertake an attack on Iran while in the midst of their war on Gaza, given their rhetoric on Iran it would not be surprising to learn that they are stocking up – with Bush’s permission – on the weapons needed for an Iranian attack before Obama comes into office.
Israel has already demonstrated their ability to fly and refuel in air as needed for an attack on Iran – in fact, Sanger describes that exercise in his article:
Last June, the Israelis conducted an exercise over the Mediterranean Sea that appeared to be a dry run for an attack on the enrichment plant at Natanz. When the exercise was analyzed at the Pentagon, officials concluded that the distances flown almost exactly equaled the distance between Israel and the Iranian nuclear site.
This means that Israel no longer requires direct U.S. support during such an attack – support which Sanger reports was Israel’s second request to Bush. This leaves only the third request -permission to fly over Iraqi air space. On this Sanger does ask the right question:
White House officials discussed the possibility that the Israelis would fly over Iraq without American permission. In that case, would the American military be ordered to shoot them down?
While Sanger’s account of the cloak and dagger efforts Bush apparently approved (not quite secret given Sy Hersh’s earlier reporting of just such efforts) is interesting, his apparent desire to portray Bush as opposing an Iranian attack on Iran and his critical mistake on the question of the bunker-busters may well have led him to miss the real story.
Photo of GBU-39s – US Air Force