U.S. to Sell Precision-Guided
Bombs to Israel [Iran]
by David Wood
Newhouse News Service, Sept. 23,
Amid growing concern that Israel might
launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran's budding nuclear program,
the United States is moving ahead with the transfer to Israel
of 5,000 heavy, precision-guided bombs, including 500 "earth-penetrating"
2,000-pound bombs designed for use against underground facilities.
The $319 million arms transfer, proposed
by the Bush administration June 1, went ahead after Congress took
no action during its 30-day review period, Jose Ibarra, a spokesman
for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said Wednesday. The
deal is being financed from this year's $2.16 billion military
assistance grant to Israel.
The transfer also includes 2,500 2,000-pound
Mark-84 bombs, 500 1,000-pound Mark-83 bombs, 1,500 500-pound
Mark-82 bombs and live fuses. All the bombs are being fitted with
the Joint Direct Air Munitions (JDAM) kit which uses inertial
guidance and beacons from U.S. military Global Positioning Satellites
for deadly accuracy.
"That's an arsenal for war,"
said Joseph Cirincione, senior associate for non-proliferation
at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
He said any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, clustered in
three major complexes and dozens of other sites, "wouldn't
be a pinprick strike; it would have to be a large-scale military
airstrike that would result in large-scale casualties."
Asked Wednesday about Iran's nuclear
program and the potential for an Israeli pre-emptive strike, Secretary
of State Colin Powell told reporters the United States is trying
to use "diplomacy and political efforts to stop this movement
on the part of the Iranians toward a nuclear weapon." He
did not directly address U.S. transfers of advanced munitions
Some U.S. officials acknowledge privately
that the Bush administration is split on how to react to Iran's
apparent intention to obtain nuclear weapons, with some advocating
forceful military action and others pushing for concerted international
diplomatic pressure. Powell said Wednesday he expects the issue
to be referred to the U.N. Security Council if there is no resolution
within a month. Economic sanctions against Iran could follow.
War games run at the CIA and Defense
Intelligence Agency to examine the repercussions of a military
strike against Iran's nuclear facilities have consistently reached
a chilling conclusion: Iran would unleash a wave of terrorism
against Israeli targets worldwide and against U.S. troops in the
Middle East. Some 140,000 American military personnel are currently
stationed adjacent to Iran in Iraq and Kuwait.
Iranian missiles have the range to hit
U.S. bases in the region.
An Israeli strike, and the wider war
it might touch off, also could send oil prices skyrocketing and
jeopardize the global economy, analysts say.
Jay Greer, an official at the State Department's
political-military bureau, which oversees arms sales and transfers,
said giving the weapons to Israel "will in our view enhance
U.S. national security and foreign policy interests and help maintain
Israel's qualitative military edge in the region."
Asked whether the transfer makes sense
amid the growing confrontation over Iran's nuclear program, Greer
said, "I can't talk about that."
Israeli officials have said allowing
Iran to develop nuclear weapons would threaten Israel's very existence.
Last fall, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was reported saying that
"under no circumstances would Israel be able to tolerate
nuclear weapons in Iranian possession."
Iran, which insists its efforts are aimed
only at developing reliable electric power sources, this week
said it has begun a critical step in processing uranium into nuclear
reactor fuel or nuclear bomb material: converting uranium ore,
or "yellowcake," into gas. In gas form, uranium can
be run through high-speed centrifuges to separate out the concentrated
or "enriched" uranium.
That material, which terrorists could
pack around a conventional explosive to make a "dirty bomb,"
is highly regulated by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
This past weekend, the agency demanded
that Iran immediately stop all uranium-enrichment processing.
In reply, Iran announced Tuesday it was starting the process of
converting some 37 tons of yellowcake into gas.
Military analysts say any Israeli pre-emptive
strike would entail destruction not only of Iran's nuclear reactors
under construction at Bushehr and Arak and the gas centrifuge
facility at Natanz, but would target mobile missile launchers,
strike aircraft and other weapons in order to prevent a retaliatory
An attack of that scope would take two
to three days of continuous airstrikes. Intelligence assessments
suggest Israel would drop at least 3,000 precision-guided munitions.
Under the U.S. Arms Export Control Act,
countries receiving American weapons are allowed to use them for
internal security, legitimate self-defense or for "preventing
or hindering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
An Israeli source in Washington, speaking
on condition of anonymity, said Israel purchases military equipment
"on an ongoing basis" from the United States but added,
"We cannot confirm any specific deals."
A Pentagon memorandum discussing the
arms transfer said it would help "improve the security of
a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important
force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle
(David Wood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)