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April 18, 2014 3:18 pm

Can Bunker Busters Solve Israel’s Iran Dilemma?

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The Arak IR-40 heavy water reactor in Iran. Photo: Nanking2012 / WikiCommons.

The Arak IR-40 heavy water reactor in Iran. Photo: Nanking2012 / WikiCommons.

JNS.orgAlarmed by what they believe to be diplomatic failures by the Obama administration in nuclear negotiations with Iran, leading scholars of a Washington, DC-based think tank have proposed to have the United States provide Israel with the largest “bunker buster” bombs in the U.S. arsenal to help restore the administration’s leverage in its negotiations.

In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on April 8, Michael Makovsky, chief executive officer of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and a former Pentagon official—along with retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the former chief of Air Force intelligence and senior advisor to JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy—recommended that the U.S. provide the Israel Defense Forces with the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) bombs.

Designed to bore deep into the ground before detonating rather than exploding on contact with the ground, the MOP would give Israel the ability to disable underground Iranian nuclear facilities if it deems that course of action necessary, in case the P5+1 nuclear negotiations in Geneva fail, the authors say.

According to Makovsky and Deptula, the administration has erroneously broken with sound negotiating judgment by eliminating deterrents that could have leveraged Iran to pursue meaningful negotiations. The Obama administration has taken a firm stance against efforts in Congress to add—or threaten to add—greater sanctions on Iran if a deal falls through. The administration believes additional sanctions will lose Iranian trust and cooperation in the negotiating process.

Additionally, they wrote, the historical deterrent used to back diplomacy—the threat of military action—is no longer credible.

“President Obama has already taken one potential source of leverage off the table by promising to veto legislation that threatens tighter economic sanctions on Iran,” Makovsky and Deptula wrote. “This leaves military pressure as the only option. But after the Obama administration’s unenforced ‘red lines’ in Syria and Ukraine, Iran is understandably dismissive of the threat of U.S. military action. That leaves Israel.”

The idea is not unusual in U.S.-Israel relations. In 2012, Congress passed the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, which declared that the U.S. would ensure that Israel maintains its “qualitative military edge” over its regional threats. President Barack Obama signed the law and assured Israelis that “[we] will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge—because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

The U.S. has already provided Israel with smaller, 2,000- and 5,000-pound bunker buster bombs—largely ineffective against Iranian nuclear targets—and recently delivered a KC-135 Stratotanker airplane to give Israel mid-air refueling capabilities.

But GBU-57 weighs in at 30,000 pounds and the IDF does not have the capability to deliver such massive ordinance.

Only two planes in the U.S. can deliver it: the B-2 Spirit bomber—the highly advanced, stealth, backbone of modern U.S. bombers—and the ancient B-52 Stratofortress that, despite its age, is still very capable and has been operated by the U.S. for more than 50 years.

Makovsky and Deptula recommend that several decommissioned B-52H bombers be taken from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona and provided with the bombs.

“There are more than a dozen of the relatively ‘newest’ B-52H bombers built in the early 1960s in storage,” the op-ed stated. “Some of these should be delivered to Israel. There’s no legal or policy impediments to their transfer; they would just have to be refurbished and retrofitted to carry the MOP.”

Makovsky told that despite listing what he sees as failure in the administration’s Iran policy in the article, their proposed idea is intended to help the negotiations without violating any part of Geneva’s framework agreement.

“I think that there’s really no legitimate reason why anyone would oppose this,” Makovsky said. “I think it’s a prudent thing to do, and the only argument that some in the administration might say is, ‘Oh, it will undercut the negotiations with Iran,’ which is what they said about sanctions, but I don’t see that because this was already pledged two years ago in the Israel Security Enhancement Act.”

Though the act specified the delivery of the fuel tankers and other indirect military cooperation, it is not exclusive and Makovsky says that there’s no difference in delivering an airplane for mid-air refueling—giving Israeli jets the ability to make long distance bombing runs—to giving or selling the actual weapon and delivery system. Both extend Israeli military capabilities.

Since it does not directly involve Iran like additional sanctions or military threats by the U.S., Makovsky argues that negotiations would not be affected. But the idea does intend to send a clear message to Iranian leaders: The U.S. may not do anything if Iran backs away from the negotiating table or continues nuclear enrichment, but Israel will now have the capability to effectively destroy Iranian nuclear targets, he said.

Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, told that he thinks Israel will be a credible threat to the Iranians.

“I think the Israelis view negotiations between the U.S. and the other P5+1 powers in Iran with a great deal of trepidation because they don’t see anything irrevocable happening to the Iranian nuclear program,” said Berman. “They see tactical concessions, but these are hard choices that are being deferred; they’re not being eliminated entirely.”

Berman said that the proposal covers the “fundamental problems” with Iranian diplomacy. In other words, the proposal purposefully avoids providing the administration reasons to shoot it down as it did with sanctions earlier this year. According to Berman, it also “keys up Israel as the bad cop to Geneva’s good cop.”

“I think that’s a very savvy way to indirectly rejoin the ideas of diplomacy. It’s certainly not anything that would torpedo the administration’s diplomatic efforts,” said Berman, “because after all, the idea here would be if the Geneva deal is a good deal—the deal that results from it—then there’s no need for this anyway.”

Makovsky and Deptula have begun working to get traction for their idea among policy makers, both within the administration and on Capitol Hill. Makovsky believes that support could be built in Congress to pressure the administration into action. He points to Congress playing an essential role in pressuring the administration to pass the first round of sanctions that is credited with bringing Iran to the negotiating table.

“This goes beyond just the debate on sanctions—which I think has disproportionally absorbed the debate,” Makovsky said. “This goes beyond that and adds another element of how to put more pressure on Iranians while also fulfilling the pledge to the Israelis.”

Berman agrees, saying that the move would also help the U.S. reassure Israelis that if the talks break down, they at least have an implicit understanding that “they [the Israelis] have to do what they have to do.” Also, according to Berman, pursuing legislation in Congress would in this case be the proper course of action.

“Congress has done much more than individual administrations consistently over the lifespan of the U.S.-Israel relationship to reinforce the bonds between Washington and Jerusalem,” said Berman. “So Congress is a good place to start in driving this discussion. Administrations come and go, but the pro-Israel sentiment in Congress has proven to be remarkably resilient.”

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  • National Council of Resistance of Iran, a broad coalition of democratic Iranian organizations, groups, and personalities, was founded in 1981 in Tehran, Iran on the initiative of Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian Resistance. For more information visit

  • National Council of Resistance of Iran, a broad coalition of democratic Iranian organizations, groups, and personalities, was founded in 1981 in Tehran, Iran on the initiative of Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian Resistance. For more info visit

  • National Council of Resistance of Iran, a broad coalition of democratic Iranian organizations, groups, and personalities, was founded in 1981 in Tehran, Iran on the initiative of Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian Resistance. For more information visit

  • dr popa

    yes, by all means give Israel those bunker busters… and if a couple of them could lend on Bennett, and Ya’Alon residences even BETTER!!! Why is Netanyahu associating with simple minded characters like those two saps is beyound me.All he cares about is to remain in power longer than Ben Gourion! If I were an Israeli I would so much prefer Tzipi Livni for PM, she is smart, intelligent, ruthless when she needs to be! She actually DESERVES the power that comes with the title ! Alot of countries would become Israel’s ally if she would be PM!

  • Kirk Epstein

    I agree with the author. Also, Israel should go on and acquire more Patriot Missles and build enough Iron Dome systems to secure and protest the area from the Latani to Israel and establish a Christian Arab controlled Area as a buffer between Lebabon and Israel, if Israel has to go back into Lebanon and clean house of Hizbella terrorists. All areas that Israel has to fight in future wars should be replaced with displaced Christian Arab refugees as a war spoils policy.

    • George

      Let’s drop a bunker busting bomb on top of your dumb head too so we don’t have to read your garbage either. Who do you think you are that you think you can design a new geography of the Middle East?

  • Mark Orr

    Obviously, the B-52s should have been transferred to Israel long ago, yet Obama lacks the political and ideological courage to do so. Thankfully, Israel is free to pursue home-grown independent strategic/technological solutions…blithely underestimated by Iran.

    • Rand Scott

      Mark – your post sounds negative toward the president, who according to AIPAC has provided Israel more financial, logistical, and weapons support than ANY other prior administration. Thank president Obama for that.

  • Marc J. Rauch

    The reliance on using bunker buster bombs if far too iffy. First, Israel may not know the exact location of the facilities, and second they may not penetrate sufficiently.

    Instead, I think that Israel should destroy Iran’s oil pumping and production facilities. This will cripple Iran’s entire financial infrastructure, and these facilities are easily detected and virtually unprotected.

  • Dave

    “What Einstein, Oppenheimer and Teller, the three of them are Jews, made for the United States could also be done by scientists in Israel for their own people,” Ben-Gurion wrote in 1956. People like Mr.Makovsky are like a person basically standing in McDonalds, enjoying a greasy Big Mac, while lecturing the world about the evils of junk food. Hypocrisy of the highest order… Is there something duplicitous about the world tolerating Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which the country does not officially acknowledge but has been publicly known for decades, and yet punishing Iran with severe economic sanctions just for its suspected steps toward a weapons program? Israel thinks that by directing attention to the Iran, will safeguard its continuous armed robbery of Palestine. But the point is that the surge of public judgment has so massively turned against the Israel that no extent of investment by US billionaires and support of neoconservatives in the propaganda machinery of will stop people from seeing the big fat elephant in the room.

  • Dayn

    Let all those who wish to die a martyr, hold hands and form a circle around ground zero.

  • George

    I think somebody should drop a bunker busting bomb on top of the heads of the authors of this article so that we won’t have to read such garbage anymore.

  • Papa Joe

    I think that the IDF should drop one or more on each of Irans sites as well as on downtown Tehran. They should wait until Iran is holding one of their parades with their military equipment. This way its payback for holding our people hostage. Stop Iran and you slow or stop the rockets of Hamas and Hezbollah.

  • Wilhelm Kaye

    This article lacks information. Therefore, a logical solution cannot be obtained.

  • Alan

    This is NOT a viable option. Attacking a sovereign nation solely because you SUSPECT they have certain items is an outrageous provocation. Iran would not just lie there like a beached whale and say; “OK; you got us”. They along with their allies would see this an an invitation to an all out holy war which most of the ” impartials/undecideds” around the globe cheer them on to win.

    • Papa Joe

      Wake up man we are in a holy war now. They want to kill all of the Christians and Jews as well as Americans.Stop them or they will stop us. Remember Islam already has an agent in the White House.

  • DrRobLee

    Sounds like a great and viable plan. But given Obama’s bent re:Israel he will never allow this to happen. Had Casper Weinberger not blocked Ronald Reagan from bombing Hizbollah after the Iranian proxy took out our marine barracks there would be no Hizbollah Lebanon. Unfortunately there are those in various administrations who make historic mistakes. The Obama presidency is one huge mistake we may never outlive.

    • Obama killed Osama so I feel safer. Iran hasn’t invaded anyone in two Centuries. Persian paranoia is absurd and childish. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt have terrorist citizens who have and will try again to attack us. What countries were the 911 hijackers from fools?

      • zadimel

        Iran for many years has used others to do their dirty work. Iran has supplied Hamas, Hezbollah and other violently anti-Israeli/Jewish thugs with the wherewithal to kill Israelis,Jews and their sympathizers. Their Iranian “advisors” have also participated in their frenzy of hate against them.

  • Did u see the new the Missiles on parade in Tehran ? If Israel make any dumb mistake couple those may land on Dimona.

    • Marc J. Rauch

      Anybody, including the Iranians can build cardboard dummy missiles.

  • Me.

    Finally someone speaks the obvious. That would be just what the doctor ordered. It is not a common flue Israel may have to be up against. Send the good stuff.