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Bunker Busters to Israel

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This is a thing:

While publicly pressuring Israel to make deeper concessions to the Palestinians, President Obama has secretly authorized significant new aid to the Israeli military that includes the sale of 55 deep-penetrating bombs known as bunker busters, Newsweek has learned.

In an exclusive story to be published Monday on growing military cooperation between the two allies, U.S. and Israeli officials tell Newsweek that the GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators—potentially useful in any future military strike against Iranian nuclear sites—were delivered to Israel in 2009, just several months after Obama took office.

The military sale was arranged behind the scenes as Obama’s demands for Israel to stop building settlements in disputed territories were fraying political relations between the two countries in public.

There  are military and political logics to selling the bunker busters to Israel. The military logic is that the Obama administration believes that Israel should be better equipped to strike hardened Iranian nuclear facilities. That’s it; these are the only targets Israel might consider attacking in the near to medium term that would require such ordnance. One way to read this is that the administration thinks that an Israeli strike on Iran would be a good idea. This may be possible, but the administration doesn’t appear to have been doing much else in order to push Israel into an attack.

This suggests that the primary motivation for the sale of of the ordnance is political; the administration was attempting, in 2009, to start relations with Israel and with Israel’s domestic supporters on a strong note, and perhaps to threaten Iran. On the first, it’s hard to say that the move has worked; as Spencer points out, Bibi has consistently given Obama the finger on policy, and has made his support of Obama’s GOP opponents about as clear as possible. Obama has no leverage; no GOP President will reduce the level of military aid sent to Israel, and Bibi finds a Republican administration preferable for a variety of reasons. It wasn’t completely impossible to think that Bibi might make some concessions in response to the shipments, but to borrow a phrase from Martin Schenk “I suppose all things are possible… if not equally.”

This leaves the impact on Iran, and on Israel’s domestic supporters. To borrow another phrase, the whole point of politicized arms shipments to Israel is lost if you keep it a secret. Even if we accept the premise that Israel’s US constituency could in some sense be satisfied by bunker buster shipments, it’s hard to see how secret shipments help solve the problem. Perhaps the logic was that since someone had to know, elite level signalling would serve to insulate Obama from attacks. This again means that, effectively, Obama was dependent on Bibi’s goodwill for the plan to work. Good luck with that. The Iran problem is essentially the same; Iran can only be intimidated by things it knows about. It’s possible that some US negotiator somewhere showed some Iranian diplomat a packing slip for the bombs, but that strategy works whether or not the US actually ships the weapons.

And so we’re left with the question that has too often characterized the Obama administration: For this bad policy executed incompetently, what’s the balance between bad and incompetent? On the upside, at least Eli Lake has been uncovered as the administration shill he’s always been.

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