Agence France Presse April 28, 2005
US unveils plans to sell 'bunker busters' to Israel
Experts believe 'bunker busting' bombs could be used against Iran's underground uranium enrichment facility.
By Maxim Kniazkov
The United States plans to sell Israel 100 of its most effective bombs designed to destroy deep underground facilities, despite growing concern in the Middle East the Jewish state might resort to military strikes to halt Iran's nuclear program, US defense officials said late Wednesday.
The Defense Department notified Congress of the proposed 30-million-dollar deal on Tuesday, saying it will involve GBU-28 "bunker busting" bombs first used during the 1991 Gulf War to destroy Iraqi underground command and control centres.
The package will also include support and testing equipment, spare parts, and technical data, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a division of the Pentagon.
The Israeli Air Force plans to arm with these bombs its F-15 fighter jets.
"This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been, and continues to be, an important force for economic progress in the Middle East," the agency said in a statement.
It cautioned the deal has not been finalized yet, but assured lawmakers that it "will not affect" the military balance in the region.
The contemplated sale will help Israel "maintain its qualitative edge" over other forces in the Middle East as it upgrades its military arsenal, the officials said.
The controversy over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program and Israeli plans to act unilaterally to destroy alleged Iranian underground nuclear facilities if international efforts to halt the program fail were not mentioned in Pentagon documents.
But Francois Boo, a researcher with GlobalSecurity.org, a military affairs think tank here, said the plan appeared to be aimed at backing diplomatic efforts by Britain, Germany and France to check Tehran's nuclear ambitions with a military stick.
"The general suspicion would be that Iran would likely be on the receiving end of that weapon," he said
The GBU-28 is a 2.2-ton, laser-guided, conventional munition equipped with a powerful warhead that can burrow through more than six meters (20 feet) of concrete and up to 30.5 meters (100 feet) of hard ground.
A couple of these bombs developed as part of a rush program in the run-up to the Gulf War were used against Iraqi underground command centres, according to military experts.
Later F-15 Strike Eagle jets, the main work horse of the US Air Force, were adapted to carry the GBU-28, and it was used during the 1999 Kosovo conflict against targets in Yugoslavia.
Military experts believe GBU-28 "bunker busters" are the only existing conventional munitions that could be effective against Iran's underground uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, about 150 kilometres (93 miles) north of Isfahan.
The announcement of the possible sale came less than three weeks after US President George W. Bush discussed Iran's nuclear program with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and voiced support for a diplomatic solution of the problem.
During that meeting at the presidential Texas ranch, Sharon reportedly showed Bush satellite photos of Iranian nuclear sites and warned that Tehran was approaching a "point of no return" in learning how to make an atomic bomb.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters after the talks that the United States and Israel have a shared goal, which is "to make sure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon."
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