Washington - The Obama administration has quietly supplied Israel with bombs capable of destroying buried targets, like terrorists’ arms caches or perhaps sites in Iran suspected of being part of that nation’s nuclear weapons program, American officials said Friday.
The administration’s transfer of bunker-busting bombs, first reported in an online article by Newsweek, began in 2009. American officials who confirmed the shipments spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. They declined to comment on the number of bombs that had been supplied to Israel or on their capabilities.
Israel had sought this class of weapons for many years. In 2005, the Bush administration notified Congress of a pending transfer to Israel of bombs designed to destroy buried targets. “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,” a news release from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency stated.
Subsequent notifications of plans to sell Israel different models of bunker-busting weapons were sent to Congress by the agency again in 2007 and 2008.
But the weapons were not given to Israel at the time. Pentagon officials were frustrated that Israel had transferred military technology to China. And there were deep concerns that if the United States supplied bunker-busting bombs to Israel, it might be viewed as having tacitly endorsed an attack on Iran.
In the interim, Israel developed its own bunker-busting bomb, officials said, but the American variants were viewed as more cost-effective.
George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, declined to comment on the reports of a weapons transfer. “We’re not going to comment on these press reports, but make no mistake about it: the United States is committed to the security of Israel and Israel’s ability to maintain its qualitative military edge,” Mr. Little said.
The issue is so sensitive that Israeli military officials asked the United States not to release documentation of the arms transfers, even if requested under the Freedom of Information Act, according to American officials.
The arms transfers could help President Obama’s political standing among Jewish voters. Israeli-American relations have been bruised by a variety of political and geopolitical matters, and efforts by the administration to strengthen the Israeli military may convince some voters that the president is sufficiently supportive of Israel.