The Pentagon notified Congress on Tuesday of a proposed sale to Israel of 100 guided bunker-busting bombs, a weapon which would significantly upgrade the Israel Air Force's offensive operational capability and one which analysts said could prompt concerns about a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran.
In a notice required by law for government-to-government military sales, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said Israel had requested the sale of the Lockheed Martin Corp. GBU-28s, worth as much as $30 million.
The GBU-28 was developed for penetrating hardened command centers located deep underground and would be used by the Israeli Air Force on their U.S.-built F-15 aircraft, the agency said.
Experiments have shown the two-ton bomb capable of penetrating as deep as 30 meters below the ground surface or a six meter-thick cement wall. The laser-guided bomb was originally developed during the first Gulf war, when it was first put in action.
Israel has denied speculation that it might make a military strike on Iran to prevent it from producing an atomic bomb.
In 1981 Israel sent jets to bomb an Iraqi reactor, driving Saddam Hussein's quest for a bomb underground, and fueling speculation now of a similar strike on Iran.
PM: No plans to attack Iran
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in an interview with CNN earlier this month, said his country was not planning any military attack on Iran.
Sharon, in a separate interview with Fox News, said: "Of course we will take all precautions and all the steps to defend ourselves. But it's not for Israel to provide the answer to the international problem" of Iran potentially developing a bomb.
In January, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney warned that Israel could in the future try to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the sale of the GBU-28s would "not affect the basic military balance in the region."
John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World, said the proposed sale was clearly "a provocative step" that would prompt concerns about a unilateral Israel strike, particularly in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East. "One might be suspicious that these bombs could be used for an Israeli attack on Iran," Isaacs said, noting that the bunker-busting bombs in question were nonnuclear, which limited their ability to dig far underground.
"This particular munition is designed to destroy deeply buried high-value assets such as command centers or nuclear weapons facilities," agreed Loren Thompson at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. "Draw your own conclusions."
The success of any such strike on possible Iranian nuclear facilities would depend on the quality of intelligence about the location of such facilities, as well as how far underground such sites were buried, Isaacs said. "It's not a slam-dunk in any way," he added.
Once notified, Congress has 30 days to reject planned foreign military sales but rarely does so.
The Pentagon announced the sale a short time after visits by Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to Washington. This week, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon is visiting the U.S. for the final time prior to his retirement from the military.
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