IAF F-15s refueling midflight 390 (R).
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
New smart bombs with extended ranges and greater penetration as well as landing
rights on aircraft carriers are just some of the requests that would appear on
an Israeli military wish list – if one was presented to the Obama administration
as a method to ensure Israel’s success in a potential attack against
While US President Barack Obama voiced clear opposition earlier
this week to such a strike, Israel has been noncommittal.
Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC comparing Iran’s nuclear facilities to
Auschwitz leaves little doubt about Israel’s seriousness when it comes to the
And while the question of whether Israel can go at it
alone against Iran remains up in the air, it would likely request some specific
assistance from the US ahead of a strike, in order to make one – if it is
launched – more effective.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz will
head to the US in late March – and if he had to present a wish list to the
Pentagon, it might look something like this: Currently, one of the primary
pitfalls of Israel’s strike plan is its midair refueling capability, based on a
small fleet of Boeing 707 aircraft. The last 707 arrived in Israel in early 2011
and while the official size of the fleet is classified, various reports have
placed it at around nine.
Due to the distance the Israel Air Force’s F-15
and F-16 fighter jets would need to fly to attack Iran, the need for midair
refueling is critical, particularly when considering the possibility that the
planes will be engaged by Iranian interceptors or air defense systems, and will
need to burn fuel to outmaneuver them.
If the US loaned or quickly sold a
few tankers to Israel, that could increase Israel’s ability to reach Iran and
carry out the number of sorties required to do the necessary damage to its
The second gap is in Israel’s arsenal of bunker
buster weapons. The IAF has a relatively significant stockpile of GBU- 28s that
are said to be capable of penetrating either 30 meters of earth or over 6 meters
of reinforced concrete before detonating its warhead. Israel is also believed to
have developed some of its own penetrator bombs, but only a few were
manufactured in recent years due to high costs.
Israel has, however,
closely followed Boeing’s development of the GBU-43/B – nicknamed the “Mother of
all Bombs” (MOAB) – as well as the more recent disclosure of the GBU-57A/B,
better known as the “Massive Ordnance Penetrator” (MOP).
While the MOAB
is not specifically designed to penetrate hardened targets, it would make the
destruction of above surface targets easier, since it can be done in one sortie
with a C-130 Hercules.
The MOP, however, was specially developed to
eliminate underground and fortified targets in North Korea and Iran and is said
to be able to penetrate around 60 meters.
As far as other weapons, Israel
could potentially ask for additional Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kits,
particularly the JDAM-ER with its extended range.
This kit, which is
installed on bombs like regular JDAMs, comes with an additional set of wings
that extends the bombing range from about 30 km. to close to 100, endowing
aircraft with the capability to attack Iranian facilities from a greater
standoff position – possibly even out of range of Iran’s surfaceto- air missile
The third request that Israel could potentially ask of the US
would be to station search-and-rescue teams – possibly from the IAF’s 669 Unit –
aboard aircraft carriers that the US Navy has stationed in the Persian Gulf, or
alternatively on bases it maintains nearby. This would help Israel tremendously
should it need to launch a rescue mission to retrieve a downed pilot.
to the possibility of mechanical malfunctions in such a complicated mission, the
ability to land, repair, refuel and rearm its aircraft in bases near Iran could
also be something Israel would request.
But why would Obama agree to any
of this? This would depend on the timing of Israel’s request. While the
president currently appears to be opposed to military force, he did stress at
AIPAC that Israel has the right to act in self defense and to do what it feels
it needs to do as a sovereign state.
In addition, if Israel informed the
president that it had decided to attack and there was no alternative, it would
ultimately be in the US’s interest to ensure Israel succeeds, and that the
damage it causes be surgical but also extensive. All of the capabilities
enumerated above would increase the likelihood of this occurring.