NYT: Israel got first GBU-28 bunker busters in 2006 *UPDATE*

Competing narratives.

It’s hard to figure out what Eli Lake is talking about in his “scoop” today for the Daily Beast (and Newsweek).  (H/t:  Ed Morrissey.)  Lake writes the following:

The Israelis first requested the bunker busters in 2005, only to be rebuffed by the Bush administration. At the time, the Pentagon had frozen almost all U.S.-Israeli joint defense projects out of concern that Israel was transferring advanced military technology to China.

In 2007, Bush informed Ehud Olmert, then prime minister, that he would order the bunker busters for delivery in 2009 or 2010. The Israelis wanted them in 2007. Obama finally released the weapons in 2009, according to officials familiar with the still-secret decision.

[See below]

This passage is virtually verbatim from a Jerusalem Post report from September 2010, which cited (but did not directly quote) Newsweek:

Israel first put in a request for the bunker busters in 2005, but it was rebuffed by the Bush administration.

In 2007, Bush informed former prime minister Ehud Olmert that he would order the bunker busters for delivery in 2009 or 2010, according to the magazine.

**UPDATE** The link above is to a Jerusalem Post report from 23 September 2011, which is apparently quoting Eli Lake’s report rather than vice-versa.  A fellow blogger notified me of the discrepancy, and I have determined that I presented the link in the above context in error.  My apologies for that.  For reporting integrity, I will leave the original as-is with this correction included.  The NYT, UK Telegraph, and World Tribune reporting linked below remain unchanged and indicate that the first delivery of GBU-28s to Israel occurred in 2006.

But according to the New York Times (among other sources), the first GBU-28s were delivered to Israel in 2006:

The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday. ….

An announcement in 2005 that Israel was eligible to buy the “bunker buster” weapons described the GBU-28 as “a special weapon that was developed for penetrating hardened command centers located deep underground.” The document added, “The Israeli Air Force will use these GBU-28’s on their F-15 aircraft.”

American officials said that once a weapons purchase is approved, it is up to the buyer nation to set up a timetable. But one American official said normal procedures usually do not include rushing deliveries within days of a request. That was done because Israel is a close ally in the midst of hostilities, the official said.

Numerous other media sources discussed the GBU-28 sale at the time it was being negotiated and approved. (See here, here, and here to get you started.)  The Pentagon proposed the sale to Congress in 2005, with – quite obviously – the full approval of the White House.  Media reported on some of the original deliveries in 2006, which went through Scotland’s Prestwick Airport in July of that year.

There was a January 2009 report of the Bush administration rebuffing a bunker-buster sale to Israel, but the GBU-28 sale was already concluded and underway.  The Bush administration was reluctant, in 2008, to sell Israel another weapon, the GBU-39 small-diameter penetrator.  But as Haaretz reported in September 2008, the Bush administration did eventually decide to sell Israel the GBU-39 (readable summary on the GBU-39 here; DOD notice of proposal for foreign military sale here).  Haaretz’s reference to initial reluctance and delay on the sale appears to accord with the January 2009 report that the Bush administration had denied a bunker-buster sale to Israel in the previous year.

There are two heavyweight US bunker-busters often discussed by the public as bombs that Israel ought to have: the GBU-43, the 21,000-pounder (18,000 pounds of explosive) known as the “Mother of All Bombs,” or MOAB, and the MOP – Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or GBU-57 – which weighs in at 30,000 pounds.  Israel doesn’t have delivery platforms for these enormous warheads, however.  In the US Air Force, only the B-2 and B-52 can deliver them.  They would not figure in arms-sale dramas with Israel.

(For comparison, the GBU-28 has a 5000-lb warhead, and the GBU-39 a 250-pound one.  Both bombs can be delivered by tactical strike-fighters; e.g., F-15, F-16, F/A-18.  A key advantage of the GBU-39 is that four of them can be carried in place of one 2000-lb bomb, allowing the servicing of multiple aimpoints with a penetrating weapon, or the sequenced servicing of one, on a single bombing mission.)

Has Mr. Lake misstated the defense nomenclature for what Obama “approved” for sale to Israel in 2009?  Did Obama approve the sale of a new weapon, beyond the GBU-28 and the GBU-39?  Or did he merely allow more GBU-28s to be delivered to Israel?  If it was the latter, the implication that Bush had blocked the sale or delivery of those weapons between 2005 and 2009, and that no GBU-28s were delivered until 2009, is contradicted by the evidence of earlier reporting.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.


15 thoughts on “NYT: Israel got first GBU-28 bunker busters in 2006 *UPDATE*”

  1. Wonderful discussion on these wonderful weapons.
    Could you please, for our delectation, give us a description of the anatomical effects of what these wonderful weapons do when dropped on a family.

    I understand that we gave these things to the Israelis to encourage them to shut up and go away and stop messing up our diplomatic attempts to get some sort of co-operation from the Arab Middle east in our efforts to extricate ourselves from the Iraq disaster.

    1. “Could you please, for our delectation, give us a description of the anatomical effects of what these wonderful weapons do when dropped on a family”

      About the same ‘anatomical’ effect as a suicide bomber blowing up Israeli civilians.

      1. Exactly. And, for what it is worth, more or less what happens when white phosphoros and cluster-weapons are used against Palestinian kids. Only the latter happens 10 times as ofter. In fact, you can google white phosphoros and see for yourself.

        People who talk about weaponary as if they were talking about a flash new sports-car deserve our disgust.

        1. The effects of white phosphorus are nothing like the effects of a high explosive. That comparison is invalid.

  2. Yeah, I know. I tried to be as measured as possible and stick to facts. I’ve got nothing against him and have always considered him a quality journalist.

    It made no sense, however, for his piece to be written as if there were no history on the sale and delivery of GBU-28s and GBU-39s to Israel. The history is out there from multiple news organizations with multiple sources. It needs to be aired and answered, given the tenor of the piece’s implications about the Bush versus Obama administration.

  3. Lake is usually pretty careful about matters of fact…..and that NYT’s story doesn’t indicate that the bombs were delivered.

    Do you have something that speaks to when they were delivered? Did they, in fact, get there in 2007 or before?

    Couple of months back, Israel fed and the Washington Post published a dandy little map of Lebanon that was chock-full of dots indicating Hezbollah tunnels and storage positions…You think that might indicate that Israel gotten big bunches of bunker-busters or maybe is producing their own?

  4. Did you visit all the links, fuster? Besides the World Tribune article corroborating the accelerated delivery in July 2006, the UK Telegraph reported on an air shipment of GBU-28s to Israel routed through Scotland in July 2006.

    World Tribune reported again in September 2006 that GBU-28s had been airlifted to Israel:


    I don’t think Lake intended to mislead anyone. This history is out there, however, and a lot of people have been referring to it in the last 5 years, including think-tank analysts doing studies of how Israel or the US would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Eliding the whole history doesn’t compute.

    I don’t think Israel’s map of Hezbollah’s arms caches means that the Israelis have gotten bunches of bunker-busters or are developing their own. I’m satisfied that the US has shipped GBU-28s to Israel, based on reporting in 2006 and 2009 (the 2009 deliveries were reported as well). There have been rumors that Israel is developing a bunker-buster, which is certainly possible. A key issue Israel would have is where to live-test it. Testing one anywhere in Israel would attract all kinds of attention. The Nevada desert would be one possible option, and we probably wouldn’t hear about it if that had occurred.

  5. Silly OC.. Trying to introduce facts and something other than an extravagantly inaccurate moral compass into a discussion about Israel (?!?!) of all subjects

    1. Well, it’s something to do. I had forgotten in the years since 2006 that fringe groups leaped on the GBU-28 delivery at the time to claim that GBU-28s with the warheads encased in depleted uranium were being used on Lebanon by the IAF. Their claims got a lot of play in the MSM and normal-people blogosphere. In Ireland, a group of loonies attacked a Raytheon facility because Raytheon is one of the chief manufacturers of the GBU-28. (Called the “Raytheon 9”.)

      The GBU-28 is not, however, a depleted uranium munition (only direct-fire weapons have incorporated depleted uranium).

      An Israeli disarmament group issued a statement against the delivery when the GBU-28s arrived in Israel.

      I had also forgotten a spate of reporting in early 2010 that Obama had placed an embargo on deliveries of weapons to Israel. I referenced the reports (without endorsing them) in a piece for Commentary at the time. GBU-28s were reportedly in the list of items he was not allowing delivery of. I don’t know if that was true or not — there were definitely some other weapon systems on which delivery was delayed in the 2009-10 timeframe — and wouldn’t try to reopen that argument in the absence of new evidence.

      But all of this stuff is readily accessible with one or two online searches. There is way too much history on prior deliveries of the GBU-28 to simply ignore it.

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