If the IDF were to present the Pentagon with a wish list to ensure a military attack against Iran’s nuclear program succeeds, this is what it might ask for
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 way to ensure that Israel succeeds in a potential attack against Iran.
While US President Barack Obama voiced clear opposition earlier this week to such a strike, Israel has been noncommittal. Prime Minister 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 military option.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 United States 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 main pitfalls of Israel’s strike plan is in its mid-air 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 Air Force’s F-15 and F-16 fighter jets would need to fly to attack Iran, the need for mid-air refueling is critical, particularly 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 Israel or quickly sold it a few tankers, that could increase Israel’s ability to reach Iran and carry out the required number of sorties needed to do the necessary damage to its nuclear facilities.
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 six meters of reinforced concrete before detonating its warhead. Israel is also believed to have developed some of its own penetrators, which it has manufactured only a small amount of in recent years due to the high costs.
Israel has, however, closely followed Boeing’s development of the GBU-43 nicknamed the “Mother of all Bombs” (MOAB) as well as the more recent disclosure of the GBU-57, better known as the “Massive Ordnance Penetrator” (MOP).While the MOAB is not specifically designated to penetrate hardened targets, it would make the destruction of targets above surface easier since it can be done in one sortie with a C-130 Hercules. The MOP though, 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.
In other weapons, Israel could potentially ask for additional Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kits and particularly ones with an extended range called the JDAM-ER.
This kit, which is installed on bombs like regular JDAMs, comes with an additional set of wings which extends the bombs range from about 30 km to close to 100 km, meaning that aircraft would be able to attack Iranian facilities from a greater standoff position and possibly even out of range of Iran’s surface-to-air missile systems.
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 the US Navy has stationed in the Persian Gulf or alternatively in bases it maintains nearby. This would help Israel tremendously if it needed to launch a rescue mission to retrieve a downed pilot.
Due 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 ask for.
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 that there was no alternative, it would ultimately be in the US’s interest that Israel succeeds and that the damage it causes be surgical but also extensive. All of these different capabilities would increase the chances.