U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

July 22, 2006
U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis

WASHINGTON, July 21 ‹ 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.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively 
little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure
threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that 
the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that 
could be compared to Iran¹s efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a 
multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to 
draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel¹s request for expedited 
delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by 
some military officers, and as an indication that Israel still had a long list 
of targets in Lebanon to strike.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that she would head to Israel on
Sunday at the beginning of a round of Middle Eastern diplomacy. The original 
plan was to include a stop to Cairo in her travels, but she did not announce any
stops in Arab capitals.

Instead, the meeting of Arab and European envoys planned for Cairo will take 
place in Italy, Western diplomats said. While Arab governments initially 
criticized Hezbollah for starting the fight with Israel in Lebanon, discontent 
is rising in Arab countries over the number of civilian casualties in Lebanon, 
and the governments have become wary of playing host to Ms. Rice until a 
cease-fire package is put together.

To hold the meetings in an Arab capital before a diplomatic solution is reached,
said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel, ³would have 
identified the Arabs as the primary partner of the United States in this project
at a time where Hezbollah is accusing the Arab leaders of providing cover for 
the continuation of Israel¹s military operation.²

The decision to stay away from Arab countries for now is a markedly different 
strategy from the shuttle diplomacy that previous administrations used to 
mediate in the Middle East. ³I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of 
returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante,² Ms. Rice said Friday. ³I 
could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling around, and 
it wouldn¹t have been clear what I was shuttling to do.²

Before Ms. Rice heads to Israel on Sunday, she will join President Bush at the 
White House for discussions on the Middle East crisis with two Saudi envoys, 
Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the 
secretary general of the National Security Council.

The new American arms shipment to Israel has not been announced publicly, and 
the officials who described the administration¹s decision to rush the munitions 
to Israel would discuss it only after being promised anonymity. The officials 
included employees of two government agencies, and one described the shipment as
just one example of a broad array of armaments that the United States has long 
provided Israel.

One American official said the shipment should not be compared to the kind of an
³emergency resupply² of dwindling Israeli stockpiles that was provided during 
the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when an American military airlift helped Israel 
recover from early Arab victories.

David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said: ³We have 
been using precision-guided munitions in order to neutralize the military 
capabilities of Hezbollah and to minimize harm to civilians. As a rule, however,
we do not comment on Israel¹s defense acquisitions.²

Israel¹s need for precision munitions is driven in part by its strategy in 
Lebanon, which includes destroying hardened underground bunkers where Hezbollah 
leaders are said to have taken refuge, as well as missile sites and other 
targets that would be hard to hit without laser and satellite-guided bombs.

Pentagon and military officials declined to describe in detail the size and 
contents of the shipment to Israel, and they would not say whether the munitions
were being shipped by cargo aircraft or some other means. But an arms-sale 
package approved last year provides authority for Israel to purchase from the 
United States as many as 100 GBU-28¹s, which are 5,000-pound laser-guided bombs 
intended to destroy concrete bunkers. The package also provides for selling 
satellite-guided munitions.

An announcement in 2005 that Israel was eligible to buy the ³bunker buster² 
weapons described the GBU-28 as ³a special weapon that was developed for 
penetrating hardened command centers located deep underground.² The document 
added, ³The Israeli Air Force will use these GBU-28¹s on their F-15 aircraft.²

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.

Although Israel had some precision guided bombs in its stockpile when the 
campaign in Lebanon began, the Israelis may not have taken delivery of all the 
weapons they were entitled to under the 2005 sale.

Israel said its air force had dropped 23 tons of explosives Wednesday night 
alone in Beirut, in an effort to penetrate what was believed to be a bunker used
by senior Hezbollah officials.

A senior Israeli official said Friday that the attacks to date had degraded 
Hezbollah¹s military strength by roughly half, but that the campaign could go on
for two more weeks or longer. ³We will stay heavily with the air campaign,² he 
said. ³There¹s no time limit. We will end when we achieve our goals.²

The Bush administration announced Thursday a military equipment sale to Saudi 
Arabia, worth more than $6 billion, a move that may in part have been aimed at 
deflecting inevitable Arab government anger at the decision to supply Israel 
with munitions in the event that effort became public.

On Friday, Bush administration officials laid out their plans for the diplomatic
strategy that Ms. Rice will pursue. In Rome, the United States will try to 
hammer out a diplomatic package that will offer Lebanon incentives under the 
condition that a United Nations resolution, which calls for the disarming of 
Hezbollah, is implemented.

Diplomats will also try to figure out the details around an eventual 
international peacekeeping force, and which countries will contribute to it. 
Germany and Russia have both indicated that they would be willing to contribute 
forces; Ms. Rice said the United States was unlikely to.

Implicit in the eventual diplomatic package is a cease-fire. But a senior 
American official said it remained unclear whether, under such a plan, Hezbollah
would be asked to retreat from southern Lebanon and commit to a cease-fire, or 
whether American diplomats might depend on Israel¹s continued bombardment to 
make Hezbollah¹s acquiescence irrelevant.

Daniel Ayalon, Israel¹s ambassador to Washington, said that Israel would not 
rule out an international force to police the borders of Lebanon and Syria and 
to patrol southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah has had a stronghold. But he said 
that Israel was first determined to take out Hezbollah¹s command and control 
centers and weapons stockpiles.

Thom Shanker contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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