WASHINGTON — A former top adviser to US President Barack Obama is calling on Washington to provide bunker-busting B-52 bombers to Israel as a means of bolstering Israeli deterrence and the credibility of its so-called military option should Iran opt out of commitments codified in Tuesday's deal with world powers.
"To have a credible military option, it's not enough to say all options are on the table. We have to be much more blunt," said Ambassador Dennis Ross, a longtime diplomat and former special adviser to Obama on Iran.
In an interview Thursday, Ross said he favors the transfer of an unspecified quantity of B-52 Stratofortress bombers outfitted to deliver 30,000-pound GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrators as one of the means of shoring up deterrence vis a vis Iran.
"Deterrence becomes a very important question as we move toward implementation," Ross told Defense News of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed July 14 in Vienna.
"The life of the deal in terms of threshold status is for 15 years, after which it legitimizes Iran as a nuclear threshold state ... So sometime before year 15, the Israelis should have this capability," he said.
He noted that in the nearer term, Israeli pilots could start training in the United States and working jointly toward receipt of the new capabilities.
Ross' remarks were the first time he or any other member of Obama's inner circle publicly endorsed an idea bandied about for years as a means of fortifying Israel's legally mandated Qualitative Military Edge (QME).
Language proposing delivery of aerial refueling tankers and bunker-buster munitions to Israel was included in the US-Israel enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012.
In April 2014, Michael Makovsky, president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and David Deptula, a retired US Air Force three-star general, penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal titled "Sending a Bunker Buster Message to Iran."
In it, they noted Obama had "already taken one potential source of leverage off the table by promising to veto legislation that threatens tighter economic sanctions on Iran." They called for transfer of "several B-52 bombers" as delivery vehicles for MOP weaponry capable of striking hardened targets deeply buried in Iran.
But neither then, nor now, has Israel publicly proposed or promoted the notion of acquiring B-52s.
"Intuitively, I don't believe this is the right answer or even relevant to the Israel Air Force. It's like buying a pair of shoes many sizes too large," said Giora Romm, a retired Israel Air Force (IAF) major general and former deputy commander.
In a Thursday interview, Romm said the IAF would have to build new runways to operate the B-52 and establish an entirely new concept of operations and training that would be enormously expensive and of limited operational value.
"We certainly don't have the infrastructure to operate the B-52, let alone the support capability to try to get around its huge radar cross section," Romm added.
Retired IAF Maj. Gen. Eitan Ben-Eliahu, a former commander of the IAF, said the B-52s could easily be downed by Russian S300s to be deployed in Iran. In an interview today, Ben-Eliahu said introduction of the B-52s would trigger a whole different level of conventional arms race in the region and prompt Russia to sell "10 times more S300s to Iran. And by the way, they'd be justified in doing so."
Instead of introducing a red flag bomber capability into the region, Ben-Eliahu said the IAF would benefit from US assistance in fleshing out existing or planned attack inventories and the wherewithal to complete procurement of its planned multi-layered active defense network with accelerated funding for Upper-Tier Arrow-3, the new David's Sling weapon system and more Iron Dome batteries.
"I can understand where the Americans are coming from with this in terms of providing us long-range and carrying capacity. But this is something that requires careful conceptual analysis. Why risk the ramifications of something so provocative as a bomber?
"And if the conclusion is that it's worth the risk, why 60-year-old B-52s? Why not B-2s? At least with this stealth capability, we'd have something to talk about in terms of all the enormous changes required to integrate such a new capability."
In an interview Thursday, Deptula said the US "would never sell the B-2 to anybody. It's our premier, long-range, low-observable attack system." He noted however, that at some point in the future — particularly once the US Air Force acquires the planned long-range strike bomber (LRS-B), that could change.
"Supplying our friends in the IAF with the capability of conducting long-range, high capacity strikes is one way to ameliorate some of the concerns surrounding options that need to be on the table," said Deptula, the former US Air Force joint air component commander and deputy chief of staff for ISR who is now dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies, a non-profit research institute associated with the US Air Force Association.