Obama OK'd sale of bunker-busters to Israel in 2009

You know who’s going to be angriest about Eli Lake’s scoop for The Daily Beast and Newsweek?  David Weprin:

While publicly pressuring Israel to make deeper concessions to thePalestiniansPresident Obama has secretly authorized significant new aid to the Israeli military that includes the sale of 55 deep-penetrating bombs known as bunker busters, Newsweek has learned.

In an exclusive story to be published Monday on growing military cooperation between the two allies, U.S. and Israeli officials tell Newsweek that the GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators—potentially useful in any future military strike against Iranian nuclear sites—were delivered to Israel in 2009, just several months after Obama took office.

The military sale was arranged behind the scenes as Obama’s demands for Israel to stop building settlements in disputed territories were fraying political relations between the two countries in public.

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.

This is a significant level of support for the Israelis, and obviously an improvement in one area over Bush, as Eli notes [see update below].  The bunker busters would come in handy when attacking Hamas in Gaza, for instance, or more likely Hezbollah in Lebanon.  The Israelis had developed their own bunker-busting technology, but the American bombs were cheaper for the Israelis to procure — and the sale sent a strong, if covert, message of support for the missions that would most likely utilize them.

The question is why this leaked now.  Reading the teaser at TDB — Monday’s Newsweek article will have more detail, as well as more news on covert military assistance from the Obama administration — someone obviously wanted this to get out.  Why not leak it two weeks ago, when it could have helped Weprin with Jewish voters in NY-09?  For that matter, why not leak it a few months ago in order to pressure the Palestinians out of their attempt to declare statehood with a reminder of what that might mean?  If I had to hazard a guess about Israeli motives, that message might be the intent after the Palestinians rejected Obama’s entreaties, but I’m not sure why the unnamed US officials waited until now to start leaking it.  Maybe the White House really didn’t realize how badly they had damaged their relationship with Jewish voters until the NY-09 election.

Update: Our colleague J.E. Dyer points out that the Bush administration did sell a limited amount to the Israelis:

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.

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.

The new deal allowed for a larger volume to be purchased, it appears, than what the Bush administration approved, but they didn’t rebuff the Israelis.  Thanks to JE and Guy H for pointing it out.