Former US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told Israeli officials during a visit to Israel last October 2020 that the Trump administration secretly approved selling F-22 stealth fighters to the Jewish state, according to a report in a Saudi-owned newspaper.
Former US President Donald Trump okayed the sale of the F-22 Raptor and precision-guided bombs to Israel, the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported, citing senior sources in Tel Aviv.
Such a sale would first require the US Congress to overturn a current law barring Washington from exporting the advanced fighter jets. The House of Representatives passed the law in 1998 over concerns that the nigh-unparalleled stealth technology in the F-22 could fall into the hands of Russia or China if the aircraft were sold abroad, including to Israel.
Israel Expressed Interest In F-22 Since Clinton Administration
Israeli defense officials asked to buy the F-22 — one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets — to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region after the US agreed to sell F-35 fighters to the United Arab Emirates, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
Israel had previously expressed interest in buying the F-22, but the US declined. The US halted production of the fighter in 2011 and legally barred its sale to foreign countries.
Trump would not be the first American president to recommend selling the F-22 to Israel. In 2001, at the end of his second term, then-president Bill Clinton similarly came out in favor of providing Israel with the aircraft, but left the decision ultimately in the hands of his successor, George W. Bush, and Congress.
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have met three times in just over a month, including Esper’s visit to Tel Aviv on Thursday. Esper also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi during the trip.
“They discussed the imperative to maintain regional security and stability and to confront Iran,” Gantz’s office said.
A source familiar with the meeting who requested anonymity told AFP that Gantz and Esper built on the discussions held in Washington last week on “making progress toward upgrading Israel’s qualitative military edge” following “developments in the region.”
In late September 2020, Gantz traveled to Washington for high-level meetings with Esper and other American defense officials on ways to offset the damage to Israel’s military edge by the proposed sale of the state-of-the-art, fifth-generation aircraft to the UAE.
Esper and Gantz signed an agreement in Washington last week that reaffirmed American commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, the technical term for military superiority in the Middle East, in light of the proposed sale of American F-35 stealth fighter jets to the UAE.
Though the US has agreed generally to maintain Israeli military supremacy in the region, no deals have yet been signed for specific weapon systems or defense programs. These will likely focus on the sale of additional fighter jets, helicopters and air defense systems to Israel, a senior defense official familiar with the negotiations told reporters last week.
The previous U.S. Administration updated Congress on its intent to sell F-35s to the UAE.
The informal notification to the House Foreign Affairs Committee revealed that the White House plans to sell as many as 50 units of the Lockheed Martin-made jets for roughly $10.4 billion, a senior congressional staffer told The Times of Israel. Israel has ordered the same number of F-35s from the US, though not all of them have been delivered yet.
Reports of the US intention to sell the aircraft to the UAE began days after Abu Dhabi agreed to normalize ties with Israel following negotiations brokered by the White House.
US and Israeli officials have asserted the F-35 sale was not directly tied to normalization, but White House officials have acknowledged that the peace deal signed last month placed the UAE in a better position to purchase the advanced aircraft, which only Israel has in the Middle East.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially voiced opposition to the sale, but eventually reversed his position, issuing a statement saying Israel would not oppose US plans to provide “certain weapon systems” to the UAE.
Asked to comment on the Congressional notification, Netanyahu told reporters Thursday that it followed extensive talks between the US and Israel during which Jerusalem received “more than just security” in the assurances from the US that its military superiority in the region would be maintained.
“We are facing a joint threat,” he said, apparently suggesting that the US could sell such weapons to the UAE with Israel’s blessing, given their common enemy of Iran.
The proposed sale of the F-35 to Abu Dhabi has become a hot-button issue in Israel in light of allegations that Netanyahu had told the United States that Jerusalem would not oppose such a move as part of a normalization agreement with the UAE brokered by the White House. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied that the F-35 sale was part of the deal with the Emiratis.
Gantz has publicly accused Netanyahu of holding negotiations regarding the sale of advanced weapons by the US to countries in the region behind the back of the Defense Ministry.
The F-22 Raptor solves few problems, confidentiality of the mission i.e. stealth, DEAD and combat range
A critical advantage of the F-22 has over the F-35’s for Israel is combat range, F-22 Raptor can fly further than F-35 using just the internal fuel tanks so that that they can be in stealth mode.
The F-22 has a range of 1,839 miles using just its internal fuel. Without external fuel tanks, the F-35 only has a range of just 1,367 miles.
The shortest flying distance between Iran and Israel is 762 miles.
An F-35 could not make the distance and return without external fuel tanks or refueling in mid-air. The F-22 however could make the trip without using drop tank. The F-22 would give the Israelis almost 250 more miles radius to take care of business over Iran.
Now Iran is a big country and as per the picture above, worthy targets are located some distance from its western most border. Logic would suggest that Israel uses F-22’s with external fuel tanks but drop them say 2/3s of the way to Iran and resume stealth mode. This will hopefully give them enough range to cover much of Iran.
The F-22s could for instance knock out critical air defenses throughout Iran allowing the F-15, which have almost 3,000 miles range, to do the heavy lifting in, for instance, taking out nuclear installations.
Iran’s Underground Nuclear Facility
Inspectors from the U.N.’s atomic watchdog have confirmed Iran has started building an underground centrifuge assembly plant after its previous one exploded in what Tehran called a sabotage attack over the summer, the agency’s head told The Associated Press.
Iran also continues to stockpile greater amounts of low-enriched uranium, but does not appear to possess enough to produce a weapon, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the AP in an interview in Berlin.
Following the July explosion at the Natanz nuclear site, Tehran said it would build a new, more secure, structure in the mountains around the area. Satellite pictures of Natanz analyzed by experts have yet to show any obvious signs of excavation at the site in Iran’s central Isfahan province.
Mind you, it still doesn’t solve another related issue. In order to really take out nuclear installations very deep underground.
To solve this problem, Israel needs big penetrating bomb such as the 30,000lb (13.6 tonne) GPS-guided Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) and the means to deliver it.
Here Comes The Bunker Busters
US legislators launched a bipartisan effort this week to promote the sale of bunker-buster bombs to Israel.
The proposed bill would require the US Department of Defense to consider the sale of 30,000lb (13.6 tonne) bombs capable of piercing heavily fortified underground facilities.
The proposal comes as Washington proposes to secure Israel’s continued military advantage in the Middle East amid talk of the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates. Israel is currently the only state in the region to have acquired the stealth jet.
“We must ensure our ally Israel is equipped and prepared to confront a full range of threats, including the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran,” Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer said in a statement.
Gottheimer is a co-sponsor of the bill, officially termed the US-Israel Common Defense Authorisation Act, alongside Republican lawmaker Brian Mast.
“Iran and its terrorist proxies throughout the region must never be able to threaten the US or Israel with a nuclear weapon. Truly, there should be nothing partisan about our national security, nor our relationship with our ally Israel,” Gottheimer said.
Selling bunker-busting munitions to Israel would enable the US ally to “take out Iran’s underground nuclear infrastructure”, he added.
The announcement of the bill came as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said Iran had begun construction on an underground nuclear facility.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Tehran was rebuilding an underground centrifuge assembly plant in Natanz, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The previous centrifuge was destroyed earlier this year in what Iran describes as a sabotage attack.
Both Israel and the U.S. administration fiercely oppose Iran developing nuclear capabilities.
“Congressman Gottheimer and I have worked together successfully in the past to pass the US-Israel Joint Missile Defense Act, and I’m confident that this bill will be another great bipartisan step toward preventing Iranian aggression against Israel and the United States,” Congressman Mast said in a statement shared by Gottheimer.
The GPS-guided Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) bombs are reportedly able to penetrate up to 200 feet of earth and 60 feet of concrete.
The 30,000lb munition is six times as heavy as the largest bunker-busting bomb Washington is known to have previously sold to Israel.
MOP bombs are designed to be deployed by a B-2 bomber, which Israel does not currently possess. However, Israel has F-15 air superiority fighter that can be modified to carry such weapons. Israel is also known to modify American weapons to suit its operational requirements.
Washington has promised to retain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” following a trio of normalisation agreements between Israel and Arab nations.
The decades-long principle of ensuring Israel remains the best-armed in the Middle East was enshrined into law in 2008.
The Israeli version of the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) is what Israel calls its “strategic aircraft.” Officially, it can only carry about half the payload (18,000 pounds) it would need to haul a 30,000 pound GBU-57. However the Strike Eagle is cited as having an 81,000 pound maximum takeoff weight and a 31,700 pound empty weight by the U.S. Air Force. That’s 49,000-plus pounds to play with potentially. Mounting a GBU-57 on the F-15’s centerline would present dimensional difficulties but as noted, the IAF has pulled off the “impossible” before.
In short, combination of F-15I and F-22 Raptor or F-35I with drop tanks whichever fighter jets Israel opt in to use against Iran, it certainly can destroy Iran’s underground Nuclear facility.
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