It’s likely no final deal to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program will be reached by July. At that point, we can expect that the administration will say progress is being made and plead with Congress not to take any action. At that point, there will be much discussion over the assertion by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) that by the end of the six-month period designated in the interim deal (July, that is), it will be too late to restart sanctions. Menendez warned in February on the Senate floor:
New sanctions are not a spigot that can be turned off-and-on as has been suggested.
Even if Congress were to take-up and pass new sanctions at the moment of Iran’s first breach of the Joint Plan of Action — or if they do not reach an agreement that is acceptable there is a lag time of at least 6 months to bring those sanctions on line — and at least a year for the real impact to be felt.
Now, that’s been our history here. I’ve authored most of these. They need a lead time and give countries and companies the time to notice as to what is going to be sanctioned so they can rearrange their engagements and then you have to have the regulations to go through and then you have to have the enforcements take place.
This would bring us beyond the very short-time Iran would need to build a nuclear bomb, especially since the interim agreement does not require them neither to dismantle anything, and basically freezes their capability as it stands today.
So let everyone understand — if there is no deal I don’t think we are going to have the time to impose new sanctions before Iran can produce a nuclear weapon.
Even if the Senate were to discount the administration’s admonitions, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that passage of additional sanctions alone in July would be too little too late. We are fast approaching the point where force or at the very least a credible threat of force will be the only thing standing in the way of a nuclear-threshold state in Iran. What then could the Senate do?
It could pass an authorization for use of force, but few believe that this president would ever act on it. It could reiterate its support for Israel in the event that country uses military force. But there is a more specific way of ratcheting up the pressure. Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the retired former chief of Air Force intelligence and air campaign planner for Operations Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom, and Michael Makovsky, CEO of JINSA and a former Pentagon official, write:
Israel has 2,000- and 5,000-pound bunker-buster bombs, some of which were delivered by the Obama administration. Iranian planners, however, might hope that these will prove insufficient to do major damage. The U.S. should remove such doubt by providing Israel with the capability to reach and destroy Iran’s most deeply buried nuclear sites. The U.S. could do this by providing an appropriate number of GBU-57 30,000-pound bunker-buster bombs, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator or MOP, and several B-52 bombers.
The Pentagon has developed the MOP bomb specifically for destroying hardened targets. It can penetrate as deeply as 200 feet underground before detonating, more than enough capability to do significant damage to Iran’s nuclear program. There are no legal or policy limitations on selling MOPs to Israel, and with an operational stockpile at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, the U.S. has enough in its arsenal to share.
Israel, however, also lacks the aircraft to carry the MOP. Which means the U.S. would need to provide planes capable of carrying such a heavy payload. Only two can do so: the B-52 and the stealth B-2.
The U.S. has only 20 B-2s and would not share such a core component of nuclear deterrence. Nor is the Pentagon willing to part with active B-52s. Of the 744 built since 1955, all but roughly 80 have been decommissioned, sent to the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, and, in compliance with arms-control-treaty obligations, mostly rendered inoperable. With plans for a new long-range bomber delayed by defense-spending cuts and sequestration, current plans call for keeping the active duty B-52s in service for at least another 20 years.
But there are more than a dozen of the relatively “newest” B-52H bombers—built in the early 1960s—in storage. Some of these should be delivered to Israel. There’s no legal or policy impediments to their transfer; they would just have to be refurbished and retrofitted to carry the MOP.
By transferring to Israel MOPs and B-52Hs the administration would send a signal that its ally, which already has the will, now has the ability to prevent a nuclear Iran. Once they are delivered — ideally as the current six-month interim deal is set to expire in July — Iran will be put on notice that its nuclear program will come to an end, one way or another.
There will no doubt be voices on the left and right that would buy administration assurances that we are on a cusp of a deal. There would be Republican isolationists who inveigh against any military option and consider the supply of Israel with weapons of the sort described here as too “provocative.” But there is already support for the idea.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in February argued: “At a very minimum we should be making available bunker busters to Israel. That if Israel is going to be forced to defend itself, it should have the tools to effectively eliminate this program.” Cruz said that a “responsible president would stand up and say unequivocally, in terms that allow no confusion, ‘Under no circumstances will the nation of Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapon capability, and they will either halt now or we will use every step necessary including direct military force to stop them. . . . [But] that leadership is desperately needed, and right now that leadership is not there.” Last week Cruz’s office confirmed to Right Turn that it was still his view that if military action would be needed, the commander in chief would be ready to use American force, but that he is well aware this president is unlikely to do so.
We are quickly running out of options to halt Iran’s attainment of a nuclear weapons capability. In wasting years trying to “engage” Iran, then attempting to stall sanctions and recently rolling them back for virtually no tangible gain — all the while continually talking down the military threat — the president and his secretaries of state have systematically foiled our best options for peacefully dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons threat. Supplying Israel with bunker busters may be one of the few moves left to get the Iranians’ attention. And if that still fails and the president refuses to assume the responsibility as leader of the Free World, it will be up to Israel to act on behalf of the West.
UPDATE: The exchange between Menendez and Kerry today is illustrative of the concern in the Senate that we’ll be without leverage at the end of the talks. Interestingly, Kerry does flat out concede that any deal would need to past muster with Congress.