US ‘improved bunker buster bomb’ as Iran talks progressed

Tests of upgraded weapon to strike nuclear facilities took place in January; US now confident final deal will be done; Germany tells Israel to think again

A Massive Ordnance Penetrator is off-loaded at a US defense facility (Photo credit: US Government/Public Domain)
A Massive Ordnance Penetrator is off-loaded at a US defense facility (Photo credit: US Government/Public Domain)

As Washington conducted vigorous negotiations with Tehran for a framework agreement over its nuclear program, the US was also working on improving its biggest bunker buster bombs in case they were needed for strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday night.

According to the report, Pentagon officials had ordered a redesign of the 30,000-pound (13,608 Kg) Massive Ordnance Penetrator in 2013 due to concerns it was not powerful enough to penetrate some of Iran’s more fortified facilities. Testing of the new weapon, which sports an improved guidance system in addition to the upgraded firepower, was being conducted as recently as January of this year.

An attack would likely call for at least two MOPs to be dropped onto a target site in quick succession in order to penetrate and destroy it. The new guidance systems would prevent the enemy from jamming the bombs’ signals and knocking them off course.

US officials were reportedly now confident that the weapon, if need be, could successfully be used against Iranian and North Korean facilities. The report called the MOP one of the most destructive conventional weapons in the US arsenal. Improvements to the bomb, however, were ongoing.

A B-52 releases a test version of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator in 2009 (Photo credit: Public Domain/US Government)
A B-52 releases a test version of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator in 2009 (Photo credit: Public Domain/US Government)

“The Pentagon continues to be focused on being able to provide military options for Iran if needed,” a senior US official told the WSJ. “We have not taken our eyes off the ball.”

Still, US officials noted that even a massive, destructive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could only set Tehran back a few years at the most.

“You can destroy hardware. But if you have the human capital, programs can be rebuilt,” a senior military official told the paper.

The Pentagon refused to comment on the report, with a spokesman saying only that “The United States military prepares for a broad range of potential threats to include developing munitions designed to address deeply buried and hardened facilities.”

After agreeing with Iran Thursday on the groundwork for a nuclear deal to be reached by June 30, the White House expressed confidence on Friday night that a final nuclear agreement would be attained in the coming months.

“We feel good,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, according to Reuters. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but we are confident we can get those details in place.”

German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier on Friday sought to assure Israeli leaders concerned about the deal that it would improve Israel’s security.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem has described the accord as a “dangerous capitulation” to Iran, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charging that the deal threatens Israel’s survival. The PM has argued that it does not have the necessary safeguards and will pave the way to a nuclear Iran.

“We ask the Israeli government to look more closely at the agreement,” Steinmeier said, according to Reuters. “Its main points are intended to guarantee that security in the Middle East…will improve, and not get worse.”

The German diplomat warned however that it was too early in the process to celebrate.

“We can be satisfied, but I hope equally that we can expect that Iran will stick to the main agreements,” he said.

US President Barack Obama called leaders of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain Friday to discuss the deal reached Thursday between Tehran and the P5+1 world powers in Switzerland. The president also invited the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for a spring conference to discuss the deal, the White House said.

“The months ahead will be used to finalize the technical details for a lasting, comprehensive solution that verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama told King Hamad al Khalifa of Bahrain, Amir Sabah al Sabah of Kuwait, Amir Tamim al Thani of Qatar, and Crown Prince Mohammed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates separately in Friday.

US President Barack Obama, November 13, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Christophe Archambault)
US President Barack Obama, November 13, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Christophe Archambault)

The president “reiterated the United States’ enduring commitment to work with partners to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” according to a statement released by the White House Friday.

The majority-Sunni states in the region, including Saudi Arabia, have watched warily as Iran’ influence in the region has spread and each voiced considerable opposition — similar to Israel’s — to a deal that would not permanently prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia cautiously welcomed the deal that would see sanctions on Iran snap back into place should any violation occur.

On Thursday, hours after the political framework was announced, Obama called Netanyahu, who has been fiercely opposed to a bad deal with Iran.

“The president would never sign onto a deal that he felt was a threat to the state of Israel,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz in a briefing to reporters Friday.

In comments Friday, Netanyahu said any final agreement must “include a clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”

“A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel. Just two days ago, Iran said that “the destruction of Israel is nonnegotiable,” and in these fateful days Iran is accelerating the arming of its terror proxies to attack Israel. This deal would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, bolster Iran’s economy, and increase Iran’s aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond,” Netanyahu told Obama during the call.

“Such a deal would not block Iran’s path to the bomb. It would pave it. It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war. The alternative is standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved,” he added.

Obama, calling from aboard Air Force One, said the deal “represents significant progress towards a lasting, comprehensive solution that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb and verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward,” according to a read-out released by the White House.

Obama said the deal “in no way diminishes our concerns with respect to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and threats towards Israel and emphasized that the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel,” the White House said.

The US president told Netanyahu that he instructed his security team to “increase consultations with the new Israeli government about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and remain vigilant in countering Iran’s threats.”

AP contributed to this report.

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