By Boris Volkhonsky
On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pentagon war planners have concluded that their largest conventional bomb isn’t yet capable of destroying Iran’s most heavily fortified underground facilities, and are stepping up efforts to make it more powerful.
The 30,000-pound “bunker-buster” bomb, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), reports the WSJ, was specifically designed to take out the hardened fortifications built by Iran and North Korea to cloak their nuclear programs.
Initial tests indicated that the bomb, as currently configured, wouldn’t be capable of destroying some of Iran’s facilities, either because of their depth or because Tehran has added new fortifications to protect them.
Therefore earlier this month the Pentagon secretly submitted a request to Congress for funding to enhance the bomb’s ability to penetrate deeper into rock, concrete and steel.
Now the question is whether the desire to enhance the MOP’s penetrating facility is a sign of new preparations for a war that seems inevitable, or does it point to something else.
Mutual threats from the U.S. to Iran and back have been floating in the air for months, apparently leading to little more than just a war of words. The U.S. threats to block Iran’s oil exports resulted in a vague promise by the European Union to impose sanctions in a six-month time, and by Japan to gradually cut its dependence on Iranian imports, while two main recipients of Iranian oil – China and India – unambiguously rejected the idea of sanctions.
Likewise, Iranian threats to block the Hormuz Strait for all traffic do not seem implementable.
Lately, the two sides have somehow downgraded the level of the war of words adopting a “wait-and-see” policy towards one another.
More so, the U.S. has tried to even play down the belligerent remarks coming from its closest Middle Eastern ally, Israel, warning that any unilateral coercive action is not welcome.
So, the initiative voiced by the unnamed Pentagon officials, seems to be just a continuation of the bluff. In any case, the issue of whether to start a war against Iran or not, is not going to be decided by the developments in the alleged Iranian nuclear program. The crucial point is how such a decision would affect Obama’s re-election prospects – whether it would be more favorable for him to appear as a strong-arm leader, or adopt a dovish image.
At the moment, President Obama is investigating what approach would be more lucrative from the electoral point of view, leaving open both options. On the one hand, he overtly sticks to the international sanctions as a most reliable tool to influence Iran. On the other hand, he has asked the Pentagon to come up with military options.
One thing, though, becomes clear from the WSJ report. And it has nothing to do with a possible warfare, but has more of an earthly foundation.
The Defense Department has spent about $330 million so far to develop about 20 of the bombs, which are built by Boeing Co, reports the WSJ. The Pentagon is seeking about $82 million more to make the bomb more effective.
This passage seems to explain everything. While foreign policy makers are playing their games, the Pentagon is quick to capitalize on the situation.
And definitely, Iran here is just a pretext. The U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta did not even try to conceal the fact that the program is a lot more far-reaching.
“It’s not just aimed at Iran,” he said in an interview with the WSJ. “Frankly, it’s aimed at any enemy that decides to locate in some kind of impenetrable location. The goal here is to be able to get at any enemy, anywhere.”
Since the number of enemies the U.S. have around the world has been increasing with every consecutive administration, one can only wonder, where the new devices might be used. Even if they aren’t, an additional $82 million would come in very handy for the Pentagon.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.