Boeing's GBU-39 bunker-buster, illustration
Boeing's GBU-39 bunker-buster, illustrationfile
The U.S. government has agreed to sell 1,000 satellite-guided "mini-bunker-buster" bombs to Israel. Meanwhile, a U.S. Defense Department official on Friday hinted at informal nuclear defense arrangements with Israel.

Boeing's Guided Bomb Unit (GBU)-39 bomb, weighing in at just 113 kilograms (250 pounds), was developed for

The currently approved deal will be worth a total of $77 million.

penetrating fortified targets located underground. The U.S. decision to sell the munitions to Israel was somewhat of a retreat from a refusal last week to supply the IDF with the more powerful two-ton GBU-29 bunker-busters, despite earlier commitments to do so. In 2005, the Bush administration authorized the sale of 100 GBU-29s to Israel in a proposed deal worth around $30 million. The currently approved deal will be worth a total of $77 million.

Along with the recently approved sale of the bunker-busters, the U.S. agreed to upgrade the Patriot missile defense system deployed in Israel.

The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency has called such deals with Israel a contribution "to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been, and continues to be, an important force for economic progress in the Middle East."

The Iranian Threat

One threat to Israeli security stems from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Both the U.S. and Israel have reiterated in several forums that the military option to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons remains on the table, alongside international sanctions and other diplomatic means. Several sensitive facilities used in Iran's nuclear development program are located underground and some of them may be vulnerable to the bunker-buster munitions Israel is set to receive. The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency announced this week that Iran was not cooperating with the UN inspections process.

Iranian officials recently threatened painful and surprising retaliation for any strike by Israel or the United States. An Iranian defense official said Iran has prepared "hidden" capabilities for such an eventuality. In intelligence circles, it is known that Iranian-sponsored terrorist cells, some from the Lebanese Hizbulllah, have been dispatched to various locations in the Middle East and beyond to await the order to retaliate against Western targets.

Under an American Umbrella

In addition to the approved sale of the GBU-39 bombs, an American Defense Department official recently intimated that the United States considers Israel to be informally under its "nuclear umbrella."

During a special briefing for reporters at the Pentagon on September 12, the Chairman of the Defense Department's Task Force for Nuclear Weapons Management, James Schlesinger, said that the U.S. has formal obligations to use its nuclear arsenal in the defense of NATO nations. In response to a question from the press, he explained that "Israel, which has concerns of its own, [is] not formally protected."

Then Schlesinger added, "However I think that it probably would be ill-advised for any nation to act on that lack of formality. There are, probably are, informal arrangements."