U.S. Deflects Israel's Plan For Iran Reactor Attack

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According to a report over the weekend in The New York Times, Israel wanted help from the United States in preparing to strike nuclear facilities in Iran. The Bush Administration turned the request down. Israel was looking for bunker-busting bombs from U.S. officials, and permission to fly over Iraq on the way to Iran.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

We've been reporting every day on Israel's war in Gaza. This morning, we'll examine an Israeli military mission that has not taken place - at least not yet. The New York Times reported over the weekend that Israel may have been preparing to strike nuclear facilities in Iran. Israel sought help from the United States. NPR's confirmed that the Bush administration turned them down. Let's talk about this now with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who's in our studios. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's with us live. What did Israel ask for?

BOWMAN: Well, they wanted a large number of bunker-buster bombs. And they've already received some of these bombs over the years from the Americans, but for this mission they need a lot more.

INSKEEP: We're talking about really powerful bombs that can penetrate concrete. They can get into bomb shelters.

BOWMAN: Absolutely. Some of these bombs weigh up to 5,000 pounds. And for the multiple targets and the hardened targets, they would need a lot of these bombs. They also were looking for overflight rights. Americans control the Iraqi airspace. The quickest way from Israel to Iran is right through Iraq, and they didn't get either. They didn't get more bunker-buster bombs, did not get overflight rights.

INSKEEP: Now the part of this that may surprise some people who've been closely following this story is that the Bush administration, after expressing so much concern about Iran's nuclear facilities, would say no to a request like this.

BOWMAN: That's right. Well, there were some within the administration that thought this was a good idea - civilians within the administration. People I talked with at the Pentagon, most of them never thought this was a good idea. They never thought it would be successful. Again, a lot of targets here. You can never be assured this whole nuclear program would end. The other thing is, maybe more importantly, the concern for American forces in Iraq maybe getting attacked by Iran lobbing some missiles in. There are also other American forces within the region that could be vulnerable to, let's say, Iranian missiles or Iranian sabotage. Fifth Fleet is in Bahrain. That was a big concern as well. There was also a concern of adding one more war to the region. We have Iraq and Afghanistan now. And Admiral Mike Mullen talked a little bit about this last spring.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff): Opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us.

BOWMAN: And Mullen went on to say he was opposed to any kind of strike occurring. He said, "I don't need it to be more unstable in the region."

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Tom Bowman, who has confirmed that the Bush administration blocked - did not give assistance to - an Israeli plan to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. At the same time, though, Tom, what is the Bush administration doing covertly to try to sabotage those facilities?

BOWMAN: Well, the New York Times reporter - we were unable to confirm that Americans went to the manufacturers who are supplying Iran with equipment - computers, electronics, hardware, that sort, and sought, in some ways, to sabotage this equipment. You could do it by, let's say, you know, faulty equipment, computers with viruses, that kind of thing. There are many ways to do this, and there's actually precedent for this. It's - in the spy world - for example, in the Cold War, American intelligence agents were able to learn the secret messages of other nations - Iran, Iraq and Libya - by going to the manufacturer of encryption equipment, and they - actually able to secretly rig the machines, so they could easily break the codes and read the messages of some of these officials.

INSKEEP: That was something that was tried in the past. We don't know if anything has succeeded this time around.

BOWMAN: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: And he's telling us about Bush administration efforts to go after Iran's nuclear program. And also what they were not willing to do, support an Israeli military strike.

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