Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chapter 6. Bunker Busters

The Airbus A-330 is a long-range, high-capacity aircraft. Configured as a passenger jet its maximum load is about 100,000 pounds. Gutted for transport, it could easily handle four 15-ton bombs, an even 120,000 pounds.

The strategy was simple. The fighter/interceptors would take out command and control, surface to air missiles and ballistic sites surrounding the targeted hardened nuclear facilities. Any remaining ordnance would be used to take out aircraft and ships and damage airfields. The Hueys will follow with their light bunker busters and create seven or eight meter-deep craters in each site. The Iranians will believe they survived the attack and the Republican Guard will pour onto the fractured sites to extricate survivors. The structures will be weakened by the bombs’ blast and chambers that had been closed for the initial attack will be opened for rescue of survivors. An hour after the first attack, a commercial transport will pass overhead unmolested, recognized as a ‘friendly’ by its transponder signal and its tail number. The effects of the 15-ton bombs will be devastating. The tritonal explosive’s aluminum powder had been added to the lower two-thirds of the bomb, but the upper third was enhanced with powdered zinc - more reactive, fairly unstable and with a brisance, a burn rate, three times as fast as the explosive below.

The bomb will penetrate deep within the facility and when it comes to rest, the change in inertia will trigger the fuse timer. In seconds, the hardened and delayed fuse will ignite the upper levels of explosive first, driving the explosive force downward even more powerfully than with a consistent fuel mix.

The very strategy of encasing covert facilities in basalt, granite and limestone tubes was both protective and risky. Any force applied against a structure contained within a stone container is going to be reflected and amplified by the walls and floor of the chamber. Computer models indicated that the bomb would only penetrate 20 meters, but the explosive force would pulverize any rock or concrete to a depth of at least 70 meters. Any unreinforced tunnels to 300 feet would be instantly crushed and the rubble mound created would take months to remove. In cases where nuclear materials had been being processed, chances are good that the immediate vicinity would be, essentially, forever unusable.

Oren lit a cigarette and strolled back toward the plane. A guard dressed like a movie Ninja stood in the door of the plane holding an Uzi at the ready. His right index finger was snugly positioned against the weapon, pointed straight toward the muzzle, allowing a quick flick of the wrist to throw off the safety and fire a burst.

The Uzi was an amazing weapon, ubiquitous in Old Jerusalem and as ever-present as the family dog in rural settlements. From almost any place in the city, one could look up at the parapet of Suleiman’s wall and somewhere find two or three IDF soldiers, with Uzis, looking back. The weapon issued a 9mm Parabellum slug - a light bullet - at a rate of 600 rounds per minute. A 50-round magazine was emptied in about eight seconds and the brass would shower over the shooter, ejected about three feet into the air above the breech. The gun was small, but lethal at a distance twice the length of a football field.

Oren climbed the stairs and looked within the gutted hulk of the Airbus, back toward the tail. The assembled bombs reminded him of Disney’s vision of Jules Verne’s Nautilus submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They had a sleek design, but not a conventional design. They were thick, straight and sharpened to a point like a pencil. And they were big. At its thickest point each bomb was a good 2 meters in diameter. Behind the 3-foot tubular nose, the fuselage extended about 10 meters. The aerodynamic lines of the bomb were angular, like a Stealth bomber, making the bomb look very much like a giant pregnant pointed chisel.

Cradles had been constructed that would allow the bombs be loaded by a heavy-duty hydraulic lift, to roll toward the bomb bay on a rail, tip forward by their own weight on pneumatic dampers, and remain nose-down at a 54-degree angle within the belly of the plane until released. The bombs cleared the overhead by less than half a meter. The Airbus was the first aircraft designed completely with computer-aided drafting and the famous files had circulated for years. With them, it was relatively easy to design something like a wheelbarrow that would dump this deadly cargo without unnecessary weight or complication.

None of the Israelis had ever seen an F-117A fighter. None were personally familiar with its speed, its absence of a radar signature or its razor thin profile. The American Stealth fighters were on the two squadrons before they saw them coming. It shocked the Israelis. It was meant to shock. AFCENT had decided they wanted to strike fear into the Israelis just to remind them whose theatre they were in. Individually, the Americans wished them well. We’re all on the same side, after all. Yet, that feeling was tempered by the realization that what these hotshots were about to do was going to complicate the world so much it might not get straightened out for years.

Conventional wisdom said that it would only be a few minutes before the missiles started flying over Iraq. New rules of engagement allowed the Americans to engage those missiles the moment they entered Iraqi airspace. There was a strong chance that some would purposely be aimed at Americans, so every shot would be in self defense. Meanwhile, no fire would be returned. That is, unless the border was crossed. If Iranian troops cross into Iraq, everything changes, and no rules of engagement had been issued for that circumstance. Some commanders had told their men that they could consider any enemy an insurgent - which was accurate and defensible under the longstanding rules adopted during the surge.

A smart soldier wasn’t going to think too long about the rules. A smart soldier stayed alive by being aggressive, decisive and deadly.

A text message was received nearly simultaneously by about 3 million Iranians. Within minutes, another million were also aware, thanks to the viral nature of the message. Netanyahu was not on the friends and family list of any Iranians, but the message was signed by him. It instructed civilians to immediately vacate any area where there were nuclear or defensive installations in the midst of population centers. It reiterated the Jewish State’s respect for Islam as demonstrated by the unfettered access Muslims enjoyed at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Mosque of Omar on the Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the hilltop in Jerusalem on which the patriarch of both Judaism and Islam, Abraham, demonstrated his faith and love of his God, through his willingness to offer his own son as a sacrifice. The message said that Israeli spies had confiscated a memo from Ahmadinijad that indicated if there were an attack, the Republican Guard was to murder dozens of civilians to assure that there were civilian casualties they could then blame on the Jews. The advice was to escape now and not to return for 24 hours, in order to avoid becoming a victim of the government’s evil ruse.

Of course, no such memo existed, but the suggestion had immense credibility and the additional effect of crowding the streets. Military traffic was unable to move, there was confusion, soldiers with families were preoccupied with getting family members to safety and the fender-benders and crowds created a chaos level that accrued to the benefit of the attackers.

It was early in the morning in Israel, life on the Kibbutzim and Moshavim had awakened for the day. In the cities, that would be delayed for some time. Benjamin Netanyahu was recording a television message to be broadcast at breakfast time.

“Boker tov, my fellow Israelis. This morning forces of the IDF and Israeli Air Force have begun an attack on the illegal nuclear bomb-making facilities in Iran. In a moment, you will hear air raid sirens throughout the land. All radio and television stations will then replay and repeat this message. We want everyone to have a chance to hear it. There will be a response from the Iranians, to be sure. So, you should proceed immediately to a shelter and wait for us to call the all-clear. The response may be quite violent and prolonged, but it will be nothing compared to an atomic weapon. Thus we had no choice. When the day comes that anyone asks you why we did this - and it will because there will always be hate in the world - tell them it is because 6 million Jews did, indeed, die as victims of totalitarianism in a war called World War Two, and in October of 2009, we said, ‘Never again. Never.’ May God protect his people, amen. Shalom.”

As the crew was packing up, Netanyahu clutched the elbow of Ehud Barack, his Defense Minister and led him to a corner of the room.

“Ehud, is there a signal?”

“Yes, Bibi. It’s moving. You should make the call.”

“Everyone is agreed, then?”

“Yes, certainly. It’s deceitful and underhanded but no one trusts the bastard. No one gives a shit if he does end up with egg on his face. You, who do not watch the polls, you say.”

“I know, I know.”

“Ha, Bibi, you know he’s held in the lowest esteem, the lowest regard of any American president. Even Jimmy Carter...”

“Ehud. I am a Harvard graduate. I do not fully understand the American psychology - but I do know that YOU will not be the person to explain it to me.”

“In his own country, he’s not liked much better. Like you in a week.” The men both laughed and the diminutive Barak raised his arm and put it around the Prime Minister’s shoulder. He gave him a fatherly tug and a pat on the back, and the two went their separate ways. Netanyahu turned to watch the pear-shaped man disappear down the hall, his yarmulke bobbing as he shuffled away. Netanyahu was pretty sure he heard Barak say, “God be with you.”

Netanyahu made his way to the street with a phalanx of guards. Two guards, Uzis held at the ready, flanked his custom Lincoln. In seconds, Netanyahu was aboard and the car was off.

On a screen, in a bunker hidden below an apartment building on Davidka Street, on a hill overlooking the Knesset, was a green pulsating dot superimposed on a map of Teheran. Six pairs of eyes were willing the dot to move. And suddenly it did.

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