Decision to withhold bombs from Israel ‘damages entire US-led bloc’

Decision to withhold bombs from Israel ‘damages entire US-led bloc’

Western official: The region has understood, if it happened to Israel, it could happen to me.

The Biden administration’s decision to withhold shipments of air-to-ground munitions is having an adverse effect on the entire Middle Eastern pro-United States bloc, a Western official tells JNS.

Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), the precision kits that turn “dumb bombs” into all-weather precision-guided munitions, and Small Diameter Bombs are on hold, with shipments frozen of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs, according to a May 7 report by Politico.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the suspension, saying during a Senate hearing on May 8, “We’ve been very clear … from the very beginning that Israel shouldn’t launch a major attack into Rafah without accounting for and protecting the civilians that are in that battlespace. And again, as we have assessed the situation, we have paused one shipment of high payload munitions. We’ve not made a final determination on how to proceed with that shipment.”

A Western official shed light on the broader implications of this decision, indicating that the public withholding of these munitions is a significant message in itself.

“The heart of the matter is the declaration. The fact that U.S. is not transferring and declaring it, this is the message,” the official explained.

This move is perceived negatively by America’s other Middle Eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while members of the radical Iranian-led Shi’ite axis, including Hamas, see it as encouraging.

Lloyd Austin, the secretary of defense, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. Dec. 18, 2023. Photo by Chad McNeeley/U.S. Department of Defense.
(source: JNS)

The Western official also expressed concerns about the broader regional perception of this decision, suggesting it has already caused considerable damage.

“Even if the U.S. wants to climb down from the ladder quietly, most of the damage has been done. The region has understood; if it happened to Israel, it could happen to me,” he remarked, indicating a loss of trust among American allies.

In 2020, the Biden administration announced it would end support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, and ceased sales of offensive weapons to Riyadh.

This strategic pause by the U.S., while aimed at addressing domestic political concerns, could undermine regional alliances and the perceived value of American cooperation.

“I’m disturbed when Americans decide something against us, not based on any change in strategic understanding that can justify,” the Western official said, questioning the rationale behind this public maneuver and its broader implications for U.S.-Israeli relations.

Less accurate alternatives

The current size of Israel’s stockpile of precise air-to-ground munitions remains unknown. The Western official indicated that any shortage of precision bombs could compel Israel to rely on less accurate alternatives.

“If Israel lacks—and it says it does not currently lack—smart bombs, it can use dumb bombs,” he said. The majority of bombs dropped on Hezbollah targets during the 2006 Second Lebanon War were so-called dumb bombs, he noted. 

An Israeli Air Force F-15 fighter jet at the Tel Nof base. Jan. 1, 2024. Photo by Moshe Shai/Flash90.
(source: JNS)

Dropping unguided bombs usually requires IAF craft to fly closer over their targets and at lower altitudes compared to when using guided bombs, creating addition risks for pilots and jets.

Israeli defense chiefs, especially those from the Israeli Air Force, will need to account for why they left Israel with a small stockpile of such bombs on the eve of the Oct. 7 mass murder attack by Hamas, the official said, adding that the IAF had placed too great an emphasis on spending on aircraft and too little in stockpiling munitions.

Any shortage in smart bombs is unlikely to occur soon or effect operations in Gaza, but it could reduce Israeli capabilities in a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Previous Israeli media reports have said that the IDF has 50,000 targets in its database for Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

Israeli industry can manufacture similar smart bombs, but the process is time-consuming and very expensive, potentially leading to fewer targets being hit in Lebanon, the official said. Israel could also explore alternative cheaper import options from Eastern Europe and Asia.

Withholding such bombs is unlikely to affect any future strikes in Iran, which would presumably rely on more standoff (long-range) munitions fired from jets, rather than requiring them to fly over targets. 

IAF F-35 stealth fighter aircraft fly in Israeli airspace. Credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

Additionally, the official pointed out the need to maintain large numbers of artillery shells and other ground munitions in robust stockpiles.

“Israel can produce a limited certain amount of shells a day, it might cost a little more than outside procurement, but a large stockpile, produced locally or outside Israel—the cost will be high. That is the price of independence. Either way, having a large stockpile at the ready is the key goal,” he said.

Israel is self-sufficient when it comes to the production of light ammunition, and mass produces its own bullets.

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