The Auschwitz and Iran Bombing Controversies: Are There Parallels?

by Jerry Gordon (May 2009)

Agence France Presse report noted:

The F-15s, emblazoned with the Star of David, were piloted by the sons or grandsons of Holocaust victims who perished in Poland, according to the Israeli ambassador to Warsaw.

An Israeli air force statement said that as the jets flew low across the sky the pilot leading the squadron, General Amir Eshel, said: “We pilots of the air force, in the skies over these camps of shame, have risen from the ashes of millions of victims. We are the voice for their silent calls. We salute their heroism and promise to be the shield of the Israeli homeland.”

The flyover of Auschwitz by the IAF was objected to by the Auschwitz Birkenau Museum as inappropriate to venerate the 1.4 million Jews murdered at the death camp complex. It was nevertheless symbolic on several levels.

Dr. David Wyman, a critic of Allied war efforts to destroy death camps, estimated that an air assault might have spared the lives of 150,000 Jews whose progeny today might number more than 2 million.

We are witnessing the unfolding of something akin to the Allied intransigence during WWII. The Obama Administration has objected to a unilateral Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear development facilities. Further, there are indications that Israel will be punished for its audacity should such a possible attack occur.

The Bombing of Auschwitz controversy

Yom Ha Shoah, April 21st, marked the commemoration of the murder of one third of pre-WWII Jewry: six million European Jewish men, women and children.

In 1998, during the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of Israel, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu visited Auschwitz on another Yom Ha Shoah and criticized the Allied lack of effort to save European Jews by striking at the death camp from the air.

All that was needed was to bomb the train tracks. The Allies bombed the targets nearby. The pilots only had to nudge their crosshairs.

You think they didn’t know? They knew. They didn’t bomb because at the time the Jews didn’t have a state, nor the political force to protect themselves.

Within a year after the publication of the Wyman article, the first archival aerial photos of the Auschwitz Birkenau death camp complex were released based on an analysis by photo intelligence expert Dino Brugioni of the CIA. They clearly indicated that British and U.S. Air Forces had targeting information in their files as early as the spring of 1944 with which to develop possible missions.

In 2000, the National Holocaust Memorial published a symposium on the ‘what if’ question of “The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted it?’ edited by Michael J. Neufeld and Michael Berenbaum pulling together the contending arguments and supporting data and information.

NSA Historian Hanyok’s conclusion, in a 2005 study, “
Eavesdropping on Hell, was that institutional anti-Semitism in both London and Washington, DC, despite Churchill’s instructions to his Air Minister ‘to do everything possible’ and the overarching objective of destroying the Nazi war fighting capabilities led responsible officials to consider proposals for bombing the railway marshaling and, railway lines and the Birkenau killing center gas chambers and crematoria as a ‘diversion.”

Washington officials, especially Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy considered such requests as ‘impossible” and ‘risky,’ given the air war commitments in the European Theater of Operations. Later McCloy put the onus on FDR for making the decision not to bomb Auschwitz.

McCloy was quoted by Miller as saying:

bombing the camp would involve a diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations.”

A Mission to Auschwitz would be an Eight Air Force operation, a highly risky ‘round trip flight unescorted of approximately 2000 miles over enemy territory.

In contrast to McCloy’s misleading statements, the reality was we could have done that and more. The resources involved-aircraft sorties, bomb ordnance and air crew losses were a finite fraction of overall air war capabilities of both the 8th and 15th USAAF. Moreover, if the bombing campaign had begun in June, 1944 for example, the weather and meager fighter aircraft and flak gun threats were most favorable to such a mission that could have destroyed the killing machinery at Auschwitz Birkenau.

Against this background here are conclusions regarding the Auschwitz bombing controversy based on the prevailing secondary research.

An estimated 300 sorties involving upwards of 75 heavy bombers dropping between 900 to 1,800 tons of bombs over a two to three week period would have accomplished the mission. This was equivalent to less than 7% of all sorties flown in July, 1944.

Primo Levi as witnesses.

NIE noted the range of uncertainty when Iran would be capable of assembling nuclear weapons:

We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely.

We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame. (INR judges Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013 because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.) All agencies recognize the possibility that this capability may not be attained until after 2015.

Shortly after the release of this NIE report, an Israeli security official in the former Olmert government, Avi Dichter, castigated the US report in a World Tribune article:

Something went wrong in the American blueprint for analyzing the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, Dichter, a former Israeli intelligence chief, said. “We have to hope that the United States will know to correct this. Israel and other states must help in any way including providing intelligence material so as to repair this miscalculation.

made this prescient assessment as to what the NIE did to US credibility and Israeli relations and develop of stringer deterring sanctions:

And now, in Congressional testimony, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) himself, the official responsible for the agencies who conducted the NIE, has begun walking away from its conclusions. Only his sense of propriety as the head of the intelligence community seems to have prevented an explicit disavowal.

Three primary criticisms have been leveled at the NIE:

Firstly, the Iranians may, indeed, as the NIE states, have “suspended” their nuclear weaponization program, but this may have been for the simple reason that they had already completed it, or nearly so. If so, the suspension is virtually meaningless in terms of the timetable for an operational capability.
Furthermore, the primary obstacle to achieving a nuclear weapon lies not in weaponization, which is the easier part and which Iran may have suspended, but in the ability to enrich uranium to a weapons grade. No one, including Iran, disputes that its declared, ostensibly “civil”, enrichment program is ongoing and that it has made major progress since the “suspension.”

Finally, the intelligence community, having been badly tarnished by the Iraqi fiasco, may simply have become overly cautious and demanding of an unattainable burden of proof. Where a duplicitous adversary systematically spreads smoke screens, finding a “smoking gun” is difficult.

In providing Iran with an unintended and in any event false verdict of “not guilty,” the NIE represents a major setback. In the absence of entirely new intelligence, the prospects for a truly punitive sanctions resolution in the Security Council have disappeared, as have those for multilateral sanctions outside of the UN and the prospects for American military action are now virtually nil. Indeed, the US will be unable to do much of consequence, whatsoever, before the next president can fully articulate a policy on Iran, which probably means at least 18 months from now, by which time it may be too late. Iran, emboldened by its ability to “get away with it,” may now further accelerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Freilich noted this about Israel’s position:

about the attack:

Even, who has been keeping track of nuclear issues for years, bases his analysis in large part on satellite photos widely published recently in the media and on internet Web sites.

The images show that the facility lacked a chimney – which is necessary for the emission of the radioactive gases – despite the fact that evidence suggests that construction began on the facility at least four years ago. In contrast, a chimney is clearly visible in images of the reactor in Yongbyon, North Korea.

“We can assume that construction began even before 2003,” says Even.

It was presumed that the Bush Administration itself might exercise a military option if diplomatic efforts at fashioning tougher sanctions failed.

DailyTelegraph, Bolton noted:

It [the reaction] will be positive privately. I think there’ll be public denunciations but no action, he said. Israel had a determination to prevent a nuclear Iran.

The Israelis have one eye on the calendar because of the pace at which the Iranians are proceeding, both to develop their nuclear weapons capability and to do things like increasing their defences by buying new Russian anti-aircraft systems and further hardening their nuclear installations.

On February 10th, the Israeli general election resulted in the formation of a new government lead by former Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu communicated a new message to President Obama.

Netanyahu in one of electoral pronouncements noted the priority Iranian nuclear threat in this Ha’aretz report:

Obama and his National Security team and regional Special Envoys were engaged in outreach to Iran as part of a new geo-political strategy that might involve the support of the Islamic Republic in the Afghanistan Pakistan Taliban Al Qaeda conflict. Obama at the Americas Summit boldly opined  that reaching out to enemies’ demonstrated strength.


Israel, even before Netanyahu formed his government in April, went to great lengths to demonstrate that it would attack and intercept Iranian supplies of rockets and missiles. As noted in an NER report Israel destroyed convoys in the Sudan and an Iranian arm supply ship.


the resolve of the new Netanyahu government to prepare the Jewish nation for this prospect was made abundantly clear.


Among the steps taken to ready Israeli forces for what would be a risky raid requiring pinpoint aerial strikes are the acquisition of three Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft and regional missions to simulate the attack.

Two nationwide civil defence drills will help to prepare the public for the retaliation that Israel could face.

“Israel wants to know that if its forces were given the green light they could strike at Iran in a matter of days, even hours. They are making preparations on every level for this eventuality. The message to Iran is that the threat is not just words,” one senior defence official told The Times.

Officials believe that Israel could be required to hit more than a dozen targets, including moving convoys. The sites include Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges produce enriched uranium; Esfahan, where 250 tonnes of gas is stored in tunnels; and Arak, where a heavy water reactor produces plutonium.

Arnaud de Borchgrave noted in a Washington Times piece, the Gulf States have

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman – are getting ready for what many now assume will be retaliation from Iran after an Israeli bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities later this year.

Up and down the Gulf, Patriot missile batteries have been quietly deployed around key oil installations. The Patriot system is designed to detect, target and hit incoming missiles that may be no more than 10 to 20 feet long and flying at three to five times the speed of sound. Iran has hundreds of missiles and rockets.

And what will the Obama Administration do, if Netanyahu sends up the balloon that the Iran attack is ‘on’? The word in Washington is that the US would punish Israel by withdrawing military aid and isolating it as a veritable pariah state. All because Israel doesn’t trust the US to defend its sovereignty when threatened with extinction.

It would appear that Netanyahu and Israel have learned the lessons of WWII – a Jewish sovereign nation has one option to protect and defend its people.



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