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Bloomberg doesn't disclose potential conflict in op-ed promoting Israel arms deal

The author happens to advise Biden-linked consulting firm WestExec, whose client makes the weapons in question.

Reporting | Media

Last Friday, Bloomberg published an op-ed by former U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross, making the evergreen Iran hawk argument that now is the time to provide Israel with the GBU-57 “mountain buster” bomb and the aircraft to carry the ordinance, the B-2 bomber. The move, according to Ross, would  “send a powerful message” that while “[t]he Iranians may doubt whether the U.S. would follow through on its threats; they won’t have any trouble believing the Israelis will.”

Ross and Bloomberg neglected to disclose that the former diplomat may have a financial conflict of interest in advocating for the export of these specific weapons to destroy Iranian nuclear sites: Ross is a senior adviser at WestExec Advisers, a firm whose client list includes Boeing, the manufacturer of the GBU-57 bomb and the B-2 bomber.

Ross justifies his advocacy for handing over powerful weapons to a foreign country as “the best inducement for Iran to negotiate a ‘longer and stronger’ deal” instead of focusing on getting Iran and the United States back into compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a nuclear deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, that the Trump administration unilaterally abrogated from.

Handing Israel the tools to start a war with Iran, a war that would likely drag the United States into another war in the Middle East as the Biden administration works to end two-decades of U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, is high stakes, something Ross acknowledges. “Of course, the White House would need to reach a firm understanding with the Israelis about triggers for the bomb’s use,” said Ross, while offering no details on how the United States might enforce such an “understanding” after handing over control of a potentially regionally destabilizing bomb and the never-before-exported B-2 bomber.

Bloomberg didn’t disclose that Ross may have another incentive to press for these seemingly extreme measures: money. Ross works as a senior adviser at WestExec, a firm that maintains exceptionally close ties to the Biden White House. Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, was one of WestExec’s founders and the firm is largely staffed by national security officials from the Obama administration.

During the Trump years, WestExec signed up a client list of prominent companies, including Boeing.

The size of that contract and the work undertaken is opaque. Executive Branch financial disclosures filed by Biden appointees who worked at WestExec offer little information. Blinken’s disclosure, for example, simply reveals that the now-secretary of state worked on the Boeing account for WestExec, providing “advisory service” to the weapons firm, and received more than $5,000 for the work.

Ross hasn’t been appointed to any position in the Biden administration and isn’t required to file a financial disclosure, so the details of his work at WestExec are unknown.

A 2018 press release, announcing Ross’s hiring by WestExec, marketed him as “support[ing] WestExec’s growing list of clients, providing insight and advice to those with business interests across the Middle East and North Africa, Europe, and Asia.”

WestExec did not respond to questions about whether Ross worked directly on the Boeing account but Ross told Responsible Statecraft, “I do policy assessment and risk analyst [sic] from time to time as a consultant to WestExec Advisers, typically to respond to questions from its clients.”

Ross said he was unaware that Boeing produced the B-2 and the GBU-57.

“Prior to receiving your note I did not even know who produced either the bomb or the plane — I was focused on how to change the Iranian calculus, how to enhance deterrence, and what it could take to do so,” said Ross. “Readers should consider the weight of the argument not an issue that I was not even aware of.”

Bloomberg Opinion did not respond to questions about whether Ross’s work at a firm that conducted work for Boeing posed a conflict of interest for Ross advocating for the export of sensitive Boeing manufactured weapons to Israel.

Images: Piotr Swat and VDB Photos via shutterstock.com
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