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Iran

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Is Iran preparing to close the Straits of Hormuz?

That’s what our intel guys are saying:

U.S. government officials, citing new intelligence, said Iran has developed plans to disrupt international oil trade, including through attacks on oil platforms and tankers.

Officials said the information suggests that Iran could take action against facilities both inside and outside the Persian Gulf, even absent an overt military conflict.

The findings come as American officials closely watch Iran for its reaction to punishing international sanctions and to a drumbeat of Israeli threats to bomb Tehran’s nuclear sites, while talks aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons have slowed.

Now, of course, “developing plans” and actually executing them are entirely different things.  But, as irrational as Iran can be sometimes, the development of such plans has to be taken seriously.

If you’ve been paying attention over the past few months, we’ve been creeping any number of assets closer to Iran.  So obviously we believe where there is smoke we may see fire.

"Iran is very unpredictable," said a senior defense official. "We have been very clear what we as well as the international community find unacceptable."

The latest findings underscore why many military officials continue to focus on Iran as potentially the most serious U.S. national-security concern in the region, even as the crisis in Syria has deepened and other conflicts, as in Libya, have raged.

Defense officials cautioned there is no evidence that Tehran has moved assets in position to disrupt tankers or attack other sites, but stressed that Iran’s intent appears clear.

Iran has a number of proxies, as we all know, none of whom have much use for the US or the rest of the Western world.   What would possibly cause Iran to attempt to strike at outside targets?  The belief that they could get away with it:

But U.S. officials said some Iranians believe they could escape a direct counterattack by striking at other oil facilities, including those outside the Persian Gulf, perhaps by using its elite forces or external proxies.

I’m not sure how one thinks they can escape retribution by such tactics, but it is enough to believe you can.  And apparently there are some in Iran who do.  That’s dangerous, depending on where they sit in the decision making hierarchy.

The officials wouldn’t describe the intelligence or its sources, but analysts said statements in the Iranian press and by lawmakers in Tehran suggest the possibility of more-aggressive action in the Persian Gulf as a response to the new sanctions. Iranian oil sales have dropped and prices have remained low, pinching the government.

So, we wait.  And creep more assets into the area.  And wait.

As an aside to all the arm-chair defense experts who claim we shouldn’t be developing advanced weaponry because all our future wars are likely to be “just like Afghanistan”.

Really?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Iran, the Straits of Hormuz and “Armageddon”

Iran is supposedly being sternly warned that attempting to close the Straits of Hormuz will not be tolerated.  The Iranians have put forward a bill in their Parliament which would require warships from any nation desiring to transit the Straits to get the permission of Iran first.

Of course, the Straits are considered by the rest of the world as “international waters” while the premise of the Iranians is they’re national waters subject to the control of Iran.

Most experts believe that this has been precipitated by sanctions imposed on Iran by much of the world, but especially the Western powers.  Closing the Straits of Hormuz would be viewed by most of them as an act of war.

So, per the New York Times, a secret channel has been opened with Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he has been informed the US would consider any such attempt to close the Straits as “a red line” that would provoke a response.

DoD has made the position publically official:

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this past weekend that the United States would “take action and reopen the strait,” which could be accomplished only by military means, including minesweepers, warship escorts and potentially airstrikes. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told troops in Texas on Thursday that the United States would not tolerate Iran’s closing of the strait.

So the line is drawn.  The hand is closed into a fist with a warning.  Bluff or promise?  Will Iran test it to see?

Here’s why some think they won’t:

Blocking the route for the vast majority of Iran’s petroleum exports — and for its food and consumer imports — would amount to economic suicide.

“They would basically be taking a vow of poverty with themselves,” said Dennis B. Ross, who until last month was one of President Obama’s most influential advisers on Iran. “I don’t think they’re in such a mood of self sacrifice.”

Of course fanatics often don’t think or reason in rational terms, but Ross has a point.

Meanwhile, as the sanctions continue to bite, Iran’s president is finishing up a South American swing to shore up support (and resources one supposes) for his regime from the usual suspects – Chavez, Ortega and their band of merry socialists.  China is also a player in all of this, although not a particularly enthusiastic one.  Iran exports 450,000 barrels a day of oil, which is now not being bought by Europe or the US.  So it sees an opportunity here to up its share of that total.  John Foley thinks China will fudge on sanctions, at least partially.  That, of course, could extend the drama.

And while all of this is going on, Iranian nuclear scientists are blowing up pointing to some sort of effort by some nation(s) or group to slow and frustrate what everyone believes is Iran’s push for nuclear weapons.  That, by the way, may be part of the discussions in South America if you get my drift.

Don’t know if you noticed recently, but the Doomsday Clock has added a minute, the first since 2007 when it subtracted one.  We’re no 4 figurative minutes from “Armageddon”.  Iran certainly figures in the move.

So far, the “reset” is going just swimmingly, isn’t it?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Iran–something to watch

While the hype and nonsense that usually accompanies primaries continues here, something to keep an eye on is happening a half a world away:

Iran will take action if a U.S. aircraft carrier which left the area because of Iranian naval exercises returns to the Gulf, the state news agency quoted army chief Ataollah Salehi as saying on Tuesday.

"Iran will not repeat its warning … the enemy’s carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasise to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf," Salehi told IRNA.

"I advise, recommend and warn them (the Americans) over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Salehi as saying.

Salehi did not name the aircraft carrier or give details of the action Iran might take if it returned.

Iran completed 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf on Monday, and said during the drills that if foreign powers imposed sanctions on its crude exports it could shut the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is shipped.

Iran is feeling froggy and is issuing a very thinly veiled threat.  In every way, shape and form, any attempt to attack a returning carrier (or close the Straits of Hormuz, something they deny they intend) will be considered an act of war.

And they’re not really being particularly nebulous or coy about this either. 

In the world of international power politics, this calls for a response by the threatened side. 

This is akin to that 3am call for Obama.

Fold or call their bluff ?

Which will it be?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Folding the flag in Iraq

The 9 year long war in Iraq is officially over.  Frankly, I’m fine with that.  I think the one lesson we need to have learned from both Iraq and Afghanistan is the meaning of punitive raid or punitive action.  If a country attacks us or otherwise deserves to see the “blunt instrument” of national policy used, we need to go in and do what is necessary, then leave.

For whatever reason, we’ve chosen nation building as an end state instead.  And while I certainly understand the theory (and the examples where it has worked … such as Japan, West Germany, etc.), it shouldn’t be something we do on a routine basis. 

There were certainly valid reasons to do what we did in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  And while I supported both actions, the decision to try to build a democracy in both countries has been expensive in both blood and treasure and I’d deem it somewhat successful in Iraq (we’ll see if they can keep it) and at best marginally successful in Afghanistan (where I fully expect the effort to collapse when we withdraw).

So I’m fine with folding the flag and leaving Iraq.  And before the Obamabots try to claim it was their man who finally made it happen, Google it.  This is the Bush plan, negotiated before he left office and simply executed by this administration.   That said, Obama will shamelessly try to take credit for it while also trying to erase the memory of voting not to fund the war while troops were engaged in combat.

It is going to be interesting to see how Iraq turns out.  It is an extraordinarily volatile country sitting right next to two countries waging religious war against each other by proxy.  Saudi Arabia and Iran are deadly enemies and with the end of the US presence there, I think Iraq will end up being their battleground.

Within a few months I think there will be concerted campaigns of violence aimed at toppling the current government and installing some flavor of Islamist regime there.  I hope I’m wrong.

But again, bottom line – I’m happy to see this chapter draw to a close and that we’re getting our troops out of Iraq.  It’s time.  And to them all, a huge “well done” and “welcome home”.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Border security isn’t just about illegal immigration

It appears Iran hatched a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US.   Fausta has as good a run down on the plot as anyone.  Unsurprisingly it involved a Mexican drug cartel and the southern border to the US.

You know, the border the left keeps telling us just isn’t a problem, shouldn’t be a priority, we’re secure enough, etc.

Funny how our enemies seem to be drawn to what they perceive as a weak point like a moth to a flame.  And they know who to contact to get what they need or want done to move a plot into the US. 

Yes, we lucked out this time – the plotter contacted a confidential informant associated with a drug cartel.  The rest follows the expected course and we finally arrested the plotter when he showed up in the US. 

But you have to wonder how many of these plots are still undetected and working within the same sorts of organizations in Mexico or other South or Central American drug cartels.

This should be setting off warning sirens all over the place within our law enforcement  and intelligence community.  And most likely it is.  But it should also finally make a point to those who want to waive off border security.  It isn’t just about illegal immigration.

It’s about national security as well.  And it is high time we started understanding that and making border security there a much higher priority than it is. 

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Some things never change ….

Like the US getting duped into helping “rebels” who are also aligned with Iran:

Iran "discreetly" provided humanitarian aid to Libyan rebels before the fall of Tripoli, Jam-e-Jam newspaper quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Sunday as saying.

"We were in touch with many of the rebel groups in Libya before the fall of (Moamer) Kadhafi, and discreetly dispatched three or four food and medical consignments to Benghazi," Salehi told the daily.

"The head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, sent a letter of thanks to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for having been on their side and helping," he added.

Any guess who comes out on the short end of this?   Its not that we’re actually bad guys, it’s just that when it comes to us or them, there’s one big problem between us than they share.  Islam and the US being in the “other” category, commonly referred to as “infidel”.  So while while the US and NATO do the heavy lifting of getting Gadhaffi out of the way, Iran quietly appeals to its “Muslim brothers” with humanitarian aide.  Just enough to get them in good stead with the rebels and in position, now, to take that up a notch or two.

Since the Libyan uprising erupted in mid-February, Iran has adopted a dual approach — criticising the Kadhafi regime for its violent assaults on the rebels while at the same time condemning NATO’s military intervention.

On Tuesday, Iran "congratulated the Muslim people of Libya" after rebels overran the capital Tripoli, but it has so far distanced itself from officially recognising the NTC.

And Iran will withhold that until it helps arrange the proper government type after sorting out who should or shouldn’t be involved in the NTC.  Just watch and learn.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Egypt woos US foes

Egypt continues to make more and more moves indicating that it desires to distance itself from the US and that more instability in the region will probably result from its diplomatic moves.

After decades of no relations with certain countries in the region, with the full approval of the US (and one would assume the lack of such relations would be in the best interest of the US and peace in the region), Egypt has now decided to change that course.  They tie to moves to regaining their regional prestige:

Iran and Egypt’s new government signaled Monday they were moving quickly to thaw decades of frosty relations, worrying the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia that the overtures could upset the Mideast’s fragile balance of power.

Iran said it appointed an ambassador to Egypt for the first time since the two sides froze diplomatic relations more than three decades ago, the website of the Iranian government’s official English-language channel, Press TV, reported late Monday.

Also Monday, officials at Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that new foreign minister Nabil Elaraby is considering a visit to the Gaza Strip—an area controlled by Hamas, a militant Palestinian Islamist group backed by Tehran and until now shunned by Cairo.

It would be pretty hard not to see where this could lead. 

Additionally, Egypt is reaching out to Syria:

Egypt’s outreach has also extended to Syria, a close ally of Iran. In early March, Egypt’s new intelligence chief, Murad Muwafi, chose Syria for his first foreign trip.

The result of our “hey, Hosni, get out of town” policy?

Amr Moussa, the former Secretary General of the Arab league, owes his front-runner status in Egyptian presidential elections later this year to his forceful statements against Israel when he was Egypt’s foreign minister during the 1990s. Islamist groups in particular have been empowered by Egypt’s abrupt shift to democracy, and analysts expect that Egypt’s next government will have to answer to growing calls that it break with U.S. foreign-policy objectives.

Some Islamist political voices within Egypt have already begun their own sort of diplomacy. Magdi Hussein, the chairman of the Islamist Al Amal (Labor) Party, met with Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi earlier this week in Tehran. Both sides encouraged a quickening of the diplomatic thaw between the two countries.

Egypt appears to be following a foreign relations pattern set by Turkey in the past decade—a strong American ally whose foreign policy has nevertheless decoupled from American interests. Regardless of its final position on Iran, the country is likely to be significantly less beholden to U.S. interests, American officials said, if only because Egypt was such a reliable ally under Mr. Mubarak.

"It’s hard to imagine a change that would improve on what we had" with the previous Egyptian regime, one U.S. official said.

If there’s a “Doomsday clock” for Middle East war, it is quickly moving toward 1 minute to midnight.

Meanwhile in Libya, the “days, not weeks” war enters its 2nd month with no resolution in sight.

~McQ


Quote of the day – tone-deaf in Tehran edition

Talk about chutzpah, check this out from our favorite little Holocaust denying, "wipe-Israel-from-the-map", "no gays in Iran", protest busting, protester murdering, election stealing, nuclear bomb building popinjay, er, "President" of Iran:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday urged Middle East leaders to listen to the voices of citizens who have taken to the streets in masses to demand a change in government — though such protests in his own country have been crushed with brute force.

Ahmadinejad "strongly recommended such leaders to let their peoples express their opinions," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"He further urged those leaders of regional countries who respond to the demands of their nations and their revolutionary uprisings with hot bullets to join their peoples’ movements instead of creating blood baths."

What’s next – a lecture from Fidel on individual rights?  Hugo Chavez waxing poetic on the virtues of capitalism?

 

~McQ


A little history lesson–Egypt and Iran

This, from Austin Bay, does an excellent job of making the point about Egypt that I have been trying to get across in a meta sense. He does it with a look back at the Iranian revolution. It, in many ways, mirrors what is happening in Egypt today. Bay makes the point that in all such revolutions, the key is organization. And unfortunately authoritarians usually do a better job of organizing than do democrats.

A democratic movement will never march in lockstep, but common principles — such as dedication to individual rights — must translate into a common spine to resist, with armed force when necessary, inevitable manipulation, threat and attack by tyrants, terrorists and their vicious partisans.

Recent history bears tragic witness. In the aftermath of their popular rebellion of 1979, the hodgepodge collection of Iranian liberals and nationalists fragmented. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s radical Islamic totalitarians divided the democratic coalition and attacked them individually. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran’s first president after the 1979 revolt, identifies the failure to form a unified democratic front as the Iranians greatest strategic error.

In an essay published in the Christian Science Monitor last month, Bani-Sadr said most Iranian political organizations "did not commit themselves to democracy. Lacking the unity of a democratic front, one by one they became targets of power-seeking clergy in the form of the Islamic Republic Party … ."

I remember the Iranian revolution vividly. I remember Bani-Sadr and the hopes he had for a free and democratic Iran. And I also remember the relentless Ayatollahs and their eventual success at the "divide and conquer" strategy they used. Iran has never gotten off the mat since.

Bay is much more optimistic about the outcome in Egypt than I obviously am.  I think it is much to early to determine that they are headed in the right direction.  Bay says there are hopeful signs.  Good.  But … and there’s always one of those when talking about an authoritarian regime willingly handing over power … we’re so early in the process it’s impossible to tell if the military is really serious about the handover or whether nationalists, secularists, “moderate” Islamists and activists can indeed form a united front or will instead fracture at various points. 

History says “fracture”.

Bay puts the “key” to success in his conclusion:

How the military receives the counter-proposal is crucial. Rejection or ambivalent delay sends the ominous message that there is at least one strong faction of military Bonapartists who prefer pharaoh to freedom. The give and take of sincere negotiations among revolutionary factions and the military, ending in authentic compromise, however, will not only forward the process of building a democratic front but signal the emergence of genuine democratic politics.

You can be guaranteed there are what Bay calls “Bonapartists” within the military.  And in Egyptian history it isn’t unheard of for more junior level officers to resort to violence to take over (Gamal Nasser anyone?).  In the sort of revolutionary atmosphere now prevalent in Egypt it should be remembered that not all revolutionaries want democracy or freedom.  You can rest assured there are power struggles going on within a great number of these factions both within and outside the military.

Given Bay’s quoting of recent history, I’m not sure how he is so optimistic at this early date in the process, but he does seem to think that a united Egyptian democratic front may emerge from all this turmoil.  I remain skeptical and doubtful (even if I’d love to be proven wrong).  And … I have history on my side.

~McQ


Missile defense: a necessary cost?

Discussing the START treaty that right now is being considered by the Senate, the Heritage Foundation’s Conn Carroll reminds us and the Senators considering the treaty of some objective reality:

Senators should keep in mind this Administration’s hostility toward missile defense to begin with. Within months of assuming office, the Obama Administration announced a $1.4 billion cut to missile defense. The successful Airborne Laser boost-phase program was cut, the Multiple Kill Vehicle and Kinetic Energy Interceptor was terminated, and the expansion of ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California were canceled. Adding insult to injury, President Obama then installed long-time anti-missile defense crusader Phillip Coyle as Associate Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technologyby recess appointment. That’s right—this President not only appointed the “high priest” of missile defense denialism as his top adviser on missile defense, but he did so in a way to purposefully avoid Senate consultation on the matter. This is the President some Senate conservatives want to trust? On missile defense? Really?

One way to make nuclear weapons obsolete or less desirable is to make them undeliverable.  That’s the purpose of the missile defense technology we’ve been developing over the years.  Then, when you negotiate a treaty like START you negotiate from a position of strength. 

Instead, we’ve seen a unilateral decision to throw missile defense under the bus, even while rogue nations like Iran and North Korea develop bigger and more powerful missiles every year.   Not to mention the fact that both countries are supplying the technology to others and, according to news reports, providing missiles to proxies and planning on basing missiles in Venezuela.

The cuts to these programs is short-sighted and ignores a very real and growing problem.  The Airborne Laser boost-phase program, for instance, has successfully intercepted ICBMs in the boost phase in tests and is able to quickly kill and engage multiple targets as they boost out toward their targets (a time when the missiles are at their most vulnerable).    It is the first layer in a multilayered missile killing system which would provide this country and its allies a virtually impenetrable shield against rocket launched nuclear weapons.

Instead, we have an administration going around killing off the systems that will protect us all the while telling us that START will do the job and we should just trust the Russians (and Iranians and North Koreans one supposes). 

The easiest way for a nuclear weapon to be delivered successfully is via an ICBM.   Killing off our successful and front-line missile killers like the Airborne Laser boost-phase program is short sighted and dangerous.  If President Obama wants START, make him negotiate.  Reinstate the anti-missile programs.  Then, the next time he or anyone else (hopefully) negotiates a like treaty, it will be from a position of strength that essentially renders rocket delivered nukes obsolete.  That would be a nice change from the obvious unilateral disarmament we’ve seen in the anti- missile shield area and a subsequent negotiating position of weakness.

That’s what our president should be doing, instead of giving away the farm for a piece of paper.  I wonder if the new START promises “peace in our time”?

~McQ

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