The exercise has had a troubled history in 2012. Originally scheduled for the spring, it was postponed until later in the year, with a launch date in October finally settled on. But now the exercise is being scaled back considerably, according to a Time report on Friday. Instead of the 5,000 U.S. troops originally planned, the exercise contingent will be more like 1,500, and possibly fewer.
Equally important is the report that although Patriot missile batteries will deploy to Israel, there will be no crews to operate them. That is quite odd: a Patriot battery deploys as a unit, with technicians to set the equipment up and maintain it, along with the crews to operate it. It is bizarre and pointed to deploy the hardware but not the crews. There is no military sense to it; it can only be intended to send a political message – and apparently a baby-splitting message, at that.
Israel can take comfort that she isn’t the only U.S. ally to be sent Patriot parts without the actual Patriot defense capability. The much-publicized deployment of the U.S. Patriot missile to Poland turned out to involve “rotational training units” but no Patriot interceptor missiles. The original agreement was concluded in 2008, and I very much doubt the Bush administration misled the Poles as to the character of the proposed BMD deployments. But an embassy cable from February 2009 registered Polish anger that the Patriot systems would be deployed without any missiles, which is not what they thought they were signing up for.
In August 2012, Poland’s president said going with the U.S. missile-defense plan was a mistake, and that Poland would be building her own missile defenses from now on. The tortured symbolism of rotational training without missiles doesn’t seem to have met Poland’s defense needs. Warsaw will turn to Germany and France for assistance with building a national missile defense.
Israel has done considerable BMD development of her own, and it is not clear that she will be unable to defend herself without US support. But pointedly moving Patriot hardware to Israel without crews to operate the system sends the message that the U.S. is committed only so far to the defense of Israel. The other cutback reported for Austere Challenge is a reduction in the Aegis BMD warships committed to the exercise, from two to one – or possibly zero. Since the main focus of the exercise will be BMD, this merely amplifies the signal sent by the unmanned Patriot hardware.
US General throws Israel under bus
Again, there is no military sense in these moves, which have been explained – absurdly – as due to budget problems. The clarity of the political message has been sharpened, however, by dismissive – not to say pusillanimous –statements from General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about an Israeli attack on Iran (h/t: JTA).
These are the money lines from a presser Dempsey did with London media on 30 August:
An Israeli attack on Iran would delay but probably not stop its nuclear programme, the most senior US military officer has claimed. General Martin Dempsey reinforced Washington’s opposition to unilateral Israel military action as he made clear that US military chiefs were equally wary of getting ensnared in Syria. …
Distancing himself from any Israeli plan to bomb Iran, Dempsey said such an attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear programme.”
He added: “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it.”
Dempsey said he did not know Iran’s nuclear intentions, as intelligence did not reveal intentions. What was clear, he said, was that the “international coalition” applying pressure on Iran “could be undone if [Iran] was attacked prematurely.” Sanctions against Iran were having an effect, and they should be given a reasonable opportunity to succeed.
I imagine we can reassure General Dempsey that he will not be complicit, if that’s what he’s worried about. It should go without saying that interviews like this one make the U.S. look unserious and even pathetic. If we want Iran’s respect, this – “Hey, don’t blame us” – isn’t the way to get it.
But there’s more to it than that. Leon Panetta has assured Americans that the effects of the sanctions on Iran “may not be obvious.” What is obvious, however, is that the sanctions are not affecting Iran’s nuclear program, which is the only thing that matters. Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t the only one making that point; the Obama White House appears to agree with him, and the IAEA’s latest report on the Iranian nuclear program indicates acceleration in some areas – i.e., burying a working centrifuge network at the Fordo site near Qom – and continued, unresolved concerns in others. The Jewish Virtual Library has a summary from 15 August of the numerous ways in which sanctions have failed.