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March 2, 2015 / 11 Adar , 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Woman in ISIS ‘Blow up France’ Video May Be Linked to Attack on Jews [video]

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

A woman holding a rifle in a new ISIS video may be Hayat Boumeddiene, who is wanted by French authorities for possible involvement in the murderous attack on a Paris kosher deli where four people were killed by her husband, Amedy Coulibaly.

The new video is called “Blow Up France 2″ and shows a woman with a camouflage uniform and holding a weapon.

“French authorities are investigating the possibility this woman could be Hayat Boumeddiene,” a source told CNN.

The new video encourages more terrorist attack in France as part of the “fight for Islam” against French soldiers and police officers.

 

Hayat Boumeddiene, whose husband killed four Jews in Paris, may the new star in an ISIS video.

Hayat Boumeddiene, whose husband killed four Jews in Paris, may the new star in an ISIS video.

Pro-Arab Lobby Wants Facebook to Ban Ads for ‘Illegal Settlements’

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

The anti-Israel is using the left-wing oriented Avaaz web platform to petition Facebook to ban promotions for homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria based on the claim they are “illegal.”

A Facebook representative told The Washington Post it is “investigating” the claim.

Several promotions on Facebook are sponsored by the Israeli branch of the American real estate company RE/MAX.

“For Palestinians, seeing settlement ads is a reminder of the pain and humiliation they have to endure as a result of these war crimes,” Fadi Quran, Avaaz’s campaign director in the West Bank, said in a statement.

Facebook’s policy prohibits advertising of illegal activity.

The question boils down to whether there is a case that it is illegal for Jews to live in Judea and Samaria as stated, but not decided in any court, by the United Nations and most of the international community.

A committee of three legal experts tabled a report to the Netanyahu government three years ago that not only are “settlements” legal but also that Jews have the right to live anywhere they want in all areas under Israel control.

Israel has passed legislation to put under its sovereignty some areas under Israeli control since the Six-Day War in 1967, namely the Golan Heights and half of Jerusalem, but the United Nations does not accept the Israeli law. Judea and Samaria remain under the authority of the military.

A Washington Post foreign affairs reporters’ article on the petition noted that Facebook previously has banned all advertisements that were in support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

If ads for Assad, guilty of war crimes, are banned by Facebook, the implicit and ludicrous conclusion is that promoting homes for Jews should be banned because the Palestinian Authority calls them “war crimes.”

That explains the sudden shift in the Palestinian Authority strategy to accuse Israel of war crimes in the International Criminal Court. Instead of trying to prove Israel committed war crimes against Hamas, whose inhumanity easily could be exposed , PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas is headed for the ICC with a sheaf of documents to claim that building homes for Jews are war crimes.

Supporters of the anti-Israeli petition wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

We were shocked to see ads for illegal Israeli settlements on Facebook. The establishment and expansion of settlements is considered a war crime.

Settlements are a main cause of violence and discrimination in the region. Facebook’s advertising guidelines state that “Ads may not constitute, facilitate or promote illegal activity.” We therefore call upon you to ban all advertisements for settlement homes or settlement based products from showing on Facebook.”

Nearly 30,000 people have signed the petition, and that number is likely to grow geometrically following the free promotion for the petition provided by The Washington Post.

 

Dramatic Video Shows Syrian Rebels Blowing up Assad Compound [video]

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

A video released by the Free Syrian Army shows the explosion in a tunnel dug underneath a large base manned by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The attack took place last month in northwestern Syria and shows rebels deploying M-40 recoilless rifles to attack the compound after the blast.

Netanyahu Tells UN It Failed Its Own Policy to Disarm Hezbollah

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

The United Nations is at fault for failing to carry out its own resolution to disarm Hezbollah, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a phone call Sunday.

Resolution 1701 marked the end of the 34-day Second Lebanon War in 2006 and called on the United Nations to disarm “foreign armies” in Lebanon.

UNIFIL soldiers ignored the resolution from Day One, and Netanyahu raised the issue again Sunday while expressing sorrow for the death of a UNIFIL soldier by artillery fire from the IDF in response to the lethal Hezbollah attack last week that killed two Israeli soldiers.

Netanyahu also took the opportunity to point out that Hezbollah operates with Iran funding and policy direction and that Tehran is trying to escalate violence against Israel.

The Prime Minister’s accusation that UNIFIL is not “reporting on weapons smuggling into southern Lebanon” is nothing new, but the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights and planning attacks against Israel is unprecedented.

Last week’s firing of an anti-tank rocket on IDF vehicles was the most serious attack since the war in 2006. The war ended in a military stalemate, in itself a victory for Hezbollah, which also benefited from Resolution 1701 negotiated on the Israeli side by then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

The United and UNIFIL immediately disclaimed any responsibility to disarm “foreign armies,” meaning Hezbollah, and tried to put the onus on Lebanon.

Government spokesman Mark Regev said at the time:

That resolution clearly calls for the creation of a Hezbollah-free zone south of the Litani River, and anything less would mean that the resolution is not being implemented.

Kofi Annan, who was Secretary-General of the United Nations in 2006, insisted, “The understanding was that it would be the Lebanese who would disarm [Hezbollah].”Obviously, if at some stage they need advice or some help from the international community and they were to approach us, we would consider it, but the troops are not going in there to disarm.”

A senior Lebanese official, Mohammed Chatah, said in 2006:

 Hezbollah individuals are people who live in the south and they will not leave their homes and villages, but an armed Hezbollah will not be in the south, pursuant to  Resolution 1701 that stated there will be “no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.”

That also did not happen because Hezbollah held the cards in the Lebanese government, which it now dominates.

It was clear that the resolution would not be enforced, just like the cease-fire resolution after Operation Cast Lead in December 2008-January 2009 was not honored.

The same Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, negotiated both so-called cease-fires.

Cleared for Publication: Another Israeli-Arab ISIS Recruit from Nazareth

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Another Israeli Arab from Nazareth has been arrested on suspicion of joining the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror organization.

It was cleared for publication today (Sunday, Feb. 1) that Mahran Yousef Hahkhmei Khalidi, age 20, was arrested three weeks ago in a joint operation by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency or ISA) and Israel Police.

Khalidi was not the first to join ISIS from Nazareth, however: attorney Adnan al Adin, self-proclaimed “chief of ISIS in Israel” also was a resident of Nazareth and a public defender for the city until last July. He was fired after posting alleged Qur’anic proclamations and Hadiths against Jews on Facebook, and arrested late last year with the ISIS cell that he led.

Khalidi was indicted today in Nazareth District Court on charges of membership and participation in a banned organization, contact with a foreign agent for the purpose of joining a terror group, taking part in paramilitary training, illegal travel abroad and conducting property transactions with terrorists.

Equally disturbing is the news that Khalidi met at least three other Israeli Arabs in the ISIS training camp where he learned his battle skills. Mohammad Saber Kanana, Marwan Mohammad Kilani and Hamza Magamza – the latter having been arrested on similar charges upon his return to Israel – all learned together with Khalidi in the Yafia ISIS training camp.

Magamza was one of the first young Israelis to join ISIS, but returned to Turkey within two weeks after leaving his hotel with three friends and soon was arrested by local police and returned to Israeli authorities. Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara, who chairs a group monitoring religious extremism, said the group of four appeared to have been “disappointed” with what they found at the ISIS camp, and thus dropped their plans.

Some don’t get the chance to reconsider. One of the youths who ran off to join the ISIS terror group last October ended up fighting in Iraq and never made it back home. Ahmad Habashi’s family, who live near Nazareth, was bewildered, not understanding why their 23-year-old who had everything to live for, had decided instead to throw his life away.

Likewise Alkian Othman a Negev Bedouin medical doctor, working as a resident at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, suddenly disappeared and ran off to join ISIS last May. Othman had earned his medical degree in Jordan, where apparently he had also been recruited to the terrorist organization as well. A resident of the southern Israeli Bedouin town of Hura, he was slated to begin work in the fall at Be’er Sheva’s Soroka Medical Center, but instead he donated his life to terror and died for jihad.

Khalidi, meanwhile, reached his destination in early October 2014, also via Turkey and an ISIS contact on Facebook, who guided him to the border with Syria and an ISIS escort. He spent three weeks undergoing rigorous physical fitness workouts and learned how to patrol and use weapons before he was placed in a permanent post with other “newbies.”

Khalida wanted to serve in a special ops unit. But ISIS sent him to guard a base in Fallujah, Iraq instead, where he was further trained in advanced weaponry and drafted to active combat. Allegedly the Israeli recruit took part in five battles in Fallujah; he was wounded in a US-led coalition air strike while planting roadside bombs to hold off advancing Shi’ite forces. Fellow terrorists took him to an ISIS-controlled hospital in Fallujah, and three weeks later he was permitted to return to Syria to visit with his family.

It’s not clear when, how or why Khalidi returned to Israel, but upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport he was greeted by security personnel who immediately took him into custody. Upon his arrest he confessed that it was ISIS material online in the social networking sites he visited, and ISIS-produced videos that had caught his eye and influenced his decision to travel and join the group.

Bibi, Iran’s Nukes, and Military Force in a Changed Middle East

Friday, January 30th, 2015

{Originally posted on author’s website, Liberty Unyielding}

Over at The Atlantic, there’s a comprehensive worldview being built on the question of whether there’s a “military solution” to the Iran nuclear problem, and how Benjamin Netanyahu has Israel positioned vis-à-vis the problem in general.

Jeffrey Goldberg thinks Netanyahu has Israel positioned very poorly indeed.

James Fallows’ conclusion, agreeing with Goldberg on the worldview, is encapsulated in a quote from a war-game director and retired Air Force officer in 2004:

“After all this effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers,” our main war-game designer, retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner, said at the end of our 2004 exercise. “You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work.” That was true then, and truer now.

I don’t doubt at all the sincere belief Fallows has in this conclusion.  But if you unpack the work that led to it 2004, you find that it was based on a fatally flawed premise. (More on that in a moment.)

Moreover, the situation of 2004 no longer obtains.  That means that the calculations of two major players must now be different.  One is Israel; the other is the United States.  The calculations I refer to include not merely the consequences of each party’s actions, and whether the parties’ capabilities are sufficient for the necessary task.  They also include what the threat has become, and the fact that it is graver now than in 2004.

Don’t make assumptions about what I mean by that.  It may not be what you think.

Why the 2004 conclusion about “military force” is flawed

I’ll begin by explaining my point that the premise of the 2004 war game sponsored by The Atlantic was flawed.  There are several criticisms that can be levied, but this is the one that matters most.  (And I don’t mean to impugn the care and diligence that went into the war game.  You’ll see, however, why I found it fatally flawed at the time – before I was an active blogger – and still do.)

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I’ll quote a key passage from the 2004 war-game summary.  Several players were assembled to act out the roles of the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, and James Fallows narrates the events of the game:

The President wanted to understand the options he actually had for a military approach to Iran. The general and his staff had prepared plans for three escalating levels of involvement: a punitive raid against key Revolutionary Guard units, to retaliate for Iranian actions elsewhere, most likely in Iraq; a pre-emptive air strike on possible nuclear facilities; and a “regime change” operation, involving the forcible removal of the mullahs’ government in Tehran. Either of the first two could be done on its own, but the third would require the first two as preparatory steps. In the real world the second option—a pre-emptive air strike against Iranian nuclear sites—is the one most often discussed. Gardiner said that in his briefing as war-game leader he would present versions of all three plans based as closely as possible on current military thinking. He would then ask the principals to recommend not that an attack be launched but that the President authorize the preparatory steps to make all three possible.

The fatal flaw here is posing the problem set by the president as one of creating options for a “military approach” to Iran.  That’s why the options end up being, respectively, useless, vague, and appalling.

Asking what a “military approach to Iran” would look like is asking the wrong question.  The first question – the right question – is always what the objective is.  If you read through the war-game summary, I believe you’ll agree with me that no strategic objective was ever set for the players.  The three options outlined above imply three different objectives.  If I were the president, and those three options were presented to me, I would ask what could have possessed my staff to forward options one and three.

Fallows relates that the Principals Committee players spent most of their time thinking of reasons why option three was bad.  Of course they did.  But why they were even discussing it is the real question.

They spent very little time on option two, according to Fallows, which is the only option that would have fit the objective as most Americans understood it: to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons by inflicting destruction on her nuclear program.  This is his account of the time they gave to it:

The participants touched only briefly on the Osirak-style strike [i.e., option two] during the war game, but afterward most of them expressed doubt about its feasibility.

This is by no means the only reason to dispute the conclusion the war-gamers came to.  But it’s the most important one.  They were not asked to respond to a specific objective with options for accomplishing it.  In particular, they weren’t told to focus on the objective that was relevant and widely understood to be the potential purpose of military operations – and they didn’t focus on it!

They were asked, in the absence of a specific objective, to discuss some random options for using military force.  That tells us nothing about the efficacy of military force.  It tells us that the planning process asked the wrong question.*

Fast-forward to 2015

In 2015, we are no longer in the situation of 2004.  Three important conditions have changed since then.  The importance of these conditions can’t be overstated, in fact, because they change both what’s possible, and what matters.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote the following on Tuesday (emphases below are added by James Fallows):

Whatever the case, the only other way for Netanyahu to stop Iran would be to convince the president of the United States, the leader of the nation that is Israel’s closest ally and most crucial benefactor, to confront Iran decisively. An Israeli strike could theoretically set back Iran’s nuclear program, but only the U.S. has the military capabilities to set back the program in anything approaching a semi-permanent way.

Fallows disagrees with him, invoking the 2004 war game to assert that “military force,” per se, just can’t get the job done:

Israel doesn’t have the military capacity to “stop” Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and neither does the United States, at least not in circumstances short of total war.

The key problem with working off of either of these premises, Goldberg’s or Fallows’, is that their framing is stuck in 2004.  Here are the three conditions that have changed since then:

(1)  The U.S. no longer has the conventional military capability to “set back Iran’s nuclear program in something approaching a semi-permanent way.”  This is a relative condition, and it’s because of the loss of readiness in our armed forces, independent of any other reason.

(2)  Iran’s nuclear program is considerably advanced from 2004, and setting it back has a different definition now.  This doesn’t mean it’s infeasible, but it does mean that no one now has the capability to use a conventional strike campaign to set Iran’s program back to where it was ca. 2004 or earlier.  A setback can only be to some much more advanced point in Iran’s progress.

(3)  Iran’s geopolitical posture in the Middle East has changed materially since 2004.  The regime’s intentions have never changed, but the facts on the ground about what territory Iran can use to menace her neighbors – as well as U.S. interests – have changed dramatically.

I’ll discuss each of these factors in turn.

Decline in U.S. military capabilities

Here is the thing to keep in mind about U.S. capabilities.  In 2004, it was correct to say that the capabilities we had were sufficient to contemplate destroying every Iranian facility related to the nuclear weapons program, using conventional means.  Not only did we have the weaponry; the weapon systems were in a readiness state high enough to be deployed and used.

There was a political question, certainly, about how hard we wanted to hit Iran.  There were a number of factors to consider, and valid reasons why it was not done.  But it was feasible to do it, with the arsenal we had readily available.

In 2015, we could no longer conduct that same attack: the attack that was necessary in 2004, against a smaller and less advanced nuclear program.  We don’t have the same assets available now, because our strike-fighters, in the Air Force and Navy, are unable to maintain the same level of force-wide readiness they could in 2004.  When they’re not deployed or within 3-5 months of deploying, our strike fleet aircrew and aircraft now fall to the lowest level of readiness, and can’t be “worked up” on a short timeline.

There are no extra ready squadrons to call on today, and fewer are routinely present in the CENTCOM area of responsibility than in 2004.  The same is true of aircraft carriers and Tomahawk missile shooters.  (Read more about how we got to this point here, here, here, here, and here.)

If the president wanted to assemble a force to attack Iran, the force would be smaller than what he would have had in 2004, and any “build-up” would involve pulling assets off the front line in other theaters: Europe, where NATO is trying to deter Russia with an enhanced military presence, or the Far East, where we are trying to deter North Korea and China.

Alternatively, the president could ask Congress for the funding to increase force readiness so that there would be more of the strike fleet available at a given time.  Implementing that approach would take at least six months to see the first effects: e.g., one or two squadrons at improved readiness.  The issue isn’t just things like pilot qualifications; it’s things like non-deployed aircraft being cannibalized for parts, and the whole fleet being backed up with deferred maintenance.

We continue to keep our global strategic bombers – B-2s and B-52s – at a generally higher level of readiness, and could use them to attack Iran with conventional ordnance.  Their operations would be constrained, however, by the limitations of strike-fighter readiness and specialty aircraft (e.g., the Navy F/A-18 “Growlers” that provide electronic warfare support).  The bombers need escorts, as they need in-flight refueling; having enough ready bombers isn’t the same thing as having enough ready capability.

Moreover, the U.S. could expect to have limited access to airfields in the Persian Gulf region.  It became clear as early as 2010 that Gulf nations would seek to restrain U.S. operations against Iran from their bases, and today, we should expect the Gulf emirates to be very picky about what they allow.  They won’t buy into tentative, non-decisive military operations that leave Iran able to retaliate against them.  If they fear that we aren’t going to act decisively enough, it’s likely that all three of our major hosts – Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait – would deny us the use of their bases for an operation against Iran.

That limiting condition would take out the Air Force as a source of strike-fighters, and make it much harder to operate tankers, reconnaissance aircraft, and AWACS.

Add in factors like the uncertain future of the Tomahawk missile (the Obama administration proposed to end production in 2014), and what we have today is a much more limited set of options than we had in 2004.  Although we still have a capability to attack Iran’s nuclear-related facilities, we can’t mount the kind of crippling attack we could have in 2004.  What we could achieve now is limited to a smaller effect.

Put it this way: in 2004, the five-day attack described in option two of the Atlantic war game was less than what was needed to impose that “semi-permanent setback” referred to by Jeffrey Goldberg.  But we could have mounted that option two attack with negligible inconvenience to ourselves.  It was well within our capabilities.  We also had the means, by deploying more force, to bring off the larger attack required to administer the “semi-permanent setback.”

In 2015, something like the five-day attack is the very most we could bring off.  It was less than what was needed to achieve a semi-permanent setback to Iran’s program in 2004 – and today, it is far less.

Advances in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs

Iran has made significant advances in her nuclear and missile programs since 2004, demonstrating the ability to enrich uranium to near-weapons-grade purity; demonstrating the ability to enrich uranium on an industrial scale; acquiring enough enriched-uranium stock for 7-8 warheads; and demonstrating the ability to boost a payload into orbit, and therefore, inevitably, a ballistic missile to ICBM ranges.  Iran had none of these capabilities in 2004, and in fact was not even close to having them.

(It is worth noting that the January 2015 appearance in Iran of a launch platform capable of supporting an ICBM has occurred right on schedule, in terms of when analysts in the last decade thought it would.  As of 2015, we have seen most of the developments that were predicted in the Iranian nuclear program in the 2005 NIE – see here as well – and the missile-system developments predicted in that NIE and an East-West Institute analysis published in 2009.)

ICBM-capable launcher observed near Tehran in Jan 2015. (Israel Ch. 2)

ICBM-capable launcher observed near Tehran in Jan 2015. (Israel Ch. 2)

The Iranians have also installed missile silos for their medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) – hardening them against attack – and, according to British intelligence, successfully launched a solid-fuel mobile MRBM to a range of 2,000 km (1,200 statute miles) in 2011.  The latter feats mean Iran has a no-notice, shoot-and-scoot MRBM capability that can reach well into Europe.

These various advances, and other related ones, have two significant implications.  One is that the “bottleneck” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program – the part of it we would get the highest payoff from attacking – has shifted.

There are other, related implications, such as the right way to attack elements of the program.  It wouldn’t be enough today to simply blast away at the Natanz uranium enrichment complex, for example; we would have to follow through afterward and actively prevent Iran from rebuilding a uranium enrichment capability, which the Iranians now have more than ample expertise to do.  In 2004, it would have been a tremendous setback to them to lose Natanz.  They still couldn’t absorb such a loss easily, but their recovery now would be a matter of time and money, not rebuilding from scratch.

At any rate, the bottleneck, or critical node, in their program shifted some time ago, from uranium enrichment, which Iran has mastered, to weaponization of a warhead: that is, fitting a functioning warhead to a delivery system (presumably a ballistic missile, at least to begin with.  Cruise missiles would come later).  Although we have a reasonable idea of which sites to hit to attack that “weaponization” bottleneck, it is the most shadowy aspect of the Iranian nuclear program.  Our confidence in what to hit is slightly lower than it is for the uranium chain or the missile design and production chain.

The other key implication about Iran’s advances is, of course, that the threat has increased.  It is greater today, and it’s more imminent.  We can less afford to do nothing about it than we could in 2004.

And what that means is that even if we can only do less now than we would prefer, the urgency of doing it has increased.

Iran’s geopolitical posture and the resulting threat

That is one facet of the situation faced by Israel.  It’s also a situation faced by the United States, now that Iran is ten years closer to having an ICBM capability, and at the very least could soon be able to hold every partner we have in the Middle East hostage with nuclear-armed MRBMs.

For Israel, however, it isn’t possible to separate the security implications of the nuclear-missile problem from the geopolitical problem.  Both work together to change Israel’s security conditions – which is what Iran intends.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote his piece Tuesday as if nothing has changed for Israel, other than that there are now face-to-face negotiations between the U.S. and Iran.  But since January 2011, Israel’s security situation has changed significantly, and Iran is one of the biggest factors in that.

Graphic used by retired Gen. Jack Keane to brief Congress 27 Jan on 4-fold increase in radical Islamic threat since 2010. (Graphic: Institute for the Study of War; CSPAN video)

Graphic used by retired Gen. Jack Keane to brief Congress 27 Jan on 4-fold increase in radical Islamic threat since 2010. (Graphic: Institute for the Study of War; CSPAN video)

It’s particularly meaningful to frame the issue by starting from the fact that Israel’s capability against the Iranian nuclear program has always been more limited than America’s.  (Stay with me; this does relate to the Iranian geopolitical posture.)  It’s possible for America to recover the ability to pressure and intimidate Iran into a level of compliance, along the lines of the strategy outlined in my footnote below.  It will never be possible for Israel to do that.

If Israel is going to act, it will have to be with an actual attack.  And that means that what Iran has to do is make it as hard as possible for Israel to bring off such an attack.  That is a driving facet of the geopolitical problem Iran sets for herself.  Iran has larger designs on the region; her plans against Israel “nest” into them.  But the focus on Israel is unmistakable, and one of the key reasons is that hemming Israel in with threats will dilute Israel’s capability to mount an attack against Iran’s high-value facilities.

As little as five years ago, Iran’s options for servicing this requirement were quite limited.  Hamas and Hezbollah could launch rockets and dig tunnels from Gaza and southern Lebanon.  Hezbollah had successfully used an Iranian-supplied anti-ship missile in 2006, but there was little likelihood of such an attack being brought off again.

Iran, however, had begun sending warships to the Horn of Africa for antipiracy operations as early as December 2008, and with the onset of the Arab Spring, her military profile across the region metastasized.  The presence of Iranian warships has become routine in the Red Sea, and in 2011, Iran sent warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 revolution.  Iran has announced deploying submarines to the Red Sea as well.  Every new weapon the Iranian navy tests or drills with in the Persian Gulf – including cruise missiles and high-speed torpedoes – it intends to use in its forward patrol areas, which now include the waters of the Red Sea, and potentially the Eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Iran now has Special Forces deployed in Iraq, as well as wherever the Assad regime is in (nominal) control of territory in Syria.  There is intriguing evidence that the Iranians have taken over a nuclear-related facility in western Syria: in fact, that they arranged for Hezbollah to “liberate” it from Sunni jihadists because it’s a nuclear facility, and is being used for Iran’s purposes.

Iran’s aggressively expanding posture across the region. (Google map; author annotation.)

Iran’s aggressively expanding posture across the region. (Google map; author annotation.)

And earlier this month, the Iranians sent a very high-level military delegation to perform reconnaissance in the Golan Heights – just one of the recent pieces of evidence that Iran wants to open a new front for Israel to have to defend.  The Iranians want to preoccupy Israel’s military, and increase her insecurity overall by forcing Israel to counterattack into Syria, thus creating the ongoing danger of escalating an already unstable situation.
(Google map; author annotation. Inset: Wikimedia Commons, author annotation)

(Google map; author annotation. Inset: Wikimedia Commons, author annotation)

It’s important to understand that Iran’s campaign serves multiple purposes, because its implications for Israel are therefore bigger.  Israel isn’t just concerned now about Iran’s nuclear program.  Netanyahu has to be concerned about what Iran, with or without nuclear arms, will do with her expanding territorial leverage in the region.  Iran gaining a foothold in Yemen with the Houthi coup there is the latest disturbing development, one that could give the Iranians a base from which to deploy midget submarines into the Red Sea, for example, or base military aircraft, or position missile launchers to complicate Israel’s missile defense picture.  Yemen could certainly become a waypoint for the flow of illicit arms from Iran to a variety of recipients.  Where once Israeli intelligence could focus on ports in Sudan, it now may have the entire western coast of Yemen to contend with.

The brewing crisis in the Golan may by itself be enough to present Israel with a matrix of game-changing decision points in the next 12 months.  There’s a limit to how much harassment Israel can afford to live with and retain viability as a free and secure nation, making a good life possible for her people.  The confrontation with Iran is growing in more than one dimension, and Israel can’t treat the Iranian nuclear program as a theoretical, specialized threat, separate from the overall menace Iran presents to her.

At right, IRGC General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, one of two IRGC general officers and six Iranians conducting reconnaissance in the Golan Heights on 18 Jan 2015, when their convoy was struck by (presumably) the IDF. Allahdadi is seen here hanging with former President Khatami in 2009. (Image: Iranian TV via Twitter)

At right, IRGC General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, one of two IRGC general officers and six Iranians conducting reconnaissance in the Golan Heights on 18 Jan 2015, when their convoy was struck by (presumably) the IDF. Allahdadi is seen here hanging with former President Khatami in 2009. (Image: Iranian TV via Twitter)

 

It’s not 2004 anymore

The profile of Iran’s activities makes it abundantly clear that none of what she does is “about” Israel making concessions on West Bank settlements, or otherwise falling in with proposals made by the Obama administration for a final status agreement.  Iran is all over the region – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan – taking advantage of the opportunities created by the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Jeffrey Goldberg suggests that Israel should strengthen Obama’s negotiating position by making more concessions to the Palestinian Arabs.  But in 2015, nothing in the region’s main dynamic is even about that anymore.  The main dynamic is the feeding frenzy for the territory of Syria and Iraq.  The various actors are shaping up to be Iran, ISIS, the Kurds, and some combination of others who still retain a legacy set of “status quo” objectives (including, e.g., the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Turkey).

Not one of those actors can be deterred or influenced by artificially forced developments in the now-defunct Oslo process.  But at least two of the actors – Iran and ISIS – will exploit Israel however they have to, to gain advantage for themselves.  That’s what Iran is doing with her foray into the Golan, which gives “top cover” to her nuclear program, but also has the real potential to become as much of an existential threat to Israel as an Iranian bomb.

Israel can’t afford to ignore the fact that the whole unfolding strategy interlocks.  In essence, Iran has already begun a new phase in her long-running campaign against Israel, and the Obama administration is asking Israel to behave toward the negotiations with Iran as if that hasn’t happened: as if it’s still 2004, and everyone still has the same situation and the same options.

An emerging trigger point

Israel doesn’t.  It’s not 2004 anymore.  There was a time, as little as a year ago, when the triggers for Israel to have to attack boiled down mainly to these two: either Iran was about to cross the “red line” Bibi briefed to the UN in 2012, or the Iranians were about to deploy a modern anti-air missile system that would make it too difficult for Israel to pull the attack off, once it was in place.

But we’re past that point now.  Developments in the nuclear program, or inside Iran, aren’t Israel’s only concern.  The Israelis may well have to execute a preemptive strategy that baffles and blunts Iran’s whole package of activities in the Israeli security perimeter.  Attacking the Iranian nuclear program – facilities in Iran – will probably form some element of that, but it won’t be enough.

And the trigger matrix has changed.  The intolerable juncture for Israel is likely to be connected with Iran’s emerging campaign in the Golan.  Neither the prompts for military action, nor its purpose and targets, will be bounded by the old outlines of the “Iranian nuclear” problem.  The problem is bigger now: simultaneously more threatening and immediate, and more diffuse.  A strike campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities, with F-15s, is no longer the main mental picture we should have.

Like the Oslo-legacy negotiations, the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran have little relevance to the security conditions Israel faces today.  One of the most important things the U.S. could do to reset the clock is now out of reach: that is, pacify and effectively settle the situation in Syria and Iraq, where Iran, like ISIS, is gaining strength and position from conflict.  The Obama administration doesn’t seem aware that the situation has changed, and with it the motives and concerns of everyone in the region.  Netanyahu has to deal, nevertheless, with a reality that’s changing under our feet with each passing day.

Center, with scarf: Iranian Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with local Iraqi military leaders in Iraq in 2014. A U.S. defense official said in 2013 that Soleimani was “running the whole Syrian war by himself.” (Quoted by Dexter Filkins in “Shadow Commander,” The New Yorker, 30 Sep 2103. Image via Twitter)

Center, with scarf: Iranian Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with local Iraqi military leaders in Iraq in 2014. A U.S. defense official said in 2013 that Soleimani was “running the whole Syrian war by himself.” (Quoted by Dexter Filkins in “Shadow Commander,” The New Yorker, 30 Sep 2103. Image via Twitter)

* I’m fully aware, incidentally, that policy is sometimes made in just this way.  But that doesn’t mean that we can accurately judge whether military force would be effective by approaching our evaluation through an inherently flawed policy-making process.

An objective and a strategy

For what it’s worth, this is what I would have asked the NSC and principals to look at back in 2004.  The strategic objective would have been to rope Iran into a heavily and genuinely supervised mode with her nuclear program, understanding that political change in Iran might be encouraged that way (alongside other methods), through frustrating the regime and weakening its reputation, but would ultimately have to come in other ways from the Iranian people.  Outreach to reformers in Iran would have been the highest American priority overall.

The objective of using military force would have been to set Iran’s nuclear program back significantly – by at least 24 months – and inflict some level of additional damage as a deterrent, against both immediate retaliation and future activities.

I would have wanted a process of escalating pressure on Iran with a concurrent military build-up in the Gulf region, designed to force Iran to open up all the facilities identified by the IAEA and Western intelligence as suspect.  If Iran didn’t comply in good faith by a deadline, the strikes would start.  The strike threat would have been implied, not spelled out.  The deadline would have been a short one (30-45 days), only long enough to accommodate the build-up, but not so long that Iran could change all her program arrangements to evade attack.

The scope of military strikes for which the build-up was designed would have included the significant “bottleneck,” or critical node, of Iran’s program at the time – the uranium enrichment complex at Natanz – as well as the suspicious special-use facilities in the Parchin area southeast of Tehran.

There would have been some other targets in the nuclear and missile programs, but those two installations would have been the top priorities.  Equally important targets would have been the IRGC assets most useful for projecting power outside Iran’s borders, including ballistic missiles, coastal cruise missiles, and submarines, as well as the IRGC’s paramilitary organization.  Attacking the air defense network and national command and control nodes would have been necessary to hold air superiority for U.S. forces while they were operating in Iranian air space.

Ideally, the preparations for this, and the escalating pressure on Iran (very possibly including intense economic pressure), would have gotten Iran to make some meaningful concessions at the time.  We need not oversell what we could have wrested from Iran without an attack, but odds were better than even that we could have gotten meaningful concessions: concessions that justified the effort, even if they weren’t everything we wanted.  Rinsing and repeating would almost certainly have been necessary.

My own preference would be for an extended process in which we could force Iran’s program more into the open, and keep pushing Iran back, without having to strike.  Instead of letting Iran play for time, we should be playing for time: time for Iranian reformers, who poked their heads up in 2009, and who are still there to be worked with.

Netanyahu: ‘Arik Sharon Knew The Real Threat is Iran’

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Iran has already begun its war against the State of Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned Thursday during a speech at a state memorial ceremony for the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The former prime minister died on January 11, 2014 at the age of 85 after spending eight years in a coma.

Speaking at Sharon’s Sycamore Ranch near the city of Sderot in southern Israel, Netanyahu bluntly announced, “It is Iran that is responsible for yesterday’s attack against us from Lebanon.”

The elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced Wednesday night it “will fight next to the Islamic resistance movement Hezbollah in all its fights against the Zionist State,” according to a report by the Hezbollah-linked Al Manar news outlet in Lebanon. Tehran’s special operations unit has been fighting alongside Hezbollah to bolster government forces protecting President Bashar al-Assad in his civil war against the myriad rebel forces trying to depose his regime since the region-wide “Arab Spring” swept into Syria in 2011. Iran has been a generous benefactor of both Syria and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group for decades.

“This is the same Iran that is now trying to achieve an agreement, via the major [world] powers, that would leave it with the ability to develop nuclear weapons, and we strongly oppose this agreement. We will continue to defend ourselves against all threats, near and far alike,” Netanyahu said.

“Arik well understood the character of the Iranian regime,” he added, “and what he said then is still valid today.”

At the start of a security assessment meeting at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu noted that Iran has been quite busy in the region, placing its proxy forces into position as close as possible to Israeli civilian areas.

“For some time, Iran – via Hezbollah – has been trying to establish an additional terrorist front against us from the Golan Heights,” he said. “We are taking strong and responsible action against this attempt.”

Ariel Sharon was equally blunt in warning the world — and particularly the United States — about the dangers of ignoring the threat posed by Iran and radical Islamists.

In his biography of Ariel Sharon “A Plan For Israel,” pp 244-245), author Uri Dan quotes a 2006 New York Times interview in which Sharon is quoted as saying, “The whole world should be concerned about the Iranian threat.

“Iran, which already possesses ballistic missiles with a range of 1,300 kilometers – capable, therefore, of reaching Israel – is developing missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometers. This danger does not affect just our country, it affects European and other countries as well.

“Once again, it is the role of the international community to block Iran’s nuclear capability, and it is the role of the UN Security Council to take the necessary measures.

“I am very concerned about the voices saying that we have to resign ourselves to the idea that one day Iran will inevitably join the club of nuclear countries…[Europeans'] primary consideration is their economic interests… [Americans] understand the danger presented by nuclear weapons in the hands of a regime like that of Iran.

“The tight control exercised by the International Atomic Energy Agency has led to an interruption, or at least a delay, in the Iranian nuclear program. But Iran is a huge country in which it is easy to hide installations, and the Iranians are masters in the art of double-dealing.”

Russia takes the issue seriously, Sharon added, saying that Iran is the most serious strategic threat that Israel was facing.

“Aside from their nuclear ambitions, the Iranians are actively involved in terrorism,” Sharon noted, “from their regional base in Lebanon,” financing attacks in Judea and Samaria and helping Hamas in Gaza. They “provide them with smuggled weapons… more serious still, the Iranians try to recruit Arab Israelis…”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/netanyahu-arik-sharon-knew-the-real-threat-is-iran/2015/01/29/

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