Archive for June 23, 2019

Trump, the proportionality president, and the Iranian wild card 

June 23, 2019

Source: Trump, the proportionality president, and the Iranian wild card -analysis – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Anyone who is familiar with military operations by Israel or the US from the inside knows that there is no such thing as one option to kill 150 people at three sites or nothing.

BY YONAH JEREMY BOB
 JUNE 23, 2019 17:41
Supporters of Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)

There was an unusual amount of nuance going on for US President Donald Trump on Friday, as he ordered and then canceled air strikes on Iran in response to its downing of an expensive US drone.

But none of that nuance had to do with proportionality – especially in its legal sense – or the 150 Iranian lives Trump said he was concerned about saving.

First, there is difficulty, from an operational perspective, with his statements about killing 150 people.

Anyone who is familiar from the inside with military operations by Israel or the US knows that there is no such thing as one option to kill 150 people at three sites or nothing.

You can alter what munition is used in a strike to significantly reduce the harm to the target area. One munition might blow up a whole building, another just one floor and another just one unit within a floor.

You can issue warnings to the other side before you strike, as Israel often does when it strikes empty Hamas weapons storehouses.

You can reduce the three targets to one, which reduces the volume of casualties.

Or you can pick a different set of targets with less people around.

His decision also had nothing to do with proportionality under the law of war, which essentially says that the harm to civilians from the use of force cannot be excessive in relation to the military advantage obtained through an attack.

Based on the three Iranian military targets that the US was locked and loaded to strike, it is unlikely that any civilians would have been harmed.

That basically means the law of proportionality would not have even applied.

Members of an army, certainly those performing operational functions such as radar and missile batteries, are legitimate military targets at all times.

Hitting any of those forces involved in shooting down the US drone would be the definition of self-defense – and there is no specific proportionality requirement.

WHAT IS remarkable about Trump’s tossing out proportionality as something that matters to him – and in a context where it does not even apply – is that he has been eminently clear that he is against considering proportionality in pursuing terrorists, especially ISIS.

His big break in 2016 with long-time Republican national security stalwart and former CIA director General Michael Hayden was over Trump’s repeated public statements endorsing the bombing of potentially innocent family members and nearby neighbors of terrorists to get terrorists.

Hayden and others are not necessarily against “collateral damage” to civilians if a specific attack meets proportionality requirements of international law, but they rejected his readiness to endorse unqualified attacks on potential innocents as long as he got terrorists also.

By all accounts, his targeting of ISIS did come with fewer restrictions than under the Obama administration, which has led to more civilian harm.

Trump was also widely slammed in 2016 for endorsing not just torture against terrorist detainees, but for a readiness to use techniques worse than waterboarding. No one was clear on what he meant, with some imagining “the rack” of the Spanish Inquisition.

The point is, if the first time that Trump mentions international law and war is when it does not even apply, one can take the statement with a grain of salt.

In truth, Trump just decided that he did not want to strike Iran at this time over an unmanned drone being shot down because he is highly cautious about wars in the Middle East, and is gambling that his initial buildup to a strike, coupled with his eventual restraint, may get Iran to calm its own escalation in using force.

If he pulls this off, it may be added to a short list of moments where his unconventional leadership style and high-stakes gambling, which goes against conventional wisdom, led to an unexpectedly positive foreign policy result.
Except that Trump is not the only decisive actor.

IRAN IS A wild card and is not a single-minded entity. Trump’s latest restraint did not provide it an easy landing from the US maximum pressure campaign.

The Islamic republic’s moderates or internationalists might be interested in a new nuclear deal even if it meant some new concessions to the US – but even they might not be.

Besides them, Iran’s middle of the spectrum power center, represented by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is willing to make pragmatic moves, like deals, but is highly suspicious of the West – and nothing Trump did on Friday likely changed that.

Then there is a large wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who are a combination of ideological Messianics and ruthless realists who were willing to let massive numbers of their people die in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. They never wanted the old deal and certainly do not want a new one.

They would be happy to go to war and to show the US that even if it is stronger, it is not willing to bleed as much and for as long as they are.

So Trump’s moment this weekend could be his Obama redline moment, where he loses deterrence globally by being exposed as unwilling to use military options. On the other hand, it could be a brilliant moment, which eventually brings Iran to cut an improved nuclear deal.

Or it could be just another forgotten moment in the ongoing nuclear standoff between the US and Iran, with both sides continuing to play chicken.

Either way, proportionality was not the issue.

 

Saudi official says ‘Deal of Century’ leads to full Palestinian statehood 

June 23, 2019

Source: Saudi official says ‘Deal of Century’ leads to full Palestinian statehood – Israel News – Jerusalem Post

The official slammed Palestinian leadership as “irresponsible” for not even considering the Deal of the Century, which will bring 60 billion USD to their people.

BY JERUSALEM POST STAFF
 JUNE 22, 2019 22:30
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

“History and Allah brought a real opportunity,” a top-ranking Saudi diplomat told Israelis via an interview in Globes on Friday. “The blood conflict had lasted too long. Us Saudis and all Gulf States plus Egypt and Jordan realize that the age of going to war with Israel is over.”
Pointing to “the advantages of normalizing relations,” he argued that “the whole Arab world could benefit from it,” Globes reported.
The Saudi diplomat told Globes that “Israeli technology is very advanced and the Arab world, including those who hate you, looks at Israel in admiration due to this success and hopes to copy it.”
He further stated that despite the understanding among Saudi people that the age of war with Israel needs to end, the kingdom has a deep commitment to the Palestinians.

“Maybe it is hard for them to part with the character of the ever-suffering victim and they don’t believe they could survive without it,” he said, noting that if they accept the American peace plan they will be given “sums they never dreamed of.” 

The official slammed Palestinian leadership as “irresponsible” for not even considering the “Deal of the Century,” which will bring $50 billion to their people, he said.

Far from arguing the plan is based solely on money, the Saudi diplomat argued that it includes a “clear path leading to complete Palestinian independence” and added that “we are convinced that even the hard issues can be resolved when one has a full stomach and a relaxed life…they still don’t accept this.”
The diplomat argued that one of the reasons for this refusal is the Palestinian perspective that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not be able to sell a peace deal to the Israelis and so they can wait until a leader who is more suitable to their needs might appear.
“We think that when it’s time to decide every Israeli leader, Netanyahu as well, will take the path of peace as this is what most Israelis want,” the man said.

 

Under siege, Iran reverts to its old tricks 

June 23, 2019

Source: Under siege, Iran reverts to its old tricks – www.israelhayom.com

Feeling the pain of economic sanctions, Iran is looking for a way to end the siege. Now that its hopes of rescue by the Europeans have been dashed, Tehran has opted for the familiar path: terrorism.

It is doubtful that officials in Tehran feel like popping open a bottle of champagne following reports the Americans called off a retaliatory military strike against the Shiite country at the last minute. US President Donald Trump’s decision not to respond to the downing of a drone does not appear to be due to fear of a conflict but rather a way to offer another opportunity to avoid one.

Iran, whose economy is beginning to feel the pain of economic sanctions, is looking for a way to end the siege. After having its hopes European countries, together with Russia and China, would save it dashed, Tehran took the familiar route: terrorism. First, in the hope of raising insurance premiums and oil prices, it attacked oil tankers. Later, it aimed to send a clear message to the Americans by way of downing an advanced drone estimated to cost some $120 million.

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It seems these moves were less a battle cry and more a cry for help. While Washington, as of Saturday, has chosen not to respond with war, it has also not surrendered on the issue of economic pressure on Iran. Trump has made it clear to Iran that “it’s my way or the highway.” There will be no compromises on the 12 US demands Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Iran would need to meet in order for sanctions to be lifted.

Iran does not appear poised to give up at this stage. All the experts agree that Tehran will continue with its favorite policy of walking on the razor’s edge, meaning more attempts to attack, more signaling and more action.

It could be that in the next stage, Iran will move from activity in the Persian Gulf against tankers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to additional targets that include Israel.

From Tehran’s standpoint, there are four ways to strike: attacks from Syria, attacks from Lebanon, attacks from the Gaza Strip and attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, or a combination of two or more of these scenarios.

The fourth scenario, which would see Iran strike Israeli or Jewish targets around the world, is the least likely at this stage because it is doubtful Iran wants to start trouble with additional countries. The Syria scenario would be relatively convenient from Israel’s perspective, as the Israel Defense Forces has total aerial superiority in the arena after years of intensive activities against Iranian targets in the north.

The second and third scenarios, however, are more complicated. The more likely option of these two would see Iran act from Gaza. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has already proved its ability to go wild out of nowhere over the last year.

Although unlikely, the most dangerous option is the Lebanese one. Despite Hassan Nasrallah’s threats, Hezbollah would be less than enthusiastic about getting dragged into conflict – the outcome of which no one could predict.

And yet, this complicated state of affairs obligates Israel to ensure it is prepared for such scenarios. The massive IDF exercise this week, which focused on fighting on several fronts, was aimed at sending exactly that message: Israel is ready. It does not intend to initiate a conflict, but if challenged, we will respond.

The situation will be given even clearer public expression at the unprecedented meeting of American, Russian and Israel national security advisers in Jerusalem this week. A solution to the situation in Syria will not be found there, but the very assembly of Americans and Russians in Jerusalem, under Israeli auspices, is a clear sign to Tehran as to just who the good guys and the bad guys are in this story. With the Bahrain conference in the background, Iran will likely opt to take a deep breath and wait a little longer before taking action once again.

Even those with a wealth of foresight are now finding it difficult to predict how this story will end – whether in dialogue or in an exchange of blows that precedes that dialogue or in another way entirely. What is certain is that we are not even close to the beginning of the end of tensions in the Gulf; with things as they look right now, we’re not even at the end of the beginning.

 

Iran calls the American bluff 

June 23, 2019

Source: Iran calls the American bluff – www.israelhayom.com

Tehran has concluded that opposition in the US to sending more forces to the Middle East, Trump’s desire to withdraw from the region, and his new re-election campaign means it can sting the US without getting stung back.

Iran’s diplomatic approach of hostile messages, which it has implemented in recent weeks, reached new heights last Thursday when an American spy drone was shot down by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps over the Persian Gulf. In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, facilities were hit by ballistic missiles fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen that are loyal to Iran.

The Iranians say the advanced US surveillance aircraft, which is capable of staying in the air for more than 30 hours and is equipped with sophisticated observation systems, was downed because it had infiltrated Iranian airspace. This claim contradicts the statement issued by the US military that the drone was shot down in international airspace. Regardless, the incident illustrates Iran’s determination to continue provoking the United States despite its stated desire to avoid war.

Iran’s escalation in the Persian Gulf has been gradual. The terrorist attacks on the oil tankers in May and two weeks ago were specifically designed to avoid leaving fingerprints.  In the wake of the drone incident, however, the chief of the IRGC was quick to threaten the US “not to cross the red line.” The missile fired at the obvious American target on Thursday was a direct message to the White House.

Tehran decided to push the envelope in the Persian Gulf for two main reasons. One pertains, of course, to its domestic situation. Iran is seeking to create a new equation whereby the tighter the noose of US-imposed economic sanctions becomes the greater the risk of a conflagration in the Gulf will be. Conversely, if the US decides to loosen the noose, perhaps Iran will be more amenable to talking.

The other reason behind Iran’s escalation in the Gulf stems from the belief in Tehran that the White House is so afraid of conflict and military quagmire in the Gulf that it won’t rush to retaliate – even to more severe provocations. This assessment was strengthened not only by US President Donald Trump’s stated desire to avoid war with Iran but also his tempered response to the oil tanker attacks.

In formulating their assessment, the Iranians are also leaning on the opposition within the US to deploying additional forces to the Persian Gulf, Trump’s fundamental desire to withdraw from the Middle East, his recently launched re-election campaign, and on the fact that his acting defense secretary is stepping down. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his advisers believe that under these circumstances, Iran now has a decent chance of stinging the US without getting stung back.

Are the Iranians wrong? The IRGC chief pointed to Tehran’s red lines by downing the American drone, but it isn’t clear he knows what Trump’s red lines are. Is Washington still preparing its response to the drone incident, or will it only respond with military force if a manned plane is hit?

What is clear is that the situation in the Persian Gulf is highly combustible, and both sides are closer to conflict than to dialogue and negotiations over a new nuclear deal.

 

Iranian brinkmanship creates mounting dilemma for Trump administration 

June 23, 2019

Source: Iranian brinkmanship creates mounting dilemma for Trump administration – www.israelhayom.c

Iran’s downing of an American drone over the Strait of Hormuz seems part of Iran’s calculated strategy in the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for the possibility of being dragged into the fray.

The Iranian destruction of an American intelligence-gathering drone over the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday represents the continuation of a clear, consistent and calculated Iranian strategy of brinkmanship, which began in May.

Iran said it used a domestically produced surface-to-air missile system to bring down the advanced drone, scoring a valuable propaganda victory against the United States. It appears as if Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have come to the conclusion that the Trump administration has a fairly high tolerance level to Iranian provocations, and this assessment is forming the basis for a string of Iranian attacks throughout the region.

This policy has seen the IRGC conduct sabotage attacks on international oil tankers docked at a United Arab Emirates’ port, launch mine attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and previously attempt to shoot down an American drone in the Persian Gulf.

The Iranian policy also saw cruise-missile and explosive drone attacks against sensitive Saudi Arabian targets by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. “Anonymous” rocket attacks on Israel and the US Embassy in Baghdad fit this pattern as well.

Iran is signaling to America and the region that it will not give in to economic pressure and that the sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic will only serve to destabilize the Middle East.

In doing so, the Iranians have used high-risk brinkmanship to create a serious dilemma for the Trump administration. Washington must choose between containment, which could be interpreted by Iran as a green light for further attacks, or retaliation, which the Iranians appear confident enough to absorb.

Either way, Iran is not complying with Trump’s demands to reopen the 2015 nuclear deal, and its posture is designed to tell the international community that economic sanctions will fail as a means to influence its behavior.

This comes as The New York Times reported Thursday night that President Trump ordered an airstrike on Iran in retaliation for the downing of the drone, only to be pulled back from the launch shortly afterward. The report quoted US officials as saying that the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries.

Given this, the White House will now have to decide whether to refrain from retaliating for the Iranian escalation – a decision that could cost it in terms of deterrence – or launch a pinpoint retaliation, which could develop into a wider conflict.

Either way, no diplomatic breakthrough is on the horizon, and the situation in the region continues to escalate.

‘Prepared for any scenario’

Israel, which is threatened by Iranian proxies from Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, and which is engaged in a lengthy, defensive shadow war against Iranian forces in Syria, could with some ease find itself dragged into any Iranian-American flare-up.

In what appears to be a reflection of that fact, the Israeli cabinet reportedly held two sessions recently and ministers have apparently been banned from giving interviews about the meetings, although one senior Israeli official told Ynet that “when there is tension with Iran, we certainly need to be concerned and to be prepared for any scenario.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israel’s enemies on Thursday that the IDF has “very big destructive power.” He spoke at the end of a large-scale IDF war exercise in a statement designed to energize Israel’s deterrent posture.

The IDF’s exercise, held in northern Israel and the Jordan Valley, simulated combat against the Iranian-backed terrorist army of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

At the same time, the Israeli Air Force held its annual exercise, involving hundreds of aircraft from IAF squadrons. These were joined by helicopters and transport planes, which flew through the day and night, simulating war missions.

“The exercise, which simulated multifront warfare, aimed to improve the IAF’s readiness in simultaneously facing combat scenarios on several fronts,” the IDF said.

The Israeli Navy joined in as well, with missile ships, submarines and coastal security vessels practicing scenarios in the northern region.

“This exercise continued to improve the IDF’s readiness for war,” said the commanding officer of the Ground Forces National Training Center, Brig. Gen. Nadav Lotan.

After all, little boosts Israeli deterrence more effectively than such a display of war readiness.

This article is reprinted with permission from JNS.org.

 

PM Netanyahu Meets with US National Security Adviser John Bolton 

June 23, 2019

 

 

Bolton lands in Israel ahead of unprecedented security summit 

June 23, 2019

Source: Bolton lands in Israel ahead of unprecedented security summit | The Times of Israel

US national security adviser to meet with Netanyahu, discuss Iran with Russian and Israeli counterparts

US National Security Adviser John Bolton unveils the Trump administration's Africa Strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, December 13, 2018. (Cliff Owen/AP)

US National Security Adviser John Bolton unveils the Trump administration’s Africa Strategy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, December 13, 2018. (Cliff Owen/AP)

US National Security Adviser John Bolton landed in Israel on Saturday ahead of an unprecedented trilateral meeting in Jerusalem of top security officials from the United States, Israel and Russia.

Bolton will discuss regional issues with his counterparts, Meir Ben-Shabbat and Nikolai Patrushev. Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria and the escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington are expected to top the agenda.

Moscow has said it will look out for Iran’s interests at the meeting.

“Iran is in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government and is actively involved in fighting terrorism. Therefore, of course, we will have to take into account the interests of Iran,” Patrushev said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, flanked by Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, meets with the BRICS countries’ senior officials in charge of security matters, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on May 26, 2015. (Sergei Karpukhin/Pool Photo via AP)

Bolton landed Saturday afternoon and is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning, the Ynet news site reported.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu hailed the “historic and unprecedented” summit as an important step toward guaranteeing “stability in the Middle East during turbulent times.”

“What is important about this trilateral meeting of the two superpowers in the State of Israel is that it greatly attests to the current international standing of Israel among the nations,” he added.

Earlier this month, a senior US official said Washington would use the meeting to tell Moscow that Iran should withdraw from Syria, and ask for Russia’s suggestions on how to counter Tehran’s influence in the region. The unnamed official said that the US supported Israel’s actions against Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

“We would hope to make the point in conjunction with the Israelis that we don’t see any positive role for the Iranians — and that would extend beyond Syria, to Lebanon, to Iraq, to Yemen — other places where they’re active,” the official said, according to a Reuters report.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

He added that Washington was sure that the summit, with Israel hosting both Russia and the US in Jerusalem, would irk Iranian leadership, and said that the fact that Russia was participating was a positive sign.

“The fact that the Russians see value in these conversations, that they’re willing to do it publicly, I think is in and of itself quite significant,” the official said.

According to a report by the Kan public broadcaster, Israel and the US will offer Russia incentives for an effort to curb Iranian influence in Syria, which could include legitimizing the continued leadership of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It was unclear what Washington and Jerusalem would offer Moscow in return.

Moscow is a close ally of Tehran and Damascus, while Jerusalem and Washington are the Islamic Republic’s archenemies.