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The Gathering Storm: Shades of 1914 as War Threatens in the Middle East

Israeli Navy Dolphin Class Submarine

“The world tells Israel ‘Wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’” Benjamin Netanyahu 

The question is not if but when. The tensions between Iran and Israel continue to boil over even as the rest of the Middle East begins to melt down.

Last week on the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks Al Qaeda backed forces attack the US Consulate in Benghazi Libya killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. Militants in Egypt laid siege to the US Embassy while newly elected Egyptian President and Moslem Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi dithered torn between his party ideology and the pragmatic reality of the dependency of Egypt on the United States for military and economic assistance. Throughout the region from Tunisia to Indonesia protests, some marked by violence broke out at United States and other Western nations diplomatic outposts.

Shahab III Missile Ranges

The Iranians and their Hezbollah allies have repeatedly threatened Israel with destruction and have improved their missile forces significantly ever the past number of years even without nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding the United States and the west set “Red Lines” regarding the Iranian nuclear program that would trigger an automatic attack on Iran by the United States.

Like the First World War the tensions, provocations and rhetoric increase even as military forces mobilize and gather in the region. Iran is preparing for massive military exercises involving land, air defense and ballistic missile units from the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guards to begin in October.  Iran admitted this weekend that forces from their Revolutionary Guards are currently operating in Syria placing them in position to directly engage Israeli forces in the event of conflict.

By October the United States will have three Carrier Strike Groups, the USS Enterprise, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS John C Stennis and an Expeditionary Strike Group with an embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit in the region. Additionally warships from more than 25 countries are gathering for exercises designed to counter any blockade of the strategic Straits of Hormuz by Iran. Other ships, including the French Aircraft Carrier Charles DeGaulle battle group and the British HMS Illustrious  “Response Task Forces Group” are in the Eastern Mediterranean and could be in the region within a week. US Navy submarines, both attack and ballistic missile are never far from a threatened area. US Air Force  Fighter Squadrons have been reinforced and it is certain that strategic air force units of B-2, B-52 and B-1 bombers are certainly deployed where they can respond as needed. The build up by all sides is unprecedented.

The countries of the region are on hair trigger alert. Any act, intentional or unintentional by any party could trigger a war that would most certainly bring great destruction to the region but would likely sink the global economy and spread around the world through acts of terror and revolutionary violence.

Numerous reports and Israel government official statements indicate that Israel is ready, to strike Iran, if need be alone to prevent what they believe is an existential threat to Israel. While some believe that any Israeli attack on Iran would be precision strikes aimed at Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missiles sites. However, most experts believe that an Israeli strike would at best set back the Iranian nuclear weapons program a couple of years and trigger a regional war with very unpredictable outcomes. If the Israeli strike is conventional in nature the Iranians will strike back against Israel, as well as US targets in the region. The US would certainly respond but any war would affect the region and the world economy as oil prices would rise exponentially.

With that in mind it is possible that the Israelis fearing the existential threat of Iranian nukes might use their nuclear forces in a first strike role.

Most experts believe that the Israelis would only use nuclear weapons in a retaliatory “second strike” capacity. The reasoning is that the first use of nuclear weapons by Israel would be against their national interests. That is logical but history is replete with times that nations have acted in ways contrary to logic because the action is deemed “necessary.” It is the same logic that said that the Germans would not violate Belgian neutrality in 1914 knowing that such an action would trigger British intervention on the side of France and Russia. It was believed by most that “the Germans are dangerous but they are not maniacs….” The Germans faced war on more than one front and felt that they had to deliver a swift blow to knock France out of the war in order to defeat Russia. It was a risk that they were willing to take and one which helped lose them the war and set about a series of events that made the 20th Century the bloodiest in human history.

In the current situation many in Israeli leadership may view the use of nuclear weapons to stop an existential threat as a legitimate use of the weapons. Israel does face real threats and those threats are increasing as Iran increases in strength and no longer has traditional rival Iraq to worry about. Likewise the instability of Egypt and the anti-Israeli animus of the Moslem Brotherhood which now leads Egypt has increased the real and perceived threat from that country. An Egypt openly hostile to Israel armed to the teeth with advanced American weapons is a dagger pointed at the heart of Israel. Israel’s leaders may be willing to suffer international condemnation in order eliminate what they consider an existential Iranian threat to ensure their survival and ability to defend against Egypt as well as conventional and unconventional Hizbollah forces operating out of Lebanon and those of Hamas in Gaza.

If they were to use nuclear weapons the primary delivery system in such a strike would most likely be Dolphin Class submarines armed with nuclear capable Popeye cruise missiles. These missiles have a 1500 km range and while the missiles could be used in a conventional strike their utility would be limited to precision strikes against unfortified headquarters buildings housing Iranian leadership, or command and control facilities. The numbers of Popeye missiles the Dolphins carry is limited since the majority of Iranian nuclear sites are hardened facilities or deep underground their use against them in a conventional manner would be a waste.

The threat to United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan is great if a broader war erupts. US and NATO forces, already fighting an increasing Taliban insurgency are for all practical purposes surrounded if a war spreads and Pakistan shuts down the southern supply route. Even this week Taliban insurgents scored a victory successfully attacking the strongly fortified joint US Marine and British base Camp Leatherneck-Camp Bastion destroying 6 AV-8B Harrier jets on the ground, damaging more aircraft, valuable hangers and support facilities while killing 2 Marines. A war with Iran would threaten to turn Afghanistan into a trap for nearly 100,000 US and NATO coalition troops.

It could as Barbara Tuchman said of the the Germans of 1914 that the Israelis have “staked everything on decisive battle in the image of Hannibal….” but that the ghost of Hannibal might have reminded the Germans and the Israelis that though Hannibal and “Carthage won at Cannae, Rome won the war.” In mid May and early June of 1914 even before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand Field Marshal Von Molkte and others felt that the scales were tipping against them. He told his Austrian counterpart Field Marshal Conrad Von Hotzendorf that “from now on ‘any adjournment will have the effect of diminishing our chances of success.’” On June 1st Von Molkte said to Baron Eckhardstein,“We are ready, and the sooner the better for us.”

The storm clouds of war are thickening and darkness hovers as the storm gathers. In 1914 the politicians, diplomats and soldiers that realized war would be disastrous were a minority in their respective governments and their warnings went unheeded. In 1914 “war pressed against every frontier. Suddenly dismayed, governments struggled and twisted to fend it off. It was no use….” As the sun set and the lamps of London were lit on August 4th 1914 Sir Edward Grey said to a friend “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” It is as if we are watching the same drama play out in the Middle East now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Weird Day, a Great Team and Some Fractured History

Today was one of those weird days for me, very busy, pretty good work and good intellectual stimulation n an ethics committee meeting.  I’m also still pretty tired from the past few weeks, not feeling bad but I know that I need to pace myself while we are short staffed in our department this summer.  It is a good thing that I have the boss that I have as he is making sure that I am okay on a pretty regular basis.  He knows that I will push myself hard until I hit the wall, which I did about a week and a half ago.  The thing is it is not just me that is feeling the strain. All of us on our staff have been pushed hard caring for folks during the recent deaths of two military staff members, regular work on our wards, administrative tasks as well as the extra load imposed by being short staffed.  But this is what we do as chaplains.  The good thing is that we are doing our best not just to look after our flock, but to look after each other.  We have a great team which I am proud to be a part.

Thus today my mind was a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.  In fact it was awash in so much that I should have written them down.  The mind is like a sieve sometimes.  Since it is late I am going to stick with a few observations from this day in history which seems to still have significance today June 17th.

On this day in 1579 Sir Francis Drake sailed his ship the Golden Hind into San Francisco Bay.  Immediately he was picketed by anti-imperialist and environmentalist protesters who had come down from Haight Ashbury in their Birkenstocks.  Ignoring them Drake’s crew hit on women and some men in Golden Gate Park, had lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf and took in a Giants game.  At least that’s what they wanted to do, but they were 400 years or so too early.  Instead they sat around wondering why it was so cold in the middle of summer as they repaired their ships, had the chaplain celebrate Eucharist and then claimed everything in sight for England calling it New Albion.  The Spanish realtors in the area took umbrage to this and never recognized the claim.

On this day in 1775 was fought the battle of Bunker Hill or more appropriately Breed’s Hill.  The American soldiers defending the hill gave a good account of themselves against the British who were trying to drive them off of the hill.  An American commander on the front line uttered the cry which did not become in military history “Don’t fire until you can smell the Redcoat bastards.”  The insensitivity of the comment regarding the Colonial’s British Cousins body odor, which wafted over the battlefield, offended some of in the snior commanders who had a hard time smelling the gunpowder over their own body odor.  When the Pentagon heard about it the offending officer was sent to Ft Polk Louisiana and the utterance was officially changed to “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”  After the clash the surviving unwounded opponents gathered at Sam Adams pub where they consumed vast amounts of his original Boston Lager beer as they played darts and argued the merits of English versus American Football.  Some went to the Yankees Red Sox game at Fenway later in the evening.

On this day in 1815 Commodore Stephen Decatur commanding a Task force from the 6th Feet conquered the Algerian frigate Mashouda in an action that finally helped bring an end to the Barbary Wars and drove the Barbary Pirates from the Mediterranean.  Within 48 hours of defeating the Mashouda he was in Algiers harbor exacting peace on the Dey of Algiers.  This ended the period of where  Barabry Pirates excercised domain over the Mediterranean. Getting with British sailors on liberty in town with which they had recently been at war, the Americans and Brits spent the evenings at Murphy’s Irish pub drinking Guinness and Kilkenney with Irish and other expats while watching Arsenal play Bayern München on pay per view.

On this day in 1856 Republican Party opened its 1st national convention in Philadelphia.  Immediately Randall Terry demanded equal time to speakers demanding the end of slavery while Ron Paul was ignored.  Others lobbied for the Flat Tax until they discovered that there was not yet an income tax.  Up and coming Illinois legislator Abraham Lincoln gave the keynote address recommending a bigger Federal role in solving disputes between states while Newt Gingrich presented a “Contract with the Union” to deal with the various tensions.  Fox News covered the event

On this day in 1916 US troops under General John Pershing marched into Mexico to bring Pancho Villa and others into custody.  The expedition was not successful as many troops were inflicted with Montazuma’s revenge while KBR failed to get the porta-poties in place in a timely manner.  The Easern European sub-contractor walked out and KBR replaced them with men from the Indian Subcontinent area who had each paid $4000 to an agent for the job and recived $300 a month working 16 hour days 6 days a week.  However the campaign  did give US troops experience operating in harsh climates which would serve them well when stationed in Texas over the next century.  General Phil Sheridan had once said of Texas that “If I owned Hell and Texas I would live in Hell and rent out Texas.”

On this day in 1938 after conducting military operations against the Chinese for over 5 years the Japanese declared war on China.  Chinese leaders Chaing Kai Shek and Mao Tse Tung issued a joint statement agreeing to work together and declaring “It’s about damned time they admitted that they are at war with us.”

On this day in 1940 the French after having their asses handed to them by the Germans yet again asked for surrender terms.  General Charles DeGaulle immediately departed for England to continue the war against both the Germans and his fellow Frenchmen.   Upon his arrival DeGaulle immediately complained about the bad food, plain women and miserable weather.  He was embraced by Winston Churchill who got him drunk, left him passed out in a brothel and blamed the Vichy government for it. Churchill wrote afterward, “that man is a pain in the ass.”  DeGaulle always doubted Churchill’s version of events every time he looked at the tatoo of a German tank on his ass.

On this day in 1944 Iceland declared independence from Denmark.  No one noticed until 1953.

Most importantly on this day in 1960 Ted Williams hit his 500th home run. and today the Nationals beat the Yankees and the Orioles beat the Mets.

Peace, Steve+

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