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Musing on Potential War With Iran

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a veteran of Iraq, and have participated in maritime operations in the Arabian/Persian Gulf.

I am not comfortable with the steps the administration is taking with Iran, not that I am any fan of the Ayatollahs and their aggressive theocratic-religious-military-dictatorship. While I had always dreamed of a military career it was the failure of the attempt to rescue the hostages taken by the Iranians in April 1980, Operation Eagle Claw that was the tipping point for me to explore my options about joining the military. 1980 was the year I transferred to California State University, albeit to study history, but mostly because Judy, my girlfriend was going there. Once I got there I started checking out the various ROTC programs and enlisted as a simultaneous membership program between Army ROTC and the California Army National Guard in 1981.

I thought back then at sometime we would go to war with Iran but as years passed I thought that maybe both sides would find a way to peacefully co-exist, at least within limits, especially after my experiences in the Gulf where the regular Iranian Navy chased Iraqi Oil Smugglers into our hands. Of course there was the time some Revolutionary Guard patrol boats harassed our squadron Flagship, an Australian Special Forces Support ship and we sped to her assistance at full speed with guns and missiles armed and ready to go to war. They withdrew and nothing came out of it, but for about an hour it appeared that we would be the first U.S. Navy ship to engage the Iranians since the Tanker Wars Of the late 1980s. The fact is that the Revolutionary Guard Naval Corps operates in a different world from the regular Iranian Navy.

If we go to war, now I know two things about the Arabian/Persian Gulf and the Iranians have built up a formidable asymmetric naval and capability. A large number small submarines, not high tech, but in large numbers hard to kill. Likewise, would deploy large numbers of fast attack boats and craft armed with a variety of missiles and guns for swarm attacks on otherwise better armed and more capable warships. We prepared for those back in 2002, but the lethality of the Iranians has increased, as has their number of anti-ship missile batteries his increased exponentially, as has their number of short and medium range ballistic missiles. While their AirPower is antiquated by American standards they have better and more advanced air defense systems, supplied by Russia. They are also supported by Shia Muslim militants in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and even in Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The Iranians have the capability of shutting down the Straits of Hormuz, and their allies in Yemen have showed the capability to attack shipping in the Bab El Mendeb, the Southern entrance to the Red Sea and a vital shipping lane in its own right.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has severely weakened our ties with key allies that routinely contribute Naval and air forces to the security of the Gulf.

Over the past few weeks an otherwise routine deployment to the region by the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, was sped up, B-52 bombers were deployed, and a proposal to send 120,000 troops to the Gulf was revealed. Four merchant ships were allegedly damaged by saboteurs, but no hard evidence points to Iran, and the damage to all the ships was minimal. The embassy staff in Baghdad was reduced over alleged threat increases that the American Commander in Iraq denies. The threats were reported by Israeli sources, much like the evidence that led us into war with Iraq in 2003.

I cannot put my finger finger on it, but something is not right about this situation. We are in no way ready for a major war with Iran, not with the possibility a potential war with North Korea, a trade war with China, and Russian threats to NATO allies or friendly nations in Eastern Europe.

This does not feel right to me. I’ve been around and seen and know too much. Maybe it’s my education military history, and high level Joint Operations education. Maybe it is my nearly 38 years serving in both the Army and Navy, including about 7 years with the Marines. Maybe it’s my long experience working with allies. I don’t know. All I know is that when domestic troubles embroil a national leader, the solution is often found in war. War allows leaders to do things impossible under peacetime constraints.

I can only speculate what is going on, but my hermeneutic os suspicion says to ask “why this administration, why Iran, why now?”

I wish I had the answer, but something doesn’t seem right, and I am worried for the many friends I have serving in the Gulf.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Question is When, Where and How?…not If…. The Inevitability of War with Iran

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”  Barbara W. Tuchman

I do not think that there is a sane person in the world that sees any benefit of a war between the United States, Israel and the West and Iran.  But then sane people seem to be in the minority of all those involved in the current escalation of tension regarding Iran,  Israel, the United States, the West and the Arab World.

That being said I don’t think that anyone really wants to go to war even as all of countries involved move military units around the region, stockpile more weapons and issue ever more strident threats against one another.

When the war between Iran and those that oppose it occurs it will be because one of parties involved makes a fatal miscalculation that leads to a regional war with unimaginable consequences.

The immediate parties involved, the Iranians, the Israelis and the Americans have all hardened their military, political and economic stances in the past few months. The Iranians in particular have escalated military tensions by threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz, moving naval units to Syria even as that country devolves into civil war and making attempts or threats on the lives of Israeli diplomats in various countries including the United States.

Israel is reacting in kind to what many Israelis view as an existential threat from Iran in regard to the possibility of Iran producing nuclear weapons and delivery systems that could threaten Israel.  Reports seem to indicate that the Israelis could conduct a pre-emptive strike against Iran any time between the spring and the November elections in the United States.

The United States and much of Europe have imposed an increasing number of economic sanctions on Iran that are taking a toll on Iran’s economy.  Iran is increasing pressure on its own citizens who want more freedom. The Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guards are conducting exercises which are becoming increasingly bellicose including sending warships into the Mediterranean Sea to Syria.  Whether they want war or do not their actions could accidentally trigger a war with terrible consequences to the region as well as the global economy.

At this point I do not see any easy way out of a war which everyone knows is coming but cannot or will not avert.  The question is no longer if? It is when, how and where? Will it be a naval action at the Straits of Hormuz? Will it be the assassination of an Israeli, Iranian or perhaps a Saudi diplomat or leader? Will it be a terrorist attack against Israel by an Iranian ally such as Hezbollah which triggers an Israeli response?  Who really knows? There are so many possibilities that could trigger a regional war that it it boggles the mind.

The media with its 24 hour news cycle which demands fresh news raises the tenor of emotions and passions of the people and nations involved with each passing day.  The fear of war is driving people to the brink of it.  Back in the late 1890s it was called “Yellow Journalism.”

Adlai Stevenson said that “In matters of national security emotion is no substitute for intelligence, nor rigidity for prudence. To act coolly, intelligently and prudently in perilous circumstances is the test of a man, and also a nation.”  But this is not always the case. It is very possible that Israel, Iran or the United States may conduct a “preventative” strike against its opponents.  Otto von Bismarck commented that “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

One can only hope that leaders and nations will see the truth of Stevenson and Bismarck’s words before the someone makes that one fatal miscalculation.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Tension in the Gulf: Don’t Miscalculate; Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations.” Barbara Tuchman

Iran’s navy chief Habibollah Sayyari briefs media on the naval exercise 

The greatest danger in the current war of words between Iran and the United States is the danger that the Iranians one side or the other will miscalculate the will, resolve and strength of the other.  Teddy Roosevelt made the comment “speak softly and carry a big stick.” The Iranians have been shouting loudly and brandishing a small stick and if they are not careful they will bluster their way into a naval war that they cannot win and that will cause significant economic and physical disruption in the region.

The Iranian Navy and Revolutionary Guards Naval Forces are about halfway into a 10 day series of exercises in the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz and the Northern Arabian Gulf, or what they call the Persian Gulf. Iranian leaders have increased their rhetoric in regard to closing the Strait of Hormuz if more sanctions are leveled against them for their nuclear program.

The bellicosity of the Iranians comes at a time when they are feeling internal political pressure from Iranian young people, as well as external diplomatic and most likely espionage campaigns.  The latter are designed to slow down or halt their nuclear program which most analysts now believe to be designed to produce nuclear weapons.

For what it is the Iranian Navy can threaten the strait and maybe even close it for a limited time. It is possible if they ever launched a surprise attack on an isolated US or Western warship using their “swarm” tactics close inshore to Iran in the constricted waters of the strait or in a narrow part of the NAG that they could sink or cause severe damage to it.  They would probably mine the straits if they could do so before hostilities began or before sufficient forces could be deployed to stop them. Likewise their missile forces and special operations forces could cause some damage and chaos in the Gulf but the repercussions would isolate and devastate Iran.  However closing the strait or attacking a US or Western warship would be the end of Iran’s naval forces and cause more damage to the country than its leaders are willing to accept at least right now. The Iranians would find that they were fighting far more than the United States Navy should this happen and their Russian and Chinese supporters would more than likely do everything possible to dissuade them from trying this.  Since China imports the bulk of its oil from the Gulf it is unlikely that they would support the Iranians.

While such a direct attack is unlikely the possibility of an accidental war caused by miscalculation on the part of one side or the other is always real and should the Israelis strike Iran’s nuclear facilities Iran would certainly retaliate against Israel but also US Forces and installations in the Gulf and probably against the Gulf States and even Iraq.

USS John C Stennis (US Navy Photo)

Regarding how such a campaign would be fought the United States would stand off a safe distance and pound Iranian naval, air and coastal defenses and not allow Iranian surface ships to get close enough to make a swarm attack.  This is a big reason that the USS John C. Stennis transited the straits and entered the Gulf of Oman (GOO).  Operating in the open seas gives the blue water US Navy the edge. The Iranian navy’s ships lack the range and endurance for sustained operations at sea and could not sustain a blockade. US attack submarines would hunt down the Iranian Kilo class subs before they could become a threat and US Naval Aviation assets would sweep the surface assets of the Iranian Navy and Revolutionary Guard Naval Forces from the sea while destroying Iranian coastal defenses on the islands in and the Iranian side of the strait.  Once the strait was cleared tanker traffic would resume and Iran would be the biggest loser.  History shows time and time again that light coastal naval forces are no match for a professional seagoing navy even if they score an occasional victory.

Much has been made about Iranian claims to have tracked the USS John C Stennis as she transited the straits.  That is nothing new, the Iranians have air, sea and land surveillance of the narrow straits. The fact is that US ships transit the strait and its approaches on high alert and have done so since the Tanker Wars of the 1980s.  Every Iranian move is watched by the US Navy.  Likewise while transiting the strait the ships of both sides communicate with each other regarding navigation.  It is standard practice.

Since I believe that the Iranians despite their rhetoric are far more prudent than some believe and that they will not launch an unprovoked attack. Even if they succeeded in temporarily closing the straits and even scoring some kind of naval victory by sinking a US ship the victory would be extremely short lived. US and other forces would stream to the region and devastate all that is Iran. The costs for the Iranians and their long term goal of regional hegemony would be too great for them to intentionally start a naval confrontation in the Gulf.  However the chances of either side miscalculating and stumbling into war should not be underestimated.

The biggest danger now is the potential for miscalculation but Iran’s long term goal of dominating the Gulf and acquiring nuclear weapons will probably keep them from attempting anything of this sort. That said there are factions in Iran that could try to use the threat of new sanctions to force a confrontation in the straits and for that we must be ready to meet the threat.  Iranian threats should not be disparaged nor their political and military will underestimated. To underestimate an Iran’s capabilities and will are extremely dangerous. At the same time we should not overestimate their capabilities and yield to their threats when they threaten to cut off the flow of oil from the Gulf.

The United States needs to follow Theodore Roosevelt’s advice and remember history as we follow the situation and ensure that whatever Iran does that we will not be surprised or unprepared.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Iranian Navy in the Mediterranean: Looking for War in all the Right Places

Iranian Frigate Alvand

For the first time since the Iranian Revolution Iranian warships have permission to transit the Suez Canal, an international waterway.  The Frigate Alvand and the supply ship Kharq passed inspection to ensure that no contraband or illegal weapons were aboard and should pass through the canal in the coming days. The Iranians clam that the ships will sail to Syria where they will operate from in the coming months.

Iranian Supply Ship Kharq

To me the move by Iran appears to be an attempt to provoke Israel into a war. Israel views the move with suspicion and calls it provocative. In that they are right. It is suspicious that the Iranians would send ships to the Mediterranean and one wonders what they are up to. Based in Syria the ships can support pro-Iranian Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and show the Iranian flag in countries that are slipping into the throws of revolution.  As such the two ships are a provocative presence that Israel has a right to be concerned about. At the same time the ships themselves pose no threat to Israel in any way shape or form.

The Frigate Alvand is a Vosper Mark V Frigate commissioned in 1971. It is small (1,540 tons full load) and fast but old and not heavily armed. Alvand and its two sister ships are armed with 4 C-802 Anti-Ship cruise missiles and a 4.5” gun was well as various light anti-aircraft weapons and anti-submarine torpedoes. The electronics suite on Alvand class is not state of the art by any sense and they are of limited combat value despite Iranian claims otherwise.

The 40 year old  Alvand is accompanied by the Supply Ship Kharq which is a 1960s British design which the Iranians commissioned in 1980. It has a light armament and is of negligible combat value. The two ships paid a recent port call at Jeddah Saudi Arabia while conducting operations in the Red Sea.

Israeli Navy Corvette Eilat a very modern and deadly SAAR V Class ship

Both the Alvand and the Kharq are totally outclassed by the Israeli Eilat Class (Saar V) Corvettes and have no defense to speak of against Israeli surface units, submarines or air forces.  They are of propaganda value only and if as some suggest they would attempt to escort convoys into Gaza they would probably be sunk by the Israelis before they could get off a shot. The danger of course is that the Iranians are purposely sending the ships to the Mediterranean to provoke an Israeli response and ignite a conflict between the two nations to further destabilize the region.

The Israeli Navy has a first strike capability against Iran itself in its three modern German built Dolphin Class submarines which are believed to be capable of launching nuclear capable cruise missiles and which have been deployed in waters near Iran.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an e-mail statement: “Israel is closely following the movements of the Iranian ships and has updated friendly states on the issue. Israel will continue to follow the ships movements.”

While the movement of the two ships through the Suez which is an international waterway is provocative and comes at a time of increasing tensions they pose little threat to Israel. However as part of a broader view taking into account the activities of Hezbollah in Lebanon, instability in Israel’s Arab allies Egypt and Jordan and Iran’s military buildup and nuclear program it is obvious that Iran has a purpose in deploying the two ships to the Mediterranean and that the purpose includes upping the pressure on Israel and perhaps provoking a military response. Whatever the actual purpose we can be sure that Iran’s intentions are not peaceful and the only purpose for the ships to be in the Mediterranean is to provoke a clash with the Israelis or to offer direct support to the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas against the Israelis or in the case of Hezbollah to ensure the complete hegemony of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The USS Liberty AGTR-5 after being attacked by Israeli Air and Naval Units on 8 June 1967

Israel’s Navy while the smallest of the Israeli armed forces is quite capable and combat proven over the years. It has shown that it is not afraid to engage in combat with what Israel perceives to be threats, even the United States Navy as it did in the 1967 Six Day War where it launched a devastating prolonged attack on the USS Liberty AGTR-5 killing 34 and wounding 171 of its crew. The Israelis have long contended that the attack was a case of mistaken identity but the preponderance of evidence makes it look like the attack was deliberate.

Israeli Sailors during the Battle of Latakia

Egyptian Osa Class Missile Boat during 1973 War. The Israeli Navy sank 8 Egyptian and Syrian ships at the Battle of Latakia and Battle of Baltim with no losses to themselves in the first battles between guided missile ships

During the Yom Kippur War of 1973 the Israeli Navy destroyed 5 out of 5 Syrian Komar and Osa Class Missile Boats at the Battle of Latakia and 3 of 4 Egyptian Osa Class Missile Boats at the Battle of Baltim. Should the Iranian ships even look like they are threatening Israel the Israelis will have little patience and the ships will have an incredibly short combat life.  If that happens then expect a regional war to follow as Hezbollah, Iran and possibly Syria respond.

The clip below is from Iran’s English Language Press TV and is an Iranian assessment of their naval capabilities.

http://www.youtube.com/user/PressTVGlobalNews#p/u/13/doiWKWz4ZN8

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Iran Makes Noise in Persian Gulf: Obama Dispatches Patriots and Ships to Deter

Mahmoud Ahamadinejad threatens a “harsh blow at global arrogance”

Something is going on in Iran.  The despotic regime of Mahmoud Ahamadinejad has been cracking down on dissidents and protestors over the last few months since the disputed presidential election.  Two opposition leaders were hanged yesterday.  The opposition is calling for protests on February 11th to coincide with the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.  At the same time government supporters and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces are planning both pro-regime activities as well as anti-opposition crackdowns in the days leading up to this event.  To add to the volatile mixture Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad has threatened a “harsh blow against global arrogance” on the 11th.  There has been no explanation of what Ahamadinejad meant by his cryptic comments by the Iranian news service but  the Obama administration is taking them seriously by sending additional Aegis Missile ships equipped with anti-ballistic missile systems as well as Patriot air defense missiles to the Persian Gulf. To give you a glimpse of some of the confusion surrounding the current situation in Iran and in its implications for the West I have linked a number of articles from a wide variety of sources here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/31/iran-nuclear-us-missiles-gulf

http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/01/31/iran.protests/index.html?section=cnn_latest

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60U18R20100131?type=politicsNews

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8490929.stm

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/02/01/missile-shield-gulf-ups-ante-iran/?test=latestnews

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&article_id=111329&categ_id=17

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=201022\story_2-2-2010_pg20_1

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/gulf-countries-accept-air-defences/story-e6frg6so-1225825224604

http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8811080764

http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/Supreme-Leader-Claims-Iran-Remains-United-Against-Outside-Threat-82073702.html

http://www.rferl.org/content/Irans_Protesters_Must_Keep_Their_Eyes_On_February_11/1942248.html

http://www.opendemocracy.net/volker-perthes/iran-2010-11-four-scenarios-and-nightmare

http://en.rian.ru/world/20100129/157712614.html

http://www.rferl.org/content/Iran_Media_German_Diplomats_Involved_In_December_Riots_/1941229.html

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1146909.html

http://www.energypublisher.com/article.asp?id=25925

http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=116955&sectionid=3510303

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hos0sGvW5l2cEN2xO2ex4fhamzIw

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L3838323,00.htmlhttp://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3838323,00.html

http://www.english.globalarabnetwork.com/201001284565/World-Politics/iran-morality-police-vanish-as-more-protests-loom-in-tehran.html

Massed Protests in Iran have been met by force

If you take a look at the details of these various reports there are a number of possibilities in regard to Iran, its internal political tensions and its repeated threats to US and Western interests. There are a myriad of possibilities many of which while directed outward are also directly related to the internal unrest in Iran in which a new generation who have grown up under the religious totalitarianism of the Mullah’s and men like Ahamadinejad who are convinced of the certainty of their beliefs and determined to impose them not only on their own people but their neighbors.  Ahamadinejad’s belief in the return of the 12th Mahdi to bring in a new era where the Caliphate will be established in Jerusalem is another wild card to factor into any equation.

Shahab-3 Missile test launch from mobile launcher

In the past year the Iranians have been increasingly more bellicose concerning their nuclear program and ballistic missile programs and have thwarted US, EU and UN initiatives to ensure that the nascent nuclear capacity is only capable of peaceful use and not capable of producing weapons grade uranium which could then be used in nuclear weapons.   They have expanded the number of centrifuges used for enriching uranium as well as continued to disperse and harden nuclear facilities against possible Israeli or US preventive strikes.  Additionally they have continued to increase their ballistic and cruise missile capabilities and the newer versions of the Shahab missile are capable of striking Western Europe.  The Revolutionary Guard forces have been actively supporting the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon which in 2006 waged a successful war against Israel on the Israeli-Lebanese border.  It has continued to improve its asymmetric warfare capabilities as well as Naval and Revolutionary Guard Naval force capacity for disrupting shipping in the Straits of Hormuz through which a large percentage of the world’s oil is transported.

Iranian Missile Boat and Helicopter

Ahamadinejad’s latest remarks are ambiguous and could mean a number of things ranging from empty rhetoric designed to evoke a response from the United States or Israel up to military action.  Possible events within the continuum could be measures to destabilize Iraq where recently Iranian forces briefly occupied an Iraqi oil facility on the border near Basra before leaving when Iraq sent troops and threatened force to retake the facility.  Likewise a missile test of an upgraded or longer range Shahab could be planned, a military exercise in the Gulf or a test of a nuclear weapon which they might have succeeded in developing in their clandestine labs from previously enriched uranium.  The timing of the threat could also mean a military attack against Israel or US allies in the Persian Gulf including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia.  Iran could in a “doomsday” strike launch a nuclear weapon (should it have an operation weapon) or chemical or biological weapons against Israel or even the rival Sunni Moslem Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, provoking a retaliatory strike which could embroil the region in a major war and might have worldwide implications. While I would think that the military attack would be a lower possibility the timing which coincides with the anniversary of the Revolution coupled with domestic unrest could mean that Ahamadinejad may feel that the benefit outweighs the risk.  It also could mean a stronger domestic crackdown on Iranian dissidents, whichever course of action the Iranians take it could make life even more interesting.

Shore based C-802 Surface to Surface Anti-Ship Missile in Iranian service

With the full spectrum of possibilities from simple rhetoric to a military strike laid out the Obama administration reportedly has sent Patriot Missile batteries to shield key Gulf allies and dispatched additional Aegis anti-ballistic missile capable ships from the US Navy to the Gulf.  Past remarks by the administration have been perceived as weak by the Iranians and the demonstration of US resolve by the dispatch of additional forces to the region may be designed to show that the Obama administration is not indecisive but capable of countering military threats to the region.

Additional ships of the Arliegh Burke Class that carry SM-3 missiles and Ant–Ballistic Missile systems have been moved into the Gulf along with Patriot Missile batteries

The administration’s move is prudent considering the potential threat.  Iran does not have the capabilities to fight a sustained war but could if fueled by the apocalyptic vision of Ahamadinejad mean that the Iranian government is willing to risk a confrontation with the United States because it perceives the Obama administration as weak.  I think that such an assumption by Ahamadinejad would be a serious mistake, however if he were to attempt a military or asymmetric-terrorist act of some kind he could create chaos until the United States and our allies eliminate his offensive capability.

Iranian Nuclear facilities are dispersed around the country and in hardened sites

Potential problems that Iran could cause the United States could include disruption of transition efforts in Iraq through military or terrorist activity as well as to cause casualties or damage US military forces in that country. Far less likely is the possibility that the Iranians could offer support to their rivals in Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan if for no other reason than to disrupt the US/NATO mission in that country. Likewise the Iranians could attempt to cause economic and diplomatic problems in the region that would adversely affect the US and world economy that could be done short of war.

To deal with all possibilities the United States must not only be militarily ready to respond to any military threat but also to be able to exercise the full spectrum of diplomatic, economic and intelligence resources of its own and our allies.

So in about a week and a half we will know what the cryptic Ahamadinejad meant by his latest outburst, hopefully there will be some clarification before then so the US and its allies in the region can coordinate an effective response.  With tensions rising and uncertainty in the air it is important for the US, Israel and the West to get this right and hopefully give the Iranian opposition time to force Ahamadinejad and his supporters in the Iranian clergy and the Revolutionary Guard from power.  There is both danger and opportunity in the coming days and one can only hope that the Iranian opposition will be successful.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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