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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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The Naval Balance in the Arabian Gulf

USS Eisenhower and a Ticonderoga Class Cruiser

The tension in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz continues to build with every passing week. With the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran and its oil industry, tensions over Iran’s Nuclear program and threats by Iran to close the Straits it is important to know what naval forces are in the area to counter any Iranian action.

Iranian Alvand Class Frigate

The Iranian propaganda machine continues to promote the idea that its Navy is a major threat, not only in the region but around the world. However despite a number of high publicly deployments to the Mediterranean it is small coastal defense force. It has the capability to disrupt traffic in the Straits of Hormuz and is supported by land based Surface to Surface Missile batteries. However should a real shooting war break out it would be destroyed in short order, although it could inflict some damage on allied shipping if it was able to mount a surprise attack against an isolated ship.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy

Iranian Kilo Class Sub

3 Kilo Class Attack Submarines (Built in Mid 1990s in Russia)

Ghadar Class Submarine

19 Ghadar Class Coastal Submarines (120-150 ton built in Iran)

4 Yugo Class Coastal Submarines (90 ton built in North Korea)

3 Alvand Class (Vosper Type 5) Frigates (All are 40 years old and lightly armed)

1 Jamaran Class (Modified Iranian Built Vosper Mark V)

2 Bayador Class Patrol Frigates (US PF 103 Class) built in 1964

10 Houdong Type Missile Attack Boats (Operated By Revolutionary Guards Corps)

14 Kaman/Sina Class Missile Attack Boats

5 Coastal Patrol Boats

Numerous inshore patrol craft and auxiliary ships many capable of laying mines. The patrol craft could be used in “swarm” attacks against larger surface targets which Allied navies practice to defend against.  The larger Iranian ships are armed with C802 Surface to Surface Missiles.

US and Allied Navies in the Region are Commanded by Combined Task Force 150. 

Arab and Gulf State Navies

Omani Khareef Class Corevette

Oman (Royal Navy of Oman)  Oman has 5 very modern Corvettes. 2 Qahir Class which are British built Vosper Mark 9 and three new ships of the BAE Systems Khareef Class are entering service. These ships displace 2660 tons and are more modern, stealthy and heavily armed than most ships their size in the Gulf. The Omanis also have 8 modern patrol ships or craft and several amphibious ships and a number of smaller craft and auxiliaries.

Saudi Arabian Frigate Al Riyadh 

Saudi Arabia (Royal Saudi Navy) The Saudis boast a modern Navy built around three French Built Al Riyadh Class (La Fayette Class) Frigates, 4 Al Madina Class Frigates and 4 US Built Badr Class Corvettes, 9 Patrol Boats and 3 British Built Sandown Class Mine Hunters and numerous support vessels.

UAE The UAE Navy is small with only 2 small Swedish Built Corvettes and 14 Fast Attack or Patrol Craft, 2 Mine Hunters and numerous small patrol craft and amphibious craft.

Bahrain Bahrain has a former U.S. Navy Oliver Hazard Perry Class Guided Missile Frigate the Al Sabha and a number of patrol and fast attack craft.

Kuwait 10 Guided Missile Fast Attack Craft

US Allies in Gulf (current) 

HMS Daring and HMAS Stuart

Britain: HMS Daring Type 45 DDG

Canada: Frigate HMCS Regina which is relieving the HMCS Charlottetown

France: Frigate La Motte Picquet

 

South Korean Destroyer Wang Geon

South Korea: Destroyer Wang Geon

Australia: Guide Missile Frigate HMAS Stuart

The United States Navy

USS Enterprise

2 Carrier Strike Groups (USS Eisenhower and USS Enterprise) with supporting Guided Missile Cruisers, Guided Missile Destroyers and Attack Submarines. The Navy now has 8 Mine Countermeasure Ships in the region and deployed the USS Ponce as a Floating Base for Special Operations Forces and Mine hunting helicopters. An Amphibious Ready Group with an Embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is also usually deployed in the region.

USS Ponce

Note that Allied ship movements and deployments change frequently and other nations not listed here frequently contribute ships to this mission.  Other US and Allied ships are deployed near the Horn of Africa. It is believed that the Israel Navy maintains a Dolphin Class submarine capable of launching nuclear cruise missiles within range of Iran.

Carrier based and land based US and Saudi Aircraft vastly outnumber and outclass the Iranian Air Force.

Conclusion

I do not believe that the Iranians are foolish enough to actually try to close the Strait of Hormuz, but would attempt to make enough threats to force oil prices up and get nations to attempt to skirt the trade and oil sanctions levied against it. That being said there is no accounting for an unforeseen or accidental incident or series of incidents that escalate the situation into a war. The Revolutionary Guards naval forces are particularly aggressive. There is also the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities that could trigger a regional war and naval battle over the Strait of Hormuz. If war comes it will probably be because a miscalculation that spins out of control.

Tanker Burning and Sinking during 1988 Tanker War

Should a war begin for whatever reason it would still be disastrous. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed or wounded and countries in the region devastated. Iranian Allies in the region especially the Iranian proxy Hezbollah could cause major problems. I don’t believe that Syria is in any shape to assist Iran due to its ongoing civil war but instability in it could give Hezbollah additional room to maneuver in Lebanon and against Israel.

Iranian Frigate Sahand Burning and Sinking following US Attack in 1988

If war was to break out it would be costly and the Iranians would cause damage to the world economy by attacking the oil infrastructure of its neighbors and attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz. However when all is said and done the Navy of the Islamic Republic and its air forces would be devastated in relatively short order.  That does not mean that such a war would be contained or limited. It could become a regional war where Iran launches missile strikes against Israel as well as the U.S. and its Gulf Allies. Terrorist and commando raids could also be part of any Iranian response to an Israeli strike or as part of any offensive operations that they decide to undertake. The fragile world economy could take a big hit with unknown political, social and economic effects.

In spite of how bad it would be I am of the opinion that someone will miscalculate and that war will ensue. Exactly how it will happen I am not sure. But it will not take much to ignite the powder keg that is the Middle East.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fill the Strategic Twinkie Reserve Now: Hostess Files for Bankruptcy

It is not enough that war, economic distress, natural disasters, Zombie Apocalypse and threaten us on every side but now true disaster threatens. Yes my dear readers Hostess has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  While the company has announced that “normal operations” will continue the threat is real. The world could possibly find that the leading manufacturer of food designed to survive the Apocalypse may go out of business, or even worse be bought and parted out Twinkie by Twinkie by Bain Capital.

I grew up with Twinkies, they were one of the 5 major food groups of grade school for the sack lunch crowd.  I know that my lunch box always had Twinkies in it, or if not Twinkies another Hostess delicacy such as Chocolate cupcakes with creme filling, or a fruit pie.  My peanut butter and jelly sandwich was made with the softest and freshest Wonder Bread.

While my tastes have adjusted over the years there are times that my mind will wander back to the innocence of childhood and the blissful unawareness of just how bad this was for me.  But back then when we had to walk 8 miles through the mud and rain to go to school without so much as a Walkman and had to actually go outside to play without a smart phone we could burn off all the calories and were energized by the rush created by the combination of pure unadulterated sugar and God knows what else so that we wouldn’t fall asleep in class after lunch. Yes my friends those were the days.

But the world is passing Hostess and the Twinkie by and that could threaten civilization as we know it.  I mean what will we lose next? I tremble at the thought.  Will it be the Zinger? or possibly the Baby Ruth bar?

With North Korea, Pakistan already having nukes and Iran threatening to build them it is imperative that we invest in America and emergency preparedness.  The Congress should approve emergency legislation to preserve the Twinkie and stock the Strategic Twinkie Reserve before it is too late. I don’t know about you but cheap knock offs made by Little Debbie are no substitute for the Twinkie although a Krispy Kreme Chocolate Pie will give the Hostess pie a run for its money…but I digress.  Twinkie production must supported by the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security. Every MRE should contain a Twinkie and Twinkies should be part of FEMA emergency food stocks to support Hostess like we did in the 1970s when the Federal Government bought almost everything that Chrysler Corporation produced to save the company.

Write your Congressman and tell them to save the Twinkie before it is too late. The future of the country could depend on it.

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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