Sunday, January 15, 2012

US/Israel Military Exercises Postponed; US Pressures Israel Against Unilateral Iran Strike

The US and Israel have postponed the joint military exercises they had scheduled for April under the code name "Austere Challenge". The official reason given was to avoid exacerbating tensions with Iran.

The exercise as it was originally planned would have include more than 5,000 U.S. personnel and simulated Israel's ballistic missile defense.

In the midst of all this, the US is strongly pressuring the Israelis not to mount a unilateral attack on Iran at this time. US Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled to be in Israel this week for talks with his IDF head, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and is also going to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that's exactly the message he's almost certainly carrying.

While the US Senate voted 100-1 to impose sanctions on Iranian oil and on Iran's central bank, the Democrats watered things down sufficiently so that President Obama has substantial wiggle room on when and how to apply them. So far, the most damaging sanction, on Iran's Central Bank that would make it difficult for Iran to process its oil payments has been put off for six months by President Obama.

Moshe 'Boogie' Yaalon, Israel's vice prime minister put his finger on what's going on in an interview with Israel Radio today.

He compared the Obama administration's actions to those of France and Britain, which he said "are taking a very firm stand and understand sanctions must be imposed immediately."

"In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-one, to impose these sanctions, and in the U.S. administration there is hesitation for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations."

"In that regard, this is certainly a disappointment, for now."

Yaalon continued that the international community must force Iran to "face the dilemma of choosing between its nuclear program or its regime as soon as possible," using the tougher sanctions necessary to isolate the regime.

Yaalon, finished by saying that Israel should not "leap forward" to attack Iran, "But Israel has to be ready to defend itself.Let's hope we do not arrive at that moment."

The truth of the matter - and Yaalon, Netanyahu, Gantz, General Dempsey and yes, the Iranians all know it - is that the entire US posture in the Gulf is geared towards defense, not offense.

As my friend the always scintillating Commander J.D. Dyer points out, what we're currently seeing in the Gulf is a small defensive buildup, a sign of how the Obama Administration plans to deal with Iran:

...we are not “boosting” our troop presence in the Gulf. We decided last year to keep some of the troops coming out of Iraq in Kuwait, as a ready force to deal with contingencies. As far as I can tell, the US administration has not explicitly implied in the last few days that the troops were “dispatched” to Kuwait, as if they had just recently deployed from North America. But numerous news outlets are reporting the developments in exactly those terms.

The force of about 15,000 includes two Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) and a combat air (helicopter) brigade, all of which deployed in 2011 prior to the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq. We haven’t “boosted” our ground-force presence in the Persian Gulf; we have drawn it down a little less than originally advertised. The forces in Kuwait are insufficient to mount an attack with; they might be used instead to help defend Gulf nations if Iran retaliated against sanctions or other Western actions with regional attacks. (The original premise was being able to go back into Iraq for security operations.)

The carrier strike group situation, meanwhile, will prove out in the coming days; we may have decided to keep two strike groups on station instead of one. One of two carriers that are currently outside the Persian Gulf – USS John C Stennis (CVN-74), which has been on station and is due to go home to the West coast, and USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), which has just arrived from San Diego – will probably leave shortly. A third carrier strike group, that of USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), is reportedly headed for the theater from its last port visit in Thailand, which may mean that two carriers will be within a 1-3 day transit of the Persian Gulf, even if both are not operating there continuously.

It has been far from unusual to have two carriers in CENTCOM over the past decade. Even Pat Buchanan seems to have given up thinking it’s a harbinger of an ill-advised attack on Iran. Two carriers are, in fact, insufficient to launch a deliberate attack on Iran – like the ground forces being retained in Kuwait. The presence of two carriers in the theater for an extended period is evidence of a marginally heightened defensive profile. (It also gives the president the flexibility to send one on a dash to the Eastern Mediterranean if necessary, while keeping one on station in Southwest Asia.) The two carriers are not a signal that we are going on offense.

Notably, if we did need to apply significant force in the Eastern Med, we’d have to send assets there. The Russians have the only aircraft carrier task force deployed in EASTMED. The US has not maintained a robust carrier presence in the Med for some years now. (Interestingly, Britain and France are planning to jointly deploy a large naval force – including aircraft carriers – to the Med later this year.)

That's the real story behind the postponing of the joint US/Israel military exercises - President Obama is simply trying to wait out the election season hoping he doesn't have to take any decisive action on Iran while doing his very best to keep Israel from forcing the issue.

The president may also be concerned with preventing the Israelis from taking the option away from him of a 'wag the dog' October surprise attack on Iran if he's down in the polls. I guarantee you that scenario's been discussed at the White House.

1 comment:

Sara Noble said...

That was my feeling. I'm not even sure whose side we're on. Actually, I think I do know