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Is Biden Going To Blow Reentering The Iran Nuclear Deal?

Is Biden Going To Blow Reentering The Iran Nuclear Deal?

I certainly hope not, but it is not out of the question.  There is a serious split within the new Biden administration over how to approach getting the US back into the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, which, just for the record, the US withdrew from even though it was the US that had violated it by not fully withdrawing economic sanctions against Iran, a decision made during the Obama administration that negotiated the deal, while Iran was not in violation and continued to adhere to it for quite some time after the US withdrew to condemnation by the other parties to the deal, which included western European nations as well as Russia and China.

Throughout the campaign Biden expressed an intention to get back into the agreement.  But some of his foreign policy appointees have raised conditions for doing so that might delay or even block doing so, with such a delay dangerous because in June there will be a presidential election in Iran where most are forecasting that current President Rouhani, who negotiated the deal and supports the US reentering will be replaced by a hardliner who may well simply oppose the deal.  There is a not very large window for doing this.  It is pretty obvious that this looks like extending the nuclear START with Russia: it should simply be done without demanding special favors or actions from Iran, just START is likely to be extended as is, with Putin apparently accepting Biden’s offer for a simple five-year extension.  But then, Russia is much more powerful than Iran is.

Protests in Iran

This is well outside anything I can claim to know much about, so I can’t vouch for it other than that it sounds right to me. From an Al Arabiya article entitled All you need to know about the Iran protests in 20 points:

1 On Tuesday, December 19, the Iranian government announced a new austerity plan.

2 The plan imposed a 50% increase in the price of fuel.

3 The government decided to cancel the monetary support of more than 34 million people.

6 In this same austerity plan, the government decided to increase the budget for military armament.

7 Most of the military armament budget goes to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

8 The IRGC operates on foreign lands, supporting the Houthi militia in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization Unit in Iraq and supporting the Assad regime in Syria.

9 The number of poverty-stricken individuals under the lifting of subsidies rose from 20 million to 54 million.

10 On Wednesday, December 27, citizens went out on a limited demonstration to demand that the government backtrack on the austerity plans.

And… its grown from there.

My limited understanding of Iran is that the religious authorities have kept a grip on power -despite being disliked by the urban intelligentsia – by maintaining support among the poor. That makes choosing guns over butter particularly stupid.

Update 12/31/2017, 9:43 AM PST:   Here is another piece on the protests in Iran from the same website.

Ted Cruz says that if one of his daughters as a young adult joins the Navy and her boat strays into the territorial waters of an unfriendly country whose own Navy then holds the boat and crew, he would want the president to torpedo diplomatic discussions for their release by speaking belligerently about it on national television hours after the incident began.*

I can’t remember which network I watched the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, but one of the post-speech commentators was Hugh Hewitt, a winger talk radio host whom I had never heard of until he participated as a questioner in one of the earlier Republican debates this cycle. Hewitt began his commentary by saying that the speech seemed very off to him because, well, first and foremost, Obama had been silent about the 10 sailors being held by Iran on their boats in the Persian Gulf since that morning.  Hewitt was shocked.  And angry.

Which caused me to wonder whether it had occurred to him that, y’know, intense diplomatic discussion for the prompt release of the sailors might be underway.  Or whether it had occurred to him but that he thought the sailors’ quick release wasn’t as important as public, verbal belligerence toward an unfriendly country.

Not sure about that; I haven’t followed Hewitt’s post-release-of-the-sailors-the-next-morning comments on the matter.  And anyway, Hewitt isn’t running for president.  Or for anything, to my knowledge, other than a radio-ratings sweepstake victory.

Ted Cruz, of course, is running for president.  I watched the debate last night for about a half-minute.  Literally; about 30 seconds.  That was the half-minute or so after one of the hosts asked Cruz his first question, something about the economy, and Cruz was beginning his answer by saying that he would answer the question about the economy in a moment, but first wanted to express his outrage that Obama had not mentioned the sailors Iran was holding in Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf right during the very hour when Obama was addressing the country on the state of the union.  This was nearly 48 hours after the sailors had been released after being held on their own ships for about 24 hours.

I read recently that Cruz has expressed regret that he did not serve in the military. But the fact is that he did not serve in the military.  If he wins his party’s nomination and begins campaigning at VFW halls and events, Clinton or Sanders, the Dem nominee, should mention when campaigning at veterans events and meeting halls that Cruz thinks that the wellbeing of military personnel is trivial as compared with political opportunism.  As president, Cruz would rather score political points with tough-on-Communism-er-Mullahism bellicosity than secure the quick release of military personnel held then-only- briefly by an unfriendly nation whose territorial waters or land the military personnel had accidentally breached.

And that he’s now made clear that if an unfriendly country’s Naval vessel strays into U.S. territorial waters, he as president would shrug and politely allow them to go on their way.

In a race in which the top two Republican contenders are so very casual about the wellbeing of deployed members of the military—when Trump called John McCain a loser because he had been captured by the enemy in Vietnam when his plane was shot down, he insulted not only McCain but also (just as examples, from WWII) soldiers captured in the Philippines who died during the Bataan Death March and those who survived it, the paratroopers killed or taken prisoner after being dropped behind enemy lines in preparation for the D-Day invasion or the invasion of Leyte Island or Luzon Island or earlier at Guadalcanal, the Marines who died on Iwo Jima, those killed or captured during the Battle of the Bulge, the bomber and torpedo pilots killed or captured after taking off from one of the four aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway, the many killed when their submarine or ship was torpedoed in the Pacific, those killed or captured as they stormed the beaches at Normandy, those killed in North Africa under Patton’s command, and so many, many more—this is a party whose base apparently does not actually care very much after all about the welfare of deployed military personnel.

The base’s standard bearers, in any event, have other priorities: their own political ambition. Deployed members of the military, current or former, are just like everyone and everything else. They’re fair game as collateral damage in the service of others’ political career advancement.

In the space of about 30 seconds last night, I’d seen more than enough.


*Title edited for clarity. (Minor editing elsewhere, as well.) 1/15 at 7:53 p.m.

After (If) the Iran Deal: What does Israel Do Next?

Nothing could be more predictable than this headline from CNN today: Does Israel have a military option vs. Iran nuclear program?

(CNN)The Iran nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, reportedly have made substantive progress, inching closer toward a provisional agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. While the talks continued to unfold this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restated his concern about an agreement with Iran, vowing “to continue to act against any threat.”

If an agreement is reached, the international spotlight will turn to Israel, in anticipation of its possible reaction. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe “Bogy” Yaalon stated that a deal is “a tragedy for the whole world.” The question is, however, what can Israel really do once a deal is signed? In recent days, notable conservatives in the United States have attacked President Barack Obama’s handling of the negotiations with Iran, arguing that a bad deal will force Israel’s hand, leaving it with no choice but to attack Iranian targets.

But is this a realistic conclusion?

My answer to that question is “I don’t think so.” On what do I base that conclusion? On expert opinion. To which skeptics would ask “What makes YOU an expert?”. To which my reply is: “Man it is not MY expert opinion. It is THESE guys”. Who THEY are and what THEY say will require a visit below the fold.

The Map Office Still Calling: Israeli capabilities for striking Iran

Back in 2009 I put up a post with the title Joe Biden? The Map Office is Calling! after Joe had apparently given a green light to Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. In it I pointed to a study by Toukan and Cordesman Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities . On my reading the authors, without explicitly saying as much, concluded that such a unilateral strike was impossible simply on a logistical basis, while Israel had the offensive punch to deliver such a strike it just didn’t have the in-air fuel supply capacity to get the planes safelyback out of Iranian airspace and returned to their bases. You can read the study for yourself and my take on it but the IIRC longish comment thread it sparked didn’t survive the transition to Word Press from Blogger.

Be that as it may the talk of Israel finally running out of patience with the U.S. and taking out Iran’s nuclear capabiity on its own still persists today. Leading me to wonder if Israel had in the intervening years actually beefed up its in-air refueling capability in a way that would allow it to successfully carry out this strike today. And through the miracle of Google I found what is essentially an September 2012 update by Toukan and Cordesman Analyzing the Impact of Preventive Strikes Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities Like the first piece this latest study contains an amazing wealth of detail on both the Israeli and Iranian Order of Battle for both a conventional aerial attack or one launched by ballistic missiles as well as detailed information on the nuclear programs both military and civilian for both parties. so it is well worth reading for that alone.

Attacking Iran…repeat of crazy reasoning?

Peter Beinart in The Daily Beast points us to the crazy nature of our current attitude regarding attacking Iran in The Crazy Rush to Attack Iran. He lists and quotes an impressive series of experts familiar with the the last decades wars, and finally asks:

Can you find former military and intelligence officials who are more sympathetic to a strike? Sure. But in my lifetime, I’ve never seen a more lopsided debate among the experts paid to make these judgments. Yet it barely matters. So far, the Iran debate has been a rout, with the Republican presidential candidates loudly declaring their openness to war and President Obama unwilling to even echo the skepticism of his own security chiefs.

And who are the hawks who have so far marginalized the defense and intelligence establishments in both Israel and the U.S.? They’re a collection of think-tankers and politicians, most absolutely sincere, in my experience. But from Rick Santorum to John McCain to Elliott Abrams to John Bolton, their defining characteristic is that they were equally apocalyptic about the threat from Iraq, and equally nonchalant about the difficulties of successfully attacking it. The story of the Iraq debate was, in large measure, the story of their triumph over the career military and intelligence officials – folks like Eric Shinseki and Joseph Wilson – whose successors are now warning against attacking Iran.

How can it be, less than a decade after the U.S. invaded Iraq, that the Iran debate is breaking down along largely the same lines, and the people who were manifestly, painfully wrong about that war are driving the debate this time as well? Culturally, it’s a fascinating question – and too depressing for words.

Israel’s Big Bluff on Iran: You Just Have to Ignore Physics and Geography

Which though not stated so baldly is the clear conclusion of the following: Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman:
Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development.

The authors outline three different attack routes the Israelis could use, each having its own set of political and military problems, but the real missing piece is the refueling. Theoretically Israel might barely have the range to get its planes on target but not to recover them. In fact it appears that a successful raid would depend on refueling the planes on the way in and again on the way out. Which would not only require just about 2X Israel’s actual aerial refueling capacity, but would have those planes staging for hours and hours in either Turkish, U.S. controlled Iraqi, or Saudi Arabian air space. And while Turkey and the U.S. might not relish a one on one attack on the actual Israeli strike force, and perhaps Saudi Arabia wouldn’t even attempt it, it would be hard to plausibly ignore those Israeli KC-135s doing figure eights in your airspace waiting for those F-15s and F-16s on the way in AND on the way out.

And since someone is bound to bring them up, similar limits apply to an Eitan drone or Dolphin submarine led attack, Israel doesn’t have the combination of numbers, range, and deliverable payload to get the job done. Not without the active assistance of the U.S. at a minimum as to refueling and emergency air fields, but likely with actual strike assistance as well.

If any of our commenter/military aviators can point me to or supply themselves a convincing refutation of Toukan and Cordesman then I am certainly willing to reconsider, but on my reading it just can’t be done. Unless Israel bluffs the U.S. into doing it for them.

Is Israel on Deadline? or Who will Control Iraqi Airspace in 2012?

by Bruce Webb

A little over a year ago I put up the following map from Cordesman and Toukan’s Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities

A year later and this issue is back in the headlines and specifically in association with the publication by the uber-Likudnik Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in the Atlantic tomorrow called The Point of No Return which essentially argues that the U.S. should bomb Iran and start a third mid-East war basically to save Israel the trouble of doing it itself. So maybe it is time to revisit Cordesman-Toukan in light of the current withdrawal schedule from Iraq.

In the article Cordesman and Toukan provide a comprehensive breakdown of both Israeli and Iranian missile capabilities and of the respective capabilities of Israel to launch an air attack and Iran to defend against one. Which makes it a useful read all on its own. But I want to highlight the above map that shows the three possible attack routes given the limitations of Israeli air ranges. Some things of note. In each case Israel would need in-air refueling both on the way in and on the way out, meaning that they would have to stage their KC-135’s over the strike routes for some period of time, and all three of the strike routes require transiting Iraqi air space as well as either Saudi, Syrian or Turkish skies. Leaving for comments the question of whether either Turkey (given the recent Gaza embargo sea clash) or Saudi Arabia would look the other way and not even challenge the refueling effort, will the U.S. retain enough air assets in Iraq after mid-2011 to support an air-refueling effort on behalf of Israel or to provide safe havens for returning Israeli fighter bombers that might sustain damage?

The United States has formally controlled at least Northern and Southern Iraqi airspace since the first Gulf War via the No-Fly Zones. I surmise, though don’t know for sure, that that control will lapse upon U.S. withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, or that if there is a residual U.S. air presence that it will at least on paper be subject to Iraqi government approval. Which leads to the question in the title of the post, the whole premise of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran relies on at least tacit assistance by the U.S. and either Saudi Arabia or Turkey and given the refueling constraints outlined by Cordesman and Toukan almost certainly active assistance at least on the way out, because once those bombs start dropping nobody is going to be able to pretend nothing is going on.

So is time running out for Israel? Is that why we are getting the big push by Goldberg and others? Because they know that any such attack without full US control of Iraqi air space falls from the realm of improbable to impossible?

Joe Biden? The Map Office is Calling!

by Bruce Webb

The blogosphere is alive with news that Joe implicitly green-lighted an Israeli attack on Iran. Well I had my say here and there. I just want to share a map from Cordesman and Toukan’s Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities in part because it tells its own story. Plus it’s pretty damn cool looking.

Gosh if a ‘sovereign’ Israel just decides to bomb Iran who could possibly blame the U.S.? It is not like we totally control Iraqi air space.

Oh wait.

Israel cannot attack Iran without material assistance from the U.S. which at a minimum means refueling assistance and emergency landing fields. Full stop.

Update 2. Well the map apparently didn’t tell the whole story. So here is Cordesman and Toukman’s ‘Mission Analysis’. Note the mismatch between refueling requirements and actual refueling planes in the Israeli fleet. Note too that the analysis assumes zero effectiveness among Iranian Air and Ground Defense. Iranian pilots may be as bad as Buff assumes, but I don’t think we can say the same thing about Iran’s large supply of Soviet built surface to air missiles.

(update- JS Kit doesn’t recognize my phone. So I will respond to comments here

The Sunday Times (UK) released a very short report based on a supposed secret briefing by Mossad to Netanyahu about some clearance by Saudi Arabia. The only source actually named in the story is John Bolton and considering the J Post/Sunday Times/Murdoch/AIPAC nexus I am waiting for some more authoritative sourcing. For example Haaretz is today reporting an official government denial.

As for the Eitan it is an unmanned turbo-prop more designed for surveilance than bombing hardened targets with its negligible payload. It would be shot down the instant it went under 20000 feet. At 40000 ft it is practically untouchable. Then again so was the U-2-we thought.