Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Matt 24 watch, 179g: Iran's distraction game in Gaza -- don't allow the Hamas rocketing to distract us from Iran's nuke bomb agenda (and its backing of the Assad Regime in Syria)

Israeli PM Netanyahu draws the nuke Red Line
Some topics are distasteful, but because they are about unwelcome but important truths, in a day when we need to be well informed in the face of a world of deceitful and manipulative spin, they need to be dealt with.

The ongoing Middle East situation is one such.

Let us begin, with a question.

Why are we seeing a Gaza flareup just now, (1) right after the re-election of US President Obama (with a two pronged US political crisis brewing over the Sept 11th terrorist attack in Benghazi and the linked scandal take-down of the CIA director Gen. Petraeus), (2) just before the Israeli parliamentary elections, and (3) just as Iran gets ever-closer to the notorious nuke bomb "red line"?

There are probably several factors, given how many players are on the table in the Middle East. 

However, the key question that helps us disentangle complicated situations will always help: whose benefit?

The obvious answer is: Iran.

Or rather, its ruling Mullahs.

For, the key additional factor in the unfolding Gaza crisis is the injection of Fajr-5 50-mile or so range two-stage artillery rockets from Iran, putting Beersheba, Dimona [Israel's nuclear centre], Tel Aviv and much of the nearby strip with eighty percent of Israel's population, and Jerusalem within rocket range of Gaza. Which, Hamas was only too happy to go along with, given its publicly stated genocidal intention towards Jews and known disregard of civilians -- including fellow Palestinian Arabs.

As the Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib notes:
The Iranian factor rears its head in multiple ways. Iran, most analysts believe, provided the longer-range rockets that have set this round of hostilities apart from others. Those rockets—likely versions of Iran’s Fajr-5—have given Hamas, for the first time, the ability to reach at least the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That has raised the stakes, to say nothing of the tensions inside Israel.
Hamas probably had relatively few of those longer-range rockets at the outset—a small fraction of an overall stockpile that one intelligence official estimates still includes about 8,000 rockets—and that limited supply of longer-range rockets already may have been either used up or destroyed by Israel. What’s left behind are cruder and shorter-range rockets, some of the homemade variety, analysts believe. Still, the Hamas-Israel standoff has taken on a new character as a result.
But the Iranian relationship to the crisis doesn’t stop there. Israeli officials don’t rule out the possibility that Iran’s leaders may have helped prompt Hamas to step up its firing of rockets into Israel in recent weeks as a way to distract and tie down Israeli forces on the country’s western border. That, Iran might calculate, could reduce the chances Israel would direct its military attention eastward, toward Iran and an air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In short, what we are now seeing is probably a distractive, poisonous smokescreen behind which Iran intends to sprint to nuclear capacity, presenting the world with a nuclear dilemma. 

At the same time, a new Gaza crisis -- as usual -- focusses hostile Middle East and global attention on Israel, taking pressure off Iran's ally, Syria. Not least, it is probably not lost on Iran, that with the Middle East street whipped up into further paroxysms of hate Israel and Jews frenzy, Saudi Arabia and/or Jordan will be much less likely to give an easy safe passage to an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear sites. 

Similarly, given the current administration, the US is even less likely to intervene against Iran's nuke sites as that would be seen by the hostile Middle East street -- in the grips of a revolutionary fervour for about two years now that has put radical Islamists into power or next to power in several key Arab states --  as favouring Israel.

So, tossing a monkey-wrench into the ever-volatile situation just now buys time, maybe long enough to reach next Spring or early summer, the likely time for completion of Iran's nukes under development.

George Friedman of the well-respected Stratfor, gives us some helpful thoughts (though I don't necessarily go along with the overall theme of his remarks):
. . .  we need to go back to the night of Oct. 23 in Khartoum. Around 11 p.m. that night, the Yarmouk weapons facility in the Sudanese capital was attacked, presumably by the Israeli air force. There were indications that Iran had been using this facility to stockpile and possibly assemble weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, guided anti-tank missiles and long-range Fajr-5 rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from Gaza . . . .
[Operations] began with the strike on the facility in Sudan, extended to the assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmad Jabari (the architect of the Fajr rocket program) and now has the potential to develop into an Israeli ground incursion in Gaza.
In short, Israel is probably hitting at the Iran-supplied Fajr rockets now, after surges in rocket and mortar attacks Oct 8 - 10 and 22 - 24. (NB: These surges are part of why I disagree with Friedman in his suggestion that things were relatively calm before the Israelis struck once a jeep was hit with an antitank missile from Gaza.)  

They are plainly striking before the numbers of these long-range rockets build up to a level that would be intolerable, and which would require a major diversion of effort from a prospective Iran strike. It is noteworthy, that the first two things struck were the vehicle carrying the Hamas commander who was the architect of the longer range rocket programme, and Fajr-5 warehouses.

That tells us a lot about priorities.

It also throws focus right back on Iran, the manufacturer and provider of the long range rockets.

Why is Iran providing such rockets to its cat's paws in Gaza (and, obviously likely, Lebanon)?

My bets are:
1 --> Clearly, Iran seeks to ramp up the threat of disruptive bombardment of Israel from Gaza and probably Lebanon, which would distract a good slice of Israel's resources from a strike on Iran. And, 

2 --> by allowing or pushing a ramp-up now, it diverts focus from Syria and stirs anew the hostile climate that will make it that much harder for either Israel or the USA to hit the nuclear weapons development and building sites in Iran.
If I am right, it means that Iran is probably very close indeed to getting the nukes it has sought actively since the 1980's.

However, given the evident accuracy of Israel's intelligence on the rocket programme in Gaza, Sudan etc, it is likely that the Israelis have a very good picture of the remaining timeline and the key sites in Iran. 

Here are the  likely strike options:

The Israeli strike challenge (Source: BBC)
As BBC notes:
Douglas Barrie, of the IISS, says that "Israeli planners will be looking for where they can do most damage with the limited number of platforms at their disposal".
"They'll be asking where the main choke points are in the Iranian programme. Clearly, striking enrichment facilities makes a lot of sense from a military point of view," he adds.
So the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz, south of Tehran, and Fordo, near the holy city of Qom, would almost certainly be prominent on the target list.
The heavy-water production plant and heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, in the west, might also figure, as would the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan.
It is unclear whether Israel would have the capacity to strike a range of other targets associated with Iran's missile programmes and explosives testing.
But this target list raises another set of problems. The enrichment facilities at Natanz are underground and the new plant at Fordo is buried deeply into the side of a mountain . . . .

The Israelis would be operating at the very limits of their capabilities. "If they pulled it off," says Douglas Barrie, "it would be an impressive display of power projection against a difficult and dispersed set of targets."
Only a small number of air forces in the world, he notes, could mount such an operation. But, Mr Barrie stresses: "Even if successful, it would only delay Iran's nuclear programme."
The key complication is, then, that a significant proportion of these sites are underground, and some evidently are -- as usual with the cynical overlords in the Middle East -- located close to civilian population centres and/or institutions. That means that Israel would be forced to use precision-guided heavy bunker-busters to try to hit them. 

 Such weapons are not particularly hard to develop -- the first generation were whipped up in the course of the several months-long build-up to the first Gulf campaign against the Saddam Hussein regime in 1991. Basically, a howitzer gun barrel filled with explosives, provided with a penetrator tip and a guidance mechanism with proper delayed action fuzing could do it. Has done it, in fact, back in 1991.

However, such bombs would be quite heavy, about 5,000 lb. 

That more or less means, Israel's limited stock of F-15's and refuelling on the way in and back. Which -- hard enough to imagine under "normal" circumstances -- will be far harder to do with Arab hostility again refocussed on Israel.

The need for a heavy-lift strike aircraft would be also fairly constraining, as Israel's inventory of F-15's is much smaller than its inventory of the lighter F-16's.

Perhaps, in Israel's inventory, there are 25 strike versions of the F-15 and about 60 of the air superiority version, as well as  about three hundred F-16's. There are also available tanker aircraft and there are airborne warning and control aircraft.As well, Israel doubtless has cruise missiles -- and submarines and other potential delivery platforms (e.g. converted vessels in the Indian Ocean) -- that can take out anti-aircraft sites and hit Iranian air bases hard, knocking out Iran's capacity to interdict the strikes. Which also opens up the possibility for striking at other key facilities.

That means we are now looking at a focussed strike on pivotal, nodal facilities in the Iran nuke weapons development chain. Something capable of disrupting the Iranians for several years, instead of a knockout capable of buying at least a decade. But at a cost, that there would be even more global alienation against Israel -- the Middle East is so alienated that "more" does not count -- and pressure on the USA to "rein-in" the "loose cannon" state of Israel. 

(We should note, the dominant global media and public figure reaction to the current events in Gaza has been to blame Israel for "escalation," but neither the rocketing campaign nor the involvement of longer range Iranian supplied rockets has been deplored as provocative and an earlier escalation. "He hit back first" only sounds like an absurd joke when it is unlikely to succeed. In this case, it is succeeding. This exposes the bankruptcy of the global media and too many leaders. Apparently, the dominant global opinion is that Israel should remain passive in the teeth of a bombardment that has for a dozen years amounted to a thousand rockets a year, and has been gradually ramping up to more and more destructive weapons. And, Israel should not use a blockade to stop the import of more and more of these weapons by a known terrorist regime. The absurdity should be obvious.)

The Israelis have already stated that it is better to have a bad press than a good eulogy, and it is obvious that Iran has intent to develop weapons, and genocidal intent. By arming the Gazans and probably Hezbollah, Iran has committed an act of war implicated in both the deliberate targetting of civilians in Israel and the holding of ordinary people in Gaza and likely Lebanon hostage. Both of which are war crimes.

So, there is already a low-grade war in process.

In addition, it is likely that some of the long range rockets provided by Iran have chemical warheads and/or the potential to be re-armed with such chemical warheads. At the very least, that cannot be discounted.

Of course, if such chemical weapons come into play, the Israeli reaction is likely to be ferocious indeed and will target Iran beyond doubt.

So, what is Israel likely to do, given the trend to push it into pariah state status, even as Iran threatens genocide and is about to be sitting on the world's oil jugular vein at Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, with nukes?

A possible action is that if and when Israel strikes to buy time on the nuke front, it will also strike to cripple key Iranian naval, air, and military-civil command and control targets with a special emphasis on the Revolutionary Guards. If they strike these hard enough, that may give an opening for regime change in Iran, from the streets or from within power centres.

Such a tactic would be hard to pull off indeed.

But, Israel has pulled off many astonishing military feats to even be still existing.

So, the best advice to Iran is: don't back a tiger into a corner.

Which the Iranian leadership probably already know, but seemingly do not care to heed, given their commitment to the delusional vision of Iran as the vanguard of the all-conquering Mahdi.

And, it is that destructive delusion that we all must come to terms with, even here in the Caribbean.

Yes, the Islamists really do intend global conquest across this century, and are seeking the weapons to carry it off, including nukes

As in:

The 100 year Islamist global conquest scheme, based on recreating the Caliphate

(I think I have to burn this image into our retinas and minds, until we realise that it is quite literally meant. We are dealing with people who believe their prophet has told them from God that at the end of days, they will conquer the world. And, of course, as the Hamas Covenant, clause 7 states, they expect to massacre the Jews in that process.)

Similarly, we need to remember the video warning by Iranian dissident, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi:

 With Iran in the forefront, and the rise of the Arab Spring turning Islamist winter is a mark of the re-emergence of the caliphate with intent to conquer the world under the expected all-conquering, super-man figure, the Mahdi.

And yes, I am implying that this is an aggressive version of fascist political messianism, one that is dangerously parallel to nazism.

Nor, am I the first to notice that.

The moderate Muslims of Algeria long ago termed the Islamists, Islamofascists. As Robert Spencer  noted in a 2007 Frontpage article:
Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas’s observation that the term “Islamo-Fascism” was “initially coined by Algerian people struggling for democracy, against armed fundamentalist forces decimating people in our country, then later operating in Europe, where a number of us had taken refuge.”

In other words, the term “Islamo-Fascism” originates with moderate Muslims under attack from Muslim hardliners, who murdered more than 150,000 Muslims whom they regarded as infidels in Algeria in the 1990s . . . . [W]hat could be a more precise term to describe the codification of the moral guidance of the Qur’an into a totalitarian system that attempts to regulate an individual’s entire way of life, as the world has seen in the Iranian and Taliban regimes?
So also, it can be seen regarding several Islamist movements:
In terms of . . . specific terrorist groups and entities . . . all of them -- along with many others -- have indeed made clear that they wish to destroy the United States and dominate the world under an oppressive caliphate – that is, a unified Islamic state ruled by Islamic Sharia law:
  • Al-Qaeda: Osama bin Laden has said that the 9/11 attacks strengthened the Muslims, “which is a very good sign and a great step towards the unity of Muslims and establishing the Righteous Islamic Khilafah [caliphate] insha-Allah [Allah willing].” His second-in-command, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has declared: “The war with Israel is not about a treaty, a cease-fire agreement, Sykes-Picot borders, national zeal, or disputed borders. It is rather a jihad for the sake of God until the religion of God is established. It is jihad for the liberation of Palestine, all Palestine, as well as every land that was a home for Islam, from Andalusia to Iraq. The whole world is an open field for us.” 
  • Hamas: The Hamas Charter sets out its Islamic mission as global: “Its spatial dimension extends wherever on earth there are Muslims, who adopt Islam as their way of life; thus, it penetrates to the deepest reaches of the land and to the highest spheres of Heavens. . . . By virtue of the distribution of Muslims, who pursue the cause of the Hamas, all over the globe, and strive for its victory, for the reinforcement of its positions and for the encouragement of its Jihad, the Movement is a universal one.” Universal in what way? The Palestinian Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi exhorted believers in 2002 “Oh beloved, look to the East of the earth, find Japan and the ocean; look to the West of the earth, find [some] country and the ocean. Be assured that these will be owned by the Muslim nation, as the Hadith says . . . ‘from the ocean to the ocean.’” 
  • The Muslim Brotherhood: Its founder, Hasan Al-Banna, wrote that “it is a duty incumbent on every Muslim to struggle towards the aim of making every people Muslim and the whole world Islamic, so that the banner of Islam can flutter over the earth and the call of the Muezzin can resound in all the corners of the world: God is greatest [Allahu akbar]!” Despite recent claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that the Brotherhood has renounced this goal. 
  • Hezbollah: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has made clear that he wishes to pose a threat to the United States: “Let the entire world hear me. Our hostility to the Great Satan is absolute.…I conclude my speech with the slogan that will continue to reverberate on all occasions so that nobody will think that we have weakened. Regardless of how the world has changed after 11 September, Death to America will remain our reverberating and powerful slogan: Death to America.” 
  • The Islamic Republic of Iran: While as a Shi’ite he does not wish to see the establishment of a caliphate, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad harbors similar dreams of Islamic domination. He said in 2005: “we will soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism and will breathe in the brilliant time of Islamic sovereignty over today’s world.”
Now, let us not forget, Mussolini sought to become a modern-day Caesar and Hitler outright set out on world conquest.

So, it should not surprise us that there are chillingly close resemblances between the classical fascism that swept Europe in the 1920's and 30's, and has had echoes in many times and places since then, and the Islamist eschatological hope  in an end of days superman figure who is to be the final, all-conquering, all-ruling Caliph; the Mahdi?

A Mahdi, who -- together with his lieutenant, prophet Isa -- a latterday Islamic version on Jesus -- is expected to lead in the final slaughter of the Jews sand in the destruction of the Christian faith. The Jews are to be killed, as are all pigs, the crosses are to be broken and Christians converted to Muslims, and the world is to be conquered with Mahdi leading in effect a global revolution.

Are we willing to face such an unwelcome reality?

Including the implications of  such Middle East instability for the price of oil that could easily surge to several times the currently destabilising level of US$ 100 - 120 per barrel for the benchmark Brent North Sea Crude?

What will we do if and when oil surges to US$ 200 or 300 or worse per barrel?

What are we doing about energy now?

(Why do I hear chirping crickets . . . ?)

As bad as war and instability are, that is not the most dangerous aspect of the unwelcome realities and trends we face as a region today.

As in, are we willing to understand that our region is under spiritual and geo-strategic pressure from two directions, the dechristianising apostasies of the North and the apocalyptic Islamists of the East?

Both of which exploit our weaknesses:

The two tidal waves

So, the first challenge is to us, to understand our times, to strengthen ourselves in the face of a time of ever accelerating waves of troubles and deception. As in, birth pangs.

And so, are we equipping ourselves to take our part in the global mandate of bearing witness to the gospel of peace that is the real alternative to the folly, deception and chaos of our day? END