Sunday, September 4, 2016

Iran Ramps up Tensions in the Arabian Gulf - Ari Lieberman

by Ari Lieberman

While Obama continues to appease.

On Monday, the Iranian propaganda outlet, Tasnim, reported that Iranian anti-aircraft crews succeeded in detecting and warding off a U.S. spy drone that strayed into Iranian airspace from neighboring Afghanistan. If true, it would mark yet another US-Iranian clash in the region. Though the instant confrontation was relatively minor and did not result in injury or damage, it is demonstrative of the more aggressive and assertive tone the Iranian military is taking with respect to its dealings with the United States and the region since the signing of Obama’s much touted Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -- the plan that provides the Islamic Republic with a legal pathway toward acquiring nuclear weapons.
According to a U.S. defense official, U.S. and Iranian naval vessels interacted on at least 300 occasions in 2015 and on more than 250 occasions this year alone. Many of those encounters were relatively benign but some were the result of egregious Iranian provocations.

In December of 2015, Iranian navy boats fired rockets within 1,500 feet of aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman. On January 12, 2016, an Iranian drone flew uncomfortably close to the Harry S. Truman. A U.S. Navy spokesman called the flyover “abnormal and unprofessional.” The Navy could have easily downed the drone but inexplicably chose not to. Such an action would have sent the Iranians the proper message without causing loss of life but the drone was nevertheless allowed to conduct its surveillance unmolested.

The very day that the drone was shadowing U.S. naval forces, the Iranians seized 10 American navy personnel and two Riverine Command Boats near Farsi Island in the Arabian Gulf. The RCB is heavily armed and armored but despite overwhelming firepower, the RCB crews humiliatingly surrendered to the Iranians without firing a shot. The crew and its commander displayed an abject lack of fighting spirit. A Pentagon investigation revealed that there were morale and training problems as well as a number of human errors that led to the shameful fiasco. Several officers were reprimanded and relieved of command as a result.

Adding insult to injury, the Iranians forced the Americans to undergo several indignities. The crews were forced to kneel and subjected to unlawful interrogation. A female crewmember was compelled to cover her hair in accordance with Islamic Sharia law and the commander of the flotilla was forced to apologize and admit his “mistake” while being filmed.

The Iranians violated international maritime law as well as the Geneva Conventions but that did not stop Secretary of State John Kerry from profusely thanking the Iranians for their misconduct. It appears that the RCB crews took their cues from their groveling and feckless leaders in the State Department and the White House.

The indignities have only continued.  On August 23, four armed Iranian speed boats came within 300 yards of the U.S. guided missile destroyer, USS Nitze, which was on patrol near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. They traversed at high speed and in menacing fashion toward the destroyer in an S-like formation. Attempts to communicate with the Iranians with multiple audio and visual warnings were all but ignored. After displaying their peacock feathers, the Iranians withdrew. The Nitze could have easily obliterated the Iranians but contented itself with firing a few flares.

On Aug 25, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boat came within 200 yards of a U.S. patrol craft operating in the northern Arabian Gulf.  After ignoring all communications, the USS Squall fired a three-round burst into the water from its .50 caliber machineguns prompting the Iranian provocateurs to turn tail.

A State Department spokeswoman said that the Iranian provocations, “unnecessarily escalate tensions.” That characterization is a gross understatement and represents the core problem with how the administration is dealing with the Iranians. There is transparent, near painful effort by the Obama administration to minimize Iran’s belligerent actions.

On August 28, Iran announced that it had deployed long-range, Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles at the sensitive Iranian nuclear site of Fordo where the Iranians maintain a massive uranium enrichment program. The Russians had delayed delivery of the system to comply with UN imposed sanctions. Thanks to Obama, those stringent sanctions were repealed and the sophisticated missiles were delivered.

In response to the Iranian announcement, all the State Department was able to muster was a feeble expression of “concern.” This is the same State Department that goes into spasms and fits of indignation when a Jewish resident of Judea and Samaria adds a room to his residence through an extension.

The salient question that should be of paramount concern to all is why do the Iranians need to deploy the S-300 at Fordo if they’re in compliance with the JCPOA? What opaque aspect of their nuclear program are they trying to protect?

The administration is cognizant of the fact that the Iranians are acting in bad faith and the JCPOA is rapidly coming apart. The JCPOA is Obama’s crowning foreign policy “achievement” among a string of recognized failures and he can ill afford the prospect of its unraveling. He has therefore double-downed on his appeasement efforts, absorbing the taunts, insults and indignities flung at the United States by the Iranians and is otherwise overlooking their multiple transgressions, including Arabian Gulf provocations, ballistic missile launches (in defiance of UN resolution 2231) and continued malign influence throughout the region. The recent $1.7 billion payment to the Iranians is also part of the administration’s efforts to pacify the mullahs.

But the bribe payments, the meek expression of “concern,” and neutered military posture in the Arabian Gulf have only served to embolden the mullahs. Even worse, Obama’s feckless policies are having a demoralizing effect on U.S. military forces operating in the region. The increasingly aggressive Iranian naval maneuvers in the Gulf and disgraceful January 12 capture of the RCB crews represent a direct consequence of a floundering administration, desperate to maintain a flawed agreement, through irresponsible policies of appeasement.

Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.


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