Thursday, September 1, 2016

Iran’s Ongoing Military Buildup - P. David Hornik

by P. David Hornik

Laughing in the face of Washington’s “concern.”

Last week Iranian naval vessels subjected U.S. warships to what U.S. officials called “harassing maneuvers risking dangerous escalation.”

In an incident last January, Iran illegally detained a group of U.S. sailors—using the fact that their boats had veered into Iranian waters as a supposed justification.

In last week’s incidents, Iran couldn’t even use that excuse since the American ships were in international waters.

First, on Tuesday, Iranian ships buzzed the USS Nitze, a destroyer, in the Strait of Hormuz. They “ignored repeated radio, whistle and flare warnings from the Nitze and slowed their approach only when they were within 300 yards of the U.S. ship.” 

And in last Wednesday’s even more serious incidents, ships of the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) harassed two U.S. coastal patrol ships and a U.S. destroyer in the northern Persian Gulf. 

Finally one of the coastal patrol ships, the Squall, had to fire three shots in the general direction of one of the IRGC ships to get it to stop chasing after the Stout, the destroyer.  

As Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen note, Iran is 

[testing a] tactic called the “swarming boat” to destroy U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf.
The swarming boat attack is just what it sounds like: a number of fast boats equipped with missiles and torpedoes attack enemy ships from multiple angles to damage or destroy them as quickly as possible.

On Thursday the State Department hit back by calling the Iranian ships’ actions “unacceptable,” which should put fear in the hearts of the power-holders in Tehran. 

And that was last week.

Further events this week might not have the drama of a precarious naval standoff, but are at least as significant.

On Monday it was reported, and visually recorded, that Iran had deployed its Russian-made S-300 missile-defense system at its Fordo uranium-enrichment site.

The S-300 is one of the world’s most advanced long-range missile-defense systems. Russia was initially supposed to supply it to Iran in 2010—but froze the deal when it came under U.S. and Israeli pressure to do so, citing UN sanctions on Iran as a pretext.

But that was then. The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran opened a brave new world in which the nuclear-related sanctions were lifted, and in which Russia has felt free to fill more and more of the vacuum left by a retreating U.S. 

Israeli analysts see the S-300 as potentially impeding an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. There is also concern that the system could reach Syria or Hizballah, compromising Israel’s aerial supremacy.

Again, the State Department has an answer—so to speak. Spokesman John Kirby has “expressed concern”; he 

told a press briefing Monday that the US was unhappy with the sale of the S-300 system as well as its placement at Fordo…. 
Kirby said the US would be in contact with allies regarding the deployment of the battery.
“As we get more information, obviously, we’re going to stay in close consultation with partners going forward,” he added, without giving more details.

One doesn’t get the feeling that the Russians and Iranians are thinking, “Damn, why did we do that.”

And, finally, Iran announced on Sunday that it would soon start building two nuclear plants in Bushehr, in addition to the nuclear plant that’s already there. That one was built by Russia, and the new ones will also be constructed as part of a deal with Russia. 

That deal involves the building of eight reactors in all.

There are no reports of any official U.S. reaction, reflecting the fact that the existing Bushehr reactor, and the prospective ones, are ostensibly “civilian” in nature.

For that reason the existing Bushehr reactor was left out of the JCPOA, the nuclear deal signed in July 2015. But at that time nonproliferation expert Henry Sokolski told the Washington Free Beacon that leaving it out of the agreement was a mistake:

“That reactor can produce enough plutonium for dozens of bombs per year,” he said. “Iran could remove the fuel from the reactor and use a small, cheap reprocessing plant to extract plutonium, and get its first bombs in a matter of weeks.”

That will be all the more the case, of course, when it has a slew of such reactors.

Iran is a malevolent, expansionist power with a fanatic ideology. About eight years ago, when the Obama administration took office, it had already been so for decades; and it still is.

Today, though, under the thin guise of a “deal” that—at best—defers some aspects of its nuclear development for a decade, Iran—with Russia at its side—repeatedly laughs in Washington’s face as it steadily builds its military power. It is the world’s most acute security problem, and—despite “concern”—is only getting worse.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the book Choosing Life in Israel. His memoir, Destination Israel: Coming of Age and Finding Peace in the Middle East, is forthcoming from Liberty Island later this year.


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