Wednesday, October 31, 2007

UN Bulletin: Space, Nukes, and Snubs

It might be remembered how the cold hand of fear gripped the world’s heart when China plunked one of its own satellites this January and it was understood that something had to be done.

At that time it was understood that China might be interested in an international dialogue that would regulate the militarization of space.

In fact, as I look at the context, maybe the operation was a copycat of the North Korean nuclear test—an effort to forcibly attract U.S. attention and compel engagement.

If so, it didn’t work.

Earlier this month, China and Russia cosponsored a draft resolution at the U.N. calling for “transparency and confidence building measures in outer space activities” that might prevent an arms race.

On October 29, the U.S. was the only country out of 172 to vote against a presumably similar draft resolution “that would have the Assembly call upon all States, in particular those with major space capabilities, to contribute actively to the objective of the peaceful use of outer space and of the prevention of an arms race in outer space and to refrain from actions contrary to that objective and to the relevant existing treaties in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation”.

U.S. hostility to any sort of international frou-frou that might limit our freedom of action in outer space is well-known.

In this case, it’s interesting that apparently the United States was simply not interested in doing any diplomatic heavy lifting that might have provided some diplomatic cover from close allies like the U.K., Japan, Australia, etc. who will usually hold their noses and vote with us if we ask for a favor.

The only abstention on the resolution came from Israel, which is apparently keen to demonstrate to the Bush administration that Washington and Tel Aviv are joined at the hip, even in scraps we care nothing about.

I think China will interpret America’s ostentatiously lone no vote as a message that the U.S. sees space as an important area of strategic and technical superiority, and will not tolerate any effort to curtail our (hopefully perpetual) advantages up there.

Since the Chinese space (and anti-satellite) program seems to be chugging along nicely, this might not turn out to be one of our smarter decisions.

In other news from Turtle Bay, the International Atomic Energy Agency and Elbaradei haven’t been getting a lot of love from the United States lately.

On Syria, WSJ via Josh Landis :

But U.S. and Israeli officials said they have no intention of cooperating with the IAEA on the Syria issue. Some U.S. diplomats derided the U.N. agency for failing to identify the Syrian program itself. These U.S. officials said involving the IAEA before the Israeli strike could have bogged down the Syrian proliferation threat in endless rounds of negotiations at the U.N. Security Council, with no action.

"The Israelis decided to take care of this early on," said the U.S. official working on nuclear-proliferation issues. "We don't want to involve an agency that thinks it's in control, but isn't."

On Iran via AFP:

The United States on Monday brushed aside the UN nuclear watchdog agency chief's warning that there was no proof Iran seeks atomic weapons, and invited him to stay out of diplomacy with Tehran.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told CNN Sunday that he had no evidence Iran was building nuclear weapons and accused US leaders of adding "fuel to the fire" with their warlike rhetoric.

"He will say what he will. He is the head of a technical agency," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. "I think we can handle diplomacy on this one."

And on October 29, Elbaradei presented the IAEA annual report to the United Nations and seemed to receive a somewhat subtle snub.

A departure from previous practice occurred:

Reaffirming its confidence in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, the General Assembly today adopted a resolution appealing to Member States to continue to support the Agency’s indispensable role in “encouraging and assisting the development and practical application of atomic energy for peaceful uses”.

A similar resolution had required a recorded vote for the last three years, but the Assembly reaffirmed, by consensus, its strong support for the Agency’s activities in the area of technology transfer to developing countries and in nuclear safety, verification and security. [emp. added]

Russia and China piped up with statements supporting the IAEA, but the United States was conspicuous by its silence

I can’t help feeling that the switch from a recorded vote to a statement of consensus (justified by the fact that the resolution had 90 sponsors) was meant to avoid a sticky scene where the United States might abstain if not vote against giving the IAEA this meaningless attaboy.

Of course, the US has a long-standing grudge against Elbaradei and his annoying war-questioning and Nobel-prize winning ways.

The none-too-subtle campaign first to derail Elbaradei’s work on Iraq and then punish him by denying him a third term produced one of my favorite items “it’s all in the game nothing to see here” journalism by the Washington Post in 2004 .

The U.S. government tapped Elbaradei’s phone and also leaked the transcripts to Dafna Linzer without even bothering with the whole plausible deniability thing. Three (!) U.S. government officials confirmed the existence of the program.

Since the tapes were devoid of dirt, we can assume that the leakers were probably not connected to John Bolton (who was embarrassingly relentless in his pursuit of Elbaradei) and were more likely affiliated with Colin Powell (who was all too happy to see Bolton embarrassed).

My favorite line:

... eavesdropping, even on allies, is considered a well-worn tool of national security and diplomacy...

Add a resigned shrug from the IAEA:

"We've always assumed that this kind of thing goes on," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said. "We wish it were otherwise, but we know the reality."

If a Nobel-winning peacenik like Elbaradei can tolerate a little wiretapping, I guess we're being too alarmist about the whole FISA thing. It's just a "well-worn tool" so maybe we should take a tip from Queen Victoria and just lie back and enjoy it.


The whole idea of advancing regional security through international organizations is dead, thanks in no small part the United States’ unwillingness to support or even respect the process.

The only question is whether refractory U.S. unilateralism will lead to war with Iran, as many inside the U.S. profess to believe, or whether it will lead to grudging engagement with the Iranian government—which is what international opinion hopes will happen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rewriting the History of the Sudan Calamity

Winners write history.

Losers rewrite history continually as bills come due, consequences surface, newly revealed errors and shortcomings must be excused, and heavier blame must be shifted onto backs sturdy enough to bear it.

Case in point: Michael Abramowitz’s insider-propelled backgrounder in the Washington Post, U.S. Promises on Darfur Don’t Match Actions tries to explain why, despite its brave talk, the Bush administration isn’t getting anything done on Darfur.

A considerable effort is made to make President Bush look good on this issue by painting him as the guy who wants to do the right thing but was thwarted by distracted, risk averse bureaucrats.

At one point, one senior official said, Bush wanted action to crimp Sudan's booming oil business, a move that would have severely aggravated relations with China -- and that no one else in the government favored.

There was stunned silence in the room, the official said, when Hadley disclosed Bush's idea to other government officials. Hadley made clear he was not interested in having a discussion, but the administration never went as far as the president seemed to be demanding. Instead, Treasury officials came up with a sanctions plan aimed at tracking and squeezing key individuals and companies in the Sudanese economy, including the oil business.

At an appearance in Tennessee this summer, Bush raised a question many have asked about the situation in Darfur: "If there is a problem, why don't you just go take care of it?" But Bush said he considered -- and decided against -- sending U.S. troops unilaterally. "It just wasn't the right decision," he said.

Unable to compel the attention and obedience of his advisors, unwilling to resort precipitously to military action, and bereft of an outlet for his idealism.

Doesn’t sound like our President Bush, does it?

Actually, I think there’s a good argument that, on Sudan, President Bush was guilty of doing too much, not too little. Not in Darfur, but in another, more strategically important area of the country that receives one-tenth of the attention the Darfur sideshow does: the South.

A full understanding of Mr. Bush’s problem can be seen in the context of the twenty-plus year civil war between the oil-rich South and Khartoum that claimed two million lives.

The president commendably invested considerable prestige, attention and energy to broker a peace deal that, after hopeful beginnings, is now on the point of collapse.

The ironic legacy of the North-South deal may turn out to be that it only provided the template for the political and humanitarian crisis in Darfur--and demonstrated the limits of unilateral foreign policy, even by the world's only superpower, in one of the world's more intractable trouble spots.

This gives me a chance to unpack a long piece I wrote last year, The Twisted Triangle: America, China, and Sudan .

I argued that the Bush administration was hostage to the policy of rapprochement with the Sudan regime that had brought about the cessation of the North-South civil war;

that, because of the outcry over Darfur, President Bush had not been able to deliver on the deal promised to Sudan’s President Bashir in return for accepting a risky power-sharing arrangement;

that Bashir was extremely unhappy with the Bush administration as a result;

and that the United States nevertheless, in its best “hope is not a plan” mode, incorrectly assumed it still possessed the leverage to act unilaterally and outside the UN and other mechanisms to impose a Darfur settlement that turned out to be dead on arrival;

and that therefore the Bush administration’s efforts—as further retailed in the Abramowitz article—to blame the U.N. and China for the lack of progress on Darfur is supreme example of sour grapes and hypocrisy.

I wrote:

Rather ironic that Sudan, which was supposed to serve as the keystone of Bush administration engagement with Africa, has turned into an exclusive sandbox for the Yellow Peril.

More to the point, it should be recalled that the United States has consistently pursued Sudan as its exclusive Great Power trophy, most recently when it decided that it would pursue its Darfur diplomacy directly with Khartoum and use the African Union as its vehicle, excluding China and bypassing the UN.

But that didn’t quite work out....

Its credibility and clout diminished by the failure of its DPA initiative, the U.S. government is reduced to impotent table pounding by its media proxies and indignant finger wagging by humanitarian and evangelical groups trying to somehow coerce China into helping out.

Talking about Darfur also gives me an opportunity to present the acme of Bush administration second term hubris to a new audience:

Anticipation of the juicy [North-South] deal coming down the pipe had evoked this remarkable headlinein the Sudan Tribune on the occasion of the 2004 U.S. presidential election:

Sudan prayed for Bush victory.

Israel’s Debkafile is perhaps not the most accurate reporter of news. But it is a faithful chronicler of grandiose neo-con fantasies and this report from 2004 catches some of the giddy enthusiasm of the Bush White House over the new Sudan policy:

For the first time ever, American diplomacy will have succeeded in converting a country dominated by radical Muslims – in Sudan’s case since the 17th century -into a secular democracy – in a period, moreover, when fundamentalist Islam is at its most militant and only a few years after Khartoum played host to Osama bin Laden’s headquarters.

Bush also has a special occasion in mind with an eye on the African American vote where his support is relatively weak. He will step forward as the first US president to plunge deep and head-on into problems endemic to the African continent. The Sudan peace will show the way to accommodations of other conflicts. He has allocated liberal sums for the fight against AIDS and steps for raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions of Africans.

On the agenda too is a highly evocative ritual at the White House at which Sudan’s president will solemnly forswear his country’s dark past as recruiter of slaves for America and the Arab caravans carrying African slaves around the world.

If the US president has his way, the White House lawn will be fully booked this year with ceremonies centering on the Sudanese reconciliation, which he rates more highly than the Israel-Palestinian handshake hosted by Bill Clinton eleven years ago.

“It has to be a ceremony even more impressive than the 1993 White House signing of declarations of principles by Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat,” said a senior US official preparing the event. “It will be an ‘African Camp David’, but one that will not fail.”

Bush’s advisers are preparing to stage a truly gala reception for the two Sudanese leaders, the first of a series showcasing the presidency’s breakthroughs in Africa in full sight of the American electorate and culminating in a splashy signing ceremony in March or April.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice has set up a committee with heads of the African American community. Working out of an undisclosed location in Los Angeles, they are assess the next moves on Sudan and their impact on voting patterns in November.

As Danforth’s mission draws to a successful conclusion, the president’s senior political adviser Karl Rove is taking charge of strategy on Sudan and its exploitation as campaign fodder.

Let’s highlight a truly wonderful passage:

On the agenda too is a highly evocative ritual at the White House at which Sudan’s president will solemnly forswear his country’s dark past as recruiter of slaves for America and the Arab caravans carrying African slaves around the world.

Sudan would not only be reclaimed for the Christian God and Big Oil.

It would also help exorcise the guilt of the GOP’s white southern base for its slaveholding past, and place the onus firmly on the backs of those troublesome but ultimately contrite Muslim Arabs.

Now, that’s a peace deal for the ages!

None of that stuff ever happened, of course.

Read the rest of the piece to find out what really happened to what, under different circumstances, could have been a genuine achievement in Bush administration diplomacy. It’s a perspective on Sudan that is pretty much absent from the major media and, I’m afraid, Mr. Abramowitz’s article.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Your Military At Work: Beauchamp, Boylan, and McCarthy

Update: Somebody claiming to be General Petraeus’ chief flack in Baghdad, Col. Steven Boylan, waxed wroth at blogger Glenn Greenwald in an unsolicited e-mail for criticizing the leaking of the Beauchamp file, and taking umbrage at Greenwald’s assertions that the Occupation’s press relations have fallen under more direct White House control and become more politicized and conspiratorial as a result.

Much craziness ensues and the exchanges between Greenwald and real Boylan and the supposedly fake Boylan can be read here and here.

IP address boffins apparently find it likely that the original missive was sent from Col. Boylan’s e-mail address. If the real Col. Boylan wrote the e-mail, he sounds a little unglued. Sample quote:

I am curious as to when you think the media relations or operations changed here in Iraq. I in fact do know exactly the day and time thatit changed and want to see if you are even in the same ballpark as reality.

I think observers would be interested in Col. Boylan’s admission that Iraq media ops were indeed overhauled and would like to know more.

Instead we get the bizarre challenge meant to demonstrate that Gregg Greenwald is not privileged to share Colonel Boylan’s special reality, but instead hints that Colonel Boylan’s head is perhaps in a special but not necessarily happy place.

Only I Know the Day, the Date, the Hour, the Minute, and the Second And YOU DO NOT MR. GREENWALD Bwahahahaha!

As to changes in media outreach, my impression is that Col. Boylan decided, with or without the encouragement of the White House or RNC, that he should reach out to the blogosphere, particularly the right wing blogosphere with its more favorable environment and network of amplifying links, while also stroking some elements of the liberal blogosphere (like Kevin Drum).

Col. Boylan did an interview with an outfit called Newshoggers on October 9. 2007. The interview itself is not very interesting, but the comments are more revealing.

Col. Boylan was treated courteously but not particularly reverentially in the comments on various concrete points. He chose to join the comments thread and go meta with a somewhat tangential stemwinder on who he was talking to, as opposed to what he was talking about.

The guy obviously has a need to express himself, repeatedly, defensively, and somewhat impulsively. And ad nauseum .

He writes a propos of, as far as I can tell, nothing:

I have found the exchange interesting of the past few days and in a larger extent, since the overall dynamic and exchanges since February upon my return to Iraq for my second extended tour of duty.

As a public affairs officer I know that typically there are three audiences that I (we) tend to deal with. You can probably add a fourth, but they are small, those that do no care at all one way or the other.

Two of those audiences are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Those that disagree with my (our) position completely and no matter what is said, what evidence is offered to refute their thoughts, etc., they will not change their mind. That is okay. I don’t tend to focus too much on that group for the obvious reasons.

The other group is that one that supports you (us) again, no matter what. I don’t focus on that group too much either, again for the obvious reasons, but we do tend to ensure that they are informed as well.

The last group and probably the largest is the group that is either on the fence, does not know enough about the issues to make an informed decision for any number of reasons, or just has simply not made up their minds. As any communicator knows, this is the group that you tend to focus on. In my area, this is the group that more so than others needs to be informed so as to make an informed and educated decision. That is what my job and about.

It isn’t spin, or party lines, or whatever your favorite phrase is of the day, but it is to inform and educate so as to allow them to make informed and educated decisions.

In a warped way it does please me that there are those that can voice their views against what my views are or in fact against the facts that are presented and are accurate and actually are irrefutable. But they voice their views and opposition anyway and call it the party line and immediately attempt to discount what has been said by criticisms or in some cases, character assassinations or at least some attempt too.

Of late, I have found this to be more true about the issues concerning Iraq as time came closer to the September Assessment. It was amazing to watch the dividing lines, the pundits, the self-proclaimed experts who never stepped foot inside Iraq at any point in time since we have been here. It is okay to disagree….it is expected that there will be disagreements and debate. That is healthy, but at the same time, there are those that go over the deep end with it to the point of being what I might call fanatics and have lost all touch with reality. That is a shame.

I always enjoy a good debate and exchange of ideas. That is again healthy and has its benefits. However, I rarely take the time to respond to those that just voice uniformed views that you can tell right off that no matter what evidence is presented, no matter what facts are there, they will not change their views/opinions so I will not take the time away to attempt to do so and typically ignore the rude and uniformed comments they make.

Then he returned again and again and again to the comments thread to grind away at various points of disagreement. Clearly, this guy has trouble letting other people have the last word, and can’t keep his finger off the Send key.

And I can’t really take him at his word when he says he “typically ignore[s] the rude and uninformed comments”. The guy is obviously a flame war about to ignite.

So I have little difficulty in imagining Col. Boylan as somebody who would have some trouble keeping his cool with his critics—like Glenn Greenwald.

Original post below:

Talking Points Memo’s Greg Sargent posted on the recent travails of TNR battlefield auteur and wingnut punching bag Scott Thomas Beauchamp.

Somebody leaked to Drudge and Sargent writes :

In other words, an Army spokesman basically acknowledged here that while they're not willing to reveal the docs supporting their case to TNR, which is the actual target of its probe, someone internally is willing to give some stuff to Drudge, almost certainly with the intent to carry out payback against the mag. I'm not necessarily defending TNR here -- as Kevin Drum notes, this remains murky -- but the bottom line is that this Army conduct stinks really, really badly.


Really really?

I’ve always found the obeisance to the supposed truth-telling probity of our warriors rather bewildering. The military’s job is to destroy the enemy, protect its forces, expand its budget, and befuddle its critics—in that order. Telling the truth isn’t even on the list.

Although General Petraeus’s testimony demonstrated the central role of media operations and psyops in fighting a counterinsurgency’s most powerful enemy—skepticism and disgust in the homeland—clandestine military management of the media is an old, old story.

This was brought home to me while I was researching 1950s anti-Communism and Joseph McCarthy.

I don’t know how widely it’s known, especially by conservatives eager to elevate McCarthy into the right-wing pantheon, but his censure was brought about, not by crypto-Communists, Ed Murrow, or Judge Welch, but by President Eisenhower, working through the Army.

The simple and straightforward nature of the operation was brought home by a fascinating and charming narrative, Covering Senator Joe McCarthy by Alvin Spivak who, in 1954, was a young wire service reporter covering Washington for International News Service.

As Mr. Spivak tells it:

... the Army’s counsel, John G. Adams slipped to some senators and to the Baltimore Sun’s reporter Phil Potter a 34-page single-spaced “chronology” of efforts by Cohn, with McCarthy’s backing, to force the Army to give Roy’s recently-drafted buddy G. David Schine a direct promotion to lieutenant, assign him to serve his military term on the staff of the subcommittee, and enjoy sundry other favors. The bottom line was a charge that Cohn threatened to “wreck the Army” if his wishes were rejected.

Adams, a fellow South Dakotan and long-time friend of Potter’s, knew Potter would make use of the anti-Cohn, anti-McCarthy chronology, Potter, in turn, knew that the chronology was potential dynamite and his unsyndicated story would get nowhere unless other news outlets had it too.

The way Potter told it to me later, he therefore offered a copy of the Adams chronology to Arkansas Democratic Sen. John L. McClellan, ranking minority member of McCarthy’s subcommittee. McClellan was an arch-conservative and at first didn’t oppose McCarthy, but he grew to despise the Wisconsin Republican’s tactics. And so, with Potter’s guidance, McClellan invited a small group of reporters to his Fairfax Hotel apartment in Washington and leaked the chronology to them. I was one of those invited. Others included reporters for AP, UP, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

There was only one copy of the chronology available at McClellan’s suite, so the four other reporters and I laboriously hand-copied each of the 34 single-spaced pages of the document, passing each page to the other reporter until all were finished copying. We didn’t finish
until close to midnight. From the hotel, I phoned a “bulletin” and brief story to the INS news desk in Washington, to catch the wire at the end of what we called the “A.M. cycle” for morning papers.


At the time, and for years afterward, I thought Adams had prepared and leaked his chronology on his own, in retribution for his and his Army colleagues’ treatment by McCarthy and Cohn.

Thirty years later, the full story came out in Ewald’s deceptively titled “Who Killed Joe McCarthy” book. Ewald provided chapter and verse on how Adams was only one player in a broadly mounted but confidential assault on McCarthy and Cohn by the Eisenhower White House, Department of Defense, and Department of the Army. The President himself was described as publicly silent but vitally active in orchestrating the developments that spawned the Army- McCarthy hearings.

Today, newsies don’t sit around like schoolboys in detention copying out 34-page document dumps. But as far as the Army is concerned, little else has changed.

Iran Recapitulates North Korea—Not Iraq

October 25:

Speaking at a news conference after talks with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, Putin pointed to the long negotiations with North Korea that led to an agreement earlier this year for that communist nation to begin dismantling its nuclear facilities.

"Not long ago it didn't seem possible to resolve the situation with North Korea's nuclear program, but we have practically solved it relying on peaceful means," he said.

October 11:

In the overseas edition of the People's Daily -- the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece -- China's former ambassador to Iran said six-party negotiations hosted by Beijing set an example for engaging Tehran, which is pressing ahead with nuclear development that Western powers say could give it weapons capability.

Keen observers will notice a pattern here.

Russia and China—two of the five veto holders on the Security Council—want the North Korea deal to serve as the template for Iran.

What does this mean?

It means that world opinion has abandoned the Bush administration on the creation of a united front of coercion against Iran.

This is exactly what happened last year, in a development apparently only noticed by yours truly, after the detonation of the North Korean bomb.

Condi Rice criss-crossed the globe in a futile quest to cobble together an international coalition that would employ the mechanism of the U.N. sanctions regime backed by Proliferation Security Initiative to institute a destabilizing blockade of North Korea.

The effort finally collapsed at the APEC summit in Hanoi, when President Bush got the definitive word that China and even South Korea, our befuddled second-tier ally, wouldn’t sign on to the effort.

Instead of the United States pulling the strings as an army of righteous puppets encircled North Korea, our allies decided they didn’t have the confidence in our leadership.

More to the point, they weren’t assured of our solicitude in making sure they didn’t bear a disproportionate share of the political and geopolitical costs of a risky security initiative orchestrated by a great power with a truly terrible track record—and told Washington to play its own hand directly with Pyongyang.

There is a fundamental contradiction in unilateral policy trying to exploit the tools of multilateralism. Our callous incompetence in Iraq provided a practical demonstration of the risks. Our so-called allies don’t trust us. We have to get it front and stay in front.

As a result, Christopher Hill met with the North Koreans in Berlin and got the ball rolling. Although the negotiations continued under the aegis of the Six Party talks, it was always up to the United States to make the key concessions to demonstrate the viability of the process.

Given the absurd fiasco of the hardliner-orchestrated four-month delay in lifting the Banco Delta Asia sanctions, not only the North Koreans but the rest of the world community learned the importance of “trust yet verify” in gauging American commitment to any multilateral initiatives.

And it looks like America’s none-too-subtle attempts to leverage the power of its unilateral financial sanctions—actually targeting our recalcitrant “allies” who still insist on doing business with Iran, since we don’t do any business with Iran anyway—aren’t going to gain a lot of traction (the title of the LA Times article U.S. Move on Iran alienating for Europe pretty much says it all).

I would like to think that even observers overly enamored of the soft-power character of U.S. financial sanctions might recognize the fundamental and fatal contradiction at the heart of our policy—we don’t sanction the enemy, we have to sanction our allies because they don’t support our policy—but I’m not holding my breath.

To summarize, the multilateral, sanctions-based united front against Iran is deaddeaddeaddeaddeaddead.

Dead, OK?

What’s left is Dick Cheney’s Duke Nuke ‘em approach or North Korea-style engagement...or drift.

Never count a sociopathic monomaniac out, I guess, but with a year left in Bush’s lame duck administration, the hardliners bailing out in droves, and the uniformed services dead set against another Middle East war, the real choice is whether we will enter into a “grand bargain” with Iran or let the current toxic policy meander on.

Given the fundamentally dysfunctional character of our foreign policy, toxic meander is probably the way to go.

So what we’re going to get for the next 18 months is systematic well-poisoning by the hardliners working to sabotage direct negotiation with Tehran and preserve a debilitating state of hostility.

Current case in point: the North Korean nukes in Syria kerfluffle.

Even if there was a serious Syrian effort to develop some kind of nuclear thingee—and it’s still far from clear, as Jeffrey Lewis points out —it was years from fruition. It was probably worth observing but it certainly wasn’t worth bombing.

However, it was bombed, and is being pushed into the center of debate by hardliners in Tel Aviv and Washington.

The subtext, as I explained here , is to impose a zero sum them-or-us narrative of existential nuclear crisis on Middle Eastern affairs, in order to forestall bilateral talks between Washington and Tehran and a grand bargain that might help extricate us from our self-inflicted Iraq problem, but also remove Israel from its central place in Middle Eastern affairs as America’s only important ally.

The usual dingbat suspects in the House of Representatives are tossing Hail Maries in an attempt to use possible proliferation to Syria as justification for pulling the plug on the Six Party Agreement with North Korea, thereby discrediting the realists and negotiations with Axis of Evil nations.

But the practical hardliner goal isn’t war—it’s just to muddy the waters enough to keep peace from breaking out.

That’s what makes the current Iran flurry so tedious.

Everybody’s bending over backward not to provide a sanctions process or casus belli that would empower the Washington hardliners.

Iran, Russia, China, and Europe are only interested in running out the clock until the Bush administration is safely out of office.

And maybe Israel, too.

Based on the way I look at things, this excerpt from Haaretz posted by the estimable Laura Rozen rang like a thunderclap:

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a few months ago in a series of closed discussions that in her opinion that Iranian nuclear weapons do not pose an existential threat to Israel, Haaretz magazine reveals in an article on Livni to be published Friday.

Livni also criticized the exaggerated use that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making of the issue of the Iranian bomb, claiming that he is attempting to rally the public around him by playing on its most basic fears. Last week, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said similar things about Iran.

Because if significant elements of the Israeli government are ready to consider a world in which the Iranian nuclear threat is managed instead of destroyed—and Israel perhaps accepts a place under the US deterrent umbrella, mothballs its nukes, and abandons its regional ambitions for the miserable and depressing work of working on its local Palestinian problem—and leak their views to a receptive media and public, then the neocon dream of creative destruction of the Middle East is drawing its last breaths.

Unfortunately, of course, while there’s life there’s hope.

Hardline elements in Israel and the United States are only interested in keeping things screwed up enough that the Democrats can’t take the presidency and draw on the momentum of a credible, ongoing bipartisan realist process of rapprochement to normalize relations with Iran.

If they can screw up things badly enough, in another decade—an eyeblink to your far-sighted neocon--the door will be left open for genuine military conflict down the road when, maybe, the armed forces are done licking their Iraq wounds and are ready for another budget-fattening go at a land war on the Eurasian continent.

So we get this zombie kabuki, with the hardline advocates of a dead, discredited policy trying to infect the realists with their poison, and the realists are trying to pretend they’re zombies in order to avoid attack.

Outlook for 2007 and 2008: drift, danger, and dysfunction.

I think the reason the Left and Right fixate on the remote possibility of an Iran war is because it distracts us from the true nature of the U.S. situation: a distrusted, discredited, and marginalized hyperpower, unable to effectively play its military card, resented for its record of unremitting error and duplicity, feared as a dangerous, unpredictable and out-of-control force that must be cajoled, flattered, and accommodated at great cost while distracting the smaller and more vulnerable nations of the earth from the very immediate and real dangers that they now have to face alone.

We’re on the sidelines and nobody wants us to get back in the game.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nukes Not Scuds...and Uzi Arad's Astounding Tales

With apologies to Steve Clemons, maybe it’s the reality based SCUDs in Syria community—and not the nukes in Syria crowd—that’s getting “Judith Miller’d”.

Looking at an actual immediate security threat by North Korea and Syria that could justify a pre-emptive strike by Israel, my money’s always been on SCUDs not nukes.

But, based on the October 14 report by Sanger and Mazzetti in the New York Times citing multiple sources for the story that Washington was wrestling with reports from Israel of a partially constructed nuclear facility in Syria, I’m starting to sidle over to the “nukes not SCUDs ” side of the speculative fence.

Maybe strategic and political considerations—especially Israel’s relationship with the United States and America’s policy toward pre-emptive counterproliferation were the key issues at stake.

But whatever was there in Syria, in the public domain I think it was a lot of hype, hot air...and wishful thinking.

And I’ll bet a lot of it came from Uzi Arad.

In early October :

Mossad veteran Uzi Arad, told NEWSWEEK: "I do know what happened, and when it comes out it will stun everyone."

Perhaps unfairly, I couldn’t help but hearing echoes of Mr. Arad’s statement in a report on the raid’s aftermath by NPR’s Mike Shuster:

...What I keep hearing from reliable and thoughtful experts on North Korea, they’ve been told by those allegedly in the know that if the intelligence could be revealed it would be astounding.

But now :

Uzi Arad, a former head of Mossad [to clarify, he was the Mossad’s head of research, not head of the whole shebang—ed] , Israel’s intelligence agency, and the national security adviser under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that he did not know for certain what Israel bombed in Syria but that a nuclear reactor was plausible.

Wuzzat, Uzi? That’s not stunning. Or astounding.

I had actually been following Uzi Arad with considerable interest, because he was the only person with well burnished insider—as opposed to political--credentials ready to go on record claiming to know the true story about the September 6 raid.

His boss, well-known loose cannon Benjamin Netanyahu, defied Israeli military censorship to confirm rumors of the raid on September 19, saying:

"I was party to this matter, I must say, from the first minute and I gave it my backing, but it is still too early to discuss this subject."

Israeli government opinion was incensed at the revelation, with the secretary general of the ruling Labor party, Eiten Cabel, weighing in with:

Bibi [Netanyahu] is the same Bibi. I haven no idea if it is foolishness, stupidity, the desire to jump on the bandwagon, the desire to be a partner, to steal credit - or something else. It is simply very dangerous. The man simply does not deserve to lead," Cabel told Army Radio.

Then, in time for the October 1 issue of Newsweek, Arad pitched in with the teaser quoted above.

Now, what stake would the Uzi Arad have in the Syria story?

Arad is a bona fide hardliner.

He’s also the consummate intelligence insider, ex director of research for the Mossad, head of Israel’s most influential right wing think tank, architect and participant in various Israeli back channel initiatives vis a vis Syria and Iran, Bibi Netanyahu’s brain for security and foreign affairs, and, no doubt background briefer par excellence for journalists hoping to get the real skinny on goings-on in the Middle East.

Arad is assiduous in cultivating ties with the United States and NATO to advance Israel’s security.

His annual Herzliya conference—during which important Israeli security policy announcements such as Sharon’s disengagement plan are sometimes made—uses the rhetoric of the shared battle against Islamic extremism to provide a welcoming platform to ultrahawks Bernard Lewis and James Woolsey, and a venue for U.S. presidential hopefuls such as John McCain, Mitt Romney, and John Edwards to demonstrate by videoconference their commitment to Israel’s security.

Arad closely follows the development of Israel’s special relationship with the United States, perhaps too closely.

He weighed in on the case of Larry Franklin, AIPAC’s intelligence asset, self-appointed guardian of U.S.—Israeli cooperation within Doug Feith’s shop at the U.S. Department of Defense and, as of now as a result of a plea bargain, a convicted spy,

When the case first surfaced, Arad rather clumsily played the anti-Israel bias card :

Uzi Arad, a former senior official in the Mossad spy agency, said the allegations were leaked to hurt the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

"They way it was reported, they pointed out in which office (Franklin) worked," Arad told Israel Radio. "They pointed at people like Doug Feith or other defense officials who have long been under attack within the American bureaucracy."

When the Franklin/AIPAC indictments came down, in a development that did not attract the attention it should have, it transpired that Arad had corresponded with Franklin, and met with him at the introduction of the chief intelligence officer of the Israeli embassy in Washington.

To my mind, Arad is a man with an agenda, but he’s also careful to protect his credibility and his mojo as one of Israel’s infallible shadow warriors.

So I didn’t think he’d lightly stake out a position backing the nuclear story, even obliquely as he did to Newsweek, if he believed there was a chance that he’d look like an uninformed alarmist.

So I think there’s something nuclear, at least in the story Israel was pushing to Washington--if not in the Syrian desert.

What was Arad trying to accomplish by helping bring the Syria story into the public domain in the first place? And why did he apparently back down?

To step back for a moment, Uzi Arad’s primary bugbear is not Syria.

Arad sat in on last year’s “Track II” (non-governmental) discussions between Israeli and Syrian representatives, then bugged out when he apparently felt there wasn’t enough in Israel—Syria rapprochement for his country.

What Uzi Arad cares about today is Iran’s nuclear program.

One might argue that Arad’s concern is reactive, driven by the failure of previous policies he’s supported—and his unwillingness to accept that these policies were fundamentally flawed.

What might in retrospect be seen as the Big Mistake was the decision to take a bite of the fatal apple offered by the neocons, discard the framing of the Palestinian problem as the root of Israel’s difficulties with its neighbors, and, assured of unwavering U.S. support, escalate Israel’s confrontation with its antagonists to the regional level.

It appears that Arad saw the PNAC “Clean Break” strategy as a way out of the Palestine cul de sac by declaring that the problem wasn’t the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza but those undemocratic and unnecessarily confrontational Islamic powers.

In recent years, even Ariel Sharon earned Arad’s opprobrium with the plan to disengage from Gaza, which seemed to imply that the Palestinian problem could be addressed by actions at the local level.

In the optimistic days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Arad obligingly endorsed the line that “democracies don’t attack democracies” and imposing democracy on the Middle East by gunpoint was going to make things all better.

Then, when things didn’t get all better and it was clear that Iraq’s struggling democracy was simply creating a power vacuum for Iran’s theocracy to fill, Arad switched to the Chicken Little thesis , arguing that the world was at risk from burgeoning Islamic extremism.

In recent months, he’s openly expressed his dismay at the turn of events in Iraq, which have significantly strengthened Iran in the region.

Ironically, the Clean Break strategy of regionalizing Israel’s security conflict in order to bring the decisive military weight of the United States to bear in the Middle East has not only backfired—it’s been turned on its head.

Now the United States and Israel are scrambling to contain Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas—forces that perhaps could have been dealt with separately in the past but now understand that coordinated action is key to their survival.

With the Iraq toothpaste terminally out of the tube, Arad apparently sees no endgame for his regional strategy but taking out Iran.

And, despite martial chestthumping, I think Israeli strategists accept that they are incapable of handling Iran themselves, and U.S. participation in a concerted military campaign to neutralize Iran by pounding it to an Iraqicized degree of helplessness is indispensable.

So by design, logic, or an unwillingness to acknowledge other options—like accepting a place under an explicit U.S. nuclear deterrent umbrella or rethinking the deal with the Palestinians—the hardliners are painting themselves into a rhetorical corner in which Israel faces an existential danger that can only be managed with U.S. military action against Iran.

With this context—and the New York Times article on Sunday—I’ve come to believe that Israel did indeed deliver a nuclear dossier to the United States in order to justify the September 6 raid.

And I believe the dossier wasn’t very good.

Certainly it didn’t depict an imminent or even presumptive threat justifying a pre-emptive strike.

Condi Rice apparently was unwilling to endorse the raid, calling upon the Israelis to confront Syria diplomatically with their evidence instead.

Since secret preliminary work on a nuclear reactor is apparently not illegal under the NPT, the Syrians would have been within their sovereign rights to tell the Israelis to get lost.

If the Israelis had pursued their claims about any Syrian nuclear program through conventional multilateral channels, the dispute would have been diplomatized, like the Iran matter—not exactly the outcome that the hardliners in the Israeli security establishment are looking for.

Arad’s views on ability of the Non-Proliferation Treaty system to protect Israel’s security are not ambiguous.

In the course of an article deploring Russia’s bad faith in continuing to provide nuclear technology to Iran while paying lip service to non-proliferation, he stated :

At the same time that Iran is a signatory to the NPT and enjoys the benefits of membership in the NPT regime and in the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran violates the NPT on a large scale, and everybody knows it, and nothing happens.

The bottom line is that Arad sees a Middle East filled with willing proliferators and eager customers, all taking advantage of an ineffectual anti-proliferation system.

The solutions are deterrence (Arad speaks darkly of a deterrence deficit which can only be ameliorated if Israel states its resolve to attack “everything and anything of value "in Iran in case of nuclear attack) and...

Well, in 2003 Arad wrote:

In a very few years, the Iranians may test a nuclear bomb, or they could follow a North Korean scenario and depart from the NPT.

The same logic the Americans applied to Iraq applies to Iran. Will the Americans carry their policy to its ultimate logical conclusion? Can the U.S. do it alone? Does it have enough support? Does it have the strength? Because if the Iraqi threat is resolved by its being disarmed but Iran is left unattended, we will have done very little for Middle Eastern stability and for nonproliferation.

Back to Syria, and that thing in the desert that Arad was so worked up about.

From what’s been leaked we can conclude that the Israelis saw something in Syria that they declared, either through sophisticated analysis, an excess of caution and paranoia, or cynical calculation, to be something nuclear that they wanted to blow up and the White House without a great deal of enthusiasm, let them do it.

My take on the situation:

Israel’s concerns—both Likud and Labor--are focused on regional security doctrine, the relationship with Washington, and the potential confrontation with Iran.

What Syria actually did or did not have in the desert was of secondary importance, and certainly was not an imminent threat.

Israel wanted to use its Syria findings to paint for Washington a picture of the Middle East with the proliferation genie out of the bottle and Israel threatened by Islamic nuclear reactors operated by duplicitous regimes in Iran and Syria and percolating with potential for covert weapons programs.

These programs would all be legal or quasi-legal, with their owners gaming the IAEA and hiding behind the NPT, stroking the Europeans, relying on Chinese and Russian diplomatic cover in the Security Council, acquiring forbidden nuclear technology from venal, immoral, and indifferent Russians, North Koreans, and Pakistanis, and creeping inexorably toward weaponization.

Since the next inhabitant of the White House may well be a Democrat who doesn’t share the current administration’s taste for military solutions and might instead chase the mirage of negotiation through the deserts of the Middle East, Israel’s security apparatus wanted to highlight a new potential nuclear threat, Syria, to bolster the argument that President Bush has to Do Something Now—at least support the raid verbally if not militarily and reassert the principle of pre-emptive counterproliferation outside of the structure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty as U.S. policy

Otherwise, Israel’s security could be fatally compromised by the inaction and confusion of Bush’s successors when one or two Islamic states would tiptoe up to the red line, then bolt the NPT and re-emerge a few months later—like North Korea—as nuclear powers ready to reach an accommodation with the United States, but not necessarily renounce their hostility toward Israel.

Maybe the dossier wasn’t very strong.

Maybe the purported nuclear facility was something that the Syrians and North Koreans were working on a few years back. Maybe it was abandoned. Maybe it was something else. Maybe it was just a hole in the ground. Maybe the dossier showed some satellite photographs, embellished with a bunch of tangential intel and worst-case thinking designed as grist for Dick Cheney’s paranoid mill. Maybe the most hypable threat was fear, as yet unsupported by actual developments, that Iran would put its obliging ally, Syria, into the nuke business.

But, in the context of the Bush administration’s long-standing commitment to counter-proliferation, pre-emption, and the Big-Picture regional approach, and with Dick Cheney apparently on board, the White House would be unlikely to withhold its support for the Israeli position.

So far so good.

But it turns out that the key foreign policy conflict in Washington isn’t between “bomb Syria and/or Iran” and “don’t bomb Syria and/or Iran”.

It’s between proceeding with the same policy of regional escalation that led us into Iraq or discreetly dialing back to the old Palestine-centric approach to solving Israel’s security problem—something I’d call creeping Bakerism.

And if the Palestinian issue is accepted in Washington as the true root of Israel’s problems, then the Iranian issue can be handled separately, as a wary negotiation and accommodation between the world’s only hyperpower and an important regional Islamic player.

Indeed, an analysis by Trita Parsi (via Rootless Cosmopolitan ) of Netanyahu and Arad’s previous attempt at rapprochement with Iran that I found quite persuasive ended with this comment:

Iran’s dismissal of Israel’s conciliatory signals convinced the Netanyahu government that just like in the Iran Contra affair, Tehran only wanted to mend fences with the U.S. and had no real interest in rebuilding its ties with Israel.

Therein, of course, lay the real threat from Iran.

The Israelis saw danger in a rapprochement between Tehran and Washington, believing this would inevitably see the U.S. sacrifice some of its support for Israel in order to find a larger accommodation with Iran, in pursuit of U.S. strategic interests in the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Iran would become emboldened and the U.S. would no longer seek to contain its growth. The balance of power would shift from Israel towards Iran and the Jewish State would no longer be able rely on Washington to control Tehran. “The Great Satan will make up with Iran and forget about Israel,” Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University in Israel noted.

Israel’s relative regional importance to the U.S. would decline with a warming of ties between Washington and Tehran.

So, after nine months of courting Tehran, Netanyahu gave up and reverted back to the Peres-Rabin policy of vilifying Iran and seeking its international isolation.

Today, Israel is facing a similar situation, but with one big difference. Iran is far more powerful than it was in 1996, while the power of the U.S. to impose its will in the Middle East has diminished considerably. The difficulties confronting the U.S. in Iraq and technological progress in Iran’s nuclear program may compel Washington to recognize that its best interests lie in a grand bargain with Tehran. But the general view in Israel today is the notion that such negotiations must be prevented, because all potential outcomes of a U.S.-Iran negotiation are perceived to be less optimal for Israel than the status quo of intense U.S.-Iran enmity that threatens to boil over into a military clash.

It’s precisely to prevent such engagement between Washington and Tehran that Netanyahu and company are pressing the 1938[Hitler vs. the West—ed.] analogy.

The North Korea deal might not be good news for Israel—because it offered a possible template for Iran, as the Chinese pointed out (at last— an Asian link! ).

In the overseas edition of the People's Daily -- the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece -- China's former ambassador to Iran said six-party negotiations hosted by Beijing set an example for engaging Tehran, which is pressing ahead with nuclear development that Western powers say could give it weapons capability.

After North Korea agreed on October 3 to disable key nuclear facilities and declare all atomic activities by the end of 2007, President George W. Bush also held up North Korea as a possible example for concessions by Iran.

But Ambassador Hua Liming drew a lesson very different from Bush's. He suggested that ending the Iran nuclear standoff required that Washington negotiate directly with Iran, even if Tehran continues uranium enrichment the United Nations has told it to halt.

Of course, the primary and negative lesson for Israel would be how North Korea used the bomb to enhance its geopolitical credentials and enter into meaningful negotiations with the United States, leaving Japan—which can be called with only slight exaggeration our Israel in the Pacific—holding the short end of the stick both in the concrete matter of the abductees and in the perceptual matter of Japan being somebody in the region worth listening to.

It’s probably no coincidence that the orchestrated hysterics concerning the Walt—Mearsheimer book occurred at a time of growing Israeli concern that U.S. policy might revealing a realist-driven divergence between U.S. and Israeli priorities in the Middle East (Arad’s rather opaque takedown of Walt—Mearsheimer can be read here).

Add to that the moderates’ determined efforts to breathe some life into the Middle East Peace Process, and I think there was probably a certain amount of palpable desperation for the Israeli security establishment in pushing the Syria dossier.

With the Bush administration settling into lame-duck status, moderates pulling back from broad and destabilizing regional goals in the Middle East, and a Democratic administration with a significant anti-war base looming on the horizon, it would have taken something “astounding” and “stunning” to get the United States to reaffirm its commitment to pre-emption.

In the event, Israel’s effort to drive the Middle East policy debate and discredit the moderates by positing a hot, actionable nuclear link between North Korea and Syria apparently fizzled, thanks to a weak dossier and/or U.S. unwillingness to take that particular path.

It looks like significant elements in foreign policy Washington have had a bellyful of regional escalation and saw reduced risks and costs in decoupling Iran and Israel and pursuing the moderate line that would has borne some fruit vis a vis North Korea.

Seeing Olmert losing the debate in Washington, perhaps Netanyahu and Arad tried to rally their forces—or just score some political points--by taking the Syria story public, to the dismay and fury of the Labor government.

But any hopes that the U.S. government—or at least hardliner allies inside and outside the administration—would raise a howl of outrage and the world would truly be “stunned” by the discrediting of the moderates, compromise of the Six Party Agreement, and a muscular statement of the principle of counterproliferation against Syria—and by implication against Iran—were dashed.

Iinstead the State Department, backed no doubt by the Defense Department and the uniformed services, quietly but firmly pushed back.

Feith, Joseph, Bolton, Wurmser all gone, and stream of leaks, invective, and allegations that normally nourish hardliner initiatives dried up. Even John Bolton’s op-eds sound more befuddled than intimidating.

Israel was left out on a limb, and went off on its lonesome to try and vindicate its questionable intelligence judgment with a raid that yielded a new hole in the ground but precious few security or geopolitical benefits.

Maybe the U.S. State Department moderates further quashed the nuclear story by peddling a fake SCUD angle that was picked up by people like me, who found (and still find) the idea of some significant ongoing clandestine nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea extremely unlikely.

And, contacted by the New York Times to put some meat on his story that would “stun everyone”, Uzi Arad discreetly looked at the unfavorable disposition of forces and beat a retreat.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Scuds Not Nukes

This looks about right.

Via Laura Rozen, Intelligence Online reports on the probable target of the Israeli raid on Syria in early September:

The attack by the Israeli air force coincided with the arrival of a stock of parts for Syria's 200 Scud B and 60 Scud C weapons.

The parts were shipped from North Korea aboard a container ship flying the Panamanian flag. The U.S. Navy wanted to board the ship in Morocco's territorial waters but Rabat vetoed the operation. The parts were loaded aboard six trucks in the Syrian port of Tartus on Sept. 3 and took three days to reach Dair el Zor. The trucks and their loads were destroyed the moment they arrived at the underground base. A unit of military police that escorted the convoy was also wiped out in the attack.

This confirms the version that Raw Story reported a week ago.

As an aside, North Korea is prohibited from exporting spare parts for missile systems under the UNSCR 1718 sanctions. If there's no brouhaha, maybe the idea that Kim Jung Il is shielded for international reproach because he himself revealed his illicit dealings with Syria to the U.S. as a confidence-building (and prophylactic) measure has some basis.

As I stated in my post back then this presents an interesting issue for the London Sunday Times, whose September 22 stemwinder may well mark the high water mark of Nork nukes in Syria drumbeating:

....if the nuclear story is untrue then somebody is (gulp) lying. The nuclear story, with its tale of Israeli commandoes, seized nuclear material, and anxious conferences between Washington and Tel Aviv is too categorical and detailed to be treated as the result of incomplete information and inference.

If the SCUD story continues to pan out, wonder if the Times will cover the interesting story of who lied about the Syria nuclear scenario. It would involve a lot of tough opening up their own notebooks to see who fibbed to them and when.

The Mystery of the Dropped Fuel Tanks

I had vowed to give up blogging on Middle Eastern affairs.

However, an e-mail from a reader concerning the Israeli raid on a purported North-Korea-linked military facility in Syria enticed me to wander off the Asian affairs res once again.

FYI, the combat radius of an F-15 in deep strike mode is 1800km
The distance to the Syrian target is ~ 700 km.

No need for drop tanks........

Hmmm. Too interesting to pass up.

The Internet is a treasure trove for armchair commanders and aviation and weapons enthusiasts. Industrious googling yielded the following information:

During the raid, some Israeli aircraft jettisoned two external fuel tanks up by the Turkish border.

The tanks were from an F-15I fighter bomber , called the “Ra’am” or “Thunder”, itself the Israeli variant of the F-15E Strike Eagle.

In agreement with my correspondent, the Observer states the Ra’am is:

...the newest generation of Israeli long-range bomber, which has a combat range of over 2,000km when equipped with the drop tanks.

But I think the Observer (and perhaps *gasp* a loyal reader) got it wrong. Either they confused cruising range with combat range, or confused the current F15I with its previous incarnations (for instance the F15C does have a combat radius of 2000 km).

The F-15E is a completely different animal from previous F-15s, which were sleek interceptors, designed “without a pound for the ground” i.e. no air to ground armament, for those days of air-to-air combat with the parfait knights of the Soviet bloc.

The F-15E is a big, fat hog of a plane, sometimes nicknamed the Flying Tennis Court, or Rodan for its resemblance to the ungainly but murderous superpterodactyl featured in the Godzilla movies.

It’s meant to carry big bombs and missiles to blow up stuff on the ground and the people standing in it or next to it, and fight its way out if necessary.

So it’s got bigger engines and less range than previous F15s.

According to the data I dug up, the F-15E has a combat radius—the distance it can be expected to fly for a mission assuming high speed, fuel-consuming maneuvers--of 790 miles (see here and here ).

To achieve this radius, it needs its internal fuel plus external fuel.

Internal fuel capacity is 5,952 kg.

External fuel consists of two components:

Conforming fuel tanks or CFTs with a total capacity of 4500 kg. They are integral parts of the plane—one report I read said the plane isn’t really designed to fly without them—and can’t be jettisoned.

Then there’s another 5500 kg in conventional external fuel tanks—the kind that were dropped during the mission.

With a fistful of caveats, the combat radius for an F-15I without the external fuel tanks would be around 500+ miles.

Distance from the Hatzerim airbase (home of the F-15I-equipped 69th Squadron) near Beersheba to Dayr az Zawr: 420 miles.

So you might think that the conventional external fuel tanks weren’t needed for this particular mission, and the only reason to carry them was for road-testing prior to some Iran-related hanky-panky.

Maybe yes, maybe no.

If the Israelis really did bomb Dayr az Zawr, it’s unclear why they went barnstorming up to the Turkish border a hundred miles away.

But they certainly did go, and to fly that kind of mission including a flyby of the Turkish border, I think they would need the external fuel tanks.

Maybe the Turkey excursion was to test some fancy new electronic countermeasures equipment mounted on another plane, called “Suter”, to disrupt Russian air defense hardware recently supplied to Syria—and Iran, for Israel’s benefit and our own.

Aviation Week put out the story courtesy of “U.S. officials”:

A Kuwaiti newspaper wrote that "Russian experts are studying why the two state-of-the art Russian-built radar systems in Syria did not detect the Israeli jets entering Syrian territory. Iran reportedly has asked the same question, since it is buying the same systems and might have paid for the Syrian acquisitions."

We got a certain amount of military chest-thumping about how cool this new gear is, but these planes only jettison their fuel tanks if they’ve been engaged and need extra speed and mobility, which leads one to believe it couldn’t have worked too great.

As to Israeli insistence that they’ll take out Iran if we can’t get off our collective rears, I found this analysis interesting and persuasive.

It argues that the Israeli air force simply doesn’t have the horses to haul the armament needed to make a terminal dent in the hardened and dispersed Iranian facilities on a 1200-mile mission—remember, more fuel means fewer weapons carried--unless the U.S. either assists in the refueling of the Israeli planes or allows them to stage the assault U.S. from bases in Iraq.

And maybe not even then.

Bottom line:

Theoretically, the Israelis could do this, but at great risk of failure. If they decide to attack Natanz, they will have to inflict sufficient damage the first time - they probably will not be able to mount follow-on strikes at other facilities.

When all the analyses are done, there is only one military capable of the sustained widespread air operations required to eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons research program - the United States.

So it looks like the Israelis could start something—but it would be up to Uncle Sam to finish the job.

I take this as support for my thesis that a key data point for Israel from the Syria raid was the nature of the U.S. support it did—or did not—elicit, and what that would mean for Israel if it conducted a dramatic but less than conclusive raid on Natanz with the hope that the U.S. could be dragged into the campaign.

So: War with Iran—it’s up to us. Don’t know whether that’s reassuring or disturbing.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Did Israel Get Duped into Bombing Syria by a U.S. Hardliner Scam?

The Israeli censors have finally approved reporting on the fact of the raid, but nothing about target, results, or consequences.

A couple possible data points.

AP via Talking Points Memo:

North Korea, which provides missile technology to Syria, has denied any nuclear link. Syria also has denied receiving North Korean nuclear help. [emphasis added]

BBC via Syria Comment:

Syrian President Bashar Assad told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday that Israeli warplanes attacked an “unused military building” in his country last month and said Damascus reserves the right to retaliate.

To continue musing about Stratfor’s speculation about a North Korean sellout of Syria, maybe North Korea revealed details of its SCUD-related activities in Syria to the United States as a confidence-building measure (I seriously doubt there was any significant nuke-related cooperation)...

...then warned the Syrians, who hurriedly emptied the building of the North Korean equipment and/or personnel (it would be a rare display of Dear Leader’s human touch or survival instincts if he was trying to keep his elite military officers and techs from being killed) before the Israelis bombed it.

The rather nonplussed way the Israelis are milling around in the aftermath of the raid implies they were surprised by a certain lack of thunderous support from the U.S.— spiraling condemnations of Syria and North Korea were conspicuously absent.

Maybe hardliners in the Bush administration frustrated with the current ascendancy of the moderates fed Israel the information and encouraged the raid, with the apparently empty promise that resolute Israeli action would tilt the balance within the Bush administration in favor of early confrontation with Syria.

Supposedly, Vice President Cheney believes that an Israeli strike on Nantanz would force U.S. military action against Iran.

Maybe this was a test of the theory and tactics.

And maybe the moderates convinced President Bush that he couldn’t go after North Korea since Kim had provided us with the information in the first place; and overt endorsement of the Syria raid would place control of the commencement of hostilities with Iran in the hands of the Israeli government, or at the very least increase the likelihood of a risky Israeli raid on Nantanz instigated by the hardliners.

If so, the Israelis are presumably disappointed, and they must be shaking their heads at how they were gulled by neocons promising results and consequences that never materialized.

Welcome to the club, guys.