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The response to the Iranian attacks on Saudi oil facilities

Preamble:  We have taken a sabbatical from writing articles for the last 18 months in response to the venom that is out there in the media.  However, the US response to the Iranian attacks seems to indicate a completely new US approach to global stability.  Therefore I felt duty bound to spell out my thoughts and respond to those who can only see their hate of this administration.

The recent Iranian attacks on the Saudi oil facilities in north eastern Saudi Arabia indicate an escalation by the Iranians.  Why?  Do the Iranians perceive that the US is powerless because of the Democratic calls for impeachment?  Are the sanctions and limits on Iranian oil exports taking such a toll that the Iranians feel that the world will react to Saudi oil output short falls and try to force the US to relax its containment of Iran?

The lack of an American kinetic response has the world wondering what has changed in the US approach to the world.  By listening to the president’s speech at the UN yesterday it is now very clear that the President does not see the US as the world’s policeman.   In the name of regional stability the US is deploying defensive capabilities to Saudi Arabia.

The recent attacks show the deficiencies of the Saudi military.  In spite of extensive expenditures their missile defense capabilities are still inadequate in the face of Iranian cruise missiles.  Reports indicate that the problems are both the training of the force and the needs of a modern missile defense.

Missile defense requires the ability to intercept multiple types of missiles through a complex spectrum of missile types.  Most missile defense systems can be overcome by a volume of missiles.  The Israeli “Iron Dome” system attempts to discriminate based on a calculation of impact points.  Will incoming missiles hit critical assets?  The Saudi system has not reached the degree of sophistication required to make such a discrimination automatically.

The lack of a kinetic attack illustrates the new Trump Doctrine—allies must protect themselves and respond to attacks using their own capabilities.  The US will assist where necessary to maintain stability until the allies have developed their own capabilities.  This approach means that the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperative Council members should respond to threats.  The US may provide technical assistance in such a response, but one should not expect US forces attacking Iran unless US forces have been directly engaged by Iranians.

The military situation in the Gulf is truly asymmetric, but in a different way than the discussion of conventional forces versus terrorists or unconventional forces.  The Iranians have devoted a significant part of their defense development to offensive missiles and small attack boats, while the Gulf States have focused on air power and defensive forces.  As noted above the Iranian missile assets can most likely overpower the defenses of the Gulf States.  However, a series of preemptive attacks might go a long way in leveling the battle field.  One could even envision the Apache attack helicopters that the Saudis have being able to go in under the Iranian radar and doing extensive damage.

Will the Saudis/Gulf States respond?  The answer to this question is probably in the Iranian hands.  If they push the opportunity that they may perceive exists because of the political situation in the US they may in fact cause a reaction with extensive US support.  On the other hand if the new status quo continues nothing may happen. The status quo favors the Saudis and the Gulf States as the political situation in Iran may continue to deteriorate and they can enhance their defensive and offensive capabilities.

Strong demands –who are they aimed at?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the Trump administration will embark on an “unprecedented” pressure campaign against Iran meant to fundamentally change its foreign policy. Delivering his first major foreign policy address as top diplomat at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, Pompeo listed 12 sweeping and uncompromising conditions for a new nuclear deal with Tehran after President Donald Trump withdrew from an existing one earlier this month.

Pompeo said that the JCPOA put the world at risk because of its fatal flaws. Therefore the list of US demands is long” because Iran’s activities are bold in scope, “We didn’t create the list – they did.” There were reported to be twelve demands, but a thorough reading of his speech makes it 15:  (the number doesn’t matter the message does)

  1. We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime. The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness. The departments of Treasury and Commerce are already working on the sanctions.
  2. I will work closely with the Department of Defense and our regional allies to deter Iranian aggression.
  3. We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region. We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyber activity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and we will crush them. Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.
  4. We will also advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people. The regime must improve how it treats its citizens. It must protect the human rights of every Iranian. It must cease wasting Iran’s wealth abroad. We ask that our international partners continue to add their voice to ours in condemning Iran’s treatment of its own citizens.
  5. Iran must declare to the IAEA a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity.
  6. Iran must stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing. This includes closing its heavy water reactor.
  7. Iran must also provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all nuclear sites throughout the entire country.
  8. Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems.
  9. Iran must release all U.S. citizens, as well as citizens of our partners and allies, each of them detained on spurious charges.
  10. Iran must end support to Middle East terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
  11. Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias.
  12. Iran must also end its military support for the Houthi militia and work towards a peaceful political settlement in Yemen.
  13. Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria.
  14. Iran must end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan and the region, and cease harboring senior al-Qaida leaders.

These demands are broad in scope and in essence call for the end of Iran’s goal as to the creation of a caliphate across the Middle East from Egypt to Afghanistan.  There are some wide ranging and probably on their face impossible to achieve.  The center of gravity of his remarks appears to be a call for regime change. He said that we ask the Iranian people: Is this what you want your country to be known for, for being a co-conspirator with Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and al-Qaida? The United States believe you deserve better.

With a regime change all of the other goals become more possible.

With a regime change all of the other goals become more possible.When one sees this hard line approach to Iran (North Korea’s partner or client in weapons building) he must wonder how Kim Jun Un he sees the on again of again upcoming summit.  Kim responded negatively to President Trump’s Libya analogy, with cause.  Things went well for Libya for about 10 years before the revolution stared and was supported by NATO with arms and air support until the government was overthrown and Qaddafi killed.

In this complex world such examples provide the wrong message to both the Iranians and the North Koreans.

As things progress in the processes that have been started with North Korea and Iran we will watch them with interest and report on them when needed and appropriate.