The Saudi – Iranian Proxy War

It is sounding more and more likely–still not publicly confirmed–that Saturday’s attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure might have originated in Iraq–and not Yemen or Iran.  Middle East Eye is quoting an unnamed Iraqi intelligence official that this attack was in retaliation for Saudi funded, Israeli launched attacks on Iraqi militias.  This lends credence to the entire notion of the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  The Saudi’s have been fighting the Houthis in Yemen since approximately 2015–one of the most under-reported wars that continues to the present day.  Iran has been an avid supporter of the Houthis and, indeed, the Houthis have conducted some long range missile strikes at Saudi Arabia over the past couple of years.

Iran has also been a longtime supporter of Hezbollah in Lebanon and, quite recently, of the Iraqi Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).  Hezbollah’s confrontation with Israel has been on-going for many years.  Iran’s support for the PMF is a relatively recent endeavor, though entirely within the vein of Hezbollah and the Houthis.  Indeed, throughout the region, Iran’s modus operandi has been to work asymmetrically through these proxies whenever military action has been called for.

Which brings us to the attacks on Saudi Arabia.  Four months ago, May 14th, the Saudi’s were hit with a drone attack–this one on Aramco’s east-west pipeline near the central Saudi town of al-Duwadimi.  As with Saturday’s attack, the Houthis claimed responsibility.  However, in the May attack, reports are that this attack may very well have originated in Iraq, thereby implicating Iranian backed PMF Shia militias.

Saudi Arabia Oil Field Attack II

The map above, from Middle East Eye, shows a possibly route for Saturday’s attack, which bears a remarkable resemblance to the May attack–right down to the Houthis claiming responsibility.  However, as Middle East Eye is reporting, Saturday’s attack is in retaliation for Saudi’s support, even coordination, of Israeli attacks on Iranian bases in Iraq and Syria.  If this is the case, we may soon see an end to this “proxy war” and an outright confrontation between the major antagonists.

That drone attack on the Saudi oil facilities . . . .

Around four AM Saturday morning, local time, a number of drones reportedly attacked two major oil facilities in northeastern Saudi Arabia.  Reportedly, these attacks affected up to half of Saudi’s oil supply, though it should not take long for the Saudi’s to recover from this.  According to Iranian media reports, this attack originated with the Houthis in Yemen.  That claim, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is more than a little dubious as he flat out claimed that “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

Clearly, Secretary Pompeo should know what he’s talking about in this case.  The Saudi facility attacked represents “perhaps the most critical facility in the world for oil supply.”  In addition, this facility is less than 50 miles from the Gulf–and there is a ton of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance  (ISR) in the region.  The map below gives some perspective:  Al Udeid Air Force Base–the largest US Air Force Base in the Middle East–is only about 120 miles from this facility.  Bahrain, the headquarters of the US 5th Fleet, is about half that distance and, while no US ships are permanently assigned to the 5th Fleet, an American naval presence–of some sort–has been routine here for years.  The question here really isn’t who did this–the list is very short, either the Houthi’s–who have claimed responsibility are fully supported by Iran–or the Iranians themselves–but rather, how did this happen given not only the ISR capabilities in the region but also the elevated tensions with Iran?

Saudi Arabia Oil field attack - 14 Sept '19

Iran recently claimed that they have a very long range drone, capable of the roughly 750 mile flight from Yemen–in the extreme southeastern part of the peninsula.  However, if the drones did not originate in Yemen, as Pompeo alleges, where did the come from?  Iran is about one third the distance as that of Yemen but again, I think everyone knows–or certainly believes–that Iran had a hand in this (that question is simply to what degree?).  The question, again, is how did this happen?  Did these drones really go undetected by all of the US ISR in the region?  Or, did the Saudis, once warned from the US, simply fail to prevent the attack.  Indeed, it seems much more plausible that the Saudi’s air defenses are seriously lacking rather than the Mullahs in Tehran possibly launching these drones from somewhere in Iran and crossing the Gulf in the very teeth of US ISR capabilities.  But again, if they didn’t come from Yemen, and the peninsula is a vast desert, where did they come from and how did the Saudis miss these?

One final question:  With the notable success of this drone attack, how will the Saudis respond?  I think most everyone acknowledges that the drones themselves were most likely manufactured in Iran.  Tensions have been high in the region for some time.  In the wake of yesterday’s attack, they’ve escalated even more–almost as if someone through a match on a powder keg, or an oil refinery.

 

It’s a SALE!

Are you looking for an awesome book for your reading list this summer?  A fan of Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, LT Ryan, or Joel Rosenberg?  Download The Gambit today!!!  The Kindle version of The Gambit is currently on sale for only $0.99!  Click here to download your copy right away!  (See below for what is frequently bought together and what others are also buying.)

And, the sequel to The Gambit is right around the corner!  I’m really pushing to get it out this Fall!  Stay tuned for more on that!

Frequently bought together with customers also bought 2 July '19

The Question No One is Asking

The apparent attack on the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman this morning serves as a warning tensions in the region are clearly escalating.  Last month, four tankers were attacked off the UAE coast in the Gulf of Oman.  In this attack, limpet mines were placed below the waterline of each ship.  (A limpet mine is a relatively small magnetic explosive attached to the hull of the ship.)  No casualties came from any of the four ships but as you can see from the pictures below, each ship had a nasty hole blow into the hull of the ship.  Limpet Mine damage to 4 ships

In today’s attacks, which were much more dramatic in several ways, the most obvious of which is that the MV Front Altair seemed to be targeted and, once attacked, left abandoned and on fire.  By targeted, I’m assuming that to be the case based on its track as shown below:

Twitter Front Altair Tanker track

The twitter account where the above track comes from can be found here.  And, what adds to the drama like a raging fire?!

Pictures on board an oil tanker (left, top right) shows it billowing black smoke, which can be seen from afar (bottom right)

Obviously, for all but the least informed, Iran comes to mind as the most likely suspect behind each of these attacks.  That is not to say that they are the only ones capable of this, because they aren’t.  However, it would take a cynical mind, though probably not much of one, to think the Saudis would do something like this, i.e., to fan the flames – pardon the pun – of the tension so thick in the region right now that they’d try to instigate some type of US military action against the Iranians.  It would take an even more cynical mind to think Mossad would be behind this to again, drag the US into a strike against Iran.  However, as Tyler Rogoway indicated in his excellent article, which can be read here, the region is so rife with ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) that I don’t think it will take just too long to determine what happened.  Indeed, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already publicly claimed Iran bears responsibility for this, as was the case last month.

If, indeed, Iran is behind this, and I for one believe they are, the obvious question – which no one is asking – is What Now?  Unlike the benign missile tests of the North Koreans – and by “benign” I mean no one has gotten hurt and no one has sustained any property damage – these two attacks clearly have inflicted property damage, with the fate of the MV Front Altair still to be determined, and, while no one was hurt in today’s attacks, it looks as though it could easily have been otherwise.

So, again, Now What?  The US already has some pretty stiff economic sanctions on Iran.  In spite of these, Iran, it would seem, continues to lash out without regard for property or people.  More to the point, the US is not shying away from laying the blame right at the feet of Iran.  Obviously, a military strike is always “on the table” as the saying goes.  However, if this were to be the preferred option, we’d have to literally take out all of Iran’s offensive capability for striking back at any target of opportunity in the Gulf.  This would take one massive effort–if it could even be done–and at this point in time, I don’t see that US has even begun to move the pieces into position for something like this.  What I believe is presently the most likely scenario is the tightening of the sanctions currently in place.  This would require all of Europe to join the US, almost like the united front President George H W Bush put together for Desert Storm – only this would be a Gulf Storm with the means of power being economics and not military.  And, if Iran continues on their present course, it might just happen.

*Photo credit Fars News Agency/AP

 

Are U.S. Troops simply “redeploying” from Syria?

Last week, President Trump stunned many with the announcement that he’d be withdrawing all of US forces from Syria.  Many, if not most, in Trump’s national security establishment were taken by complete surprise and both Secretary James Mattis and Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, abruptly resigned.  However, word is out that the US might have just as recently established two new bases in western Iraq.  As described in the Globalsecurity.org article, one of these bases appears to be somewhat east of the strategic base currently occupied at Al-Tanf.  Another looks to be about 150 kilometers east, southeast of Al-Tanf.  If these are indeed, two new bases, Trump could be simply taking a page out of President Reagan’s play book when he deployed the Marines to Beirut.  After the 1983 bombing, Reagan indicated that he was simply redeploying the Marines off shore.

A redeployment of US forces to western Iraq would still sit astride the land-bridge that Iran looks to establish from Tehran to Lebanon–which is crucial from a strategic perspective.  However, I’m not exactly sure how secure this redeployment would be for our Kurdish allies–I’m guessing not too secure as the Kurds do not occupy any part of western Iraq.  As such, the Kurds in northern Syria would still need to fend for themselves, which remains a very poor showing of support for the best ally we have had in the region in the fight against ISIS.  Yes, Turkey is a a key ally of ours but the ones who did much of the crucial fighting against ISIS, especially in eastern Syria, were the Kurds.  Even a redeployment, if this is indeed what it is, leaves them in the lurch.

A US Pullout from Syria – BIG Mistake

Word is out that President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of all US forces from Syria.  Admittedly, the US only has a couple thousand troops in the country.  However, the impact of that relatively small number of troops is a true force-multiplier and a poses a huge stabilizing influence for the region.  According to Trump’s most recent stated goal of the US mission in Syria:  “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” he tweeted this morning.  However, US officials have long stated a three pronged strategy with Syria, and defeating ISIS was only one of them–the other two being the strengthening of local forces so they could prevent the ascendancy of new extremist forces and to press Iran to withdraw its forces from Syria.  These last two have not been met – and indeed, without active US participation in Syria, they will not be met.

Has ISIS been defeated – possibly not yet but as an effective united fighting force the writing is on the wall.  Sleeper cells will exist throughout the region but the end is certainly near.

Is there an effective force that could be established in the region?  Most definitely – but it’s extremely complicated.  The Kurds.  The Kurds are the largest ethnic group without a country of their own.  The push for an independent Kurdistan – and there was a strong push for it very recently – is roundly opposed by all in the region – Arabs, Persians (Iranians) and the Turks – each for their own reasons and some more credible than others.   However, short of what would practically amount to making Kurdistan the 51st state, there is little to no chance of the establishment of an independent Kurdistan.

And, then there’s Iran.  Iran is looking to be the regional superpower.  They currently have one proxy war in Yemen with their overt support of the Houthi’s while their support of Hezbollah might not seem to be an outright war, the Israelis might feel a little differently.  Iran is currently looking to build a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean – and they are very close to achieving this.  Right now, the only thing stopping this is the US presence in Syria, and the US base at Al Tanf.  Al Tanf occupies a very strategic position right at the heart of Iran’s land bridge to the Med.

 

Iran-Land-Bridge

With the US vacating Syria, Iran’s hegemonic goals in the region are all but assured.  The Saudis currently have their hands full in Yemen, not to mention other self-inflicted distractions.  Israel, obviously, serves as the final check to Iran – which is probably just what Tehran wants.  Only the continued American presence will keep the Iranians at bay, embolden the Kurds and ensure the defeat and burial of ISIS.

The Syrian Question is more than a little complicated, and many would say that it’s not our problem.  However, at some point in the future, it very likely will be – only at that point it could very well be a tougher, and more expensive, question to answer.

A SEAL’s attitude!

My brother sent me a link to this Youtube video this afternoon and it’s just too good not to share.  When you open the link and see who the Navy SEAL is, you might think this had something to do with the a recent TV show that aired over the weekend – and you couldn’t be further from the truth.  I know he’s a Texan and running for Congress; I just wish he was running in my district!

Iraq – Iran’s New Ballistic Missile Base

Reuters is reporting, from seven different sources – three Iranian, two Iraqi and two Western Intelligence sources – that Iran is moving short range ballistic missiles into Iraq.  It seems that Iran’s war by proxy – which it has been conducting for years with Hezbollah in Lebanon and more recently, the Houti’s in Yemen – is now expanding to include it’s militia allies in Iraq.  Iran has provided Hezbollah with literally thousands of missiles over the years and the Houti’s have recently launched many of these same ballistic missiles against the Saudis.

While Iran has waged this war by proxy for several years, they appear to be expanding this in Iraq by providing its local allies there with the capability of manufacturing them in Iraq as well.  Intelligence sources are claiming that three factories exist:  One in in al-Zafaraniya, east of Baghdad, and one in Jurf al-Sakhar, north of Kerbala.  They also supposedly have one Iraqi Kurdistan.

The missiles that Iran has introduced into Iraq have ranges anywhere from 200 km to 700 km – which means that missiles launched from Iraq’s western Anbar province would have the capability of hitting a wide range of targets, from Riyadh to Amman, Jordan; and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

An obvious question about all of this is how the Iraqi government could allow this, especially when the US still has several thousand troops in both Iraq and Syria fighting ISIS.  However, an Iraqi intelligence source noted that “It was clear to Iraqi intelligence that such a missile arsenal sent by Iran was not meant to fight Daesh (Islamic State) militants but as a pressure card Iran can use once involved in regional conflict.”  This source continued:   “We can’t restrain militias from firing Iranian rockets because simply the firing button is not in our hands, it’s with Iranians who control the push button,” he said.  The militias referred to here are known locally as the Popular Mobilization Forces and they are scattered throughout Iraq.  Those PMF groups that have a strong Shiite contingent have a fierce loyalty to Iran and it’s Quds Force leader, General Qassim Soleimani.

Not surprisingly, all representatives of the Israeli government declined to comment on this.  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo simply indicated that he was “deeply concerned.”  Obviously, nothing good can come from this latest development.

 

The Case for an F-22 Hybrid

Word is that Lockheed is pitching an F-22/F-35 hybrid to the US Air Force, a pitch that is not unlike what they have pitched to Japan.  This new plane would have similar body style to that of the F-22 and a similar avionics package to that of the F-35.  For the Japanese version, reportedly more than half of the plane would built in Japan.  In addition, the Japanese would also be footing a large part of the development cost–which, if based on the F-22, could be a huge savings since much of the techs, and specs, are mothballed in the Nevada desert.

Costs remain a huge factor.  The F-35A is estimated at around $90 million per aircraft in the Pentagon’s latest order.  The initial estimates for the F-22 hybrid, based on a total purchase order from both Japan and the US of 140 planes, is something less than $190 million per plane.  Currently, the Air Force plan is to purchase more than 1,700 of the F-35s.  By contrast, the Air Force only purchased 180 of the F-22’s–a plane which is regarded as the best fighter in the world right now–and it’s technology is approximately 15 years old.  However, with Japan reportedly willing to foot a big chunk of the development costs for an F-22 hybrid and if, say 400 of the planes were built–and does anyone really think the Israelis wouldn’t be interested in a plane of this caliber?–the price tag of this plane could drop dramatically.  For instance, the Nikkei Asian Review indicates that for 70 planes, the price tag per plane comes in at $216 million; at 140 aircraft, that figure drops to $190 million per order.  At 400 aircraft, the economies of scale would be significantly more reduced, and still allow for more than 1,200 of the F-35s.

A brief look at the US Air Force inventory over the years is somewhat enlightening:  in the ’60’s, Secretary of Defense McNamara ordered the Navy, Marines and the Air Force to purchase the F-4 Phantom with several thousand being built, not only for the US but also for our allies.  In the 70’s and then into the 80’s, the Navy flew the F-14 and the F/A-18 while the Air Force flew the F-15 and the F-16.  Each plan had it’s own unique features:  the F-14 served as the Navy’s air superiority fighter featuring the vaunted Phoenix missile system and the F-15 served the Air Force as the preeminent air-to-air fighter–and to this day, not a single F-15–world wide–has been lost in air-to-air combat.  (Indeed, the F-15 is such a reliable aircraft that back in 1983, after a mid-air collision, one Israeli F-15 lost its entire right wing and the pilot was still able to fly and land the aircraft!)  The Navy has since retired the F-14, but both the Air Force and the Navy fly aircraft that were state of the art back in the ’80’s!  The last F-15 the US purchased was more than 15 years ago.

Clearly, the US military has gone with one aircraft for all three services in its history.  However, with different mission sets for each service, the flexibility of different aircraft serving those mission sets is clearly needed.  Even for the F-35, there are three different versions–one for each of the flying branches, each with its own characteristics.  Adding an enhanced F-22 could only complement the Air Force’s F-35A–similar to the way the F-15 & the F-16 complement each other today, both for the US Air Force and, in a way that is on display practically on a regular basis, with the Israeli Air Force.