Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Coming Gaza War


Both Little Satan and Hamas claim not to want another battle, but both are getting gussied up for one.

Gaza has yet to recover from the destruction of the last war with Israel in the summer of 2014, when more than 178,000 houses were destroyed or damaged, which makes any upcoming war between Israel and the Palestinians seem too early and premature.

After a flurry of contentious statements in February, the situation calmed in March as both Hamas and Israel stopped talking about a possible fourth Israeli-Gaza war, and both showed a desire to quiet their people and reassure them that no confrontation would break out anytime soon.

The Israeli plan for a potential war against Hamas in Gaza received wide media coverage in the Palestinian and Israeli press. It calls for each Israeli battalion to kill as many Hamas members as possible and thwart the movement’s moves and goals. The IDF has developed a strong defense and attack system capable of protecting the Gaza envelope and minimizing the threat of mortar shells, while the Israeli air force would launch an extraordinary and efficient offensive.

Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, told Al-Monitor, “The resistance in Gaza is preparing itself for the worst in its upcoming confrontation with the Israeli army. We take the IDF threats to launch a new war against Gaza very seriously. We have growing speculations that the Israeli enemy has begun the countdown for a new aggression against Gaza, and the resistance is getting prepared around the clock in order not to give the Israeli army a chance to launch a sudden attack.”

A Palestinian security official in Gaza told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, "Hamas’ and Israel’s declaration of their unwillingness to go into a military confrontation anytime soon might face three factors that may eventually lead to an outbreak of this confrontation.

The first is the misunderstanding from both parties due to their field efforts on the Gaza-Israel borders; the second is the increased escalation in the West Bank, most recently the operation in Jerusalem on April 18, which wounded 20 Israelis; and the third is the resistance in Gaza feeling that the blockade is tightening with no alleviation initiatives in sight.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The End Of A Saudi Alliance?


Is Great Satan's Allied Hook Up with Whahabbi Arabia dang near null and void?

These days, when the United States and Saudi Arabia look at the region, they see two completely different landscapes and conflicting sets of interests. Riyadh sees a series of conflicts that the United States must resolve and a series of failing states that it must rehabilitate. The Saudis would like a commitment from Obama to defang Iran, change the balance of power in the Syrian civil war to the detriment of Bashar Assad and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

How did the U.S.-Saudi relationship go so badly astray? It wasn’t that great to begin with. There has always been something incongruous about an alliance between a liberal democracy and a traditional monarchy relying on austere Islam and petrodollars to sustain itself. During the Cold War, the two sides’ antipathy toward the Soviet Union concealed all these differences.


In the post-Cold War period, the Saudis’ massive oil reserves and the need to deal with Saddam Hussein deflected attention from the core contradictions that long bedeviled this relationship. The September 11th tragedy, and the revelation that 15 out of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, jolted the relationship once again, but that too was soon forgotten with America’s renewed focus on Iraq, as the long insurgency and reconstitution of post-Saddam Iraq took front page.

Today, the administration does not see an adversary whose containment requires Saudi support. Iran once would have filled that role, but Washington is preoccupied with sustaining its arms control agreement with Tehran. The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once caused the United States to seek out Arab stakeholders, but such lofty ambitions no longer obsess Washington as they once did. And as the global energy markets change, the United States grows more energy independent, and Saudi oil becomes a less relevant staple crop, the lure of petroleum is increasingly not enough to sustain an alliance always built on a shaky foundation.

Moreover, suspicions that the Saudis have been two-faced in the fight against terrorism—especially over the kingdom’s alleged support of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist terrorists—are once again in the forefront.

Nor should the Saudis take any comfort from the idea that changing the occupant of the White House early next year will change this serious misalignment of interests, or substantially alter America’s policies.

As the Middle East undergoes another vulnerable and violent transition, it will do so largely without America. It remains to be seen whether the 21st century will be an American century anywhere else in the world, but it’s not going to be one in the Middle East. U.S. politicians on both sides are tired of expending precious resources to stabilize a region coming undone.
44's making a futile trip. The United States and Saudi Arabia no longer see anything the same way.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

44's New Syrian Plan


44 unveiled new plans for handling a leisurely uptick versus ISIL

The decision to increase the number of Special Operations forces in Iraq and Syria was made this month. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced an additional 200 troops for Iraq during a visit to Baghdad last week.

44 also has authorized U.S. commanders in Iraq to use Apache attack helicopters and deploy American advisers with lower-level Iraqi units to assist local troops in a future offensive to reclaim the city of Mosul. U.S. officials think those measures will enhance the effectiveness of Iraqi troops, but they also will expose U.S. forces to greater risk.

The increase is part of an overall acceleration in the fight against the Islamic State. Despite a string of what the administration has described as successes — including territory reclaimed from the militants in Iraq and Syria and the severing of supply and communication lines between Islamic State forces in the two countries — some aspects of the conflict have gone more slowly, or have been less successful, than anticipated.

Although Iraqi military forces, backed by U.S. air power and other enhancements, retook the city of Ramadi early this year, plans to move toward Mosul, in northern Iraq, have dragged as the Baghdad government contends with economic and political difficulties, and the melding of Iraq’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish military forces into a unified offensive force has proved problematic.

The Iraqi military also continues to struggle with issues of morale, leadership and logistics.

Monday, April 25, 2016

ISIS: The End of the Begining?


Just as the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS is making real progress on the ground, political chaos in Iraq is threatening to undermine those hard-fought gains.

Iraq’s ongoing political crisis is reaching another turning point. This week, several ministries are under siege in Baghdad by demonstrators who are trying to break into the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the American embassy and the Iraqi national government. Iraq now has a divided parliament with two speakers; one is supported by Shiite demonstrators, the other backed by Sunnis and Kurds.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are trying to maintain recent momentum. On Monday in Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the deployment of 200 additional U.S. Special Forces to Iraq. He also added Apache helicopters and financial support of $400 million to fund the Iraqi Kurds. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Baghdad a week ago that ISIS’s days are numbered.

The U.S. has spent nearly $7 billion of taxpayer money and launched more than 11,000 air raids against ISIS over the past twenty months. ISIS has lost almost every major battle it fought in Iraq and Syria in the last year. The overall effect of these losses on the group’s funding, leadership, arms, propaganda communications and manpower is immense.

We are seeing not only a shift in the dynamic and the momentum of the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS; it is quite possibly the beginning of the end for the group as a state-based actor.

According to an IHS Jane’s report, about 25,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since the U.S.-led campaign started. The C.I.A. estimates that ISIS currently has 20,000 to 25,000 soldiers, the lowest force level since the end of 2014. The loss of land, people and oil have led to a drop of its monthly revenues from $80 million to $56 million.

Meanwhile, the campaign to hunt down ISIS leadership continues. Last month, two top ISIS leaders were killed in Syria by U.S. air raids -- Abu Ala al-Afri, the ISIS second in command, and the Georgian-born Abu Omar al-Shishani, ISIS’s top military commander. (Both men were erroneously reported dead previously.)

Even ISIS’s massive propaganda operation has been weakened. Twitter announced on February that it has closed about 125,000 pro-ISIS accounts in the last seven months. A George Washington University study on extremism found that there are about 1000 pro-ISIS accounts that actively tweet in English. ISIS’s videos, which were always available on YouTube, are being vigorously removed.

Despite the great progress made in the last few months, two worrisome developments in Syria and Iraq threaten to reverse all that has been achieved so far. In Iraq, the weak government of Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi is facing resistance on multiple fronts: one organized by the Shiite half of the Iraqi members of parliament who toppled the speaker, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the liberal and leftist activists who have been demonstrating against corruption for several months. If Iraq sinks further into political chaos, the security apparatus will be helpless against ISIS attacks.

In Syria, the ceasefire brokered by the U.S. and Russia is collapsing . If the fragile ceasefire -- which allowed the government and the rebels to focus on fighting ISIS instead of each other -- is completely abandoned, ISIS could retake what it has lost. In fact, this chain of events might have already started in the Turkish–Syrian border area. The  administration is said to have a backup plan that involves arming the Syrian rebels heavily if and when the ceasefire collapses.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

WoW!

WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners


Non-Council Winners



See you next week!

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Devil We Know

Should Great Satan cut her ties to Saudi Arabia? The question emerges amid fresh controversies and 44's recent visit to the kingdom. 

Saudi Arabia has created a monster in the world of Islam, a Frankenstein monster that threatens Saudi Arabia as much as the West.
In the 1950s, Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi version of Islam, a product of nomadic desert culture, was practiced by a tiny minority of Muslims — perhaps 1 to 2 percent. Then came the oil boom, and Saudi Arabia — flush with cash — spread these ideas throughout the Muslim world.
This globalized Wahhabism has destroyed much of the diversity within Islam, snuffing out liberal and pluralistic interpretations of the religion in favor of an arid, intolerant one. In the 1980s, as the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union was infused with religious fervor, doctrines of jihad flourished. In many cases, Islamic fundamentalism turned into Islamic terrorism.
In the years after 9/11, after much defensiveness and many denials, the Saudis began to reverse course, shutting down government funding for Islamic extremist movements. David Petraeus once told me that the most significant strategic shift during his time in uniform was that Saudi Arabia went from being a tacit supporter to an aggressive foe of jihadi groups. Today Saudi intelligence is a major ally in fighting al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other groups.
Yet Saudi funding of Islamic extremism has not ended, and its pernicious effects can be seen from Pakistan to Indonesia. These funds come from individuals, not the government. Still, it is hard to imagine that the Saudi monarchy cannot turn off the pipeline of money to extremists abroad and at home.
Saudi Arabia remains reluctant to take on its religious extremists for fear of backlash. Hard-line religious leaders and ideologues have significant sway in Saudi society. The kingdom is known for its vast and growing social media. Less known is that its biggest stars are Wahhabi preachers and extremist ideologues who are now spreading anti-Shiite doctrines as part of the struggle against Iran.

The central dilemma remains:

Were the Saudi monarchy to fall, it might be replaced not by a group of liberals and democrats but rather by Islamists and reactionaries. Having watched this movie in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria, it may be time to be cautious about destabilizing a regime that is in many areas — defense, oil, finance — a stable ally.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bad To Worse

Yessir, it's true - the world wasn't perfect on Inauguration Day 2009. It's also true thanks to 44 - it's went like from bad to worse...

44 hailed the military campaign in Libya that toppled Moammar Khadafy as one of the foreign policy triumphs of his presidency. Today he calls Libya his worst mistake. But though he may have changed his grade from an A to an F, his commitment to “leading from behind” — a euphemism for American passivity and abdication — hasn’t budged.

On the day Khadafy was killed, in October 2011, 44 took a victory lap. “Our brave pilots have flown in Libya’s skies, our sailors have provided support off Libya’s shores, and our leadership at NATO has helped guide our coalition,” he declared. “Without putting a single US service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives.”

He was wrong. Libya soon imploded into chaos and violence. It became a terrorist badlands, where more than 10,000 people have been murdered — including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues, killed by Islamists in Benghazi just 11 months after 44’s “mission accomplished” moment in the Rose Garden.

The president acknowledges now that his policy in Libya ended in disaster and confessed his negligence in “failing to plan for the day after” the dictator was overthrown.

In other interviews, 44 has pinned the blame for the Libya debacle less on his own lack of preparation for a post-Khadafy transition than on Europe’s failure to stay engaged. “When I go back, and I ask myself what went wrong, there’s room for criticism,” he recently told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up.” But when the United States heads for the exits, its allies are apt to follow suit. And 44, who had agreed only reluctantly to intervene in Libya in the first place, had no interest in sticking around.

It didn’t take long for Libya to drop off the White House radar screen. “The inattention was not just neglect. It was policy,” concluded The New York Times in a lengthy review of the Libyan fiasco earlier this year. The administration imposed “fierce limits” on any US role in Libya’s metamorphosis — conditions so strict that America in effect washed its hands of responsibility for the country’s fate. Not surprisingly, that fate has been ghastly.

It may seem astonishing that 44, who so harshly condemned his predecessor in Iraq, would wind up repeating the gravest of those blunders in Libya — namely, not being ready for the instability and insurgency that would follow Western intervention. As military historian Max Boot remarks, by 2011 “it was not exactly a secret that bad things happen if the United States and its allies overthrow a strongman without having a plan for what comes next.”

44 is better at deploring other people’s foreign policy messes than at learning from them. The lesson he takes away from the Iraq war was that the United States has no business intervening militarily in the Middle East — and that the greater the intervention, the greater the resulting fiasco. The facts haven’t borne out that conclusion. But 44 won’t be budged.

When 43 announced in January 2007 that he intended to “surge” additional troops to Iraq and implement a new counterinsurgency strategy, the then-Senator was scornful: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there,” he said. “In fact, I think it will do the reverse.” In the event, of course, 43’s surge proved a remarkable success. By the time 44 took office, Al Qaeda in Iraq was crippled, attacks were down 90 percent, and Iraq was being governed by democratically elected politicians. The new commander in chief was happy to take political credit for victory in Iraq, which Vice President Biden trumpeted early on as “one of the great achievements” of the administration.

But none of that led 44 to question the wisdom of pulling all US forces out of Iraq, or to heed warnings that the swift disappearance of tens of thousands of American peacekeepers would leave a catastrophic vacuum that the region’s deadliest forces would rush to exploit. Obama’s determined disengagement wrecked what had so painstakingly been won in Iraq. Without America’s restraining presence, Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government grew ruthlessly authoritarian, Iran’s influence intensified, and ISIS began its horrific reign of terror.

More “leading from behind” followed in Syria. 44 issued tough threats of chemical weapons “red lines” and demanded Bashar al-Assad resign, but the bristling words were never backed up with deeds. As America’s credibility diminished, predictable consequences ensued: soaring death tolls, vast refugee floods, and the emboldening of antidemocratic regimes from Moscow to Beijing.

Yet even now, 44 cannot see that a doctrine premised on avoiding American involvement in the world’s conflicts is bound to fail. A policy built around US disengagement only intensifies global disorder. The president concedes that he should have had a better “day-after” plan in Libya — but still maintains that the calamity his approach caused shows he was right all along.

In Goldberg’s words, “Libya proved to 44 that the Middle East was best avoided.” It reinforced his subsequent decision to do nothing about Syria. He has no regrets about abandoning his red line — he says now that he is “very proud” he decided not to stop Assad’s horror show. To this day, 44 has not altered the mindset he started with: that American power cannot fix what ails the planet’s bad neighborhoods, and will likely make them worse.

44's foreign policy stewardship teaches a very different lesson. Since 2009, America’s credibility has been badly eroded and the world has become far more dangerous and unstable. The price of American retreat has been terrible, made all the worse by a president too rigid to change his mind.

Monday, April 18, 2016

China's Blue Water Navy

China’s Navy is undergoing a transformation that will have ramifications for years to come. Significant military investments and critical changes in maritime strategy have enabled a dramatic shift from a traditionally brown-water force to a blue-water navy. As a result, China’s naval ships are increasingly serving outside of their regional waters, taking part in more humanitarian and international security operations, and seeking and gaining additional access to ports throughout the world.

China’s Navy is going blue.

This trend from brown to blue-water operations continued to mature over the next several decades and in May 2015, China issued a white paper entitled, China’s Military Strategy.  The paper outlined the strategy of “active defense,” which is essentially an amalgamation of the concepts of offshore defense and open seas protection. The strategy maintains, “The traditional mentality that control of the land is more important than control of the sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.” The ideas articulated in this strategy have already begun to crystallize; China’s ships have progressively been operating away from their coasts over the years and they are going to continue to operate even further and for longer periods.

The Pentagon’s 2015 report on China’ s Military Power noted, “Whereas ‘near seas’ defense remains the PLA Navy’s primary focus, China’s gradual shift to the ‘far seas’ has necessitated that its Navy support operational tasks outside the first island chain with multi-mission, long-range, sustainable naval platforms with robust self-defense capabilities.” China has set out to do exactly that.

China has shown no signs of slowing down its investment in its military.  The Pentagon’s 2015 report on China’s Military noted that “China has the fiscal strength and political will to support continued defense spending increases, which will support PLA modernization toward a more professional force.” From 2005-2014, China’s military budget increased by an average of 9.5 percent each year. In 2014, military spending exceeded $165 billion, and in 2015 the spending was estimated at $190 billion. And although it was announced that China’s military budget will only grow at 7-8 percent in 2016, China still ranks number two in the world for military spending, behind only the United States. Furthermore, China’s defense budget is expected to increase significantly by 2020 to $260 billion. These investments will continue to translate into a navy with a more global reach.

During the Navy’s transformation over the last decade, Admiral Wu Shengli has been at the helm as the commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. In April 2014, he gave the keynote address at the 14th annual meeting of the West Pacific Naval Symposium where he noted, “Since the 21st century, the ocean has been closely linked with a nation’s prosperity, people’s wellbeing and social stability as it had never been. The navy is the main part of a nation’s sea power. A new naval relation is required by each country in the region to meet the challenges facing their common security.”

Admiral Wu has overseen a dramatic transformation of China’s Navy to bring these words to fruition. The result has been a more capable, professional, and lethal naval force.
In a relatively short period of time, the PLA Navy has transitioned from operating primarily as a coastal or brown-water force to competently executing open blue-water operations, and there’s no looking back now.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

WoW!!

WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners


Non-Council Winners



See you next week!

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Egypt Israel Saudi Hook Up

Fear of Persia and Turkey kickstart an unlikely alliance!

Egypt's April 9 announcement of the transfer of two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabian sovereignty came as a complete surprise to many in the Middle East. The only country that was not surprised was Israel. A top-level official in Jerusalem told Al-Monitor on April 12 that Israel had been privy to the secret negotiations. Israel had given its approval to the process and did not ask to reopen the peace agreement with Egypt, even though the agreement dictates that any territorial change or transfer of Egyptian sovereignty of lands that Israel gave back to other hands constitutes a violation of the treaty.

Talks between Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the transfer of these islands have been going on for years, with Israel firmly opposing the move. The fact that the transfer has now earned Israeli support reflects the depth of the shared interests between the three sides: Cairo, Riyadh and Jerusalem — although the Egyptians and Saudis prefer the label “Tel Aviv.”

This is a real geostrategic and diplomatic drama. Former Shin Bet chief Knesset member Avi Dichter of the Likud Party said on April 12 in an interview with the Israeli Kol Yisrael radio station that this step is one of the most important, dramatic diplomatic occurrences that have taken place between two Arab countries in the Middle East. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, in a small pre-Passover celebratory toast with military reporters, updated and confirmed that Israel had, indeed, agreed to the course of action and had even received a written document, signed by all sides. The document confirmed Israel’s continued freedom of navigation in the Strait of Tiran, in which the two strategic islands are situated; the Strait of Tiran led to the important Israeli port city of Eilat. In addition, Ya’alon noted that the Americans had been partnered to the negotiations and are also signatories on the agreement. Thus, Ya’alon said, Israel had received all the requisite guarantees.

According to a senior security official, who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, Ya’alon emphasized to his associates that security cooperation between Israel and Egypt had reached an all-time high. The security systems of the two countries share the same interests. Egyptians, for instance, help Israel contain and cordon off Hamas in Gaza.

The recent move — the transfer of the two islands to Saudi Arabia — reveals part of the dialogue that has been developing between Israel and its Sunni neighbors. A highly placed Israeli security official, who spoke to Al-Monitor anonymously, added some details: Israel's relationships in the region are deep and important. The moderate Arab countries have not forgotten the Ottoman period, and are very worried about the growing strength and enlargement of the two non-Arab empires of the past: Iran and Turkey. On this background, many regional players realize that Israel is not the problem, but the solution. Israel's dialogue with the large, important Sunni countries remains mainly under the radar, but it deepens all the time and it bears fruit.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's action has aroused sharp public criticism in Egypt. The president’s opponents argue that under the Egyptian Constitution he has no authority to give up Egyptian territory, but Sisi rightly warded off this criticism: These islands originally belonged to Saudi Arabia, which transferred them to Egypt in 1950 as part of the effort to strangle Israel from the south, and prevent the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from taking control of them. Israel embarked on two wars (the Sinai War in 1956 and the Six Day War in 1967) for navigation rights in the Red Sea. It took over these islands twice, but then returned them to Egypt both times.
 
Now events have come full circle, and the Egyptians are returning the islands to their original owner, Saudi Arabia. This is a goodwill gesture from Sisi to King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, after the Saudis committed themselves to the economic solvency of the Egyptian regime for the next five years. The Saudis are making massive investments in Egypt and providing financial support to save the Egyptian economy from collapse.

There is another aspect to the Egyptian transfer of the islands to Saudi Arabia: In the past, several proposals were raised regarding regional land swaps, with the goal of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The framework is, in principle, simple: Egypt would enlarge Gaza southward and allow the Gaza Strip’s Palestinians more open space and breathing room. In exchange for this territory, Egypt would receive from Israel a narrow strip the length of the borderline between the two countries, the Israeli Negev desert region from Egyptian Sinai. The Palestinians, in contrast, would transfer the West Bank settlement blocs to Israel. Jordan could also join such an initiative; it could contribute territories of its own and receive others in exchange.
 
To date, this approach was categorically disqualified by the Egyptians in the Hosni Mubarak era. Now that it seems that territorial transfer has become a viable possibility under the new conditions of the Middle East, the idea of Israeli-Egyptian territorial swaps are also reopened; in the past, these land swap possibilities fired the imaginations of many in the region. In his day, former head of Israel's National Security Council Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland led a regional initiative on the subject. But he was stymied by Egypt.

Still, not everything is coming up roses. There are no simple equations in the Middle East, and this holds true in this case. In Israel there are those who are concerned about the growing Saudi Arabian influence in Egypt. This is reflected in the founding of Saudi-inspired Islamic madrassas (religious Islamic schools), and Saudi-type Sunni radicalization in Egypt. But these pessimists are the minority. “It is important for Sisi to strengthen and survive, he is the key to the stability of the entire region,” said a diplomatic source in Jerusalem who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

In light of America distancing itself from the region and the cold shoulder that Egypt has received from Washington in recent years, Saudi assistance and Israeli support to Egypt are viewed as critical to Sisi’s continued grip on the regime. And to complicate the situation even more, we can add the reconciliation attempts between Israel and Turkey; these have continued for many long months in marathon negotiations between the sides.

A highly placed Israeli official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the Egyptians don’t want to see the Turks in the Gaza Strip, and are strongly opposed to a rapprochement between Jerusalem and Ankara.
 
This is the reason, according to the source, that the reconciliation agreement has not yet been completed, and that there are gaps between the sides. In the current state of affairs, it is possible that the Turks and Israelis will accept the fact that they can’t come to a full agreement, and will settle for a partial rapprochement: an exchange of ambassadors, limited warming of relations and nothing more.
 
Israel is sitting on the thorns of a dilemma: between its desire to normalize relations with Turkey, which could also facilitate the signing of an agreement to supply natural gas from Israel to Turkey, following discoveries in recent years of natural gas reserve off the Israeli coast; and its desire to promote the emerging Israeli-Sunni understandings that are becoming a strategic cornerstone in Israel’s national security.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Artesh In Suriya


Artesh!

Elements of Persia's national army "Artesh" have officially joined the "Slamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) on Syria's battlefields, yet Tehran's apparent public-relations strategy could backfire at home if casualties mount.

Sweet!

1st off, any chance of sweetly deploying RIEDs - that's, uh, Reverse Improvised Explosive Devices - in hurting distance of any Iranian conscripts or volunteers is simply too good to pass up. After all, Preacher Command and their minions (often proxies) introduced the world to IED's - seems only fair to envoke ye olde "sow the wind, reap the whirlwind" chiz.

See,

During the shah's reign, the army deployed a sizable military contingent (including special forces) to Oman in 1972-1973 to help the sultanate fight Marxist guerrillas. Army elements also helped Iraqi Kurdish forces fight Baghdad's military in the 1970s. In 1982, the post-revolutionary army's 58th Brigade briefly deployed to Syria as part of a joint IRGC task force aimed at blocking Israel's advance in Lebanon. They were soon recalled, though, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini changed his mind.

In general, then, the army has limited experience abroad, and apart from the navy, other members of the national armed forces are rarely sent on foreign missions -- according to Article 148 of the constitution, they can only be deployed to protect Iran's sovereignty and territorial integrity. In contrast, the IRGC has a dedicated command structure to deal with overseas assignments.

So to keep up, the army has made strides to improve its asymmetric warfighting capabilities, creating more mobile battalions and introducing weapons and tactics more suited to such environments. And in February, the commanders of Iran's air and air-defense forces volunteered their services to help protect the Assad regime and its airspace, while unconfirmed reports indicate that Iranian fighter-bombers might have seen limited action over Syria in late 2015. Tehran and the military leadership both seem to view the Syria intervention as a welcome opportunity to gain experience fighting a determined, well-equipped enemy in irregular environments.
Yet the army's apparent efforts to take advantage of that opportunity on the ground have just proven deadly.

Following a string of unverified reports and social media photographs suggesting that members of the Iranian national army (or Artesh) had been deployed to Syria, their presence was confirmed this week via new casualty announcements and official remarks. As suspected, army personnel have been involved in fighting around the same areas where the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) previously established a presence, namely Damascus and Aleppo.

On April 10, reports emerged that a sergeant from the 65th "Nohed" Special Airborne Brigade had been killed in Syria. The next day, Iranian media reported that Col. Mojtaba Zolfaghari-Nasab, head of intelligence for the 45th Special Forces Brigade, had been killed in action as well, along with an officer from the 2nd Brigade, 58th Special Forces Division (a rapid response unit), an officer from the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, 88th Armored Division, and at least one other officer. They were reportedly killed in firefights with the al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra in the Hani Touman and Zitan districts southwest of Aleppo; in addition, several army personnel were wounded.

Also on Monday, army commander Gen. Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan officially confirmed for the first time that members of the elite 65th Airborne Brigade and other branches of the national armed forces have been fulfilling "advisory" and intelligence-collection roles in Syria. The 65th Brigade was formed in 1959 as the 23rd Special Forces Brigade, complete with an irregular warfare school; American Special Forces advisors helped with its establishment. The brigade was reorganized and renamed in 1991 and now maintains an elite unit specializing in counterterrorism and hostage rescue operations.

One possible explanation for Tehran's decision to employ Artesh elements in Syria could be to improve public opinion on what has become an unpopular and relatively costly foreign adventure.

The Revolutionary Guards play a primary role in fighting the Iranian regime's domestic and foreign enemies, and they proved in 2009 that they can be ruthless in quelling civil unrest. Partly as a result of this reputation, the IRGC's insistence on supporting militant groups in Syria and elsewhere has failed to win the hearts and minds of mainstream Iranians, so regime leaders may be hoping that the presence and sacrifices of the popular national armed forces will attract more support among the people.

This tactic could backfire, however, if Artesh casualties in Syria continue to mount.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Boomer Deterrence

Nuclear weapons are increasingly important to our adversaries, many of whom are becoming more emboldened and risk-acceptant as the United States draws down its global force presence and leadership.
 
In its drive to become a superpower, China is projected to more than double the number of warheads on missiles capable of reaching the United States over the next decade. Russia views its nuclear arsenal as the sine qua non for returning to superpower status, and talks openly about first-use of nuclear weapons to “de-escalate” conflicts. North Korea routinely tests new nuclear weapons and longer-range delivery vehicles, and the nuclear agreement with Iran opens its path to nuclear weapons capability over the medium term.

 
 Unlike intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which must be launched from known locations in the American heartland, our ballistic missile submarines operate stealthily undersea at closer range to their targets. Each SSBN is capable of launching 24 Trident nuclear missiles – each with multiple warheads – in mere minutes.

Conceived in the 1950s, designed in the 1960s and first procured in the 1970s, most boats are already past or nearing their initial 30-year lifespan.
 
Even with service-life extension to 42 years, the number of serviceable Ohio-class boats will begin declining in a decade. Furthermore, thanks to sequestration, progress on the replacement class is already two years delayed.

To meet the U.S. military’s nuclear deterrent force requirements, it is critical to begin advanced procurement of the Ohio-class replacement starting this year; there is no room left for delay. This will enable construction of the lead ship beginning 2021, and the first strategic patrol in 2030 – coincidentally, the year before all meaningful restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire.

This necessitates top-line relief today, in the form of a $5-7 billion increase in shipbuilding funds similar to that provided for Ohio-class procurement in the 1980s. Otherwise the Navy will have to rob Peter to pay Paul, sloughing resources from other programs that will adversely affect overall Navy readiness. This top-line relief represents less than one percent of the Defense Department’s budget, at a time when defense spending as a share of national wealth is low compared to when the Ohio class was procured.

This is a practical long-term investment. The new SSBNs’ mission will remain of critical importance to national security, and will continue to form the most important leg of our nuclear triad into the 2080s. The Navy has already shown itself to be a good steward for procurement under sequestration, as it is currently producing Virginia-class fast attack submarines ahead of schedule and under budget.

The burden of procurement cannot be allowed yet again to fall on the next generation. Our country’s handful of SSBNs, and the two bustling bases they call home, represent a unique capability at the core of our national defenses.

We must act now to preserve our best guarantor of peace, not only for that next generation, but also for our own.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Use It Or Lose It


The saying "Power abhors a vacuum" is itself a synonym for "Use it or lose it."

There is no better expression to capture great power maneuvering in the 21st century, especially when it comes to China. In contrast to the legalistic and nation-based approaches that dominate Western thinking, China views the world almost entirely through the lens of supply chains. As Chinese growth and consumption surged in the 1990s, it became a huge importer of raw materials from countries that the West began to ignore as the Cold War ended. 
The South China Sea is where China's "Use it or lose it" strategy is on full display. In its quest to generate a greater share of its raw materials east of strategic chokepoints such as the Strait of Malacca, China is deploying novel approaches to establish "facts in the water" while littoral neighbors such as the Philippines seek arbitration from international tribunals. With an estimated 30 trillion cubic meters of natural gas and 10 billion barrels of oil lying beneath the South China Sea, China sent a towable oil and natural gas exploration rig, the Haiyang Shiyou 981, to probe in and out of Vietnamese waters near the Paracel Islands multiple times during 2014 and 2015. Wang Yilin, chairman of the state-owned oil China National Offshore Oil Corp., has called these movable deep-water rigs "strategic weapons" that are part of China's "mobile national sovereignty."

China's "Use it or lose it" approach also involves another strategic weapon much cheaper than oil rigs or aircraft carriers: sand. The People's Liberation Army has been installing brick-and-mortar airstrips, lighthouses, garrisons, signals stations and administrative centers on neglected or abandoned islands in the Spratly island chain. Fiery Cross Reef has become the epicenter of what some call an "island factory" where large-scale seabed dredging and land reclamation are used to build up and connect separate shoals into larger islands. It is assuming de facto control while de juresovereignty is arbitrated indefinitely.
In the coming decade, this competition to control supply chains is how we will see geopolitics playing out. Many people view geopolitics as the bending of borders. But in the 21st century we should pay more attention to the bending of supply chains.

Monday, April 11, 2016

al Qaeda's Mini State

One funintended consequence of the war in Yemen: Al Qaeda now runs its own mini-state, flush with funds from raiding the local central bank and levying taxes at the local port.

For all intents - al Qaeda has her very own mini State!

Once driven to near irrelevance by the rise of Islamic State abroad and security crackdowns at home, al Qaeda in Yemen now openly rules a mini-state with a war chest swollen by an estimated $100 million in looted bank deposits and revenue from running the country’s third largest port.

If Islamic State’s capital is the Syrian city of Raqqa, then al Qaeda’s is Mukalla, a southeastern Yemeni port city of 500,000 people. Al Qaeda fighters there have abolished taxes for local residents, operate speedboats manned by RPG-wielding fighters who impose fees on ship traffic, and make propaganda videos in which they boast about paving local roads and stocking hospitals.

AQAP boasts 1,000 fighters in Mukalla alone, controls 600 km (373 miles) of coastline and is ingratiating itself with southern Yemenis, who have felt marginalised by the country’s northern elite for years.

By adopting many of the tactics Islamic State uses to control its territory in Syria and Iraq, AQAP has expanded its own fiefdom. The danger is that the group, which organised the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack in Paris last year and has repeatedly tried to down U.S. airliners, may slowly indoctrinate the local population with its hardline ideology.

Tribal leaders in neighbouring provinces told Reuters that, in the security vacuum, army bases were looted and Yemen’s south became awash with advanced weaponry. C4 explosive and even anti-aircraft missiles were available to the highest bidder.

Tribes who work with al Qaeda now control much of the country’s oil infrastructure. Six white oil tanks on a beach between Mukalla and Ash Shihr are linked by pipeline to the Masila oilfields which are estimated to hold more than 80 percent of Yemen’s total reserves.

In the five coastal provinces stretching from the government’s temporary seat in Aden to Mukalla, a familiar pattern has recurred in recent months. Al Qaeda forces storm a town, plant their flags, and then watch as local leaders acquiesce.

AQAP has also learned to be less cruel than its rival, Islamic State, which has struggled to gain a foothold in a population repelled by its brutality. While AQAP has resorted to killing suspected “sorcerers,” and carried out stonings of at least one man and woman accused of adultery, residents and the group’s online media suggest such incidents are rare.

And even when AQAP publicises punishments, their videos and photographs never show the level of gratuitous gore that Islamic State revels in. Rather than resorting to mass beheadings, AQAP has detained or put under house arrest several dozen army officers and other figures they see as a threat.

AQAP will become a more resilient threat, much like al Shabaab in nearby Somalia.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

WoW!!

WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners


Non-Council Winners



See you next week!

Friday, April 8, 2016

After Abbas

Oh - it's true bay bee! The cat so cold as ice he be nom d'guerr'd twice is Fatah's Palestine West Bank Daddy Abu Mazen/M'moud Abbas.

Kinda like a President For Life - he's ruled part of Palestine over a decade past his legitimate election - the LAST election no less.

Alas, nodobby lives forever so is it time to check out the next President of Palestine?

 Mohammed Dahlan, though exiled fro the Fatah Party back in the day, may very well be the next cat to do Palestine.

Dahlan’s chances to access high Palestinian leadership positions all the way to the presidential seat are likely to be higher should he manage to gradually gain recognition at the regional and international levels. This may contribute to his gradual success in eventually becoming the successor to Abbas despite the internal obstacles, which are reflected in the divide within Fatah about him and in Hamas’ historical hostility.

Hamas might turn the page on its historic hostility toward Dahlan should it reach certain agreements with him, which is possible in the Palestinian political arena, where no alliances or hostilities are unending as common interests might push adversaries to meet halfway.

Dahlan appeals to Arab countries with his fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, as this is the main concern for these Arab states that fear the Islamist influence. In September 2015, Dahlan said his hostility toward the Muslim Brotherhood dates back to 1981, when he was a student at the Islamic University of Gaza, thus presenting himself as the leader of the fight against the Brotherhood in an attempt to get closer to the capitals of political influence in the region.

Besides Dahlan’s foreign activities and international influence, his internal role is no less important. This is especially true given Hamas’ position and the long history of hostilities between the movement and Dahlan. When Dahlan was head of the Preventive Security Services in Gaza, he had hundreds of Hamas members arrested in 1995-2000 because they were involved in armed operations against Israel.

The most important world capitals that provided Dahlan with this regional and international network are Cairo and Abu Dhabi, where Dahlan enjoys undeniable influence since he is considered the security adviser of UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This position has provided Dahlan with influence that many UAE officials may not enjoy within the state.

Dahlan also enjoys considerable influence in Egypt through his direct ties with Sisi, which allows him to influence Egyptian media. In addition, he has been deploying efforts to buy some news websites in Jordan.

On the other hand, Dahlan’s relations with Saudi Arabia do not seem to be at their best following the scathing comments by Saudi academics and analysts against him, accusing him of threatening the security of Saudi Arabia and attacking its religious scholars.

Dahlan may be well-aware that the most important factor for any Palestinian leader’s success is to have a network of regional and international relations that help him fulfill his ambition to become the president of the Palestinian Authority or the Fatah movement. It is worth noting that Dahlan also spends money on his supporters and followers spread across the Arab world. He does so in the Palestinian territories and among Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon through charity projects worth millions of dollars, mostly UAE money, in order to gain influence among Palestinians.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

NoKo's Rodong

Missile Away!

The Rodong missile, first deployed in the 1990s, can fly about 800 miles, which would put some United States military bases in South Korea and Japan within its range. It could carry a warhead weighing about 1,500 to 2,200 pounds.

North Korea test-launched two Rodong missiles last month, flouting United Nations resolutions that ban the country from developing or testing ballistic missile technology.

The tests took place days after the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered more tests of ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. Mr. Kim also recently visited a factory where he inspected what looked like a model nuclear warhead and long-range missile, according to photographs released in the country’s official news media.
 
North Korea also said that Mr. Kim had overseen a successful test of “re-entry” technology, which is needed for a warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile to survive the heat and vibrations while plunging through the atmosphere toward its target.
 
Whee! So what, right?
 
Except...
 
  South Korea has determined that North Korea is capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on its medium-range Rodong ballistic missile, which could reach all of South Korea and most of Japan.
 
The government’s assessment, shared in a background briefing with foreign news media representatives in Seoul, followed a recent claim by North Korea that it had “standardized” nuclear warheads small enough to be carried by ballistic missiles. South Korean officials, like their American counterparts, have said that the North has made progress in miniaturizing nuclear warheads, but have been reluctant to elaborate.
 
But after four recent nuclear tests by the North, the latest on Jan. 6, some nongovernmental analysts in South Korea have said that they believe the North has learned how to fit its medium-range Rodong missile with nuclear warheads. The senior government official echoed that assessment, but did not provide any evidence of how the government has made its determination.
 
Adm. William E. Gortney, said at a Senate hearing last month that it was a “prudent decision” to assume that the North “has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Grand Strategy

Is American Grand Strategy fixing to get kinda Un Grand?

US grand strategy was at its clearest in the years between 1941 (post-Pearl Harbour) and the end of the Cold War, though foreshadowed by US support for Britain and France in World War One. Then Americans felt themselves engaged in a contest with authoritarian great powers seeking world domination.

The classic work The American Way of Strategy, observes that alliances were the key to victory in all three world wars of the twentieth century. Victory wasn’t merely military and technological. Superior economic strength allowed the US and its allies to pursue a strategy of siege warfare against their opponents, starving them into submission.

That period was over by the 1990s. 41 spoke of a new world order. Great-power adversaries were thin on the ground. US strategists were exploring the meaning of unipolarity. Robert Jervis wrote that the US no longer needed a grand strategy, and that it was vain even to attempt to define one in an age of secondary threats.

Alliances were still seen as useful—as long as they became something other than what they had been. NATO was told it could go out-of-area or out of business. Even a NATO that agreed to go out-of-area, though, left Washington frustrated and unhappy. Coordinating NATO’s bombing of Belgrade in 1999 was nothing but a chore for US diplomats—it meant trying to keep 19 countries on board for each individual bombing mission.

After 9/11, the US put its faith in unilateralism and coalitions, not alliances. Neither proved especially successful. But it would be wrong to imagine that their weaknesses made the US think better about its allies. NATO became a political instrument, expanding eastwards, taking on members that added little strength but heaped new responsibilities upon the traditional partners. New members were more like Facebook friends, one critic observed, than genuine security contributors.

44 achieved a partial restoration of alliances as instruments of US foreign policy, especially in Asia as a consequence of the rebalance. But he was also busy recalibrating that foreign policy. With the US itself stepping back from the use of force, US allies typically followed suit. But allies never had the option of withdrawing from their own regions. Eastern Europeans fretted about a more aggressive Russia. Saudi Arabia worried about the regional power balance in a post-US Middle East. And US allies in Asia grew more concerned about China’s rise and the inexorable progress of North Korea’s nuclear program.

In short, in the 25 years since the end of the Cold War, US enthusiasm for alliances has wavered, bringing into question the degree of US attachment to the winning formula of the twentieth century. Meanwhile—and especially in recent years—the concerns of its allies about regional power shifts have grown. The result has been a set of alliances that now sorely need fresh signals of US commitment, not fresh signals of disengagement.