November 22, 2006

Kneecapping Snakes

Jules Crittenden, Boston Herald city editor and columnist blogs this morning:

It will be interesting after the assassination of Pierre Gemayel in Lebanon ... not to mention last summer's hijacking of the nation by Hezbollah ... not to mention last year's assassination of Rafik Hariri ... not to mention the last 25 years of Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon and now in Iraq ... it will be interesting to see if anyone will still counsel talks with Syria and Iran under any terms that do not include a very real threat of force.

The assassination of Pierre Gemayel was the fifth assassination of an anti-Syrian politician in Lebanon, and was meant to be the sixth--Michel Pharaon, a Greek Catholic member of the ruling coalition and minister for parliamentary affairs--was meant to be the fifth, but the hit at his office in Lebanon just hours before the Gemayel assassination failed. The goal of targeting Gemayel and Pharon is clear. If both assassinations were successful, less than two-thirds of the 24-member Lebanese cabinet would remain following the now suspicious resignations of six pro-Syrian/pro-Iranian (five Shiite, 1 Christian) ministers last week.

The combination of the Gemayel assassination and the earlier resignations means that the government is effectively frozen, unable to enact any new legislation. If the attempted assassination of Pharaon had been successful, a future assassination attempt against any other minister is successful, or another minister resigns, Article 69 of the Lebanese constitution stipulates that the government is automatically resigned. It is likely a fair assumption that the assassination attempts on Gemayel (successful) and Pharaon (unsuccessful) were conducted with the express intent of toppling the pro-western Fuad Sinora government, which is then quite likely to be replaced by a pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-controlled regime. It is, as Michael Totten noted yesterday, nothing less than a coup d'etat in progress.

President Bush condemned the Gemayel murder as an act of terrorism and accused Syria and Iran of attempting to undermine Lebanon's government, but stopped short of accusing them of Gemayel's murder, presumably because of the current lack of evidence of direct Syrian and/or Iranian involvement.

But, considering the facts that we already know about Iranian and Syrian involvement in supporting terrorism in Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere, do we really need any more proof to justify taking action against both nations?

As I've been noting with increased sense of urgency over the past week or so, Syria and Iran must be made accountable in some way for their continued state sponsorship of terrorism. Currently, that support is most precipitous in Lebanon where they are supporting what appears to be a coup attempt, and with their support of terrorists operating directly against U.S. and Iraqi government forces inside Iraq.

Obviously, political pressure would be the preferred manner of dealing with both nations, but thus far, both nations have shown themselves to be adamantly unmoved by U.S. entreaties to stay out of affairs in Lebanon, and Iraq.

Syria and Iran were both warned weeks ago to avoid involving themselves in an attempt to topple the government in Lebanon; Gamayel's murder and the attempt on Pharaon's life were their answer.

Iran and Syria have played a direct role in supporting the terrorist group Hezbollah with $300 million in cash and their rearming, providing up to 30,000 rockets to levels even greater than Hezbollah had before the recent conflict they instigated against Israel by kidnapping Israeli soldiers.

In addition to attempting to topple the government of Lebanon, Iran and Syria have been behind efforts to cause instability in Iraq, permitting terrorists to use their borders to infiltrate in with pre-rigged IEDs that are used to target U.S. and British servicemen.

According to Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards was urging Hezbollah to train Iraqi insurgents on how to build and use shaped-charge IEDs to target American armored vehicles. Woodward states (via NRO):

Pages 414-415: "Some evidence indicated that the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah was training insurgents to build and use the shaped IED's, at the urging of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. That kind of action was arguably an act of war by Iran against the United States. If we start putting out everything we know about these things, Zelikow felt, the administration might well start a fire it couldn't put out..."

Page 449: "The components and the training for (the IEDs) had more and more clearly been traced to Iran, one of the most troubling turns in the war."

Page 474ß: "The radical Revolutionary Guards Corps had asked Hizbollah, the terrorist organization, to conduct some of the training of Iraqis to use the EFPs, according to U.S. Intelligence. If all this were put out publicly, it might start a fire that no one could put out...Second, if it were true, it meant that Iranians were killing American soldiers — an act of war..."

And from the same National Review column:

It's not the first time we have had information about Iran's murder of Americans. Louis Freeh tells us that the same thing happened following the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. On page 18 of Freeh's My FBI he reports that Saudi Ambassador Bandar told Freeh "we have the goods," pointing "ineluctably towad Iran." The culprits were the same as in Iraq: Hezbollah, under direction from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. And then there was a confession from outgoing Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani to Crown Prince Abdullah (at the time, effectively the Saudi king): page 19: "the Khobar attack had been planned and carried out with the knowledge of the Iranian supreme ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei."

As Freeh puts it, "this had been an act of war against the United States of America."

Whether or not the President acknowledges it, a state of war exists between the United States and the governments of Iran and Syria. The question before us now is whether or not we chose to acknowledge this state of war that our adversaries have instigated, and if we will take the steps needed end this state of conflict with a minimal loss of life on all sides.

Any response we make—political, economic or military—may trigger a renewed rocket assault on Israel by Hezbollah, and a dramatic surge in violence against U.S. and Iraqi government forces in Iraq by Shia militias loyal to Iran. This is in addition to direct counterstrikes that the Syrian and Iranian military may have preplanned against U.S. forces and allied nations throughout the Middle East. Such actions would likely include Iranian attempts to target and destroy refineries, oil pumping stations, ports, and pipelines and oil rigs in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf Nations, in addition to an attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz to shipping, thereby paralyzing many of the world's economies dependent on the free flow of Persian Gulf oil.

Therefore, the best and only option available to the United States and allied nations threatened by Iran and Syria is an overwhelming series of air strikes that will cripple these ability of these two nations to project military power both directly and indirectly, along with the explicit message that further measures taken by Iran and Syria to effect changes through the use of terrorism or through conventional warfare will result in far more debilitating attacks that would wreck the economies of these nations and threaten the very existence of their regimes.

The "biggest sticks" in the Iranian arsenal are two-fold; their ability to influence terrorists in Iraq and in Lebanon, and their purported ability to close the Persian Gulf to shipping via military means. Syria has much more limited capabilities.

Very little can be done to directly stop Syrian and Iranian contributions to terrorism, but as Syria is something of a client state of Iran, our best opportunity may be to take on the "head of the snake;" where Iran leads, Syria will likely follow, and Iran is in a far more precipitous position than they would have us believe.

As Global Security notes, Iran's primary means of affecting Persian Gulf Shipping is their smallest and most obsolete branch of service, the Iranian Navy:

Iran's three destroyers are over 50 years old and are not operational. The readiness of the three 25-year-old frigates is almost non-existent, and the two 30-year-old corvettes do not have sophisticated weapons. Ten of 20 missile-equipped fast attack craft have limited operational readiness, and four of them are not seaworthy as of 2001. Only 10 Chinese-made Thodor-class craft are operationally reliable. The four 30-year-old minesweepers are obsolete, lack seaworthiness, and do not have a mine-sweeping capability. Iran has many amphibious and auxiliary ships, but these are superfluous to requirements and are used purely for training personnel. Iran's ten hovercraft are old and used sparingly.

Iran's greatest naval threats are Chinese-made high-speed C-14 and similar missile gunboats, three Russian-designed Kilo-class submarines, and island and platform-mounted anti-ship missile batteries.

It would take comparatively little effort or tactical risk for American Air Force and Naval aircraft to send the ships, small craft and submarines of the Iranian Navy to the bottom of the Persian Gulf, with Iranian forces on platforms and on small Iranian-controlled islands being slightly more difficult.

The destruction of Iran's nominal Persian Gulf fleet would be a crushing psychological blow to both Iran and Syria, and it would greatly reduce Iran's capability to threaten Persian Gulf shipping, a factor that to date has let Iran support terrorism as the rest of the world has turned a blind eye.

What would possibly keep Iran or their proxies from retaliating is a threat issued concurrent to U.S. air strikes on the Iranian navy:

You've seen what we have done to your navy. How long with your government last if we decide to target your refineries and blockade any ship attempting to deliver refined petroleum products to Iran? Stop supporting terrorism in Iraq and Lebanon, or these further steps will be taken.

One of Iran's dirty little secrets is this: for a nation rich in oil, they are very poor in their ability to convert this oil into usable fuel.

The threat issued would state that if Iran attempts to retaliate, either directly or indirectly to the reduction of their Navy, further air strikes could decimate their very limited refinery capability, while a blockade in the Gulf of Oman of Iran-bound tankers carrying refined fuels would cause Iran to "dry up" within weeks. Iran’s military and their economy would be crippled with comparatively little effort on the part of the United States Navy, which could enforce a blockade well outside the range of Iranian countermeasures.

Iran has already begun a war with the United States and seeks to wage it via proxies in Iraq and Lebanon. It is time that we reduce the threat of Hezbollah and Shiite militias to ourselves and our allies by cutting them off at the knees.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at November 22, 2006 01:10 PM | TrackBack

Not to forget the failed hit on May Chidiac. Its generally accepted the Syrians did that one too.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at November 22, 2006 04:25 PM

I've spent more than a year in Iraq since 2003, in several trips as a (retired military) contractor, most recently I left in May of this year.

This is a dumb idea.

It involves both overstating and understating the Iranian threat.

Overstating to justify an attack on a country which cooperated with us in Afghanistan, and has shown a willingness to have some kind of dialogue. Their desire to get a nuclear weapon is rational if you look at the threatening rhetoric the US puts out (Axis of Evil) and see how 2 members of the Axis were treated: powerless Iraq invaded, nuke-armed North Korea left alone. It also overstates Ahmedinajad's power and underestimates the power of deterrence.

Understating to the degree to which the Iranians now permeate the south of Iraq and their influence in the government in Baghdad is very strong. Advisors talk about the outright Iranian domination of some Iraqi ministries, especially the Interior Ministry. Iranian intelligence and special forces advise and equip the Mahdi Army, Badr Corps and other Shia militias. The Iranians have public offices in southern Iraqi cities like Basra. Persian is spoken openly in the south by these Iranian agents hanging about in government offices.

As one Iraqi friend told me "The Iranians have 130,000 American hostages in Iraq now."

However much you bombed Iran, the Iranians and their proxies would make life unbearable for the USA in Iraq, and possibly cause a historic debacle. The USA does not have the reserves to handle the full-scale conflict which could result, and could be humiliated if the Chinese and Russians stepped in.

This is the kind of stupidity that comes from people with no military experience or experience in the region. Morons.

Posted by: observer 5 at November 23, 2006 05:15 PM

The USA does not have the reserves to handle the full-scale conflict which could result

Armies don't run on thin air. What is going to fuel the Iranian forces once the pumps run dry?

Posted by: Purple Avenger at November 24, 2006 01:09 AM