Wag the dog: Trump administration beats the drums for war with Iran (Updated)

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Someday very soon Americans are going to wake up to learn that President Donald Trump has started a war with Iran (without congressional approval).

I warned you about this: Neocons like National Security Advisor John Bolton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Sunni states like Saudi Arabia all want to destroy the Shiite Mullah theocracy of Iran. For them war is the only answer. Wag the dog: John Bolton wants to get his war on with Iran.

As I suspected in my earlier post, Trump Admin Inflated Iran Intel, U.S. Officials Say:

On Sunday [May 5], the National Security Council announced that the U.S. was sending [the Abraham Lincoln] carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf in response to “troubling and escalatory” warnings from Iran—an eye-popping move that raised fears of a potential military confrontation with Tehran. Justifying the move, anonymous government officials cited intelligence indicating Iran had crafted plans to use proxies to strike U.S. forces, both off the coast of Yemen and stationed in Iraq. National Security Adviser John Bolton also discussed the intelligence on the record. A consensus appeared to be emerging: that Iran was gearing up for war.

But multiple sources close to the situation told The Daily Beast that the administration blew it out of proportion, characterizing the threat as more significant than it actually was.

“It’s not that the administration is mischaracterizing the intelligence, so much as overreacting to it,” said one U.S. government official briefed on it.

Another source familiar with the situation agreed that the Trump administration’s response was an “overreaction” but didn’t dispute that a threat exists. Gen. Qasem Soleimani—the head of the Quds Force, Iran’s covert action arm—has told proxy forces in Iraq that a conflict with the U.S. will come soon, this source noted.

“I would characterize the current situation as shaping operations on both sides to tilt the field in preparation for a possible coming conflict,” continued the second source, who is also a U.S. government official. “The risk is a low-level proxy unit miscalculating and escalating things. We’re sending a message with this reaction to the intelligence, even though the threat might not be as imminent as portrayed.”

The source added that the administration’s steps are a way to tell the Iranian government that the U.S. will hold them responsible for their surrogates’ actions.

On Monday, Two Saudi oil tankers, Norwegian ship apparently attacked near the Persian Gulf amid rising Iran tensions:

Two Saudi Arabian oil tankers and a Norwegian ship were damaged over the weekend near the Persian Gulf in what Saudi Arabia claimed Monday was an “act of sabotage,” further heightening regional tensions with Iran.

There was no immediate indication as to who may have been responsible or why the damage was inflicted, but the incidents occurred at the same time and place off the coast of the United Arab Emirates only days after the United States has dispatched warships and bombers to the area to deter alleged threats from Iran.

The location is near a sea lane critical to the world’s supply of oil, and the incidents followed a warning by U.S. maritime authorities that Iran might seek to disrupt commercial shipping in the area.

One of the Saudi tankers had been preparing to deliver oil to the United States, and both incurred “significant damage” as a result of the apparent attack at around 6 a.m. Sunday morning, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement reported by the official Saudi news agency.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates produced photographs to support claims that Saudi tankers had been damaged. Falih said the apparent attacks did not cause any casualties or oil spills, and they did not attribute blame for the apparent sabotage.

So we’re supposed to take the word of the Saudis who brutally murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khasoggi, and who are inflicting the worst humanitarian crisis in the world in neighboring Yemen, with the support of President Donald Trump in defiance of the War Powers Act objection of the U.S. Congress. Congress passes historic resolution to end US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen. It could have something to do with the Trump organization’s financial interests in the region, and Saudi Arabia and an Israeli offering assistance to the Trump campaign. Trump Jr. and Other Aides Met With Gulf Emissary Offering Help to Win Election. This is an unholy alliance consummated in Trump’s first foreign trip as president, and will lead to war with Iran.

The incidents coincide, however, with a surge in U.S.-Iranian tensions after the United States said last week that it has received intelligence that Iran was planning some kind of attack on U.S. forces in the Middle East.

* * *

Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned the possible shipping attacks as “alarming and regrettable” and said it would have a “negative effect” on shipping safety and maritime security, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

Abbas Mousavi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, suggested that the sabotage might have been carried out as part of a conspiracy to ignite conflict in the region. He cautioned against what he called “plots by ill-wishers to disrupt regional security” and called for an inquiry.

Also on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo crashed a meeting of the European Union to push for a united transatlantic front on the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy against Tehran and its nuclear program. Pompeo crashes Brussels meeting of E.U. diplomats but changes few minds on Iran:

Pompeo failed to bend attitudes among leaders who fear that the United States and Iran are inching toward war.

Pompeo’s last-minute decision to visit the European Union capital, announced as he boarded a plane from the United States, set up a confrontation between the top U.S. diplomat and his European counterparts, who have been scrambling to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal last year. At least one, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said he feared that unintentional escalation from the United States and Iran could spark a conflict — an unusually bold statement that appeared to assign equal culpability to Washington and Tehran.

* * *

Asked on Monday about the damage to the ships, President Trump seemed to implicate Iran. “It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that,” he said. “They’re not going to be happy. They are not going to be happy people, okay?”

The Trump administration has called for “maximum pressure” on Iran. The E.U.’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, reached for a different extreme after meeting with Pompeo on Monday.

“The most responsible attitude to take,” she said, “should be that of maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on the military side.”

On Tuesday, the New York Times reports Saudi Arabia Says Drones Hit Oil Pipeline, After Reports of Tanker Attacks:

A Saudi oil pipeline was attacked by drones, causing “limited damage,” the Saudi energy minister said on Tuesday, a day after Saudi Arabia said two of its oil tankers had been damaged in an act of sabotage, ratcheting up tensions in the region.

The announcement came shortly after Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed, in a report on a TV station run by the Houthis, to have carried out an attack with seven drones that “targeted vital Saudi facilities.” The station, Al-Masirah, did not specify which targets had been struck or when, leaving it unclear whether it was describing the same attack as the Saudis.

Though little hard information has emerged about the tanker attacks, American and Gulf suspicions have centered on Iran, in an area already jittery about the prospect of a violent clash with the republic. The Trump administration has warned of planned aggression by Iran or its proxies, though it has not elaborated on that claim, and has deployed military forces to the region, while Iran recently threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping route.

Saudi Aramco, the government-controlled oil company, has stopped pumping through the pipeline while it assesses the damage and makes repairs, the energy minister, Khalid al-Falih, said on Tuesday.

Bloomberg News confirms, Saudis Halt Oil Pipe on Attack Claimed by Iran-Backed Rebels:

Saudi Arabia halted its main cross-country oil pipeline temporarily after a drone attack damaged pumping stations along the link, a strike claimed by Iran-backed rebels in neighboring Yemeni. Oil prices rose.

Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil exporter, said that supplies of crude and products continued “normally without interruption,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing the energy ministry.

“These attacks prove again that it is important for us to face terrorist entities, including the Houthi militias in Yemen that are backed by Iran,” Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said in a statement.

The attack comes amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region as the U.S. increases pressure on Iran, the regional rival of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The New York Times reports that the Neocons are updating their war plans for Iran. White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War:

At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides last Thursday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.

The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. They do not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said.

The development reflects the influence of Mr. Bolton, one of the administration’s most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush.

It is unclear whether the president has been briefed on the number of troops or other details in the plans. On Monday, asked about if he was seeking regime change in Iran, Mr. Trump said: “We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake.”

* * *

Some senior American officials said the plans, even at a very preliminary stage, show how dangerous the threat from Iran has become. Others, who are urging a diplomatic resolution to the current tensions, said it amounts to a scare tactic to warn Iran against new aggressions.

European allies who met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said that they worry that tensions between Washington and Tehran could boil over, possibly inadvertently.

More than a half-dozen American national security officials who have been briefed on details of the updated plans agreed to discuss them with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity. Spokesmen for Mr. Shanahan and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to comment.

The size of the force involved has shocked some who have been briefed on them. The 120,000 troops would approach the size of the American force that invaded Iraq in 2003.

Deploying such a robust air, land and naval force would give Tehran more targets to strike, and potentially more reason to do so, risking entangling the United States in a drawn out conflict. It also would reverse years of retrenching by the American military in the Middle East that began with President Barack Obama’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011.

* * *

The Iranian government has not threatened violence recently, but last week, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would walk away from parts of the 2015 nuclear deal it reached with world powers. Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement a year ago, but European nations have urged Iran to stick with the deal and ignore Mr. Trump’s provocations.

The high-level review of the Pentagon’s plans was presented during a meeting about broader Iran policy. It was held days after what the Trump administration described, without evidence, as new intelligence indicating that Iran was mobilizing proxy groups in Iraq and Syria to attack American forces.

As a precaution, the Pentagon has moved an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers, a Patriot missile interceptor battery and more naval firepower to the gulf region.

At last week’s meeting, Mr. Shanahan gave an overview of the Pentagon’s planning, then turned to General Dunford to detail various force options, officials said. The uppermost option called for deploying 120,000 troops, which would take weeks or months to complete.

Among those attending Thursday’s meeting were Mr. Shanahan; Mr. Bolton; General Dunford; Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director; and Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence.

* * *

As recently as late April, an American intelligence analysis indicated that Iran had no short-term desire to provoke a conflict. But new intelligence reports, including intercepts, imagery and other information, have since indicated that Iran was building up its proxy forces’ readiness to fight and was preparing them to attack American forces in the region.

The new intelligence reports [–earlier reporting suggests from Israeli sources–]  surfaced on the afternoon of May 3, Mr. Shanahan told Congress last week. On May 5, Mr. Bolton announced the first of new deployments to the Persian Gulf, including bombers and an aircraft carrier.

It is not clear to American intelligence officials what changed Iran’s posture. But intelligence and Defense Department officials said American sanctions have been working better than originally expected, proving far more crippling to the Iranian economy — especially after a clampdown on all oil exports that was announced last month.

Also in April, the State Department designated the Revolutionary Guards a foreign terrorist organization over objections from Pentagon and intelligence officials who feared reprisals from the Iranian military.

* * *

Part of the updated planning appears to focus on what military action the United States might take if Iran resumes its nuclear fuel production, which has been frozen under the 2015 agreement. It would be difficult for the Trump administration to make a case that the United States was under imminent nuclear peril; Iran shipped 97 percent of its fuel out of the country in 2016, and currently does not have enough to make a bomb.

That could change if Iran resumes enriching uranium. But it would take a year or more to build up a significant quantity of material, and longer to fashion it into a weapon. That would allow, at least in theory, plenty of time for the United States to develop a response — like a further cutoff of oil revenues, covert action or military strikes.

The previous version of the Pentagon’s war plan included a classified subset code-named Nitro Zeus, a cyberoperation that called for unplugging Iran’s major cities, its power grid and its military.

The idea was to use cyberweapons to paralyze Iran in the opening hours of any conflict, in hopes that it would obviate the need to drop any bombs or conduct a traditional attack. That plan required extensive presence inside Iran’s networks — called “implants” or “beacons” — that would pave the way for injecting destabilizing malware into Iranian systems.

Two officials said those plans have been constantly updated in recent years.

But even a cyberattack, without dropping bombs, carries significant risk. Iran has built up a major corps of its own, one that successfully attacked financial markets in 2012, a casino in Las Vegas and a range of military targets. American intelligence officials told Congress in January that Iranian hackers are now considered sophisticated operators who are increasingly capable of striking United States targets.

Since Mr. Bolton became national security adviser in April 2018, he has intensified the Trump administration’s policy of isolating and pressuring Iran. The animus against Iran’s leaders dates back at least to his days as an official in the George W. Bush administration. Later, as a private citizen, Mr. Bolton called for military strikes on Iran, as well as regime change.

The newly updated plans were not the first time during the Trump administration that Mr. Bolton has sought military options to strike Iran.

This year, Defense Department and senior American officials said Mr. Bolton sought similar guidance from the Pentagon last year, after Iranian-backed militants fired three mortars or rockets into an empty lot on the grounds of the United States Embassy in Baghdad in September.

In response to Mr. Bolton’s request, which alarmed Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, the Pentagon offered some general options, including a cross-border airstrike on an Iranian military facility that would have been mostly symbolic.

But Mr. Mattis and other military leaders adamantly opposed retaliation for the Baghdad attack, successfully arguing that it was insignificant.

Mattis is now gone, and Neocon warmonger John Bolton is in charge and unchecked. Donald Trump, who ran for office on “no more stupid wars,” is about to start another stupid Neocon war.

UPDATE: Still working on creating a pretext for war today. U.S. Orders Partial Evacuation of Embassy in Baghdad: The State Department ordered a partial evacuation of the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, responding to what the Trump administration said was a threat linked to Iran. The department ordered “nonemergency U.S. government employees,” at both the embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil, to leave the country. The order applies primarily to full-time diplomats posted to Iraq by State Department headquarters in Washington, and an embassy statement said that visa services in Iraq would be suspended as a result. Contractors who provide security, food and other such services will remain in place for now.

Skeptical U.S. Allies Resist Trump’s New Claims of Threats From Iran: [A] senior British military official told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that he saw no increased risk from Iran or allied militias in Iraq or Syria.

A few hours later, the United States Central Command issued an unusual rebuke: “Is so!




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