Week of February 15th, 2018


This weekend saw an air war over Syria unlike anything seen since 1982. The Israeli Air Force (IAF), arguably the best air force in the world has lost its first aircraft in combat since 1982 and the Syrian air defense has scored a victory over the IAF.

One big difference this time is the presence of Russian pilots patrolling Syrian airspace and Russian manned air defense systems on the ground.   The result is a situation that can quickly spin out of control.

Although details are murky, Israelis claimed that Israeli jets were scrambled in response to an Iranian drone launched into Israeli airspace, which the IDF says was intercepted and destroyed. Security cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio the Iranian drone was modeled on the U.S. RQ-170 drone that was downed in Iran in 2011. There was strong denial of such incident from the Iranians.

The IAF claimed that it has launched attacks targeting the facilities controlling the drone and Syrian air defense systems.

It was during these attacks that the IAF F-16 was hit by a Syrian S-200 missile. Both crewmen ejected from the aircraft.

The Syrian military has stated that its air defense missile system further struck an Israeli drone shortly after the F-16 was downed, which had been launched from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. In response to the F-16 downing, the IAF fired several missiles targeting the Al-Kiswah area near what is said to be an Iranian base outside of Damascus. And shortly after this initial Israeli retaliation strike, a more massive wave of missiles hit a mountaintop Syrian Army base in the same area. Regional sources are reporting that multiple Israeli missiles struck the base, while others were intercepted by Syrian air defense.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military has blamed Iran for the F-16 shoot down and escalation. The IDF issued a threatening statement which reads: “The IDF will act determinately against such severe violations of Israeli sovereignty by Iran and Syria and will continue to act as necessary. The IDF is ready for various scenarios and will continue to act according to situation assessments.”

Given the fact that the IAF has struck Syria over 100 times in the last few years, more air strikes can be expected in the future.

The Jerusalem Post warns that Israel is planning for “A war in the north.” There are reports by witnesses that Israel is moving mobile air defense systems to the north.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu struck a defiant tone on Sunday in remarks to his cabinet broadcast by Israeli media. “Yesterday we landed hard blows on the forces of Iran and Syria. We made unequivocally clear to everyone that our modus operandi has not changed one bit,” he said.

Since criminal charges are expected to be made against Netanyahu in the coming days some say the Prime Minister’s belligerent attitude is designed to remove the focus from his own problems.

However, the truth is that the situation has changed and the IAF is facing a much improved Syrian air defense system – a system that might claim more IAF aircraft if the current fighting continues.

Syrian Air Defense Reborn

Syria was the first country outside the Soviet Union to have an S-200 air defense system and the SA-5 Gammon missile. They were initially manned by Soviet crews, but were later transferred to the Syrians.

However, it appears that they weren’t well maintained by the Syrian military. During the initial years of the Syrian War, parts of the S-200 systems were occasionally spotted when Syrian Air Defense sites were overrun by rebel forces. Radars, missiles and other equipment belonging to S-200 system were pictured in disrepair when rebels overtook the air defense site in Eastern Ghouta in October 2012.

Starting with the Russian intervention in late 2015, there were new efforts to restore some Syrian S-200 systems. On 15 November 2016, the Russian defense minister confirmed that Russian forces repaired Syrian S-200 to operational status.  For example, in July 2016, the Syrian Army, with Russian assistance, rebuilt an S-200 site at Kweires airport, near Aleppo.  On September 12, 2016, the IDF confirmed that two Syrian S-200 missiles were fired at Israeli attack planes while they were on a mission inside Syrian airspace. The Syrian Defense Ministry claimed that an Israeli jet and drone were shot down, but the IDF said their aircraft returned.

On 17 March 17, 2017, the Israeli Air Force attacked a number of Syrian targets near Palmyria, Syria. Syrian air defense fired S-200 missiles at 2 IDF aircraft, which were in Lebanese airspace.  One of the Syrian missiles lost its fix on the target and went ballistic. The Israeli missile defense fired at least one Arrow missile to intercept the incoming rocket.  As a result, Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defense systems after they fired on Israeli warplanes carrying out strikes.

On October 16, 2017, a Syrian S-200 battery located around 50 kilometers east of Damascus fired a missile at an Israeli Air Force surveillance mission over Lebanon. The IAF responded by attacking the battery and destroying the fire control radar with four bombs.  The Syrian Defense Ministry said in its statement that the air defense forces “directly hit one of the jets, forcing [Israeli aircraft] to retreat.” Israel said that no plane was hit.

Despite the different reporting by the Israelis and Syrians, it is apparent that the Syrian air defense system is active and carrying out attacks on Israeli aircraft invading Syrian airspace. This is a major improvement for the Syrian from a few years ago.

However, Syria also has Russian air defense systems that Israel must be aware of. After a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 was shot down over Syria in November 2015, Russia deployed S-300 and S-400 to the region – some to the Russian base at Latakia, Syria.

The system has little combat experience, but has done well in tests. Various versions of the S-300 had successfully destroyed ballistic missiles and other objects in exercises, with a high success rate (90% or more if 1 missile interceptor is used).   In exercises, it has shot down strategic bomber aircraft at 186 km and tactical missiles at 34 km and a height of 17.7 km. It is considered a very capable SAM system that poses a significant hazard even to the most advanced aircraft or other airborne targets. In fact, Israel’s purchase of F-35 Lightning II fighters was allegedly motivated in part to nullify the threat of S-300 missiles.

And, despite the fact that these air defense systems are in northern Syria, they can track and destroy IAF aircraft in Israeli airspace.

In 2015, a retired Israel Air Force Brigadier General, Asaf Agmon, told the Globes daily that Israel would need to spend billions of dollars to cope with S-300 missile, whose lock on targets he said was impossible to jam.

As one senior U.S. Marine Corps aviator told National Interest, the S-300 series is deadly. “A complete game changer for all fourth-generation aircraft [like the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18]. That thing is a beast and you don’t want to get near it,” he said.

Not only are the missiles mobile, but the systems are networked together. One S-300 battery is a dangerous, but several such systems networked together into an integrated air defense system is a nearly insurmountable challenge for most fourth-generation fighters

However, the S-300 and S-400 air defense systems are under Russian control, not Syrian. That means that the use of these missile systems will need to meet Russian aims, not Syrian ones. And, since the Israelis regularly are talking to the Russians (including talks between Putin and Netanyahu) in order to prevent any international incidents, the chances of an intentional Russian attack on IAF aircraft is slight.

But, what would happen if the IAF decides that it must take out the S-300 and S-400 air defense systems?

NATO has carried out exercises (called “Global Strike Task Force”) against these air defense systems and it is assumed that the IAF is aware of these tactics.   The tactics rely largely on a stealth fighter like Israel’s F-35.

The F-35s would open up the attack by using their unique combination of stealth, high altitude and speed to target the communications nodes of the integrated air defense system so that the F-35s with precision munitions can proceed to their targets unmolested.

The other option to take down an integrated air defense system is to use a combination of standoff weapons like the JASSM cruise missiles together with electronic attacks from Israeli electronic warfare aircraft called the Eitam. This aircraft can not only jam the enemy’s radar, but can generate an indirect flight path to target the missile site.

The F-35 also has impressive electronic warfare capabilities itself. F-35s carry active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radars with sophisticated electronic attack capabilities, including false targets, network attack, advanced jamming and algorithm-packed data streams. This system allows the F-35 to reach well-defended targets and suppress enemy radars that threaten the F-35. In addition, the ASQ-239 system provides fully integrated radar warning, targeting support, and self-protection, to detect and defeat surface and airborne threats.

The F-35 is also capable of stand-off jamming for other aircraft — providing 10 times the effective radiated power of any older fighter like the F-16. F-35s can also operate in closer proximity to the threat (‘stand-in’) to provide jamming power much greater than any older fighter.

All of this means that Israel will likely use F-35s if it intends to take on the Russian air defense or if it’s likely that Russia will start supporting Syria’s more modest air defense.

In fact, Israel may have already used its F-35sin the region. Air Forces Monthly, noted the French newspaper Le Figaro said Israel took its F-35s out on a combat mission one month after getting them from the US.

However, the US and Israel would like to test the F-35 against both the S-300 and S-400. The F-35’s stealth abilities remain untested, and only in a heavily contested environment could the F-35 really meet its match. In the past, F-35 pilots have complained that surface-to-air threats are not advanced enough to provide realistic training, and the Air Force has run short on adversary services to provide enough competition to prove the F-35’s capabilities.

What to Expect

So, is this air war expected to die down or escalate?

Escalation raises the specter of a confrontation with Russia – something that neither the US or Israel want. That’s surely one reason that Israel has targeted sites south of Russia’s air defense system.

It’s also why Russia has upgraded Syria’s own air defense system and kept its Russian manned air defense system in the north near its own facilities.

Israel has made it clear that it considers Syrian airspace its own and will continue to carry out attacks in Syria under the claims that moving of weapons to Hezbollah, threaten the IAF, or pose a security threat to Israel proper.

However, the loss of an F-16 will cause the IAF to rethink its operations. It would be unwise to think the Syrians were just “lucky.” As noted earlier, the Russians have invested much in improving the Syrian air defense system. The IAF must consider that the Syrians have learned from the Russians and Iranians and that previous tactics may be outdated.

Expect the IAF to employ new tactics in future raids in Syria.

Also expect to see the F-35 to make its first combat sortie. There has been quite a bit of controversy about the F-35 and its capabilities. Some operation against the Russian air defense system – even if it’s just a trial penetration of airspace – will give Israel and the US a chance to see how good the F-35 is. That, in turn, will allow Israel to develop new tactics against Syria’s air defense.

In other words, there is only a slight chance that the current hostilities will escalate. However, expect the IAF to evolve, improve its tactics, and make every effort to bring the F-35 into the Syrian air war.

Week of February 9th, 2018

Executive Summary

Washington’s attention remains focused on the memos of intelligence committee (both Democrats and Republicans) regarding the investigation of the special counsel Muller into Trump and Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

The Monitor analysis looks at the potential of a war in space, American vulnerabilities, Russian and Chinese attempts to negate the American advantage in space, and how a war in space could impact America.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Heritage Foundation looks at US military power in space. They conclude, “Counter-space operations, however, will not necessarily be anti-satellite systems shooting down satellites, although a number of nations have tested anti-satellite capabilities in recent years. Because space operations depend on ground-based facilities to control the satellites and obtain data from them, there is a significant terrestrial component to space operations. Similarly, both the systems that control satellites and the data that flow over satellite networks are vulnerable to cyber attacks and data manipulation. A hacked satellite that turns off its camera at key moments is as neutralized as a functioning satellite that is intercepted and destroyed by a co-orbital or ground-based anti-satellite system.  In future conflicts, both the outer space and information space domains will be central battlefields, and operations there will have as much impact as traditional activities in the air, on land, and at sea have had.”

The CSIS looks at current operations in Syria and policy. They recommend clarifying the mission and note, “The enduring mission of U.S. forces in Syria and how they will interact with competitors in the region remains unclear. In addition, the scope of how the SDF will engage with Turkey and Assad and its supporters is similarly muddy. While specific rules of engagement remain sensitive, the United States should state its intentions publicly for signaling and deterrence. With Assad-backed forces, Russia, and Iran, it plans to deter and deescalate. With terrorist cells and monitoring insurgents, it plans to work by, with, and through local community, police, intelligence, and security forces, creating a network of indicators and warnings to prevent the regrowth of ISIS. This will require sustaining trust and credibility with the local population. Finally, the United States should clearly state its redlines to the SDF: offensive measures directed at Turkey will result in a recalibration of U.S. support. In reality, the United States needs both its difficult ally Turkey and its dedicated Kurdish partners in the SDF to accomplish its objectives in Syria; it will have to continue to walk a tightrope between them.”

The Heritage Foundation takes its annual look at American military strength and challenges. Of the Middle East, it says, “The Middle East, by contrast, continues to be a deeply troubled area riven with conflict, ruled by authoritarian regimes, and home to a variety of terrorist and other destabilizing entities. Though the United States does enjoy a few strong partnerships in the region, its interests are beset by security and political challenges, transnational terrorism rooted in the region, and the maturing threat of a nuclear Iran. Offsetting these challenges to some extent are the U.S. military’s experience in the region and the basing infrastructure that it has developed and leveraged for nearly 25 years, although these positive elements are decaying as a consequence of continued upheaval in Syria; Iran’s pursuit of weapons that threaten both the U.S. and Europe, as well as its continued support of such terrorist groups as Hezbollah; and the increasingly problematic political environment in countries that historically have hosted U.S. forces (Qatar, for example).”

The Carnegie Endowment asks, “Is the New U.S. National Security Strategy a Step Backward on Democracy and Human Rights?” They conclude, “Obviously, glaring contradictions exist between what language the strategy does include on democracy, rights, and governance and the Trump administration’s actual actions to date. To name just a few examples, the document’s tributes to free press, tolerance, transparency, anti-corruption, and pluralism stand in notable counterpoint to many of President Trump’s statements and actions. But the National Security Strategy does establish that U.S. foreign policy still officially includes supporting democracy, defending human rights, advancing accountable governance, mitigating fragility, and making at least some use of multilateral forums and mechanisms. For all concerned with these issues, the task now—as the administration moves to translate words on the page into deeds on the ground—is to try to ensure that this crucial basic fact becomes policy reality.”

The Washington Institute looks at rolling back Iran’s foreign legion. Participant Phillip Smyth said The United States needs to reassess Iran’s network of militias. Despite objections from many in the foreign policy community, Shia militias in Syria and Iraq are undeniably connected. Apart from Hezbollah, Tehran actually prefers splinter groups over large, formal organizations. In 2013, for example, the Iraqi militia Harakat al-Nujaba split from Asaib Ahl al-Haq, but the groups still release similar public relations material, follow the same Iranian ideology, and fight the same battles. Iranian-supported groups might have different names, but they are paid from the same funds—Tehran itself often calls on fighters to split off and form new brigades.

The Heritage Foundation looks at the Nuclear Posture Review. It notes, “The Nuclear Posture Review makes the case for the continued importance of nuclear triad for deterring aggression and preserving peace. The Nuclear Posture Review calls for a development of a low-yield warhead option for U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The Nuclear Posture Review is a step in the right direction wholly consistent with a bipartisan consensus on U.S. nuclear weapons policy post Russia’s 2014 invasion.”

The CSIS also looks at the Nuclear Posture Review. They note, “What is the bottom line? If the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review reflected a slightly left-of-center compromise perspective, which probably fell to the right of President Obama’s preferences and those of many Democratic congressional leaders, the 2018 NPR is a slightly right-of-center policy that falls to the left of statements from President Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill. The document largely falls within the nuclear policy mainstream; contains considerable continuity with its predecessor in policy and program specifics; has some notable differences in tone, content, and context; and includes political compromises in hopes of preserving consensus around an expensive and long-term modernization program. So, what is the same? The 2018 NPR fully supports the retention and modernization of the current triad of delivery systems; emphasizes the importance of a modernized and strengthened nuclear command, control, and communications system; and reiterates the need to invest in U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure, primarily in the national laboratories. This is largely the same modernization program proposed and supported by the Obama administration.”




Special Report

Space Wars

First shots of next war likely to be in space

The launch of Space X’s Falcon Heavy rocket this week is a major step in the American space program – once the best in the world, but now lagging behind Russia’s space launch capability.

Space X, a private American space company has become the first private firm to design and launch a rocket that is capable of launching massive payloads into deep space.

“The great thing about Falcon heavy is that it opens up a new class of payload,” Space X head Elon Musk said. “It could launch one more than twice as much payload as any other rocket in the world, so it’s up to customers what they might want to launch. But it can launch things direct to Pluto and beyond. No stop needed.”

Musk said he hopes the first flight of the Falcon Heavy inspires more competition. At the post-flight press conference, he spoke about how the rocket was developed using around $500 million of the company’s own funds. That’s a lot of money, but it’s a sliver compared to the multi-billion dollar price tags of some other famous rockets. “I think it’s going to encourage other countries and companies to raise their sights and say hey we can do bigger and better, which is great,” he said. “We want a new space race. Races are exciting.”

Musk is also looking at a larger rocket booster, the Big Falcon Rocket that can launch people to either the Moon or Mars. However, these large boosters are less likely to carry astronauts than satellite payloads – both commercial and military. And, as space has become a bigger part of the battlefield, military payloads will be a major part of Space X’s revenue.

The Physics of Space War

Few realize that space war is much more complicated than land, sea, or air war, thanks to the laws of physics. Traditional 20th Century warfare was fought in a narrow band going from several hundred feet underwater to about six miles above sea level. The space war battlefield ranges from about 100 miles above sea level for low altitude reconnaissance satellites to about 26,000 miles above the earth for geosynchronous communications satellites. Manned space stations are about 250 miles above the Earth.

Putting a satellite into orbit requires considerable amounts of power. For instance, placing a satellite in low earth orbit requires reaching about 15,000 mph, about the same energy requirements as launching an ICBM. However, the energy to reach a higher orbit requires more power, which is why large payloads require large rocket boosters and a major launch facility like Cape Kennedy.

What this means is that an anti-satellite weapon designed to hit a satellite in orbit has similar energy needs. While a missile fired from a high flying aircraft can reach and destroy a low earth orbit satellite (providing it is nearby), an anti-satellite weapon designed to reach a geosynchronous communications satellite must be considerably larger and more powerful.

No wonder that 60 years after the first satellites were launched; there is no failsafe way to shoot down a satellite.

However, that isn’t keeping Russia and China from trying – especially since the US relies heavily on satellites for navigation, intelligence purposes, and communications.

Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Chinese and Russian space weapons pose “an emerging challenge” and that the Pentagon is accelerating its efforts to counter the threat.

“The Department of Defense has aggressively moved out to develop responses to the threats that we see coming from China and Russia…I believe it’s essential that we go faster in our responses.”

A new report released by the Center for a New American Security highlights the vulnerabilities the Pentagon has in space, and calls for a shift in strategy to safeguard it and prepare for conflict there. It argues that potential adversaries like China and Russia have noticed the degree to which the United States is reliant on its “space architecture,” and begun to seek ways to threaten it.

“Indeed, many observers have noted that these potential opponents judge the U.S. space architecture to be the Achilles’ heel’ of U.S. military power, in light of the depth of American reliance on theses systems and the vulnerability of the U.S. military satellite architecture,” the report said.

Since the space battlefield is so large, Russia and China have to develop several types of anti-satellite weapons to defeat the American space satellite fleet. These include different types of missiles, (depending on the orbit) and electronic and cyber attack methods.

Some of the methods can be quite simple. A spacecraft could simply approach a satellite and spray paint over its optics, or manually snap off its communications antennas, or destabilize its orbit. Lasers can be used to temporarily disable or permanently damage a satellite’s components, particularly its delicate sensors, and radio or microwaves can jam or hijack transmissions to or from ground controllers.

Russia has the most advanced anti-satellite systems. The earliest was a 23 mm automatic cannon placed onboard the Almaz spacecraft in the 1970s. Although the NR-23 cannon was never tested with astronauts onboard, it was capable of destroying satellites and even the US space shuttle. The problem with this weapon system was its heavy recoil and the need to maneuver the Almaz spacecraft close to the American satellite.

By the 1980s, the Russian had developed a more sophisticate anti-satellite system (ASAT). It was a ground based interceptor, with a pellet type warhead that would damage the target much like a shotgun. It could hit satellites as high as 3,000 miles, but was designed for lower orbit satellites like the CIA’s reconnaissance satellites.

The Russian GOLOSH ABM system also has some ASAT capability against low altitude satellites.

At the same time, in 1985, the U.S. Air Force staged a clear demonstration of its formidable capabilities, when an F-15 fighter jet launched a missile that took out a failing U.S. satellite in low-Earth orbit. In 2008, a ship-launched anti-ballistic missile shot down a malfunctioning U.S. military satellite shortly before it tumbled into the atmosphere.

However, it appears that Russia is also secretly launching ASATs. A few years ago, it included three mysterious payloads in otherwise routine commercial satellite launches. Radar observations by the U.S. Air Force and by amateur hobbyists revealed that after each commercial satellite was deployed, an additional small object flew far away from the jettisoned rocket booster, only to later turn around and fly back. The objects, dubbed Kosmos-2491, -2499 and -2504, could also be “covert” ASATs.

Of course, both sides play this “cat and mouse” game. Many think the US has secretly placed ASATs in orbit with its secret space vehicle the X-37. The X-37B program is run by the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, with mission control for orbital flights based at the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado. The space planes are built by Boeing.

There is also evidence that the US has secretly launched backup satellites that appear as space junk, but can be activated in case of a space war.

Both sides are also studying the use of lasers to destroy or blind satellites. This includes developing a space based laser that can hit satellites from great distances. There is also work on airborne lasers that can be deployed on high altitude aircraft so the laser beam isn’t distorted by the atmosphere.

But, such lasers aren’t the easy answer many think. Reflective material on a satellite makes them nearly invulnerable to laser attacks. There is also the energy requirement for a high power laser.

What Would a Space War Look Like?

While a space war could look like a space “Pearl Harbor,” where either China or Russia could carry out a mass attack against the whole US satellite fleet, it could be more limited so as to avoid a massive American retaliation.

Some vulnerable US satellite systems would be intelligence gathering, communications, and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites.

A strike against low orbit reconnaissance satellites could “blind” American intelligence to critical movements of military assets or ballistic missiles. However, the US does have high flying reconnaissance aircraft that can temporarily replace the satellites. But, when hours count, blinding US spy satellites could offer a critical advantage to China or Russia.

Another likely target would be America’s GPS satellites, which orbit at a higher altitude of about 12,000 miles.

As we have seen in the last year, the US Navy is overly reliant on GPS for navigating. In fact, some have hypothesized that the recent Navy collisions weren’t caused by poor seamanship by the Navy officers on the bridge of the ships, but by cyber attacks on the GPS system.

The Air Force and Army are also overly reliant on GPS. Air Force aircraft rely on GPS for navigation and targeting. The Army’s artillery also needs GPS information.

Taking out the GPS system in wartime or during heightened tensions could lead to a number of US military accidents and the inability to accurately target enemy positions. And, since the American civilian transportation system relies on GPS, there would also be a dramatic impact on the American infrastructure.

An attack on communications satellites would hamper America’s Command and Control, which is considered the best in the world. American commanders would be unaware of the situation on the battlefield and would be unable to direct forces in the field.

Hampering communications would also have a dramatic impact on the civilian sector. Not only would phone communications be cut, financial transfers, credit card transactions, and bank account information would be stopped. Since many Americans rely heavily on electronic financial transactions, many Americans would be unable to buy food and gasoline.   The result would be that American leadership might face a level of civil disturbance that would deflect attention away from any foreign problems.

No wonder that the US Air Force is concerned about space war. Air Force officials have been seeking ways to increase the resilience of space services for several years. Some of their newest ideas are seen in its 2019 budget proposal to Congress.

Air Force officials are looking at buying smaller, cheaper satellites to detect enemy launches, move data and communications, and gather intelligence. Though they would neither replace nor last as long as the Air Force’s customary multibillion-dollar behemoths, the smaller spacecraft would augment them and serve as backups if the larger ones were attacked.

The Air Force is also considering buying satellites made to less expensive commercial standards.   This isn’t a radical move as the military already buys bandwidth on commercial communications satellites.

Looking further down the road, Space Command is investigating orbiting satellites five times farther from Earth, or making them far more maneuverable than current ones. Since it takes more energy and technology to hit satellites further out, it would make US satellites less vulnerable to Russia and China. It would also make it harder for rogue nations like Iran and North Korea to hit the US satellite fleet in the future.

However, many satellite projects take 10 years to move from concept to launching the first in a satellite constellation. It then takes another five to make the constellation operational. The result is that in the near future, the US must rely upon the durability of the current flock of satellites to withstand a potential space war.





2018 index of US Military Strength
Executive Summary
Heritage Foundation
October 5, 2018

The United States maintains a military force primarily to protect the homeland from attack and to protect its interests abroad. There are secondary uses—for example, to assist civil authorities in times of disaster or to deter opponents from threatening America’s interests—but this force’s primary purpose is to make it possible for the U.S. to physically impose its will on an enemy when necessary. It is therefore critical that the condition of the United States military with respect to America’s vital national security interests, threats to those interests, and the context within which the U.S. might have to use “hard power” be understood. Knowing how these three areas—operating environments, threats, and the posture of the U.S. military—change over time, given that such changes can have substantial implications for defense policies and investment, is likewise important.

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Space 201: Thinking About the Space Domain
By Dean Cheng
Heritage Foundation
October 5, 2017

Over the past three decades, the role of outer space in military operations has risen steadily. From the inception of the space age, America’s activities in space have included a large national security component. The development of satellites was not only a matter of national prestige in the ideological competition of the Cold War, but also an effort to monitor military and other developments from the strategic high ground of space. Many of the earliest satellites were engaged in the gathering of intelligence. Due to their sensitive nature and the advanced technologies associated with them, information derived from reconnaissance satellites (sometimes termed national technical means, or NTM) has generally remained highly classified. Rumors have long abounded regarding the capabilities of American reconnaissance satellites, for example, but little of their actual resolution (what they were able to see on the surface of the planet) was revealed during the Cold War. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent use of satellite imagery in 1991 during the first Gulf War pulled back many of the curtains that had obscured the capabilities and nature of reconnaissance satellites as programs were declassified and images were disseminated more broadly.

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5 Myths About the Nuclear Posture Review
By Michaela Dodge
Heritage Foundation
February 2, 2018

Today, the Trump administration’s released its long-awaited Nuclear Posture Review. Already, myths of a nuclear Armageddon have monopolized the media space. In reality, the review is a balanced document carefully weighing the impact of dangerous international trends like a resurgent Russia and an aggressive China on U.S. nuclear posture. The recommendations in the review, if implemented, will result in a safer world. Here are the top five myth-busters about the Nuclear Posture Review:

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Nuclear Posture Review: The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same
By Rebecca Hersman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
February 6, 2018

Last week, the Trump administration formally released its review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy—which is nearly identical to the version leaked to the Huffington Post in early January. Judging by reactions over what amounts to the longest rollout in Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) history, there is something in it for everyone. That means almost no one is happy. Paradoxically, initial reactions suggest the review opens the door to nuclear “war fighting,” or closes it; raises the nuclear threshold, yet lowers it; continues some Obama administration policies and programs, or departs from them dramatically; goes too far in portraying a confrontational approach to Russia and China, yet does not go far enough. It’s fundamentally different from the Obama administration’s nuclear policy, but it is also largely the same.

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Connecting Current Operations to Policy Ambition in Syria
By Melissa Dalton
Center for Strategic and International Studies
January 26, 2018

2017 marked a significant shift in the two wars in Syria. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Coalition forces drove ISIS from its self-proclaimed caliphate capital in Raqqa, across northern Syria, and down the Euphrates River Valley. Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, backed by Russia and Iran, secured key population areas and strategic locations in the center and coast, and stretched to the eastern border to facilitate logistics and communications for Iranian-backed militias. In both wars, Syrian civilians have lost profoundly. They also have shown incredible resilience. Still, the outcome of both wars is inconclusive. Although major areas have been cleared of ISIS, SDF and Coalition forces are fighting the bitter remnants of ISIS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. Enduring security in ISIS-cleared areas now depends on governance and restoration of services. Turkey’s intervention into Syrian Kurdish-controlled Afrin risks pulling the sympathetic Kurdish components of the SDF away from the counterterrorism and stabilization efforts in Syria’s east in order to fight Turkey, a U.S. ally. With a rumbling Sunni insurgency in pockets of Syria’s heartland, Assad and his supporters continue to pummel Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus and threaten Idlib. They are unleashing both conventional and chemical weapons on the remnants of Syrian opposition fighters and indiscriminately targeting civilians.

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Is the New U.S. National Security Strategy a Step Backward on Democracy and Human Rights?
Carnegie Endowment
January 30, 2018

Experts on a wide range of issues have parsed the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS) since its release in December, often criticizing what they regard as a weak treatment of crucial topics. This scrutiny includes attention to the strategy’s stance on U.S. support for democracy and human rights abroad. Former national security adviser Susan Rice, for example, observed in a list of stinging criticisms that the strategy “fails to mention the words ‘human rights.’” The editorial board of the Washington Post regretted that the strategy contains “no commitment to promote democracy and human rights, other than by example.” Given the administration’s erratic and often damaging stance thus far on democracy and rights abroad, these warning flags are more than understandable.

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Rolling Back Iran’s Foreign Legion
By Hanin Ghaddar and Phillip Smyth
Washington Institute
February 6, 2018


On February 2, Hanin Ghaddar and Phillip Smyth addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Ghaddar, the Institute’s Friedman Visiting Fellow, is a veteran Lebanese journalist and researcher. Smyth is a Soref Fellow at the Institute and a researcher at the University of Maryland. The event marked the release of Ghaddar’s new Institute report “Iran’s Foreign Legion: The Impact of Shia Militias on U.S. Foreign Policy.” The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks. HANIN GHADDAR: Political balance has ceased to exist in Lebanon. The March 14 coalition has faded away and could not compete with Hezbollah even if it were still in play. Hezbollah has more power than ever in Lebanon and serves as Iran’s main arm in the rest of the region as well. What we are seeing in Syria is not separate Shia militias fighting on the Assad regime’s behalf, but parts of a structured army commanded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, with Hezbollah as its right hand. Hezbollah was somewhat independent prior to 2011, but after senior officials Imad Mughniyah and Mustafa Badreddine were killed, Qods Force chief Qasem Soleimani was left in direct control of the group. The Afghan militia Liwa Fatemiyoun and the Pakistani militia Liwa Zainabiyoun are also part of this structure.

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Week of February 2nd, 2018

Trump Moderates Tone in First State of the Union (SOTU) Speech


American presidents like making the State of the Union speech (SOTU) in person before Congress. Although a SOTU report is constitutionally required, in the past it was usually written and merely sent to the Congress. However, since the age of TV, presidents have made it a habit to turn this SOTU report into an opportunity to speak to the nation.

The SOTU speech is an opportunity to cheerlead their accomplishments and their agenda. It also gives them a chance to look presidential and boost their approval ratings.

This week’s SOTU was no different. Within minutes of President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech, CBS News revealed their YouGov poll approval ratings on it. Unsurprisingly, 97% of Republican speech watchers liked it. More surprisingly, more than 50% of Independents liked it. Even 43% of Democrats liked it.

For such a “controversial” President, who reportedly has personal approval ratings in the high 30s, these were sensationally good results. Interestingly, majority of polled Americans felt the President was trying to unite the country with his speech. Less than a quarter that watched said it made them feel scared or angry.

Of course, a greater share of Republicans watched the speech (42 percent) compared to the 25 percent of viewers who identified as Democrats and 33 percent who called themselves independents.

The White House had a plan, and the president executed it. President Trump wanted to convey optimism about the country and a sense of his achievements thus far, based primarily on the performance of the economy. It’s no accident that the speech began with claiming the good news about job and wage growth and a celebration of the tax-cut legislation.

Trump was also somewhat successful in terms of boxing the Democrats in during the speech. Applause lines dealing with bipartisanship, American greatness, and economic growth were met with stony silence by the Democrats in the room. By not applauding the Democrats were made to look in a negative way.

The president was at times trying to reach out to the Democrats while at the same time giving his own supporters plenty to cheer about. The speech was at its most substantive when the president laid out the “four pillars” of his immigration proposal. It was a sign that the White House is prepared to fight out the immigration issue on the merits; It will also force the Democrats to debate the substance as well. The phrase “Americans are dreamers too” was an attempt to present a good argument; it emphasized Trump’s main point, which was that immigration policy should advance the interests of the people of the United States.

One of the problems with the speech was that there was little substance when talking about where the Trump administration was going in 2018. Outside the specifics on immigration, specifics were rare. Trump endorsed higher infrastructure investment and lower opioid addiction rates without saying a word about how these goals would be achieved.

Keeping in mind that Trump wasn’t specific, here are some specific issues that Trump addressed during the SOTU.

TRADE RELATIONS. Although Trump didn’t mention China and America’s trade deficit with them, he made it clear that an America First policy would be the norm. Trump said, “The era of economic surrender is over. From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal. We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones. And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.”

WAR ON DRUGS. America’s War on Drugs has an international aspect as the US uses much of its intelligence community to monitor drug crops.

In the SOTU, Trump made it clear that the War on Drugs would pick up. He said, “In 2016, we lost 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses:  174 deaths per day.  Seven per hour.  We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge. My Administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need.  The struggle will be long and difficult — but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.”

Expect this war on drugs to have an impact on US policy towards Afghanistan, which is a major opium producer.

DEFENSE SPENDING. Promising to spend more on defense is a guaranteed way for a president to get a standing ovation during the SOTU. 2018 was no different as Trump said, “Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.  In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense. For this reason, I am asking the Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.”

REBUILDING AMERICA’S NUCLEAR WEAPONS ARSENAL. The American nuclear arsenal is more politically controversial than its conventional arsenal. However, since the nuclear material in nuclear weapons decays into other elements, nuclear weapons must be rebuilt or they will inevitably become non operational.

Since the American nuclear arsenal was built during the Cold War, it has aged to a degree where its efficacy is questionable. Consequently, there has been a push to modernize. However, Trump made it clear that he intended to modernize the arsenal when he said, “As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression.  Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons.  Unfortunately, we are not there yet.”

ISIS AND THE WAR ON TERROR. During the campaign, Trump made it clear that defeating terrorists would be a major goal of his administration. Although other nations were involved in the war on ISIS, it was Trump’s decision to remove restrictive rules of engagement that contributed to ISIS’s decline. He reminded listeners of this when he said, “Our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement.  Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.” But the war in Afghanistan under his administration is not going well.

Needless to say, Trump was more than willing to take credit for the demise of ISIS, although he was silent on the Turkish invasion of Syria or advancing any new policy.

“Last year, I also pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth,” Trump said.  “One year later, I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria.  But there is much more work to be done.  We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.”

Trump made it clear that those charged with terrorism would no longer be released. He said, “Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil.  When possible, we annihilate them.  When necessary, we must be able to detain and question them.  But we must be clear:  Terrorists are not merely criminals.  They are unlawful enemy combatants.  And when captured overseas, they should be treated like the terrorists they are.”

In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield — including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi.

So today, I am keeping another promise.  I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.” A policy outraged Democrats who are trying to close this facility.

“I am also asking the Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al-Qa’ida, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists — wherever we chase them down.”

RECOGNIZING JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL’S CAPITAL. As we have noted in the past, the overwheling majority of the Congress want to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Consequently, he received a standing ovation when he said, “Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the Senate just months before:  I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” Again, he failed to advance any new policy to reach what he labeled

Earlier the “deal of the century” to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In a move that he thinks will be approved by Americans who want to punish nations that don’t totally agree with America, Trump made it clear that aid would be tied to agreeing with the US in the United Nations. Trump asked, “Tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends. As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries.”

This could come back to hurt Trump as the vast majority of nations opposed Trump’s move of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

IRAN. One of the few foreign policy specifics Trump mentioned in the SOTU speech was a call for Congress to make changes to the nuclear deal with Iran. Although Trump failed to discuss his policy on Iran, Syria and Turkey, he announced support for protestors in Iran.

“When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent.  America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom,” Trump said. “I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.”

NORTH KOREA. North Korea, along with Iran were the major “bad guys” in Trump’s speech.

“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” Trump noted. “We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening.”

“Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation.  I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position. We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.”

Despite the soaring phrases and touching stories of average Americans (a regular part of the SOTU since Reagan), it’s important to remember that this annual event is designed to project an optimistic view of America under the current administration. Although the speech will give Trump a temporary boost in the next few weeks, there are questions about how long lasting the impact will be.

Although Trump asked for legislation on several issues, the close split between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate will make it nearly impossible to pass meaningful legislation during this mid term election year.

Historically, the party that holds the White House loses seats in the Senate and House during mid term elections. And, although the chances that the Senate will flip to Democratic are slim, the chances that the House will have a Democratic majority after the November election is pretty good.

Consequently, there is little incentive for Democrats to work with the president, despite the calls for bipartisanship.

What this means is that as the election gets closer, the chances of any movement in Washington decreases.

In other words, if you thought the Congress did little last year, just wait until you see what they won’t do in 2018.

Week of January 26th, 2018

Executive Summary

The focus in Washington is domestic as there appears to be a refocus on Trump for Moeller investigation in addition of spreading scandal inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation, America’s federal police. The scandal involves wiretapping of American citizens, which is banned under the American Constitution.

The Monitor analysis looks at the Turkish invasion of Syria. We look at possible American responses and the potential of Turkish success.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS looks at a speech Secretary of State Tillerson made on Syria recently. They noted, “The problem isn’t that the United States doesn’t have aims in Syria. Tillerson laid out five reasonable desired end states: ensuring the country is not a base for terrorist activity against the United States, supporting its transition to post-Assad government, diminishing Iran’s influence, returning refugees and internally displaced people, and preventing Syria from again holding weapons of mass destruction. But Tillerson was sent into battle unarmed. His speech preached heightened diplomacy, but he had been given few tools to increase his leverage. Money could make a potential difference, but Tillerson spoke as if his government was not behind him. He promised stabilization assistance in areas liberated from the Islamic State group (ISG), but he did not give an amount and stated clearly that “‘stabilization’ is not a synonym for open-ended nation-building or a synonym for reconstruction.” A few minutes later, he warned that “The United States, the EU, and regional partners will not provide international reconstruction assistance to any area under control of the Assad regime.”… It reads more like an excuse than a bargaining chip.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the cyberwar between the US and Iran. They suggest, “Iran continues to pursue its interests through cyber operations, engaging in attacks against its regional opponents and espionage against other foreign governments. A better understanding of the history and strategic rationale of Iran’s cyber activities is critical to assessing Washington’s broader cyberwarfare posture against adversaries, and prudent U.S. responses to future cyber threats from Iran and elsewhere.”

The Washington Institute looks at foreign fighters in Libya. In this research paper, the author breaks down the components of the Libyan jihad, including country-by-country statistics on fighters. He also traces the routes taken by jihad aspirants from various African points of origin to Libya. In thus offering a deeper understanding of the foreign-fighter phenomenon, its evolution, and its potential trajectories, this study provides invaluable insights for mitigating related problems in Africa and Europe in the years ahead.

The American Enterprise Institute looks at Vice President Pence’s trip to the Middle East. It concludes, “Pence’s visit with American troops near Syria underlined the continuing Syrian conflict in the aftermath of destroying ISIS’s physical caliphate, and the increased threat posed by Iranian troops and Shia militia linking up with Assad’s forces and the Hezbollah terrorists… Throughout his trip, Vice President Pence proved adept at navigating the complexities of Middle Eastern politics, while also providing a reassuring contrast to the ongoing obstructionism in Congress over keeping the U.S. government operating. It would not be surprising to see Pence taking a larger international role in advocating Trump administration foreign policies on the international stage.”

The Carnegie Endowment says the defeat of ISIS will not lead to a large return of refugees to Syria. They conclude, “any viable policy of return to eastern Syria should be embedded in the framework of a broader political settlement for the country that focuses on creating the conditions for return rather than simply concentrating on an end to hostilities. This would involve reinstating to the regions’ cities their traditional roles in Syria’s territorial order. It would also mean integrating into the reconstruction process those civil servants, teachers, and professionals who left the cities, and creating anew the social networks that would encourage people to come back. Today, such a path seems excessively difficult to contemplate, as political outcomes in eastern Syria remain blurred by the complex and opposing agendas at play. This will continue to affect the prospects for a return of refugees. For many of the refugees and internally displaced, instability and violence made them leave in the first place. Only real stability will make them return.”

The Washington Institute held a discussion about how Saudi Arabia and Egypt can confront toxic ideologies. They note, “each agenda item pursued by Saudi liberals includes a role for international players. The first item is a more well-rounded religious education, which entails making textbooks more tolerant and inclusive, training teachers from a more open-minded point of view, and giving space to multiple interpretations of Islam, with the aim of encouraging moderation. The second is the creation of an inclusive Saudi nationalism based not on claims of ideological supremacy, but rather on the success of a national project in which all citizens are vested, including historically marginalized communities. Third is the fostering of a unified Gulf identity, building on Saudi-Emirati cultural osmosis and expanding to the other Gulf Cooperation Council states. At a time when the U.S.-Saudi relationship is improving and a critical mass of Saudis welcome international partnership, Washington has ample opportunities to directly engage reformists on confronting toxic ideologies.”

The American Enterprise Institute says it is past time for a new National Defense Strategy that seeks to break the mold in honesty, clarity, conciseness, and fresh thinking. They note, “The newest defense strategy should emphasize three theaters of importance. As it is getting harder for planners to differentiate between war and peace, the need for a strong American presence in Asia, Europe, or the Middle East cannot be wished away as politically inconvenient. Planners should size forces to maintain robust conventional and strategic deterrents forward in all three of these theaters while equipping a force for decision in the event deterrence fails. To effect this change, the strategy must clearly differentiate between forces and capabilities required to prevent a war versus those needed to win one. Unfortunately, the panoply of threats spanning from North Korean ICBMs to ISIS demands the American military maintain a broad array of capabilities.”

The Washington Institute looks at the growing friction between Qatar and the UAE. They note, “Many regional diplomats believe the crisis is being driven not by the Saudis, but by de facto Emirati leader Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed. According to the UAE, the Qatari emir’s father, Hamad, continues to play a key role in the country’s decision making despite abdicating in 2013. Yet local diplomats reject this notion completely, saying they no longer keep track of the so-called “Father-Emir.” As for the widely held assumption that the crisis would continue simmering rather than boiling over, the latest escalation—whether real or rhetorical—may be the UAE’s way of reasserting its narrative after the embarrassment over the exiled Qatari sheikh. In November, former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Shafiq similarly accused Abu Dhabi of holding him against his will after living in exile there for some time, so Emirati sensitivities about such matters were already piqued.”




Turkey Invades Syria

American Response and Military Outcome

This week, Turkey invaded Afrin, a district of Syria which has been controlled by Syrian Kurds ever since al Qaeda and ISIS forced out of the area. Turkish officials say they plan to set up a buffer zone extending almost 20 miles into Syria from the Turkish border. As proof that this invasion has a strong domestic aspect, Turkish President Erdogan has threatened Turkey’s Kurds population not to support the Syrian Kurds during this invasion.

Like all leaders who invade a neighbor, Erdogan promised a victory within “a very short period of time.”

At this time, actual results are hidden behind the “fog of war.” However, it appears that Turkey has advanced into Syria, with mixed if not limited results. There are reports that Syrian Kurds have thrown back Turkish forces around Afrin.

Turkish warplanes began the air campaign against Syrian Kurdish positions along the Syrian-Turkish border on January 20th, 2018. Turkish Armed Forces fought Kurdish forces on multiple fronts along the northern border with armored forces.

In a sign that the Turks are coordinating with Russia, Russian forces withdrew from Afrin and reinforced Russian positions near Tel Rifaat.  Turkish Chief of the General Staff Hulusi Akar and Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization head Hakan Fidan met with Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov and Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu in Moscow on January 18th to coordinate the operation.

Turkey also took steps with Russia to limit the risk of a Syrian escalation. Assad threatened to shoot down Turkish warplanes on January 18th although the Russian anti-air systems in Syria pose the biggest risk. However, Turkey deployed electronic warfare systems to counter possible Syrian government air defense.

Russia’s goal in the negotiation with Turkey seemed to ensure that Syrian President Assad’s forces can secure and defend Aleppo City against possible future attack.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, it appears that the “Turkish objectives are to secure the Syrian-Turkish border, isolate Afrin city, seize the Mennagh airbase, secure ground lines of communication, and establish a new forward line of troops to serve as a future “de-escalation” line with pro President Assad forces including Russia. Turkish officials have also stated that they will attack the Syrian Kurdish militia-held town of Tel Rifaat. They may pursue that secondary phase after they accomplish their prior objectives. Tel Rifaat is a priority for Turkish-backed opposition groups but not critical for Turkey’s goals.”

Meanwhile, the American response has been mixed. The White House sent out a message aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds.

That message was quickly contradicted by the Pentagon, which said it would continue to stand by the Kurds, even as Turkey invaded their stronghold in northwestern Syria. A senior American commander praised the partnership with the Kurds, whose help was critical in a major American airstrike on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, over the weekend.

“U.S. forces are training local partners to serve as a force that is internally focused on stability and deterring ISIS,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said in the statement. “These local security forces are aimed at preventing the potential outflow of fleeing ISIS terrorists as their physical presence in Syria nears its end and pending a longer-term settlement of the civil war in Syria to ensure that ISIS cannot escape or return.”

Later, Trump called Erdogan and the usual diplomatic statements about concern for violence in the region and working together to avoid future fighting. Part of the White House statement made afterwards read, “President Trump also expressed concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under the prolonged State of Emergency in Turkey.  The two leaders pledged to improve the strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey, particularly in fostering regional stability and combating terrorism in all its forms, including ISIS, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), al-Qa’ida, and Iranian-sponsored terrorism.”

However, there were no concrete movements made to stop the invasion.

The conflicting statements appeared to reflect an effort by the administration to balance competing pressures. Turkey, which opposes American support for the Kurds, is a NATO ally, while the Kurds have been critical American partners in the war against the Islamic State.

However, despite the White House statements to mollify the Turks, the US military is firmly involved in supporting Kurdish military units. While Turkish aircraft were bombing Kurdish positions last Saturday, 150 ISIS fighters were killed in American airstrikes near As Shafah, Syria. The air strikes were guided by the Kurdish-led militia, called the Syrian Democratic Forces. Apparently, when push comes to shove, President Trump and the Pentagon will stand behind the Kurds, who are critical to defeating ISIS.

In fact, the commander of the United States Central Command, General Joseph L. Votel, said in an interview last month that American forces would remain in eastern Syria, alongside their Syrian Kurdish and Arab allies, as long as needed to defeat the Islamic State.

However, expect the support for the Kurds to be covert, so as to prevent an irreparable fracture in the NATO partnership. The US already has arms pipelines to the Kurds and these can be expected to remain open. The US will continue to arm the Kurds; including portable anti-air missiles, which can shoot down Turkish aircraft and helicopters and anti-tank weapons.

In order to limit tensions, Turkey will be loath to attack Manbij, home to a contingent of United States Special Operations troops who are training and equipping Kurdish forces that control the city. A Turkish/American skirmish in Manbij would have serious and permanent ramifications.

Turkey versus the Kurds – Who Will Win?

Turkey has the second largest military in NATO and is only outnumbered by the US military. It has a massive conventional army with a large number of tanks. However, their armored forces are composed of older Cold War tanks like the American M60 and German Leopard 2A4. The designs for these tanks are over 50 years old.

Another problem is that the Turkish Army has more experience in staging coups against the government and repressing the Turkish population (especially minorities) than fighting outside Turkey. In fact, the last true conflict that the Turkish Army fought was the Korean War nearly 70 years ago. The Turkish Army did fight in Cyprus, but its opposition was the inferior Cypriot National Guard.

Recent Turkish military operations haven’t been very successful. In 2012, Syrian forces downed a Turkish F-4, and Kurds have downed Turkish helicopters. Inside Turkey, terrorists have made once safe cities like Istanbul, despite military deployments to these cities. Even the Turkish controlled areas in Syria were occupied without any major fighting.

In recent years, the Turkish military has undergone purges by Erdogan that are reminiscent of Stalin’s military purges in the 1930s.   Not only have many Turkish officers seconded to overseas NATO commands sought political asylum, one in four Turkish pilots are currently sitting in Turkish jails.

Meantime, the Kurds have become a combat seasoned fighting force. They have been trained by US Special Forces over the last three decades and have fought with them in major battles against Iraqi armored units.

The Kurds have also been supported by the Israelis, who see them as neutralizing Syria. And, we can expect Israel to continue supporting the Kurds, no matter what America does.

The Kurdish militia has been the most effective fighting force on the ground in Syria against al Qaeda and ISIS. And, at Kobane and elsewhere, their discipline, high morale, and cohesion paid off. If the US continues to support the Kurds, Turkey will have a hard time defeating them.

If Erdogan can’t defeat the Kurds, his political position becomes precarious. Historically, Russia and Turkey have been enemies and it’s hard to believe that their current alliance of convenience is more than a temporary truce – especially since they have differing views of who should have the greatest influence in Syria.

Erdogan is also likely to face more opposition inside Turkey. Fighting Syrian Kurds in Syria is only going to increase domestic unrest amongst the Turkish Kurds and other minorities. And, ethnic Turks will be unwilling to support the war if Turkey doesn’t quickly win and Turkish soldiers start dying in Syria. Will Turkey continue to support Erdogan if Syria becomes a bleeding sore as Vietnam was for the US?

Erdogan may want to remember Turkey’s history of 100 years ago. After losing World War One, the Ottoman Empire, which had been part of the Central Powers, was ripped apart and large parts of their empire were ceded to the winning nations of Great Britain, France, and Italy. The result was the rise of a Turkish Army officer Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk, and a cadre of nationalist collaborators.

It was Ataturk, who brought about the modern, secular Turkey – the Turkey that turned towards the West and the Turkey that Erdogan is trying to eliminate.

Erdogan’s venture into Syria is fraught with risk if Turkey can’t quickly defeat the Kurds. In that case, Erdogan may end up in the dustbin of Turkish history like the House of Osman.




A Strategy for Syria: Tillerson Must Look for Leverage
By Jon Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
January 24, 2018

Almost a year into the Trump administration, there still isn’t much of a Syria strategy. Momentum has drifted away from the Geneva-based negotiations on Syria’s political future, which the United States has backed, and toward security-oriented negotiations in which Russia has had the strongest hand. When Secretary of State Tillerson quietly announced he was giving a Syria talk at Stanford last week, hopes rose that a strategy might be announced. The talk Tillerson gave fell short of a strategy, in part because it seems the Trump administration hasn’t yet agreed on one. A strategy requires both actions and resources, and Tillerson didn’t have much to say about either. As the conflict in Syria moves into a new phase, the administration needs to be bolder in asserting its interests, and it must increase its influence over how Syria’s conflict is resolved.

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Back to What Future? What Remains for Syria’s Displaced People
Carnegie Endowment
January 18, 2018

The Islamic State has suffered major reversals in eastern Syria with the liberation of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. But this alone will not facilitate a large-scale return of refugees. Both governorates have lost their status as economic hubs, and rival actors are vying for control. Rising Kurdish-Arab tensions and potentially abusive security screening methods implemented by forces backed by the international coalition have all increased instability and unpredictability. This reduces the prospect of return.

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Iran’s Cyber Threat: Espionage, Sabotage, and Revenge
Carnegie Endowment
January 04, 2018

Incidents involving Iran have been among the most sophisticated, costly, and consequential attacks in the history of the internet. The four-decade-long U.S.-Iran cold war has increasingly moved into cyberspace, and Tehran has been among the leading targets of uniquely invasive and destructive cyber operations by the United States and its allies. At the same time, Tehran has become increasingly adept at conducting cyber espionage and disruptive attacks against opponents at home and abroad, ranging from Iranian civil society organizations to governmental and commercial institutions in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

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Mike Pence in the Middle East: The new point man on foreign policy?
By John R. Bolton
American Enterprise Institute
January 24, 2018

Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel exemplifies how much the Trump administration has changed America’s Middle East policy in its first year. Initiatives to destroy the ISIS caliphate and combat international terrorism, reverse the misguided Obama administration policies on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its pursuit of regional hegemony, and launch new efforts on the Arab-Israeli peace process all emerged in 2017. Considerable difficulties remain on all these fronts, but Pence has underscored the administration’s commitment in what will concededly be a long, hard slog.

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Time for the US military to get its swagger back
By Mackenzie Eaglen
American Enterprise Insstitute
January 19, 2018

While the Pentagon’s new strategy is being released in 2018, it is more like the year 2000 on Capitol Hill with members itching for the maverick spirit of then-presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express. The substance of the document is classified at the request of Capitol Hill, but there is a growing consensus about how to grade its success or failure. It is past time for a new National Defense Strategy that seeks to break the mold in honesty, clarity, conciseness, and fresh thinking. As an official articulation of Pentagon doctrine, this is an opportunity to mend the broken dialogue between the military and the government and people they serve.

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The Others: Foreign Fighters in Libya
By Aaron Y. Zelin
Washington Institute
January 2018

Over the past seven years of revolution and civil war, Libya has experienced a massive influx of foreign fighters. This development deserves attention not just for the domestic menace it poses but also because Libya offers a potential future jihadist hub amid the 2017 collapse of Islamic State centers in Iraq and Syria. Particularly worrisome in the Libyan theater have been the outsize role of Tunisian fighters and a rise in recruitment in continental Africa.

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The UAE/Qatar Rivalry Is Escalating
By Simon Henderson
Washington Institute
January 17, 2018

After several months of relative quiet, Qatar’s row with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt has heated up again due to a quick-fire series of developments: On January 11, the Qatar News Agency reported that Doha had complained to the United Nations about a UAE fighter briefly intruding into its airspace on December 21. On January 13, Qatar asserted that a UAE military transport had flown through its airspace on January 3 en route to Bahrain. On January 14, marginal Qatari sheikh Abdullah bin Ali al-Thani alleged that he was being held against his will in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. Last August, he had met with Saudi leaders in a move that was interpreted as Riyadh labeling him their preferred replacement for Qatar’s ruler, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Doha condemned his action, spurring him into exile in the UAE. On January 15, the Emirates News Agency reported that Abu Dhabi had complained to the UN after two Emirati airliners were approached by Qatari fighters while preparing to land in Bahrain. On January 17, the exiled Sheikh Abdullah reportedly flew to Kuwait for a medical checkup in a military hospital, belying his claim that he could not leave the UAE.

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How Can Saudi Arabia and Egypt Help Confront Toxic Ideologies?
By Joseph Braude and Samuel Tadros
Washington Institute
January 22, 2018


Some Saudis outside the government, primarily media figures, have been trying to counter extremist ideologies in their midst for some time. In recent years, they have expressed optimism about Riyadh’s new policies and are very interested in international partnerships to improve their effectiveness. These are not dissidents; they are establishment voices pushing the boundaries of the small space they have been given.

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Week of January 19th, 2018

Chinese Agent Decimates
CIA’s Chinese Network

A former CIA officer suspected of helping China identify the US spy agency’s informants was arrested at JFK International Airport on Monday on charges of unlawful retention of national defense information, according to the Department of Justice.

Many of the informants were killed in a systematic dismantling of the CIA’s spy network in China starting in 2010 that was one of the American government’s worst intelligence failures in recent years, several former intelligence officials have said.

Ironically, some of the same problems cited this week as contributors to this intelligence disaster were the same problems cited several years ago when the CIA’s intelligence network in Lebanon collapsed.

Which raises the question, has the CIA learned anything?  And, what is their problem?

We will try to look at these two questions.

The arrest of the former agent, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, capped an intense FBI investigation that began around 2012 after the C.I.A. began losing its informants in China. Mr. Lee was at the center of this mole hunt.

However, some former intelligence officials have also argued that the spy network was been crippled by a combination of Lee’s actions, as well as sloppy tradecraft by agency officers in China. The charge of sloppy tradecraft by CIA agents is reminiscent of the same charges made against CIA officers in Lebanon 7 years ago.

According to court documents, Lee, a Hong Kong resident, served in the CIA from 1994 to 2007 as a case officer. Lee is a naturalized U.S. citizen and an Army veteran.  He worked in a variety of overseas offices and was trained in surveillance detection, recruiting and handlings assets and handling classified material, among other things.

Mr. Lee was apprehended at Kennedy International Airport and charged in federal court in Northern Virginia with the unlawful retention of national defense information.

FBI agents investigating him searched his luggage during a pair of hotel stays, and found two small books with handwritten notes that contained classified information.

Prosecutors said that in the books, he had written down details about meetings between CIA informants and undercover agents, as well as their real names and phone numbers.

Using this information, about 20 CIA informants were killed or imprisoned by the Chinese government, including one who was reputedly shot outside his work and his body left on the ground. The extent to which the informant network was unraveled by the Chinese was reported last year by The New York Times.  The Times said it was a devastating setback for the CIA that equaled the Aldrich Ames affair a few decades ago.

One of the US spies was an aide to Chinese Vice Minister Lu Zhongwei.  The aide was taken into custody sometime between January and March 2012 after the ministry became alarmed over repeated incidents of Chinese agents being compromised in the United States.


The ministry’s own investigations found the aide had been working for the CIA for years, divulging information about China’s overseas spy network in the nation’s worst espionage scandal for two decades, the Times added.

But, it isn’t just Chinese intelligence that is managing to penetrate the CIA.  A few years ago, Hezbollah and Lebanese intelligence services rolled up the CIA’s agent network in Lebanon.  And, to demonstrate that they hadn’t learned anything from the disaster, the CIA badly underestimated ISIS’s strength in the next few years.

Just as bad, when the CIA decided to take ISIS seriously, they responded less like an intelligence agency and more like a military organization carrying out air operations.

These appear to be the two biggest problems at the CIA; bad tradecraft and a tendency to want to solve problems with military strength.

How the CIA has gone “off the track”

Despite the intelligence reforms that were supposed to improve Americans intelligence community after the World Trade Center attack, the CIA has evolved from an intelligence agency and is acting more like a second Department of Defense – a role it carried out in the Vietnam War and which nearly destroyed it.

Obviously intelligence agencies are called upon to carryout a variety of missions from intelligence gathering to paramilitary operations.  However, in the past, the CIA has best focused on analysis and developing the high technology for intelligence gathering.

Covert military operations were left to the US Special Forces.

There has been a reason for that.  When the CIA has been heavily involved in paramilitary operations, it has shifted resources from intelligence gathering, tradecraft, and analysis to focus on the paramilitary.  The result obviously is a decline in the agency’s abilities in these other fields.  This was seen in the 1960s as CIA officers were shifted from Soviet and North Korean fields to help with the expansion of the Vietnam branch.  While the shift helped in Vietnam, it blinded it to Soviet and North Korean activities.

Tradecraft, Ideology, and Paramilitary Operations

American intelligence was shocked in December 2011 with the breaking up of the American spy ring in Lebanon.  Apparently, the CIA had forgotten the basics of being an intelligence organization.

According to reports in the Los Angeles Times, the CIA operatives who ran the spy ring practiced poor spy craft.  “According to the source, CIA case officers met a series of Lebanese informants at a local Pizza Hut, allowing Hezbollah and Lebanese authorities to identify who was helping the CIA.”  It appeared that, “the former CIA station chief dismissed an email warning that some of his Lebanese agents could be identified because they used cellphones to call only their CIA handlers and no one else.”

“In 2010, U.S. counterintelligence officials determined that the CIA’s Lebanese agents could be traced the same way, the source said. But the station chief allegedly ignored the warning,” the LA Times article continued.

This was a critical American intelligence failure since Lebanon is close to Syria and Israel, and a source for intelligence on several targeted groups.

While it’s easy to blame poor tradecraft for all of the failure, the CIA’s model for penetrating today’s terrorist organizations is obsolete.

In the past, successful penetration of a terrorist organization came about when a dissident member of the group volunteered his services in return for money or other considerations. This is how law enforcement and intelligence agencies broke the Euro-terrorists who were active in the 1970s and 1980s,

However, the success of this method depended on the radical groups being composed largely of middle-class students who were ideologically driven but by nature not necessarily loyal to a political cause or its leaders. The defector model does not appear to have been repeated successfully recently with the demographically quite different radical groups active in Syria, at least not at a level where serious intelligence might be produced.

Without the old insider model working, the CIA had to rely more on foreign intelligence agencies and their own political agendas.  They also had to rely more upon technical intelligence collected by satellites and drones.

Naturally, it was only a step from using drones for intelligence collection to using them for air strikes against targets.

Although President Trump has been more aggressive in attacking ISIS with military assets, this hasn’t stopped the CIA’s operations.  Trump has granted the CIA permission to carry out drone attacks against suspected terrorists.  U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal in March that Trump secretly agreed to this policy shortly after his January 21, 2017 speech at CIA headquarters.

Unfortunately, there is no information about the number of drone attacks since Trump became president and how that compares with drone attacks during the Obama Administration.

Although the true figures are secret, the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center now employs about 10% of the CIA’s workforce.  It has grown from 300 before 9-11 to 2,000 today according to the Washington Post.  But the focus isn’t on traditional intelligence, but an air war that employs a large remote drone air fleet.

The rest of the CIA is also more likely to be tasked to supporting this air war.  According to the Washington Post, “About 20 percent of CIA analysts are now “targeters” scanning data for individuals to recruit, arrest or place in the crosshairs of a drone. The skill is in such demand that the CIA made targeting a designated career track five years ago, meaning analysts can collect raises and promotions without having to leave the targeting field.”  One former CIA official candidly told the Washington Post that the CIA has become, “one hell of a killing machine.”

One long term problem for the CIA  is that as “targeters” are promoted in the CIA and become high level managers, they will be more likely to see intelligence problems as targeting problems and not try to solve them using traditional spycraft.  This is an outgrowth of the saying that “when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

At the same time, new threats are appearing that American intelligence doesn’t have the resources to counter.  As was seen this week, China is aggressively gathering intelligence in the US and countering the CIA’s attempts to keep abreast of Chinese activities.

Successful intelligence operations are time consuming.  Agents take years to recruit and see them placed in key positions.  Field officers take years to learn their craft and the subtleties of gathering intelligence.  And, intelligence analysts require time to train in a geographic area.

The CIA’s focus on paramilitary operations is costing the agency in other fields like classic tradecraft.  As was seen this week, intelligence failures will likely become more common in the future.

Week of January 12th, 2018

Executive Summary

Now that the New Year has arrived, we can expect to see the pace of papers coming out of Washington’s think tanks to increase.

This week’s analysis looks at several military technology issues in the Middle East, including the drone attacks on Russian bases in Syria and the use of technology by the Yemeni rebels against Saudi Arabia.


Think Tanks Activity Summary 

The American Enterprise Institute looks forward to Trump’s foreign policy in Year Two.  They conclude, “An underlying foreign policy direction thus far emphasizing freedom of action, rebalanced and reciprocal alliance relationships, a blunt emphasis on US national interests, attention to the domestic economic sources of power, continuing forward military presence, counter-pressure against numerous foreign adversaries, and a new American nationalism — that is the signal. In this year and beyond when it comes to US foreign policy, consider focusing on the signal, not the noise.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the protests in Iran and what the US should do.  They conclude, “But the big question, of course, is what should the U.S. do about it? That could mean doing nothing, standing aside, remaining silent and letting Iranians sort things out — similar to the Obama administration’s approach during the 2009 protests.

While doing nothing is, in actuality, doing something, it shouldn’t be the course our nation takes — considering the threat the Iranian regime poses to not only human values, but to our security and that of our allies, friends and partners. Instead, the U.S. should speak out forcefully on human rights in Iran — whether the protests continue or not. Our government should push other states to express their support for the Iranian people’s aspirations, too, especially from the major, democratic capitals of Europe. We shouldn’t expect that the regime will relinquish its death grip on Iran, but it’s important that the Iranian people — and the world — understand that the United States backs their desire for political, social and economic rights and liberties. There’s no question about it: It’s just the right thing to do.”

The Washington Institute looks at Saudi Arabia’s evolving approach to counterterrorism and America’s response.  They conclude, “Apparent shifts in the way Riyadh is approaching the terrorism challenge present opportunities for the United States to encourage broader and deeper changes that address longstanding American interests. One area to support is continued tightening of Saudi supervision over religious figures traveling internationally for work, over religious and educational materials sent abroad by Saudi institutions, and over religious figures doing media work—all toward the goal of restricting the export of extremist ideology. A related interest is accelerated removal of extremist content that remains in Saudi schoolbooks. Another area to support is added transparency and measurable advancement in new training, supervision, and reeducation of religious figures and teachers (or, if necessary, dismissal). The kingdom has already registered successes in these areas and is now building on them; further progress could be discussed during the first annual meeting of the U.S.-Saudi Strategic Joint Consultative Group expected later this year. Finally, given the divergence between U.S. and Saudi views on the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, Washington should work closely with its Saudi partners in Etidal to track the quantity, quality, and reach of content against top U.S.-designated groups such as IS and al-Qaeda.”

The CSIS says that true victory in Iraq after defeating ISIS must consider “economic, security, and social needs of much of the nation’s population.”  They note, “Iraq provides a critical test case. Defeating ISIS in Iraq will not—by itself—deal with any of Iraq’s broader problems in politics, governance, and economics, and may well be the prelude to new forms of conflict between (and within) the Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds, various extremist groups, and the remnants of ISIS. Iraq also offers unique opportunities relative to other conflict states. It does not face the same level of post-conflict challenges as Syria, Libya, Somalia, the Sudans, Yemen, or Afghanistan. It did achieve substantial levels of development relative to other “failed states” in spite of nearly a half century of revolution, turmoil, and war—and it has substantial petroleum income. This does not mean, however, that there is any guarantee that the defeat of ISIS will bring stability, recovery, or successful national development unless Iraq has substantial outside help. Iraq was a “failed state” in virtually every respect before ISIS invaded and is still largely a failed state.

The Washington Institute warns that Trump’s hardline attitude towards Iran could cause problems with Oman, which has been America’s backdoor to Iranian negotiations.  They conclude, “Oman is being pulled in multiple directions at once, and it is unclear how these oft-competing priorities will affect its posture in the coming months. To the north, Saudi Arabia has tried to woo the resource-poor country into its camp despite their mutual distrust. This month, for example, Riyadh announced it would contribute $210 million to finance an industrial zone in Oman’s southern port of Duqm. At the same time, Oman has continued to coordinate its diplomatic, economic, and military activities with Iran in recent months, building on close bilateral ties that stretch back to the 1970s, when the shah sent thousands of troops and attack helicopters into Dhofar to help put down a tribal uprising…As for the West, official signals seem mixed at the moment…Yet ongoing developments in Yemen may soon spur Washington and its partners in Riyadh to increase their pressure on Oman. In recent weeks, Houthi militias have shot ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, including against Riyadh’s international airport. The Trump administration believes that Iran smuggled these missiles to the Houthis, and while it has not openly accused Oman of involvement in the transfer, clouds are beginning to form over the relationship.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the cut off of aid to Pakistan by the US.  They conclude, “The status quo, long viewed by Washington as lamentable but tolerable, will no longer be a costless affair for Pakistan. Whether this leads our two countries toward a vicious cycle of hostility and recrimination is entirely dependent on Pakistan’s behavior. As always, the path to stability, prosperity, and a true strategic partnership with America is clear: Abandon your support for Islamist extremists, end your paranoid infatuation with India, make peace with your Afghan neighbors, and respect freedom and religious liberty at home.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at Iran’s cyber threat.  Incidents involving Iran have been among the most sophisticated, costly, and consequential attacks in the history of the internet. The four-decade-long U.S.-Iran cold war has increasingly moved into cyberspace, and Tehran has been among the leading targets of uniquely invasive and destructive cyber operations by the United States and its allies. At the same time, Tehran has become increasingly adept at conducting cyber espionage and disruptive attacks against opponents at home and abroad, ranging from Iranian civil society organizations to governmental and commercial institutions in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

The American Foreign Policy Council argues for “Unconventional wisdom” in the Middle East.  They note, “For decades, foreign policy elites across the West have argued that Israeli-Palestinian peace will pave the way for broader Arab-Israeli peace, less terrorism, less anti-American animus, and solutions to such seemingly separate challenges as Iran’s regional expansionism and nuclear pursuits.” However, noting a New York Times article in December they note, “”[T]he Saudi Prince has made clear that his top priority in the region is not the Palestinian-Israeli issue, the fulcrum of Arab politics for generations, but confronting Iran,” the Times reported. “Regional officials and analysts say they believe he might be willing to try to force a settlement on Palestinians in order to cement Israeli cooperation against Iran.  That is, rather than accede to longstanding Palestinian demands – whether reasonable ones like a contiguous state or unreasonable ones like a multi-generational right of return – Saudi officials would impose their own solution on the Palestinians to secure greater collaboration between Jerusalem and Riyadh.”




Military Technology Heats up Middle Eastern Conflicts

Swarms of drones attacking Russian bases in Syria, Yemeni rebels shooting down high tech Saudi aircraft, and precision Iranian missiles attacking Riyadh – the Middle East has become a testbed for high tech military weapons systems.

Yemen’s New Military Technology

A new report says that Yemeni air force and air defense units used a new domestically designed and produced missile system to shield the country’s capital and the northwestern provinces against airstrikes by Saudi military aircraft.

Yemen’s Arabic-language al-Masirah television network reported that Yemeni air defense forces, backed by fighters from allied Popular Committees, employed the system to intercept and target a F-15 fighter jet belonging to the Royal Saudi Air Force over Yemen’s capital on January 8.

This report came only hours after Yemeni air defense forces reportedly used the same missile defense system to shoot down a Tornado combat aircraft as it was flying in the skies over Yemen.

The Yemeni rebels showed video of the F-15 shoot-down by using an American FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) from an American made helicopter.  The sensor creates an image from thermal infrared wavelengths.  Apparently, Yemeni rebels, possibly with the help of outside advisors, were able to modify the system and place it on a ground based turret.

According to the internet publication “The Drive,” there is a distinct possibility that the United States might have supplied the FLIR System. In July 2009, the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales approved a deal that included three FLIR Ultra 8500 turrets.  The full package, intended as an upgrade for Yemen’s Huey II helicopters, had an estimated value of more than $3.7 million.

Although there are some reports that the imager was critical in defeating the F-15 that is probably not true.  Helicopter installed FLIR systems are too large to install in ground to air missiles.  There are also considerable technical issues to tying a thermal imaging system to a computer system that can track and predict the movement of a flying high performance aircraft.  There are also technical issues to tying such a system to servos that can maneuver a missile.

However, a FLIR system can be used to detect and warn short range air defense systems since it can see through smoke and haze.

There is the possibility that militants used a Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) as the Yemeni rebels claimed in the case of the MQ-9 drone shoot-down in October 2017.  It is also possible that the Houthis may have modified infrared homing air-to-air missiles they captured from Yemeni government stockpiles, although such missiles wouldn’t have the ability to hit high flying aircraft..

Improvised air defense systems aren’t unusual. Serbian forces employed modified Soviet AA-8 and AA-11 types during the fighting in the Balkans during the 1990s.

The Houthis also claim to have reactivated at least one Russian SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile system, including its Fan Song fire control radar. The group said it used one of these radio command guided weapons to knock down an American drone in January 2016, but this claim remains unsubstantiated.

The use of a radar guided missile like the SA-2 would help explain why the missile was not confused by the release of decoy flares, and the reason that the pilot used the jet’s afterburners, even though doing so created a far larger infrared signature for a heat-seeking missile to home in on.

In other words, the F-15’s crew may have been confused about whether it was a radar or infrared guided missile.

Another piece of military technology being used by the Yemeni rebels is the advanced guidance system that is making Scud missiles more accurate.  This has allowed the rebels to hit Riyadh, which is hundreds of miles from Yemen.

Although many questions remain it appears that the Scuds may have an aftermarket Russian optical seeker installed.  The optical seeker would compare the image it sees with a terrain image inside the onboard computer.

The optical seeker is produced by Russia’s secretive Central Scientific and Research Institute of Automatics and Hydraulics.

Russian arms manufactures have been actively marketing upgraded weapons systems to Middle Eastern clients like Syria and Iran.

Most notably, Moscow has been offering the new optically-guided Scud missile that is ostensibly capable of penetrating US and Israeli-made missile defense systems. According to Victor Solunin, the director general of Russia’s Central Scientific and Research Institute of Automatics and Hydraulics, a Scud missile upgraded with an optically-guided warhead, disengages in the terminal phase of the missile’s flight, allowing it to avoid incoming defensive missiles.

Solunin, whose institute has been building Scud missiles since 1968, also said that the upgraded Scud is much more accurate than its predecessors, “with a miss distance not exceeding 10 to 20 meters, irrespective of the range.” The missile’s optical system has a photo receiver and digital mapping system, enabling it to scan terrain based on pre-programmed target information during its final approach, as well as a mid-course correction device to avoid obstacles. It is supposedly immune to signal jamming and other electronic countermeasures.

Syria Heats up

Last week, the Russian military in Syria thwarted a massive drone attack at the Khmeimim air base and Russian Naval point in the city of Tartus on January 6, intercepting 13 heavily armed UAVs launched by terrorists.  Russia said that it shot down seven of the 13 drones and used electronic countermeasures to safely bring down the other six.

Russian news outlets have also reported two smaller drone attacks against Russian outposts in the provinces of Homs and Latakia.

While the Russian Ministry of Defense consciously didn’t point any fingers when talking about the January 6 attack, it pointed out that the technology used in the attack was telling. Advanced training in engineering in “one of the developed countries” would be necessary to program the principal controllers and bomb-release systems of an aircraft-type combat drone, the Russian statement stressed and added that “not everyone is also able to get exact (attack) coordinates from the space surveillance data.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense also declared that this is the “first time that terrorists massively used unmanned combat aerial vehicles of an aircraft type that were launched from a distance of more than 50 kilometers, and operated using GPS satellite navigation coordinates.”

The statement said the drones “carried explosive devices with foreign detonating fuses,” adding that the “usage of strike aircraft-type drones by terrorists is the evidence that militants have received technologies to carry out terrorist attacks.”

Shortly after, the Russian Ministry of Defense released new information, noting “strange coincidences” surrounding the terrorist attack: these included a US spy plane spotted in the area, namely a US Navy’s Boeing P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft on patrol between the Khmeimim airbase and Tartus naval base in Syria during the time of the attack.  Russia also implied that the high technology found in the drone may indicate that America may be involved.

The Pentagon countered that while the US was “concerned” over the incident, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankin-Galloway, however, claimed that “those devices and technologies can easily be obtained in the open market.” He later also told the Russian news agency Sputnik that the US already saw what it called “this type of commercial UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology” being used in ISIS missions.

However, the attacks may also be from Turkey.  According to a report Wednesday in the Russian Defense Ministry’s official Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, the drones were launched from a village controlled by the “moderate opposition” called Muazzara in southern Idlib province. Russia has sent a letter to Turkish authorities urging them to comply with Turkey’s obligations in the area under ceasefire agreements with Russia, the report said.




Trump Just Cut Aid to Pakistan. Why This Long-Overdue Move Could Have a Real Impact.

By Jeff M. Smith
Heritage Foundation
January 5th, 2018

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s a lesson the U.S. government has learned the hard way in Pakistan.  Fortunately, the Trump administration’s recent decision to suspend $255 million in aid to Islamabad serves as a welcome injection of sanity into the deeply dysfunctional U.S.-Pakistan relationship. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” President Donald Trump declared in a Jan. 1 tweet. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Read more at:



U.S. Must Condemn Iranian Regime, Back Protesters

By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
January 5, 2018

It’s not its perceived “enemies” in the United States, in Israel or Saudi Arabia that Iran really fears — it’s a liberating counterrevolution to the repressive 1979 Islamic Revolution that Tehran’s thuggish theocrats really dread. And rightfully so. The people of Iran have lots of good reasons to be fed up with the regime’s tyrannical political, economic and social policies that it has meted out on them without their consent for nearly four decades now. Just take a gander at the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report to Congress. It notes that the Iranian regime is responsible for “severe restrictions on civil liberties, including assembly, association, speech, religion and press.”

The State Department’s report also documents politically motivated violence and repression, disappearances, arbitrary arrests — with prisoners being held sometimes incommunicado. Security forces, it charges, continue to act with impunity and invasions of privacy are common. We also know that Iran is no democracy: Iranians don’t get to choose their government through open elections. The regime rules on who can run for political office — and you can bet every candidate is a loyalist.

Read more at:



Iraq After ISIS: The Other Half of Victory Dealing with the Civil Dimension

By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
January 9, 2018

The United States, its allies, and international organizations are just beginning to come to grips with the civil dimensions of “failed state” wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, the Sudans, Syria, and Yemen. In each case, it is clear that the civil dimension of the war will ultimately be as important as the military one. Any meaningful form of “victory” requires far more than defeating the current extremist threat in military terms, and reaching some temporary compromise between the major factions that divide the country. The current insurgent and other security threats exist largely because of the deep divisions within the state, the past and current failures of the government to deal with such internal divisions, and the chronic failure to meet the economic, security, and social needs of much of the nation’s population.

Read more at:



Unconventional Wisdom in the Middle East

By Lawrence J. Haas
American Foreign Policy Council
January 9, 2018

Recent events across the Middle East put the lie to one of the foreign policy establishment’s most enduring tenets of conventional nonsense: that Israeli-Palestinian peace is key to greater regional peace and stability.  Sharing concerns over hegemony-seeking Iran and radical Islamic forces like the Islamic State group and Muslim Brotherhood, the key Arab states of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are drawing ever closer to Israel – with officials appearing together publicly, meeting privately and collaborating to confront their mutual adversaries. That helps explain why, in the face of global opposition, the central committee of Israel’s ruling Likud Party, felt free to unanimously endorse a resolution the other day that called for annexing West Bank settlements, and why some leading Likud members now openly dismiss the viability of a Palestinian state.

Read more at: http://www.afpc.org/publication_listings/viewArticle/3721


Iran’s Cyber Threat: Espionage, Sabotage, and Revenge

Carnegie Endowment
January 4, 2018

Incidents involving Iran have been among the most sophisticated, costly, and consequential attacks in the history of the internet. The four-decade-long U.S.-Iran cold war has increasingly moved into cyberspace, and Tehran has been among the leading targets of uniquely invasive and destructive cyber operations by the United States and its allies. At the same time, Tehran has become increasingly adept at conducting cyber espionage and disruptive attacks against opponents at home and abroad, ranging from Iranian civil society organizations to governmental and commercial institutions in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Read more at:



Is Saudi Arabia’s Counterterrorism Approach Shifting?

By Lori Plotkin Boghardt
Washington Institute
January 9, 2018


The history of Saudi efforts to combat terrorism is mixed, but Riyadh has become a close U.S. partner on that front in recent years. A deadly series of al-Qaeda attacks inside the kingdom beginning in 2003 drove the Saudis to pursue more aggressive counterterror policies. Today, Washington and Riyadh see eye to eye on the Islamic State (IS) threat—of which the Saudis have been major victims themselves. The kingdom has also become a cooperative partner on counter-terrorist financing, which is important because of the vast sums of private money that have been funneled to terrorist groups from inside its borders.  Washington has expressed a strong desire to see much more from the Saudis when it comes to groups like al-Qaeda and IS. This includes more vigorous delegitimizing of religious extremist ideology, as well as more candid acknowledgment that the kingdom has been part of the terrorist problem itself. Yet even in the context of U.S. concerns over some Saudi policies, Riyadh may be turning a corner as a result of changing perceptions about its own interests.

Read more at:



Will the Trump Administration Force Oman to Choose Sides?

By Jay Solomon
Washington Institute
January 9, 2018


The sleepy Persian Gulf sultanate of Oman has emerged as a wild card in the Trump administration’s push to roll back Iranian power across the Middle East. The country’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, is in many ways a weathervane for gauging the region’s shifting power balance amid Tehran’s worsening feud with Saudi Arabia. He has also served as a crucial U.S. ally in recent years, particularly by helping the Obama administration establish a secret diplomatic backchannel with Iran and pursue a negotiated solution to Yemen’s civil war. Today, however, President Trump’s hardline stance on Iran and his embrace of Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman risk placing Oman in the crosshairs of an escalating proxy feud, according to U.S., Arab, and Israeli officials who work on Gulf affairs.

Read more at:



The signal and the noise: Trump’s foreign policy in year two

By Colin Duech
American Enterprise Institute
January 10, 2018

As we enter the second year of US foreign policy under the current administration, sometimes it is hard to separate the signal from the noise. Is there a guide for the perplexed? The new National Security Strategy may be a useful starting point. Many of the administration’s opponents conceded that National Security Adviser HR McMaster and his staff, led in this instance by Nadia Schadlow, did excellent work in crafting a thoughtful and perceptive document. The usual suspects and critics of a Republican presidency denounced the strategy — critics including the People’s Republic of China, Vladimir Putin, prominent liberal Democrats, and strict non-interventionists on the Right. Another common theme emerged among critics that the document could not possibly represent the president’s actual beliefs on foreign policy. Interestingly, this is also the fear of some Trump supporters; they fear there is a “deep state” clique around the president.

Read more at: http://www.aei.org/publication/the-signal-and-the-noise-trumps-foreign-policy-in-year-two/

Week of January 5th, 2018

Iranian Riots and the U.S. Policy

In the past few days, thousands of Iranians have marched against the government in Tehran. Trump has tweeted his support for the protesters, spoken out in their favor, and made clear that he’d love to see them topple the regime itself.

But, will the American response, be limited to the president’s tweets? Or, is this the beginning of a movement to destabilize Iran?

The first question to ask is if these demonstrations are different from ones that occurred in the past?

It’s obvious that these riots are quite different from the ones in 2009.

The first difference is geographic. Whereas the 2009 protests were mainly limited to Tehran, today’s phenomenon covers the whole country, from major cities to smaller towns and even rural villages. That’s significant, because many argue that opposition to the regime is restricted to the elites of the big cities, and that rural populations are pro-regime. It’s difficult to judge how many rural residents are protesting. That’s new, and it probably surprised both the government and the leaders of the 2009 protests.

Of concern for the regime is the fact that the Kurds are supporting the protests. The region’s Kurds are experienced fighters and have weapons.

The second difference is demographic. The 2009 demonstrators were Tehran’s upper middle class. Today’s masses are proletarians: workers, unemployed, failing farmers and the like. Notice that trade unionists are being arrested in Tehran, because the leadership fears they are the real organizers of the uprising, and because workers and the unemployed are not as easy to intimidate as professors and businessmen.

Then there is ideology. Most accounts insist that this whole thing started because people weren’t being paid enough and food prices were too high in addition of failed banks that usurps thousands from their savings. Obviously, protests of this sort are commonplace in many nations, but they do not normally set off a nation-wide conflagration. It takes a common interest like aiming at overthrowing the regime, to create nationwide protests.

Interestingly, it appears that the riot participants are from the same sectors of society that brought down the Shah nearly 40 years ago. The Washington Times said, “While the abortive Green Revolution eight years ago was driven mainly by the children of wealthy political elites in Tehran in the wake of a questionable election, the spontaneous protests this time around are unfolding across the country and driven by what analysts describe as “the working poor” — a segment of the population that has little to lose in the face of a crackdown by the regime.”

“The segment of the population that’s out protesting right now is much the same segment that carried out the revolution against the U.S.-backed Shah nearly 40 years ago,” said one of the sources, who spoke Tuesday on the condition of anonymity. “We’re talking about people who weathered the bullets of the Shah. We don’t know how these people are going to react if there’s a violent crackdown.”

According to reports, fires are being set by people who want an end to the Islamic Republic. Videos show them burning posters of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, religious centers, schools, and living quarters of the clergy.

There is also a concern about Iran’s foreign involvements. Rioters are begin heard to yell “Don’t talk to us about Gaza, talk about us.” Some of the protestors have lost relatives on foreign battlefields, and they don’t approve of the human and monetary costs of Iran’s interventions in places like Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen.

One of the problems with protests that are widespread, is that the elements that Iran’s leadership draws its security forces are involved in the protests. The security forces’ most loyal component is the Basij, whose ranks are largely drawn from the same neighborhoods as many of the protestors.

So, what we are seeing is a nation with widespread protests that are involving most of the demographic elements of Iran. In that case, even Iran’s security forces, which are large and powerful, may not be able to stem the unrest. Twitter on Tuesday night carried an alleged text message said to have been sent to retired security people, urging them to come fight for the regime. If that is true, it indicates a real concern in the corridors of power that they need more fighters – that this thing is too big for them as presently constituted.


Outside Forces

The Iranian leadership must also be concerned that this domestic unrest is happening as the opposition to the Iranian regime is coalescing outside their borders.

The biggest change is American President Trump. While Obama took a low profile approach during the 2009 unrest in Iran, Trump has made it clear that he considers the Iranian regime to be a danger – a danger that must be countered.

For the US, a regime change in Iran could solve many problems. A more moderate regime could curtail its missile and nuclear programs. It would also likely pull its forces from Syria and Iraq.

Another country hoping for a regime change in Iran is Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Crown Prince Salman. While there has been a long term rivalry between the two nations for influence in the Middle East, the war in Yemen has made that less a rivalry and more an outright war.

For Saudi Arabia, a regime change would likely mean an end to the costly and indecisive war in Yemen. A more moderate Iran would also mean that Saudi Arabia would have more influence within the region.

The final important player in the anti-Iranian regime alliance is Israel. Israel and Iran have been enemies since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. A regime change would lessen the nuclear and missile threat. A more moderate Iranian leadership wouldn’t have the same influence in Lebanon and Syria.

It now appears that these three countries are prepared to be more aggressive towards Iran.   A report in a Kuwaiti newspaper says U.S. intelligence has given a green light to Israel to assassinate a top Iranian Revolutionary Guards general.

Qassem Soleimani has commanded the Revolutionary Guards unit known as the Quds Force for 20 years.  Soleimani has been in command of Iranian units in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Israel wanted to kill Soleimani three years ago, but the Obama administration tipped off the Iranians, and the effort failed. But that is unlikely under Trump.

With Iran facing widespread unrest, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US will probably ramp up their destabilization activities.

In addition to providing moral support via Twitter, Trump can tighten economic sanctions against Iran, if the protests lead to widespread suppression by Iranian security forces. The US can also counter the Iranian government’s tightening of internet access with more radio broadcasts directed towards Iran.

Trump can also cut international support for Iran by working with Russia for a Syrian peace that includes president Assad.

Russia and Iran are traditional rivals as they have both vied for influence in the Central Asia area. That rivalry has been set aside recently as both nations have supported Syria and president Assad.

The report that Israel wants to assassinate one of the heads of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard indicates that Israel is probably already involved in destabilizing Iran. It seems the 3 countries think they need to weaken Revolutionary Guards using assassination of prominent leaders like Sulaimani , the calculation is that such action will render the Guards unable to quickly or effectively respond to protestors. And, since the Revolutionary Guards are the backbone of the Iranian regime’s power, their nullification would seriously cripple the regime.

The final key player in bringing about a regime change in Iran is Saudi Arabia. Although the war in Yemen is draining Saudi Arabia.

Before the unrest, it was clear that Iran was committed to Yemen for the long term. In March Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri said that Tehran was willing to help Houthi rebels “in any way it can, and to any level necessary” against the Saudis.

These three nations (and others like the UAE) have a desire to overthrowing the current Iranian regime, if they want to commit the resources to it. Aside from the public face of opposition like economic sanctions and public statements, there are many things that Israel the US, and Saudi Arabia could do.

According to some American analysts who are in close contacts with US undercover operations, the first move is to strengthen the unrest inside Iran. This means money and arms. Obviously, America and Saudi Arabia have the money and there is a surplus of arms in the Middle East, thanks to the ongoing wars in Syria, Libya, and Iraq.

The next move is to coordinate the protests, so they become more effective. This includes targeting centers of power like police stations and government buildings.

As the unrest grows, the hope is that parts of the Iranian security forces defect to the protesters or just desert grows. This, in turn, puts more pressure on the regime.

If these actions are widespread enough, it will force the Iranian regime to pull forces out of countries like Syria and Iraq in order to contain the unrest.

At this point, the Iranian military becomes important. Since the Revolutionary Guards are expected to remain loyal to the current government (minus some defections), it will be up to the military leadership to step in to “protect the nation and its citizens.”

Although the regime of Iran seems secure now, the hope is a concerted push by the protesters, backed by several outside forces could create a continuous crisis that lead to crippling the regime and open the door for drastic changes.

Week of December 22nd, 2017

Examining Yemen Carries Out Missile Strikes Against Saudi Arabia

The aggressive war waged by Saudi Arabia against Yemen took a new turn this week, when Yemenis launched a Burkan H-2 missile at the royal palace in Riyadh. According to reports, a Saudi Patriot Missile battery shot it down before it hit the palace.

This was not the first attack. Nor was it the first that came close to hitting its target – something very worrying to nations in the region since the typical Scud missile used in the region is notoriously inaccurate. On November 4, it was reported by Saudis that a Patriot missile intercepted an Iranian-manufactured Burkan H-2 missile as its reentry vehicle plunged toward the international airport outside Riyadh.

International reaction was varying. Though the missile was launched from Yemen, Saudi leaders called the attack an act of “aggression” by Iran. The US (who is militarily involved in Yemen) joined the Saudis by denouncing it. A human rights organization said the “indiscriminate” missile attack was “an apparent war crime.” But Iran denied that it was involved.

The missile attack signals that war of words between Saudi Arabia and Iran is escalating and more western observers are sounding alarms of what they are labeling a proxy war in Yemen that will become more intense.

But, the problem isn’t just limited to potential escalation. American foreign policy over the past 6 years encouraged what was to happen according to Saudi apologists who concluded that the Iranian leaders are benefitting since 2011 “Arab Spring revolts “and the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011 that created a regional power vacuum. To them, this encouraged Iranian involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

They are claiming that “Arab Spring” chaos in Yemen presented Iran with a target of opportunity. In 2011 a revolt forced Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh to cede power in early 2012. Vice-president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi replaced him. In 2014, Houthi fighters seized the capital, Sanaa. In 2015, they took over Yemen’s government. Hadi then went into exile in Saudi Arabia.

When Hadi went into exile, Saudi Arabia began its aggression and airstrikes on Yemen. In the meantime, the Houthi rebels have accused Hadi of treason and sentenced him to death in absentia.

Although the Houthi aren’t totally in line with the Iranian leadership, it is perceived by Saudi and their allies that Iran is providing the rebels with arms, intelligence, and expertise.

From the Saudi point of view, if the Houthis dominate Yemen, Iran will have a generally unpopulated and unguarded land frontier with Saudi Arabia that they can infiltrate to destabilize the House of Saud. With the aid of the U.S., the Saudis formed a coalition to support Hadi government under their control.

So far this criminal war on Yemen of more than 1000 days has killed some 9,000 Yemenis and injured 60,000. 18 million displaced people need food and medical assistance. This is an international catastrophe since Yemen’s total population is only 28.5 million.

Since the Saudis conduct indiscriminate air strikes on Yemenis inflicting enormous loss of innocent lives and destruction, the Houthis portray the missile attacks as legitimate retaliatory measures. The Saudis, however, are certain that the November 4th and December 19th missiles were fired with the help of Iran.

Iran denies the charge and others disagree with the Saudi analysis. Some say Hezbollah is responsible since they have considerable missile experience. There are also claims that the missiles came from North Korea, which has shipped Scud type missiles to Yemen in the past.

In order to determine the source of the missiles that struck Saudi Arabia, we need to look at what is known about Hezbollah, Iran, and North Korea’s missile technology. Then we need to look at the wreckage, which has been photographed by private citizens in Riyadh and official presentations by both the Saudis and Americans.

Yemen’s Missile Origins

It appears that the missiles are Burkan H-2 missiles, which are a variation of the Scud liquid fueled missile originally designed by the Soviets in the 1950s.

Of the three accused groups – Hezbollah, Iran, and North Korea – only two – North Korea and Iran – have the capability to build a Scud type missile. Hezbollah has built smaller solid fuel missiles and reportedly have received Scud variant missiles from Syria. However, the ability to master the variety of skills and technology to build a liquid fueled missile with a range of hundreds of miles is not known or yet reported capabilities of Hezbollah.

This leaves Iran and North Korea as possible sources of the Burkan H-2. Both have the industrial capability and expertise. In addition, they have collaborated with each other in order to improve their missile capability.

This week, the US made it clear that they considered the missiles that hit Saudi Arabia came from Iran. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the attack on the Riyadh bore “all the hallmarks of previous attacks using Iranian-provided weapons.”

The most critical piece of evidence was that the missile didn’t have external fins. Fins give the missile stability, but add weight and increase drag. Removing the fins, however, does increase the range. However, there is only one short range, liquid fueled ballistic missile that doesn’t have external fins, that relies totally on graphite vanes located in the exhaust plume, and that is the Iranian Qiam missile (which is the basis of the Burkan missile).

Removing the external fins isn’t easy because it requires a more sophisticated guidance technology. Consequently, it isn’t something that either the North Koreans or the Yemenis are perceived to do at this point.

Additional proof was claims that the Iranian markings found on structural components and engine parts. In addition, the circuit boards in the guidance system were also claimed to be of Iranian origin.

Although an analysis of the wreckage showed that it is closely related to the Scud missile type, Iran has made some changes in order to increase range. The missile has more aluminum, which makes it lighter. Close-ups of the engine wreckage show that the engine itself is a Scud variant, but of lower quality.

Another quality issue was some of the welding. While some of the welding was professional and probably done at the plant manufacturing the missile, other weld seams were very amateurish. These poor welds are more likely to fail in flight.

Experts think the reason for the amateurish welds was to reassemble the missile after being smuggled through the Saudi blockade. Since the missile is less than a meter in diameter, disassembling the missile would make it easy to hide in other shipments.

There were other differences in addition to the lack of external fins. There is a reentry vehicle that can detach from the missile during reentry. There is also a more sophisticated guidance system than that found in the original Scud Missile.

The original Scud guidance system was an analog device based on gyros and clockwork that determined the engine burn time and angle of flight. The gyros would detect any deviation and send electrical signals to the graphite vanes to correct the course. This system would also be immune to damage from a nearby nuclear blast, which would damage electronic systems.

The Burkan missile’s guidance system is electronic and more accurate. And, since there appear to be antennae attached on the outside of the missile, it appears to have a manual override. This is why the missile has a more accurate CEP (circle error probability) of half a kilometer.

The other notable modification is a reentry vehicle with a blunt nose that slows the speed of reentry. It shifts the missile balance backwards, which improves flight stability and lessens the need for external fins. However, by slowing the reentry vehicle it makes interception easier and makes the vehicle more susceptible to wind drift.

Are Burkan Missiles Invulnerable to Patriot Missiles?

Based on a report by the New York Times, there has been some question if the Saudi Patriot missile battery actually intercepted and destroyed the Yemeni missile.

A forensic analysis of photos and video of the Burkan missile wreckage displayed by the US indicates that it was probably hit by a Patriot missile. The wreckage showed considerable scorching and damage just above the engine, which may be the damage from the Patriot missile.

Whether the Patriot hit the missile before the reentry vehicle separated is classified.   However, forensic evidence from the wreckage indicates that the reentry vehicle broke up – either from the Patriot missile hit or dynamic forces of reentry.

There were three types of damage to the reentry vehicle that indicates it broke up into two or three parts before hitting the ground.

The rear part of the re-entry vehicle, where the explosives were placed, show scorching and fragmentation indicative of an explosion. This tends to confirm reports of an explosion in Riyadh. However, it doesn’t indicate if the warhead properly exploded in or around the airport, or the amount of damage it caused.

The middle part of the reentry vehicle has broken up, but shows no sign of scorching. Some parts show bending, which indicates that it may have been ripped apart by dynamic forces during reentry. Since there is no scorching, this part of the reentry vehicle probably was torn away from the lower part of the reentry vehicle before the explosion took place.

Fragments from the tip of the reentry vehicle show signs of melting. This indicates that the reentry vehicle hit the atmosphere at a higher speed than it was designed for. The melting would have weakened the vehicle structure and radically changed the aerodynamics. This, in turn, would have caused the vehicle to start to tumble and tear apart.

Given the wreckage, it is not conclusive that a Patriot missile did hit the Burkan missile. Without the confidential radar data, we don’t know if the hit was before or after the reentry vehicle had separated.   However, the reentry vehicle did separate from the rest of the missile and then broke apart from poor design, dynamic forces, or a patriot missile hit. No matter what, it was enough to prevent a completely successful hit. It is highly possible that Yemenis were able to locally master manufacturing and modifying Scud missiles to be able to lunch such missiles.

Needless to say, much that is written about the missile attack depends on the preconceived notions of the writers. Those who insist that anti-missile systems are relatively worthless like those who wrote the New York Times piece will insist that these attacks prove that anti-missile systems are incapable of reliably hitting missiles.

On the other hand, advocates of anti-missile systems like the Patriot will look at the interception rate and insist that they are worthwhile.

But, missiles and anti-missile systems aside, how will they impact this war that doesn’t seem to have any chance of ending?

What Next?

Does Saudi Arabia have the power to continue this war on Yemen? Not by itself. It has the assets as long as the US continues to sell weapons to it. Its anti-Iran coalition could extend the war beyond Yemen, but it would be an indecisive war. Without the participation of U.S. forces, or toppling the Iranian regime by military means which is an adventure no one dares to pursue and a mission impossible.

This raises the possibility that Trump may authorize a secret campaign aiming to destabilize the Iranian regime and likely will be doomed to fail.

Of course, the US is already involved in Yemen. The Defense Department on Wednesday acknowledged for the first time “multiple ground operations” in Yemen, while noting that ISIS has doubled in size in the war-torn country.

“U.S. forces have conducted multiple ground operations and more than 120 strikes in 2017,” said a statement from the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

The goal is to “disrupt the ability of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Yemen to use ungoverned spaces in Yemen as a hub for terrorist recruiting, training and base of operations to export terror worldwide.”

But, there is another problem in the strategy to pushback against Iran. Iran remains capable to obtaining nuclear weapons if it wishes or pushed in that direction, and the timing isn’t if, but when.

The Saudis have ballistic missiles and the cash to buy or build nukes. Moreover, they now have the support of a new American administration that says it won’t permit a nuclear armed Iran.

But, the current Saudi air war against Yemen, or the Houthi missile attacks against the Saudis will not win this war. As we have mentioned in the past, history shows that air wars without ground soldiers – from the Battle of Britain to the American air war against ISIS – will not succeed.

With the naval blockade, the Houthi will not be able to bring in whole Burkan missiles from Iran if they wish, which means the possibility of resorting to smuggling in the parts and welding them together.

Saudi Arabia and its allies can’t win the war with air strikes and a limited military presence in Yemen. They have to commit to a ground war and the military forces necessary to wage such an operation.

In the end, the decision will be made in Riyadh. Crown Prince Salman will have to decide how long he can continue tis risky adventure to challenge Iran instead of seeking mutual respect and understanding. If it is the prime foreign policy objective of Saudi Arabia, we can expect the conflict to continue and escalate.

Week of December 15th, 2017

Executive Summary

As America heads into the holiday season, the number of publications is going down. It will pick up after the New Year.

The Monitor Analysis looks at the upcoming Trump National Security Strategy report. Although the document is primarily a political document, not a tool of national policy, we look at the major themes we can expect to see when it comes out next week.


Think Tanks Activity Summary

The Washington Institute looks at the pitfalls of keeping American troops in Syria. They note, “First, any such endeavor will necessarily be long term, messy, and uncertain, with no clear end state beyond containing Iran…As seen with Benghazi and Niger, however, public and congressional outcry can become deafening when these kinds of operations go awry, so the White House should be prepared to weather the storm.  A second pitfall is the issue of legal authority. Washington’s deployment of forces in Syria and its support to the SDF rest on several mechanisms: the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda (given the Islamic State’s genealogy as an al-Qaeda offshoot)…Yet Congress has already questioned the 2001 AUMF’s role in perpetuating “endless war,” so it could oppose using that authorization to justify an open-ended military presence in Syria or specific operations targeting the Assad regime and Iran (e.g., the low-intensity clashes seen in May and June)…Third, any U.S. contingent would face numerous logistical pitfalls. While American forces have established a handful of small Syrian enclaves abutting Jordan, the main U.S. presence is in the northeast, where access can only be obtained through Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), or Turkey.”

Given the recent advances in North Korean missile technology, the Heritage Foundation looks at America’s missile defense. They note, “The bad news is that the missile-defense system we have isn’t as comprehensive and well-developed as it could and should be at this stage. We have a revolver, when we could have an automatic rifle. Nearly 35 years ago, President Reagan first called for a way to render the threat of ballistic missiles “impotent and obsolete.” Yet today, thanks in part to opposition from those who consider missile defense both unworkable and destabilizing, we have only one system capable of shooting down long-range ballistic missiles headed for the U.S. homeland: the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. We can do better, though. The GMD system is the only system we have capable of intercepting an ICBM in the mid-course phase of its flight. With a system that includes sea- and space-based interceptors, we could target ICBMs earlier in their flight — during the boost or ascent phase, when they’re traveling more slowly and are easier to hit.”

The CSIS looks at Trumps move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They note, “Doing nothing would have allowed this real-world expansion of facts on the ground to continue indefinitely. Greater Jerusalem would have continued to grow with minimal and largely pro forma Arab objections. The Israeli Jewish population would have continued to increase, and the Palestinian population of Jerusalem would have continued to come under pressure. Outside objections would have remained equally ineffective, and the threat of real peace negotiations that actually affect the facts on the ground would have been negligible. Jerusalem might have lacked the formal title of capital and the “thrill” of housing more embassies, but each passing month and year would have made Jerusalem more Israeli without creating any new political opposition or rise in the threat to Israel. Doing nothing would also have avoided giving Iran, the Hezbollah, and potentially Russia and Syria the political ammunition to use against Israel, or against America’s Arab strategic partners and the U.S.”

The Heritage Foundation praises Trump for moving the embassy to Jerusalem. They note, “Among other issues, these parties are free to decide the fate of Jerusalem as they wish, including single sovereignty, dividing the city between East and West or making it an open city as an important place of worship for the three Abrahamic religions. Plus, this decision could vivify moribund peace talks. The Palestinians — deeply divided between Fatah in the West Bank and (terrorist) Hamas in the Gaza Strip — have a real incentive to move on the reconciliation plan they hatched in Cairo in October.”

The Cato Institute looks at the failures of the pundits, who said that Assad must be removed in order to defeat ISIS. In noting that such a move only creates more unrest, they note, “As in Iraq a decade earlier, regime change in Syria would have created the ultimate power vacuum for Islamic State to flourish. Moreover, the notion that pumping arms and fighters into Syria would mitigate the unrest is actually the opposite of what study after study has established. The conflict literature makes clear that external support for the opposition tends to exacerbate and extend civil wars, which usually peter out not through power-sharing agreements among fighting equals, but when one side — typically, the incumbent — achieves dominance. The Realist paradigm reminds us that the U.S. need not share the same ideology of a nasty international actor to countenance working with him against a mutual foe. With its sensitivity to overspending and blowback, Realism also emphasizes the dangers of militarily picking foreign governments around the world.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at Trumps decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. They conclude, “The bottom line is that Trump has acted to implement a policy long mandated by law and supported by a bipartisan majority in Congress. While his Jerusalem statement may complicate peace negotiations and undermine cooperation with Arab allies in the short run, it reflects a realism that could benefit U.S. policy and Arab thinking in the long run.”




Trump Administration Crafts its First National Security Strategy

The Trump Administration is scheduled to release its first National Security Strategy on Monday, December 18th. And, although many will take it as the final word in terms of the future of America’s national strategy, it’s important to remember that these documents are designed for public consumption, not to be the key document for the implementation of foreign policy.

The National Security Strategy (NSS) has been a Congressionally-mandated requirement since President Ronald Reagan signed the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986. It offers the president’s appraisal of America’s core interests, challenges, and opportunities, and (to a lesser degree) the means by which the administration intends to achieve its foreign policy vision.

It is rare for a new administration to release an NSS document within its first year, however. The move illustrates the desire of Trump and his foreign policy team to change course especially in terms of fighting worldwide terrorism and addressing the Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean threats.

The principal advisers to the president who wrote the document appear to incorporate the president’s campaign promises of putting American interests first.  Reports indicate that the Trump Administration NSS will significantly address the economic threat of Chinese trade practices.

They also realize the world must contend with the former ISIS fighters who are returning “home” to the West – including the United States. What will these fighters do as a means of retaliating against the United States?

According to the snippets of the pending NSS that have been released to the public thus far, another important element is the inclusion of space weaponization and technological threats. This has been something that few NSS memos have ever seriously addressed and this item will likely look North Korea’s missile capabilities and computer hacking infrastructure, and America’s options.

These and other parts of the NSS will be interesting, but should we really pay a lot of attention to them?

Should we Really Believe National Security Strategy Reports?

Like the political platforms written every four years by the Republican and Democratic parties, NSSs can mean little when it comes to actually formulating national security strategy. For instance, the 2016 Democratic platform advocated recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

And, like the political platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties are criticized by the opposition, we can expect the new NSS to be criticized by Trump’s critics, no matter what it says.

Criticism of a NSS is easy; conversely, the president’s supporters will mostly say nice things about it because they trust Trump. Like so much of the debate over foreign and defense policy these days, where you stand depends on where you sit.

However, since the NSS is public, it gives critics a target to aim at and criticize. As Stephen Walt said in Foreign Policy, “If your job involves teaching and writing about U.S. foreign policy, in short, you should be grateful that Goldwater-Nichols forces every administration to produce something new to feed on each year.”

Walt continued, “We scholars also like these documents because they give us a chance to aim our intellectual firepower at a fixed target.”

Consequently, the reports are designed to be as bland as possible. No wonder every president has diverged from his NSS at some point in time.

One can’t assume the NSS will actually tell you what any administration (Republican or Democratic) is going to do. They are often drafted by committee, or by some hired pen, and the president may not play much (any?) role in the process. More importantly, foreign policy always involves adapting to actions or events that one doesn’t anticipate, and no government can ever stick to its strategic vision with complete fidelity. Even so, these statements are usually worth reading, if only to get an idea of an administration’s basic inclination or at least what it thinks it is trying to accomplish.

Another factor to consider is the relationship between the president and the National Security Council (NSC). In the history of the NSC, some presidents have relied heavily on the NSC like Nixon, while others like Truman have ignored it. In the case of Trump, since McMaster was Trump’s second choice and several Obama appointments still remain in the NSC, the NSS may reflect the NSC views instead of the administration. Also remember Trump relies more on the Department of Defense for strategy options.

With these caveats in mind, let’s look at the probable tone of Trump’s first NSS.

NSC Advisor McMaster and the Trump NSS

During a speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum last week, President Trump’s national security advisor, Army Lt. General McMaster, gave hints on what the president’s national security strategy will contain.

McMaster started by reflecting on the challenges President Reagan faced and comparing it to the national security challenges faced by Trump today.

“Today as we approach the unveiling of the Trump administration’s national security strategy, we are at a similar crossroads,” McMaster said.

Russia and China are subverting the post-World War II political, economic and security orders to advance their own interests at the expense of the United States and its allies, the national security advisor said.

Iran and North Korea are violating the sovereignty of their neighbors, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and exporting terror to other nations. “Jihadist terror organizations such as [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] threaten all civilized people in every corner of the world,” he said.

“These national security challenges also require a dramatic rethinking of American foreign policy from previous decades,” McMaster said.

The national security strategy “will focus on protecting our homeland, advancing American prosperity, preserving peace through strength … and finally enhancing American influence,” he said.

The approach adopts a realistic view of our security environment, the general said. “For this reason, we do not base national security decisions on rigid ideology, but instead on our core national interests and clearly defined objectives derived from those interests,” McMaster said.

Much of what we can expect from Trump is already obvious and it’s quite a change from his predecessor. Trump has empowered his top military commanders to act as they see fit on the battlefield, and he feels free to reverse his positions.

Under Obama, commanders in the field had to work their way up the chain of command. Plans would go off into the White House to the National Security Council, there would be meetings, then work its way back down. This is very different under Trump, he’s authorized his generals. He’s literally given them the authority to take aggressive action.

Trump and his supporters likes to present this measure as proof the defeat of ISIS on the battlefield in the last year compared to “Obama’s national security failures against ISIS in the past 8 years”.

Trump’s real national security strategy will also be based on his outlook, which he outlined during his campaign. In another speech, McMaster said the new strategy would rely on “peace through strength” to advance U.S. interests abroad. And he promised that alliances with traditional U.S. allies would play a prominent role in Washington’s approach. Despite concerns that President Donald Trump’s “America First” campaign might lead to a retreat from the world stage, McMaster said the new strategy would do the opposite, and instead mark the return of a more confident, more determined United States.

McMaster said the finished document is centered on four main principles: protecting the U.S. homeland; advancing American prosperity and economic security; a stronger, more capable military; and advancing U.S. influence.

The strategy also highlights several different threats: those from powers like Russia and China, as well as from so-called rogue regimes, such as Iran and North Korea.

McMaster specifically called out Russia for threatening the U.S. with “so-called new generation warfare,” an apparent reference to the U.S. intelligence community assessment that Moscow tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“These are very sophisticated campaigns of subversion and disinformation and propaganda using sovereign tools, operating across global domains that attempt to divide our communities within our nations and pit them against each other,” McMaster said.

The NSS will also address the American retreat in world affairs in the last 8 years. “In many ways, we vacated a lot of competitive space in recent years and created opportunities for these revisionist powers,” he said, referring to Moscow and Beijing. “You’ll see a big emphasis on competitive engagement — competitive engagement across what we’re calling arenas of competition.”

The U.S. national security adviser also criticized China for what he termed “economic aggression.”

“[China] is challenging the rules-based economic order that helped lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty,” McMaster said.

At the same time, McMaster called on Beijing to do more to corral North Korea, calling China’s economic power over Pyongyang “considerable,” while warning this might be the world’s “last, best chance to avoid military conflict.”

“The president is not asking [Chinese] President Xi for a favor,” McMaster warned. “It is in both our interests to resolve this problem.”

On Iran, McMaster promised the new U.S. strategy would seek to counter Tehran’s destabilizing activities in Syria and across the Middle East, while continuing to block all paths to a nuclear weapon.

The new U.S. national security strategy will also address the persistent threat from terror groups and what McMaster called “radical Islamist ideology,” describing previous U.S. approaches to the problem as “too myopic.”

Speaking before McMaster on Tuesday, British National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill said the U.S. “remains the indispensable global leader.”

“We have had a global order that has been underwritten by the United States,” Sedwill said. “That will continue to be the case, I’m sure, in the 21st century.” It may be wishful thinking but time will tell…….



Taking a Better Shot at Missile Defense
By Edwin J. Feulner
Heritage Foundation
December 13, 2017

Thirty-three minutes. That’s all the time we’d have to respond to an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile from anywhere in the world. Roughly half an hour to avert disaster — if we’re lucky. Sure, that isn’t the most cheerful thought to entertain, especially at Christmas time. But with all the saber-rattling coming from North Korea these days, not to mention other global hot spots, we don’t have the luxury to pretend this threat doesn’t exist. A successful nuclear strike would carry an unthinkable toll. The bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 had an explosive yield of 15 kilotons of TNT. North Korea’s nuclear test in October was 250 kilotons.

Read more at:



Jerusalem Move Just a Capital Idea
By Peter Brookes
Heritage Foundation
December 11, 2017

F ace it: No matter what anyone says, President Trump’s move to finally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv is a totally defensible diplomatic decision. You wouldn’t know that listening to some folks. First, the change rights a glaring anomaly in U.S. diplomatic practice in which Washington, D.C., doesn’t officially recognize the chosen capital of another sovereign state. Where else is that the case for us? Uh, nowhere. Good grief, we recognize the chosen capital of communist Cuba, nuclear North Korea and terrorist Iran, but not that of democratic Israel, our closest ally and friend in the messy Middle East? Come on. Next, the decision — which Congress approved for the first time in the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act but which has been waived by presidents ever since — doesn’t prejudice any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Read more at:



What Trump’s Decision on Jerusalem Means for Israel and the Middle East
By James Phillips
Heritage Foundation
December 7, 2017

President Donald Trump on Wednesday kept his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the State Department to make plans to eventually move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. The long-delayed, symbolic move addressed a historic injustice: Israel is the only country in the world not allowed to choose its own capital. Trump also exercised America’s sovereign right to recognize the capital of a close ally and choose the location of its own embassy. In recent years, the refusal of many nations to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has become an integral part of the international campaign to de-legitimize Israel.

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The Pundits Were Wrong about Assad and the Islamic State. As Usual, They’re Not Willing to Admit It
By Max Abrahms and John Glaser
Cato Institute
December 10, 2017

The Islamic State is a shadow of its former self. In 2014, the extremist group seemed to make substantial inroads in achieving its stated goal of a caliphate. It boasted tens of thousands of fighters and territorial control over an area roughly the size of South Korea. By almost every metric, Islamic State has collapsed in its Syria stronghold, as well as in Iraq. As a former foreign fighter recently admitted, “It’s over: there is no more Daesh left,” using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. The rollback of Islamic State must come as a shock to the chorus of journalists and analysts who spent years insisting that such progress would never happen without toppling the regime of Bashar Assad — which is, of course, still standing. A cavalcade of opinion makers long averred that Islamic State would thrive in Syria so long as Assad ruled because the Syrian Arab Army was part of the same disease. John Bolton, former United Nations ambassador under George W. Bush, insisted in the New York Times that “defeating the Islamic State” is “neither feasible nor desirable” if Assad remains in power. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham asserted that “defeating Islamic State also requires defeating Bashar Assad.” Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution prescribed a policy of “building a new Syrian opposition army capable of defeating both President Bashar al-Assad and the more militant Islamists.”

Read more at: https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/pundits-were-wrong-about-assad-islamic-state-usual-theyre-not-willing-admit


The Strategic Impact of Making Jerusalem the Capital of Israel
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 7, 2017

President Trump’s announcement on December 6th that, “It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” and that he is “directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” will hurt both Israeli and U.S. strategic interests. Two critical problems: It damages Israel and U.S. interests by seriously irritating the Arab world, and it gives Iran, the Hezbollah, and Russia the opportunity to exploit this anger and the divisions. There was no earthly reason to provoke the Arab world. All President Trump had to do to help Israel was to ignore his campaign rhetoric and Israel’s political hardliners, and do nothing. Every year since 1967, Israel has slowly created new facts on the ground in Jerusalem and on the West Bank. Jerusalem has become steadily more Jewish, and the Jewish areas in greater Jerusalem have expanded eastward to the point where they have virtually reached the edge of the slopes down to the Jordon River Valley.

Read more at: https://www.csis.org/analysis/strategic-impact-making-jerusalem-capital-israel


U.S. Troop Deployment in Syria: Potential Pitfalls
By James F. Jeffrey
Washington Institute
December 12, 2017

The U.S. military recently announced that it has 2,000 troops in Syria, most of them working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-dominated umbrella group that has liberated a large swath of the country’s eastern provinces from the Islamic State. Now that conventional military operations against IS are essentially finished and international concerns about Iran are mounting, more attention is being paid to the future of the U.S. contingent and the estimated 40,000-50,000 SDF fighters associated with it. American forces could play an important role in reaching a Syria solution that curbs Iran’s Russian-enabled power projection against Arab states, Israel, Turkey, and U.S. regional interests. Yet doing so requires that Washington deal with assorted challenges, from articulating the deployment’s mission to clarifying its legal basis and mapping the diplomatic geography required to physically sustain it.

Read more at: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/u.s.-troop-deployment-in-syria-potential-pitfalls

Week of December 8th, 2017

Trump Recognizes Jerusalem

as Capital of Israel

Why? Why Now? What Does it Mean?

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced that the US was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel and that the US embassy would be moving to Jerusalem.

The timing of Trump’s statement is curious given the fact that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been trying to revive peace negotiations with Saudi help.

Speaking from the Diplomatic Reception room at the White House, Trump officially made the announcement.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said.

The President repeatedly addressed concerns about a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians being hindered as a result of the recognition. He argued failing to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as verified by law and Congress through the Jerusalem Embassy Act, has done nothing to move the region closer to a peace deal.

“We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches,” Trump said. “The record is in, after two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a peace agreement.” The President said he is committed to the peace process and will support a two-state solution so long as both the Israelis and Palestinians agree to it.

“We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians,” Trump said. “I’ve judged this course action to be in the best interest of the United States of America,” he continued. “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
This recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was not a total surprise. During the presidential campaign, Trump had made it clear that he intended to recognize Jerusalem as the capital. Of course, other presidents and presidential candidates had promised the same thing – Clinton, Bush, Obama, McCain, and Romney – but none had ever kept their campaign promise.

It all started with the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.  The law required the U.S. to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999, but conceded that the move could be put off for six months at a time as long as the President “determines and reports to Congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”

The law had nothing to do with foreign policy, but had everything to do with domestic politics. Senator Dole opposed such a move until he decided to run for president in 1996. His change was based on his hope to raise money from Jewish groups.

Not to be outdone, President Bill Clinton called for the embassy to eventually be moved to Jerusalem, even as he actively worked to kill Dole’s bill. The Clinton administration did argue that a ‘premature focus on Jerusalem’ could ‘undermine negotiations and complicate the chances for peace” – which set the stage for the president to stall the move for up to six months at a time.

Politics still define the move to Jerusalem amongst both Republicans and Democrats. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote to President Trump this week, urging him not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or to announce he is moving the U.S. Embassy to the city.

However, exactly six months ago Tuesday, Senator Feinstein voted in favor of a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem, and calling on the president to “abide by” the provisions of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. Feinstein also voted for the original bill on Oct. 24, 1995.

In addition, the last four Democratic Party platforms have recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Consequently, there was no surprise that in 2016 Trump, along with all of the other GOP candidates, made it clear that he intended to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The difference, however, was that Trump, unlike the, other presidential candidates, actually intended to make the move.

The Washington Response

While Washington has repeatedly told voters that it supports the move to Jerusalem, the reality is that the foreign policy establishment strongly opposes it.

Foreign policy focuses on stability, not political promises. And, it is clear that recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is destabilizing a traditionally unstable part of the world. While the move would please Israel, it will cause problems in an area that stretches from the Indian subcontinent to where the Atlantic Ocean meets North Africa.

For the State Department, there is a heightened risk to American employees in the region, in addition to American tourists. The move will also make it harder to get foreign support for American policy initiatives in the region. That’s why the State Department pushed Trump to avoid making such a move this week.

Needless to say, it poses a major roadblock to any movement in solving the Palestinian-Israeli peace problem. It also helps Russia expand its influence in the region.

The biggest immediate impact will be military. Although the war on ISIS is clearly in the final stages, this move will only upset many American allies inside and outside the Middle East and make it harder to earn their support. Even politicians, who personally don’t care one way or another about the move, will have to reconcile any pro-American policies with their citizens, who do care. How can an Iraqi politician advocate more cooperation with America, when the US makes such a pro-Israeli move?

There is also the fact that Trump’s move could encourage ISIS recruitment or renewed terrorist attacks.

The military problems go beyond the Middle East. Turkey is the anchor of NATO’s southern flank. And, though Erdogan has made it hard for America and Turkey to work together recently, this move will only further alienate Turkey and its military, which is second to the US in military manpower in NATO.

Domestic Considerations

Despite the foreign policy costs, there is a strong political aspect to the move. In 2016, The Gallup organization conducted a poll, asking voters if they supported moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They discovered that over half had no opinion or didn’t know enough about the issue. 24% supported the move, while 20% opposed the move.

However, for Republican politicians, Republican voters preferred the move.

Democrats, as a whole, were not in favor of the move. However, since Jews are more likely to vote Democratic, supporting the move is one way for Democratic politicians to secure their vote.

Clearly, Trump’s move has solidified his support amongst Republican voters. At the same time, since only 20% of voters oppose the move and they are more likely to be Democrats, he is not sacrificing any critical part of the American electorate that will be important for his reelection. There is also a benefit in that news about the move to Jerusalem will drown out the media focus on Trump’s legal problems.

Much of the political focus has been on evangelical Christian voters, who are more likely to be Republican and more likely to enthusiastically support the state of Israel. Unfortunately, most of the analysis on this group comes from the East Coast, where evangelical Christians are a small minority of the population. For instance, only 8% of residents of the nation’s capital, Washington DC, consider themselves evangelical Christians, while 52% of people from Tennessee consider themselves evangelical Christians. Other East Coast states also have few evangelical Christians, while most are found in the American interior and the South.

Yet, the Pew Research Centre report found that evangelical Christians are the largest single religious group in the United States — more than 25 per cent of the population.

This means that analysts based in the East Coast misunderstand how evangelicals think and vote – even though the Vice President is one.

This was seen in the comments of a MSNBC reporter Chris Matthews on Wednesday about Evangelicals. Matthews said support for Israel among Evangelicals comes from their “crazy ideas about Israel…it’s the Christian Evangelicals down there with their crazy ideas about Israel which is, I don’t know, mythical.”

“They don’t understand the situation over there, how tricky it is ethnically and tribally,” he added. “They don’t care because it’s a religious belief.”

Contrary to the stereotype that evangelical Christians are “stupid and poor,” they are better educated than many groups and are generally Middle Class wage earners. They generally have the same percentage of college degrees as the Christian faith as a whole. They also tend to mirror the earnings of other Christian groups. They are also more likely to vote, which is correlated with being better informed on current events than the average American.

Evangelical Christians, however, have an overriding sympathy for the State of Israel. Most of that comes from the fact that the historical roots of Christianity are found in the region and with the ancient Jews. It also helps that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu focuses on garnering evangelical Christian support every time he visits the US. This is clearly reflected in their voting patterns and support for Israel.

Meantime, some mainline Christian groups have denounced the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. The Catholic Pope Francis said he had “deep worry” about recent developments, and declared Jerusalem a unique and sacred place for Christians, Jews and Muslims that has a “special vocation for peace.”

“I cannot keep quiet about my deep worry about the situation that has been created in the last few days,” he said.

He appealed “that everyone respects the status quo of the city” according to U.N. resolutions.

However, Pope Francis is unpopular in the US, even amongst American Catholics. As a result, he has little political power to influence American Catholic voters.

Just as important, this was the type of Trump move that has endeared him to supporters and helped him win critical states in 2016.

Trump’s move shows that he is not an ordinary politician, which was one of the reasons he won. Every recent president has promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as a candidate, only to fail to deliver.  But not Trump.

Although many Washington observers thought this move was done to target the votes of Jewish and evangelical Christians, this point matters to many American voters who are tired of Washington, DC politics as usual and voted for Trump because he railed about the “Washington Swamp.”

Of course, a speech does not an embassy make. A site has to be obtained, security issues carefully examined, and a new building designed and built. Even after construction, large numbers of diplomats and local staff must be prepared to handle the extended protests that will happen and move to the new embassy. In the end, the move may very well take much longer than Trump promised.

In the end, it’s important to remember that this move is a political move – a dramatic political move by a president who is becoming well known for dramatic political moves.

While world leaders may decry the announcement, Trump is well aware that they do not vote. However, Republicans, who vote, will praise the move.

Just as important, it helps further define himself as the non-politician – the candidate who keeps his promises. For the 56% of Americans who have no opinion on the embassy move to Jerusalem, they will take note of the fact that it was a campaign promise that was kept.