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Iran: ‘Humiliating the United States, with no consequences’

american sailors captured by IranYesterday, when we posted on the IRGC hostage taking of U.S. Navy sailors and their riverine patrol boats to Farsi Island, we wrote of the prior incidents of Iran’s hostage taking in the Persian Gulf.

Shoshana Bryen of the Jewish Policy Center and I commiserated about the seizure of six British Royal Marines in June 2004 by the IRGC naval contingent. The Royal Marines were taken to land, blinded and demanded to apologize for entering Iranian waters. They were then taken out onto the desert and blindfolded while weapons were chambered in a mock execution. They were released three days later in what was billed as a “misunderstanding.”  The Royal Marines were operating in Iraqi waters when seized by Iran.

As noted in a Reuter’s report on today’s seizure of U.S. patrol boats and arrest of U.S. Navy personnel, there was another seizure of British naval and marine personnel by Iranian Revolutionary guards that created a diplomatic crisis in 2007:

In March 2007, Iranian forces seized 15 British servicemen – eight Royal Navy sailors and seven marines – in the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway that separates Iran and Iraq, triggering a diplomatic crisis at a time of heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. They were held for 13 days.

Look at Iran’s track record over the last several months since the JCOPA was endorsed by the UN Security Council. Iran fired off two ballistic missile tests in October and November 2015 in violation of UN Res. 1929. Last week, IRGC missile boats hailed the USS Harry Truman giving it and an accompanying destroyer, the USS Bulkley and a nearby French frigate a 23 minute warning before firing rockets in a live fire exercise 1,500 yards away. The Administration has been humiliated time and again by the Ayatollah and will continue to be held in contempt for being weak, even after the, Administration releases $100 billion in sequestered funds in foreign banks, perhaps as early as this week.

Meanwhile the spin at the White House was that the crews of the two patrol boats may be released by daylight to return to their base in Bahrain. Think, also, of those other American hostages held by the Islamic Regime in Tehran, an ex-FBI agent, a former Marine, a Christian Pastor, two American Iranian Businessmen and a convicted Washington Post reporter.

15 hours after the 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their boats were returned, but not before they were put through a humiliating process of being forced to kneel at gun point and ultimately forced to apologize for how the boats found their way into Iranian waters. That awaits a U.S. Navy investigation  into what occurred and possible Iranian violations of the Geneva Convention over treatment of the detained U.S. Sailors and use for propaganda purposes. Both they and their boats returned to the Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain. What the IRGC learned of any technology on board the riverine patrol boats is another matter.

Nonetheless, this was the latest episode of U.S. humiliation by the Ayatollah Khamenei and the IRGC of President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif and President Obama, bound and determined to close the nuclear deal with Iran by releasing $100 billion of sequestered funds early next week on compliance day to this state sponsor of terrorism.

WATCH this Wall Street Journal video of the detention and apology by a possible U.S. Navy riverine boat commander:

us sailors captured by iran

Photo montage by the UK Daily Mail.

The Jerusalem Post published commentary by  Harold  Rhode, former Islamic and Turkish Affairs expert with the Pentagon Office of Net Assessment,  Tony Badran  and Ali Afoneh of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute  on this latest humiliating episode perpetrated by the IRGC navy, Former Pentagon official to ‘Post’: ‘Iran humiliating US with no consequences.’

See our December 2014 New English Review interview with Dr. Rhode, “China’s Islamist Threat”  and March 2014 interview with Dr. Michael Rubin, The Peril of Engaging Rogue States.

The Jerusalem Post opinion article noted:

Iran’s capture and release of 10 US sailors demonstrated that “moderates” such as President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have no real weight, while the real power continues to be wielded by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his hard line allies, such as the Revolutionary Guard, several commentators said Wednesday.

Propaganda videos of the soldiers blindfolded and kneeling released by Iranian media humiliated the world’s superpower and shows that Iran can continue its aggressive behavior with no consequences.

The Obama administration will not allow anything to get in the way of the nuclear deal’s implementation and the lifting of sanctions on Iran, they said.

“Test fire ballistic missiles. Check. Fire missiles near US ships. Check. Torch US ally’s missions. Check. Seize US sailors. Check. Get paid,” tweeted Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Iran’s continued aggressive behavior since the nuclear deal was agreed upon last summer gives it, and other rogue actors, the impression that it can act with a rather free hand.

Such a message must be terrifying to Israel and other US-Arab allies in the region.

Besides the question of whether there was a US apology to Iran, which administration officials deny, it remains unknown whether there was a secret deal or promise that facilitated the release of the sailors.

“Detainment of the US sailors was short, but the IRGC achieved its goal: The IRGC communicated the message to the domestic and the international audience that it calls the shots in Tehran, and humiliated the US,” Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington- based think tank, told The Jerusalem Post.

Harold Rhode, a distinguished senior fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute and a former adviser at the Pentagon, told the Postthat much of the equipment on the US boats was probably previously unavailable to Iran.

“Did Iran take US equipment? Will it share what it learns with North Korea, Russia and China?” “There is no concept of good will in the Middle East,” said the former Pentagon official.

The fact that until to now the US has not reacted on numerous issues – such as Iran’s testing of a ballistic missile in October in violation of a UN Security Council resolution and the firing of rockets near US naval ships – “demonstrates America’s weakness to Middle Easterners,” Rhode said.

“This is another case of America demonstrating that it is an unreliable ally and a harmless enemy,” he added.

“In the Middle East, when people smell weakness, they pounce,” said Rhode.

“Most amazingly from the Iranian point of view,” he continued, “is that they captured these sailors right before Obama’s State of the Union speech, and the president didn’t even mention it.”

“Did the Iranians do that on purpose to further humiliate Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry? From an Iranian cultural point of view, the answer is yes!” exclaimed Rhode.

This is a huge win-win situation for Iran, he continued, as Iran gets US advanced technology, it humiliates America, and it gives the US administration – so desperate to implement the unsigned Iran-US nuclear agreement – the excuse to say that Iran is cooperating with the US as a result of the agreement.

“A grand-slam for Iran, and a huge defeat for the US. Now Iran can continue advancing its ultimate goal of gaining nuclear weapons,” said Rhode.

Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, told the Post the incident benefited the IRGC and other hardliners.

“They humiliated the United States. They received a groveling apology. They broadcast photos of the captured Americans.”

Rubin recalled a similar incident involving the UK in 2007, and how the photos and footage of the detained sailors made their way into the campaign commercials of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“To credit diplomacy for their release is like giving a slap on the back to an arsonist who started a fire and then wants credit for putting it out,” said Rubin.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Iran: Boat seizure “should be a lesson to troublemakers in the U.S. Congress”

Biden: Iran saw US boats in distress, acted “like ordinary nations would do”

After hours of interrogation, Iran says 10 captured U.S. sailors “released in international waters after they apologized”

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Dealing with Putin: “Bomb Assad; Arm Ukraine”

Dr. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the Washington, DC, American Enterprise Institute will be one of our guests on the Lisa Benson Show, Sunday, October 4th. He is the author of Dancing with the Devil:  the Perils of Engaging with Rogue RegimesWe published both a review of Dancing with the Devils and an interview with Rubin in the March 2014 New English Review. The introduction to our interview noted:

We met Rubin in 2005 when he returned to Yale to discuss his experience as a former Pentagon official on Iran and Iraq who also served as a political advisor to the Provisional Coalition Authority. He spoke about the emergence of the nuclear Iran threat under the “reformist” regime in Tehran led by Ayatollah Khatami. See Rubin’s background and blog at the AEI website, here and here. Our interview with Rubin ranged across an array of prevailing issues. Among these are the Iranian nuclear and ICBM threat and Putin’s great game of one sided politics in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He also addressed Pakistan’s tolerance of terrorism and the lack of US support for the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria. He criticized the folly of the Administration’s support of Turkey under Premier Erdogan and the folly of its lead in the Final Status negotiations with the Palestinians imperiling Israel’s security.

As regards Putin and his current demarche to the Administration in Syria this exchange with Rubin from our interview illustrates how clear-eyed was his response:

Gordon:  How dangerous to American interests is Russian President Putin’s great game strategy in the Middle East?

Rubin:  Very. The problem is that Americans tend to see diplomacy as a means to compromise, a win-win solution. However, Putin sees international relations as a zero-sum game in which for Russia to win, everyone else must lose. When Neville Chamberlain goes up against Machiavelli, Machiavelli wins.

Rubin published in Commentary Magazine on October 2, 2015 some prescriptions on how to deal with Putin, “Bomb Assad; Arm Ukraine”.  Doubtless President Obama would aver, given his White House press conference yesterday.

Note what Obama said in response to a question from CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett regarding his former Secretary of State and Democrat presidential hopeful, Hillary’s Clinton’s change of heart on Syria in this Breitbart News report:

President Obama found himself in a bit of a conundrum after he denounced critics of his Syria policy as being full of “mumbo jumbo” and “half-baked ideas.”

In response, CBS reporter Major Garrett questioned Obama whether Hillary Clinton’s proposal to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria was a half-baked idea.

“Hillary Clinton is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems,” Obama said carefully, reminding reporters she served in his administration as Secretary of State.

But Obama pointed out that Clinton’s rhetoric on Syria is merely campaign rhetoric.

“I also think that there’s a difference between running for president and being president,” he said carefully, pointing out that he was having specific discussions with his military advisors about the right way forward in Syria.

“If and when she’s president, then she’ll make those judgments and she’s been there enough that she knows that, you know, these are tough calls,” he said.

Clinton broke with the White House on Syria, calling for a “no-fly zone” in Syria to protect Syrian citizens in an interview with a Boston TV station on Thursday.

dr michael rubin

Dr. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute.

Here is what Rubin wrote in his Commentary column, “Bomb”:

Russia’s deployment to Syria — and its decision to bomb almost exclusively — more moderate Syrians and those who have received U.S. assistance has thrown down the gauntlet. It’s not just a matter of Syria, anymore. Vladimir Putin is showing the world President Obama’s impotence, and convincing every U.S. ally across the globe from Egypt to Estonia and from Kenya to Korea that they would have to be crazy to cast their lot with the United States.

Putin has pushed the line repeatedly and received little resistance, beyond a cute plastic button offered by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Russian forces invaded Georgia without consequence. They cheated on the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and faced no consequence. Indeed, Ellen Tauscher, the chief U.S. negotiator of the subsequent “New START” Treaty and a top Hillary Clinton aide, ended up going into partnership with a Kremlin-funded think tank while at the Atlantic Council. No wonder that, with such lack of seriousness emanating from Washington, Putin figured he could get away with murder in the Ukraine. To date, the Kremlin has faced little consequence for its actions beyond a smattering of sanctions. In the process of these outrages, Moscow demonstrated that the Budapest Memorandum in which the United States, among others, gave Kiev security guarantees wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

There’s an irony here, of course, when it comes to the White House conception of credibility: Obama’s team shrugged off commitments to the Ukraine by insisting that the Budapest Memorandum was an agreement and not a treaty and so wasn’t sacrosanct. However, talk about walking away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the so-called Iran deal, which is an agreement and not a treaty, and the White House and State Department insists that its terms must be observed with the entirety of U.S. credibility at stake.

Regardless, what is clear is that the White House has consistently misjudged Putin. There are two possibilities as to why Obama and Kerry fell into Putin’s trap: Either there has been a massive intelligence failure at the Central Intelligence Agency with regard to Putin’s outlook and intentions, or Obama and Kerry simply ignored what they were being told. Either way, in an atmosphere where accountability mattered, there would be resignations, either at the CIA or at the top of the State Department.

So what to do to restore credibility? There really is no option other than the military: Russian planes bomb targets close to those forces aligned with the United States? Then U.S. forces should bomb Syrian targets close to the Assad regime. A U.S. general in Iraq might give the Russian embassy there an hour’s notice to de-conflict. Kerry might be under the delusion that Assad can be worked with, but that simply shows how out-of-touch he is with the situation in Syria: He long ago passed the point of no return. Assad’s presence in Syria has become the chief recruiting tool for the Islamic State.

At the same time, it’s essential to arm the Ukrainians with enough lethal goods to help them roll back Russian proxies and send Russian forces home in body bags. That might not be the style of diplomacy to which Obama and Kerry adhere, but both are naïve if they think diplomacy means simply talking at the table absent any leverage or the threat of worse to come. Putin must realize that there is real cost to his course of action. If he isn’t stopped in Syria, ultimately he will have to be stopped in the Baltics, and that will be a far more tragic outcome for all sides.

The Lisa Benson Show will air Sunday, October 4, 2015 at 4PM EDT, 3PM CDT, 2PM MDT, 1PM PDT and 11PM in IsraelListen live to the Lisa Benson Radio Show for National Security on KKNT 960The Patriot or use SMARTPHONE iHEART App: 960 the Patriot.  Lisa Benson and New English Review Senior Editor Jerry Gordon will co-host this show.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Obama’s Faceoffs with Putin and Netanyahu

Washington was the center of contretemps over Putin’s seizure of Crimea and widening public differences with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

We recently interviewed Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute and reviewed of his new book Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes. (See The Peril of Engaging Rogue States: An Interview with Dr. Michael Rubin  and Engagement is Folly}.

Putin, according to Rubin is the consummate zero sum geo -politician. Diplomacy for the Kremlin thugocracy pales in comparison to unleashing military adventurism to recreate the former Soviet empire. Witness Georgia in 2008 with the severance of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and even the Kremlin support for Russian speaking breakaway state of Transnistria between the Ukraine and Moldavia. Remember Putin abhors NATO presence anywhere near the Russian sphere of influence. See the prescient title of a piece I wrote back in August 2008, Georgia: “Moscow Rules” and the West Wimps Out.  We had Bush and Condoleezza Rice back then.

The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) witnessed the transfer of nearly 2000 nuclear missiles to Russia followed by 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances by the UK, US and Russia that guaranteed Ukrainian sovereignty including the rights of Russian citizens who chose to live there.  Recently Russia negotiated the extension of the lease on the Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol from 2017 to 2042. The move was heavily criticized by the opposition forces now in power in Kiev.  By seizing the Crimea province from Ukraine, the Russian guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty has been breached. Russian military exercises near Finland and the Ukraine are clear demonstrations of military force to send a message to the EU and the Obama White House West Wing not to dare send NATO forces to the Polish Ukrainian border. Thus, while there will be lots of economic sanctions and isolation rattling by Washington and Brussels, it is up to the G-8 and G-20 groups to consider ejection of Moscow, which will doubtless come up short.

Sochi may lose tourist revenues from the upcoming Paralympics, followed by the loss of the G-8 Summit in June and even the inaugural Russian Formula 1 race scheduled for August 2014.  Meanwhile the Moscow Stock Exchange and Ruble were punished in trading today. Whether that continues will be influenced by Putin’s contempt for the West and the threats by Obama that “there will be consequences”.  So, while Obama’s Russian reset strategy like his pivot to Asia and push for a Final Status agreement between Israel and the PA have been potential failures.

Just look at the interview with Obama by Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg about the President’s entreaties to Netanyahu to “seize the moment and make peace”. This included  a veiled no veto threat by the US should the PA, as suggested in the Oxford Union remarks of PA negotiator Saeb Erekat on Al Jazeera’s Head to Head program of last Friday,  might opt for accession to the UN Security Council for statehood.

This would let 5 million Palestinian UNWRA refugees file for compensation against Israel.  Further, the PA could file a case for crimes against humanity brought before the International Criminal Court at The Hague the day after the April 29 deadline is passed for an agreement set by Secretary of State Kerry.  Even the brief comments by Obama and Netanyahu in the Oval Office about “tough choices” versus non helpful Palestinian moves sent a chilling message.  (See this CBS news report, here).

Tomorrow, we shall see what happens when Netanyahu speaks to 14,000 delegates at the AIPAC Policy Conference following Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ)   speech. They would urge the delegates to scamper up Capitol Hill to convince their Senators and Representatives to pass the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act, S. 1881 co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez. Problem is that Iran may already have its nukes given a decade long cooperative weapons development and ICBM program with North Korea. Read my article; Has Iran Developed Nuclear Weapons in North Korea?

As to Israel’s capabilities, realize that it already has ICBMs – the nuclear equipped Jericho III.  Yes, as the ancient Chinese curse goes, “may you live in interesting times”.

RELATED COLUMN: ‘Delusional’: Krauthammer Slams Obama Admin’s Belief that Putin has ‘Blinked’ on Ukraine

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes

Michael Rubin, former Bush era Pentagon official who is currently a Resident Scholar at the Washington, DC –based American Enterprise Institute(AEI), has been engaged in intense media interviews since the launch of his new book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue RegimesDancing with the Devil covers Rubin’s research on fifty years of US and Western experience with rogue regimes and terrorist groups. The Encounter Books release on the publication of Rubin’s book noted:

The American response of first resort is to talk with such rogues, on the theory that, “It never hurts to talk to enemies.” Seldom is conventional wisdom so wrong. It is true that sanctions and military force come at high costs. However, case studies examining the history of American diplomacy with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, and Pakistan demonstrate that problems with both strategies do not make engagement with rogue regimes a cost-free option. Rogue regimes have one thing in common—they pretend to be aggrieved in order to put Western diplomats on the defensive. Whether they are in Pyongyang, Tehran, or Islamabad, rogue leaders understand that the West rewards bluster with incentives. The State Department, the process of holding talks is often deemed more important than results.

We met Rubin in 2005 when he returned to Yale to discuss his experience as a former Pentagon official on Iran and Iraq who also served as a political advisor to  the Provisional Coalition Authority. He spoke  about the emergence of the nuclear Iran threat under the ‘reformist’ regime in Tehran led by Ayatollah Khatami. See Rubin’s background and blog at the AEI website, here and here.

Our interview with Rubin ranged across an array of prevailing issues. Among these are the Iranian nuclear and ICBM threat and Putin’s great game of one sided politics in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He also addresses Pakistan’s tolerance of terrorism and the  lack of US support for the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria. He criticizes the folly of the Administration’s support of Turkey under Premier Erdogan and the folly of its lead in the Final Status negotiations with the Palestinians imperiling Israel’s security.

Here are some of his observations.

Dr. Michael Rubin

Back in 2000 to 2005 the EU’s pursuit of engagement with Iran under President Khatami enabled the Islamic Republic to devote 70 percent of its hard currency reserves to both ICBM and nuclear weapons development. Moreover Rubin’s research on that period revealed that Iran took the lead from North Korea in its negotiating posture with the West alternating bluster with soothing words about the dialogue of civilizations. That raises the question of whether the present P5+1 negotiations backed by the US Administration with another reformist, President Rouhani, might be what  baseball legend Yogi Berra  called “déjà vu all over again”? Rouhani was Iran’s nuclear negotiator under former President Khatami. On Putin’s great game strategy in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, in the midst of the crisis in the Ukraine, Rubin had the following observations.

The Administration’s current negotiations posture with the Russian President is the equivalent of ”Chamberlain negotiating with Machiavelli, and Machiavelli always wins.” Rubin believes that Putin is “playing a zero sum game” in both the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Based on recent speeches by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards leader, Iran believes itself the head of the Islamic world.

The Administration’s outreach to Islamist non-state actors like the Muslim Brotherhood he considers a catastrophe reflected in recent conversations with senior leaders in Kuwait and the UAE. Rubin believes that the Administration has made a mistake not supporting secular Kurdish regimes in the Iraqi regional government and the virtual autonomous Kurdish region in the Northeastern province of Hazaka in Syria.  He believes this stems from our support of Turkey under the Erdogan government. Rubin suggests that Turkey’s embattled Premier Erdogan may be creating another rogue regime in Ankara.

We will be publishing both an article based on our interview with Rubin and a review of Dancing with the Devil in the March edition of the New English Review.

Listen to senior editor Jerry Gordon’s interview with Michael Rubin, here.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.