Posts

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.

Netanyahu in Washington: An Eleventh-hour Plea for Sanity by Jerry Gordon and Ilana Freedman

On Tuesday, March 3, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu laid out in an address before a joint meeting of Congress, a compelling rebuttal to the President’s case for the phased deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  He diplomatically paid court to President Obama for supplying both known and secret support for the Jewish nation of Israel.

We didn’t need Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come tell us how big a threat a nuclear enabled Iran will be. Well-informed Americans already know that Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons production capability in the hands of an apocalyptic regime , will fan the flames of war in the Middle East and put the entire world at risk.

This is a regime whose rulers are sowing seeds of chaos in preparation for the coming of their messiah, the Twelfth Imam.

Netanyahu’s message to a packed house in a Joint Meeting of Congress was clear, concise, and spelled out starkly the issues and the choices we face.

Watch this C-span Video of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s  address before the Joint Meeting of Congress on March 3, 2015:

An affronted delegation.   Visually absent from the joint meeting were 50 Democrat members of both Chambers, who chose to demonstrate their partisan loyalty to their party and the President. At issue was misplaced sense that the President had been slighted, represented by Netanyahu’s presence before the Joint Meeting  of Congress, because the visit was organized by House Speaker John Boehner without consultation with Obama. That no representative of the Obama administration was present as well showed how petulant partisan politicians, even at the highest levels, can be when faced with what they perceive as slights, real or imagined.

By avoiding the Prime Minister’s speech, they also missed the more than 40 rounds of standing ovations that punctuated his remarks.  More importantly they  failed to observe minimum protocols of courtesy due to a visiting head of state. In this case, when the object of their anger is the head of state of one of America’s closest allies, their lack of courtesy is shameful.

According to reports from reliable sources, the President was “infuriated” by Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. However,  because Netanyahu’s speech was full of praise for Obama and his generous assistance and support of Israel, all Obama could say was that Netanyahu didn’t present anything new or “any viable alternatives”. That became the veritable chorus from his White House spokespersons and in some quarters of the mainstream media. So bitter was the vitriol that one of Netanyahu’s detractors suggested that the Prime Minister’s speech was ‘racist’ because it was critical of America’s first minority President. A group of African American pastors responded by coming out in support of Netanyahu’s speech and went on record in a news conference to disagree with this bizarre comment, promising that they would stand with Israel.

The Prime Minister’s speech was framed in history.  Israel’s Prime Minister came to inform Americans about the seriousness of the threat represented by a nuclear Iran. He began the body of his speech by placing his remarks in an historical context.

He explained to the Congressional audience that the ancient Jewish Festival of Purim would begin the following evening. The holiday commemorates another Persian government, some 2,500 years ago, when Haman, Vizier to the Persian Emperor Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus) singled out the entire Jewish population for slaughter.  They were saved by Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordechai, and given permission to defend themselves against the massive pogrom that had been planned against them. Netanyahu then drew the parallel between this ancient plot against the Jews of Persia and the current threats against the Jewish State of Israel by the mullahs of Iran, the current government in the modern-day land of ancient Persia.

Bringing history a bit closer to home, Netanyahu made copious references to the Holocaust.  He introduced, for recognition and applause, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel, who sat in the Speaker’s Box as an honored guest of the Prime Minister and his wife, Sara. Wiesel, who is a personal friend of the President, came nevertheless as Netanyahu’s guest. “Although he has deep affection for the President”, in the words of his friend, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “he didn’t feel saying that the Jewish people face danger would be an offensive message.”

These historical connections, creating links between the ancient threat of a Persian viceroy, the more recent catastrophe of the Holocaust, and the current threats of the apocalyptic reign of Shia Mahdists in Tehran, covered two thousand years of history of the Jewish experience. Today’s threat is hardly less significant. Whether from the Ayatollah Khamenei or the alleged moderates in his government, President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, they, like Haman, are determined to wipe Israel, ‘the Zionist Enterprise” off the map of the world. In the words of Hezbollah’s retired Brig. Gen. Walid Sakariya, the nuclear weapons Iran is developing are intended to “create a balance of terror with Israel” and “finish off the Zionist enterprise.”

Netanyahu also reminded his audience that Israel is the bastion for world Jewry under anti-Semitic assault in the West and throughout the Muslim world. He warned that it would, out of necessity, defend itself against both conventional and non-conventional threats by Iran and its proxies:

This is why — this is why, as a Prime Minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel.

Netanyahu also put in historical context Iran’s continuing war against the West. He referenced Tehran’s secret war against America, Israel, and Jews that began with the Islamic Revolution in 1979 with the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran and the hostage crisis that lasted 444 days, a war that still continues.

He spoke of the hundreds if not thousands of American soldiers and diplomats who were killed by Iranian Quds Force and their proxies, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in locations like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, East Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He spoke of the hundreds if not thousands of Jews who were killed in actions across five continents. Witness as examples the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy and 1994 AMIA Jewish Center blasts in Buenos Aires, Argentina and, more recently the bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria by Hezbollah operatives.

Netanyahu aptly pointed out that the Iranian Constitution crafted by these Mahdists said that the purpose of the Islamic Revolution was to export Jihad around the world. Unlike the US, he said, which was founded on the promise of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, Iran’s founding documents promised, “Death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad.”

Netanyahu also warned his Congressional audience and those watching live from around the globe that Iran’s apocalyptic version of militant Islam comes from the source and that their current assault against ISIS should not fool us into adopting the ancient Arab maxim, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.  “When it comes to Iran and ISIS,” he said, “the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Iran as the agent of global jihad.     Among the most egregious of Iran’s involvement in attacks against the US, was the connivance with Al Qaeda in facilitating the training of many of the 9/11 perpetrators by the late Hezbollah terrorist mastermind, Imad Maghniyah.  That was revealed in affidavits by  former Iranian intelligence operatives in the Federal Iran 9/11 links case.

More recently, we have the revelations of collusion between the Shia Iran and Sunni Al Qaeda in e-mails from the treasure trove of information captured by US Navy Seal Team Six during the assassination of the late Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan.

Then there is the evidence of Iran’s Quds Force assisting the launch of ISIS in Syria. This is ironic now that the IRGC is leading Iraqi military forces against ISIS in the attack on the late Saddam Hussein’s birthplace of Tikrit, which was captured by ISIS. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is placed in the precarious and unwelcome position of standing by while Iran expands its reach and forwards its agenda.

Open Source Intelligence as the basis for Netanyahu’s warning.   The heart of Netanyahu’s message was conveyed halfway through his speech. It was based, he said, on information available on many public open sources which he invited his audience to “Google”. This was intended to quell any concerns raised by Obama that he would release classified intelligence that could torpedo negotiations with Iran. Many of the details of the ‘deal’ had already been leaked and were in the public domain. So he continued.

“We’ve been told,” he said, “that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well this is a bad deal, a very bad deal.”  Instead, he pointed out, “this deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program; and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. That is why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”

So why would anyone make this deal? Netanyahu posited this theory: “Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse?”

Netanyahu used the petard of Ayatollah Khamenei’s own tweets, echoed by Secretary Kerry in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the future chaos wrought by this worse deal. He said, “My long-time friend, John Kerry, Secretary of State, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires.”

The State Department immediately accused him of taking Kerry’s Congressional testimony out of context, but here is Kerry’s own testimony, which makes the point abundantly clear:

Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount — 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.

Netanyahu then painted a dystopian vision for the World and the Middle East region, should Iran, already a global sponsor of terrorism, become a nuclear threshold state and open the Pandora’s Box of nuclear proliferation:

Israel’s neighbors — Iran’s neighbors know that Iran will become even more aggressive and sponsor even more terrorism when its economy is unshackled and it’s been given a clear path to the bomb.

And many of these neighbors say they’ll respond by racing to get nuclear weapons of their own. So this deal won’t change Iran for the better; it will only change the Middle East for the worse. A deal that’s supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet.

This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox.

If anyone thinks — if anyone thinks this deal kicks the can down the road, think again. When we get down that road, we’ll face a much more dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.

Netanyahu drew attention to the looming threat of Iran’s missile program and military nuclear developments, excluded from the proposed Memorandum of Understanding  being word smithed in Geneva by Secretary Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif:

The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught — caught twice, not once, twice — operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn’t even know existed.

And by the way, if Iran’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program is not part of the deal, and so far, Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Well, Iran could have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to the far-reach corners of the earth, including to every part of the United States.

Iran’s Ongoing Progress Despite Negotiations.   To buttress Netanyahu concerns about Iran’s nuclear military applications and ICBM program, we have just heard from reliable sources that the Islamic Republic has achieved a technical breakthrough – the miniaturization of nuclear warheads – through technical support from both China and North Korea so that nuclear warheads will be able to be installed on their slender Shahab missiles.

Less certain is whether experiments with nuclear triggers have succeeded, given several explosions that have occurred at the Lavizan sites near Tehran and at Parchin, the military explosives test center. If this report is separately confirmed it means that Iran would have the ability to load ICBMs with nuclear warheads.

If tests conducted in Caspian Sea by Iran and the purchase of container-launched missiles from Russia are an indication may provide the capability to deploy small yield nuclear detonations off the American coasts. Those could produce an Electronic Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack, possibly disabling our less-than-secure power grid sending the country hurtling back to the pre-industrial age.

Even as the negotiations continue, the media ran a story about how Iran conducted cruise tetst attacks against a mock US aircraft carrier. Less covered but also last week, Iran launched a cruise missile from a submarine in the Persian Gulf. The missile has a range of 150 nautical miles and was designed to destroy a US carrier. So even as they sit at the negotiating table, the Iranians rattle their sabers and clearly demonstrate their animus.

Netanyahu’s Plan.   Contrary to Obama’s comment that there was ‘nothing new’, Netanyahu was clear in firmly stating that the lifting of sanctions and restrictions must be justified by Iranian action in three areas:

  • Stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East;
  • Stop supporting terrorism around the world; and,
  • Stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s plan was clear. Marco Rubio summed it up nicely:  “Iran can have an economy, or it can have nuclear weapons. But it can’t have both.”

A closing thought from the Bible.  Netanyahu concluded his address by pointing to the frieze of Moses high on the wall opposite from where he stood surrounding the House chamber.  He recited and translated from the Hebrew Moses’ instructions in his final address to the ancient Hebrews about to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land:

Before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today, “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.”

My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May we face the future with confidence, strength and hope.

A warning to be heeded.  Netanyahu’s message in his address to Congress is not lost on Israelis and the preponderance of Americans, who view Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon as a clear and present damage to the world.  At issue is whether the Administration’s obsession with an agreement with Iran at all cost has blinded them to the consequences of a deal that would allow Iran to become a nuclear power.

This is not the time for peevishness. No insults were intended and none should be interpreted. Netanyahu’s visit and his speech were timely – a last minute call for clarity and resolve against an implacable enemy masquerading as a negotiating partner.

There are many who fervently believe that any negotiations with Iran will lead us dangerously close to a nuclear precipice.  Perhaps,  Netanyahu’s comments before Congress where prescient. Apparently, Iran has rejected  the proposed phased deal placing negotiations in Geneva at an impasse.

Netanyahu’s ultimate message is clear:  Iran’s nuclear clock is rocketing towards midnight. Can we stop it in time or will our own Munich in Geneva lead us into a nuclear doomsday scenario that, once begun, no one will be able to stop?

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Before Joint Meeting of Congress with Speaker John Boehner on left and Senate President Pro-temp Sen. Orrin Hatch on right on March 3, 2015.

How Israel’s Military Bureaucracy Bungled the Terror Tunnel Threat

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge is now in its ninth cease fire with Hamas. How long this five day truce will last is anyone’s guess. Each of the prior truces was breached by Hamas, and its terrorist partner, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, even before the ceasefire was scheduled to end. The eighth truce was broken on August 13th when rockets were fired fully 2 hours and nine minutes ahead the deadline. Then, just as hurriedly, a ninth truce was declared, this time supposedly for five days.  Hamas’ demands, aired during the discussions in Cairo, were aimed at eliminating the seven year blockade by Israel, and the more recent one by Egypt, under President El-Sisi.

Both blockades were created to eradicate the threats of subversion from Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas has demanded a seaport and the re-opening of an international airport, the better to facilitate weapons deliveries, no doubt.  Israel’s counter offer was to increase Gaza fishing rights in the Mediterranean and the number of daily humanitarian truck deliveries of food, construction materials and medicine.

The latest break in the conflict, which is now verging on two months, has led to rising demands in Israel for a commission to investigate why the IDF hadn’t detected and mapped the network of cross-border terror tunnels from Gaza that posed such a great threat to Israel.  By enabling Hamas terrorists to move about unseen and emerge on the Israeli side of the border, equipped to kidnap both soldiers and civilians, Israel had much to lose by not treating the tunnels as credible and imminent threats.  The all-too-real experience during Operation Protective Edge was reminiscent of the five year long captivity of Galid Schalit, abducted in 2006 and held for five years until he was exchanged for 1,037 Palestinian prisoners.

Missteps  occurred during the October War of 1973 and the 34 day Second War with Lebanon in 2006. The Agranat  and Winograd Commissions were convened by Israel’s Knesset to investigate intelligence failures and military operational problems resulting in recommendations for corrective actions. What is apparent during the current Operation Protective Edge in Gaza is that bureaucratic bungling in Israel’s intelligence and planning echelons may have contributed to the IDF casualty toll in Gaza from attacks by Hamas commandos using the terror tunnels.

We have drawn attention to the terror tunnel threat in NER/Iconoclast  articles, <Qatar’s Cyberwarfare Support of Hamas in the War with Israel.  In these articles, we noted the lack of effort by the IDF to detect and map the intricate network of tunnels and underground armories. That was coupled with the discovery that Qatar had joined Iran in funding the Hamas resurgence, including the construction of the tunnels, and equipping Hamas with cyberwarfare capabilities.

Just this past Monday, August 11th, the Jerusalem Post reported this announcement:

Is this IDF announcement a matter of too little, too late?  Could a successful tunnel detection system have been developed earlier?

The Chronicle of IDF Tunnel Detection Missteps

Dr.  Ronen Bergman is the intelligence columnist at Israeli daily, Yediot Ahronoth (YA) (See our January 2013 NER interview with him on the Iran nuclear threat.)  He revealed the chronology of IDF military bureaucracy missteps in an August 6, 2014 YA Magazine article, “The Battle of the Gaza Tunnels”.  Bergman noted how early their investigation had zeroed in on the tunnel threat:

In July 2010, YA planned to publish a comprehensive investigative report warning of a serious military problem, of which only a handful of experts were aware at the time: Hamas’ terror tunnels.

[…]

The Defense Ministry and the IDF went to great efforts at the time to convince us that the tunnel threat was not so serious and that they were taking steps against the tunnels. Additional and even better measures, they said, would be used in no time.

We eventually decided that it was an important and fundamental issue, and published the investigative report.

Bergman observed:

The bottom line was that IDF posts and communities in the Gaza vicinity (as well as on the Lebanon border, facing Hezbollah) are exposed to terror attacks or abductions through tunnels. Further,  the defense establishment has no efficient measures against them. This despite the fact that the Defense Ministry had received proposals for tunnel-locating systems since the early 2000s.

Bergman noted this comment from IDF Col. Ilan Sabag, Engineering officer in the Southern Command:

The Southern Command is aware of the existence of Hamas infiltration tunnels reaching into our territory. As far as the Southern Command knows, these tunnels are meant to be used in due course to kidnap soldiers. The Southern Command estimates that Hamas will decide when to use the tunnels in light of considerations related to the Shalit deal, etc.

He added that the Southern Command lacked any efficient means to locate the tunnels (apart from intelligence), and that the measures deployed along the route surrounding the Gaza border were no longer in use, as they were unsuccessful.

Bergman chronicled the missteps and bungling by the IDF bureaucracy in tackling the tunnel threat.  As early as 2001, during the Second Intifada, the IDF knew that Hamas and the PIJ were bringing weapons into Gaza through smuggling tunnels. The development of tunnel detection began in earnest when Tzahal turned to the Geophysical Institute of Israel (GII) for assistance. The GII had designed a “seismic fence” composed of a network of geophones placed several meters underground to detect tunnel digging. The geophones were connected to a central computer to alert IDF intelligence of suspicious tunnel activity. These successful tests were conducted near the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza and reported to Tzahal.  Bergman contends that if Tzahal had pursued the development of the seismic fence proposed by the GII 13 years ago, then perhaps by 2014, they might have detected the network of Hamas tunnels, which could have enabled IDF military planners to prepare operational plans to enter and destroy them.

Bergman points out tha following a terrorist attack from tunnels in the Philadelphi corridor which Israel controlled along the Gaza Egypt frontier, the Ministry of National Infrastructure  (MNI) in 2004 wrote to Tzahal, reminding them:

“Following an initial inquiry, I am under the impression that there is the technological ability to deal with the problem, in the immediate timeframe, through active and passive means,” he said optimistically. “We are talking about available equipment which could be purchased and activated immediately”.

According to Bergman’s investigation, Tzahal basically told the MNI that they believed they were working on something better with two civilian contractors.

The IDF Ground Commander in 2004, Maj. Gen Yiftah Ron-Tal, undertook a WWII expedient.  According to Bergman, Aluf Ron-Tal sent aides to Texas to procurea machine called the Trencher capable of penetrating tunnels dug 25 meters below. Despite repeated efforts in 2005 and 2006, not much of a priority was given to development of alternatives by Tzahal to the original GII seismic fence proposal.

Bergman reports a conversation with a senior officer in Israel’s Ministry of Defense who indicated that a think tank effort on the tunnel threat had been convened. The think tank included the GII, and had been given funding to come up with viable options, following the 2010 YA investigative report.  Bergman cites a Tzahal source currently saying:

This field is relatively new and we do not have that kind of experience in it, nor is it clear in which direction we should be going or which direction will be successful. We turned to sources worldwide, and realized that no country has an effective solution to this issue.

To which Bergman counters:

Nonetheless, if you take into account the years of related activity since 2000, it’s been 14 years already. How much longer will it take?

Bergman and concerned Israelis got their answer with the Jerusalem Post report which suggested that a successful test indicated that a system could be implemented beginning in 2015.  Again, that system development is too little, too late for Operation Protective Edge. Israel’s well-known ability to develop leading edge technology in record time was ignored by the very people who would have benefited from it the most.

Is There a Hezbollah Tunnel Threat in Israel’s north as well?

Also on Monday, August 11th, the Jerusalem Post reported this statement:

The IDF does not know of any infiltration tunnels crossing from Lebanon into Israel, head of Northern Command, Major General Yair Golan, said Sunday.

Speaking to a forum of front line communities in Kfar Vradim in the North, Golan said that tunnels do not pose a strategic threat on the northern border, but that the IDF was prepared to handle the issue, despite being unable to confirm that any tunnels exist.

Notwithstanding Gen. Golan’s comments, we drew attention to intelligence as far back as 2010 that a significant tunnel threat to Israel existed under its northern frontier with Lebanon.  We noted:

he massive network of tunnels under Gaza mirrors the system of tunnels that criss-crosses southern Lebanon, which were built to avoid Israeli drone surveillance of Hezbollah’s movement of missiles across Lebanon from Syria. The IDF was warned about these Hezbollah tunnels as early as April 2010, and was also given information about cross-border tunnels that were being built at the time with assistance from the IRGC, using North Korean tunnel-building technology. Eye witness accounts reported the construction of a large tunnel that was being built to run from southern Lebanon to central Haifa, and a number of small bore tunnels that were being built, to emerge within northern Israeli towns and kibbutzim. These were designed for Hezbollah’s child warriors who would be sent heavily armed and would be instructed to fire on anyone they see once they emerge in these towns.

Corroboration of that came in an Israel National News (INN) article, “Expert Says Terror Tunnels a Threat in the Galilee.  The editors at INN suggest that “Hezbollah could be building Gaza-esque tunnels into Israel”.  Hezbollah, as we reported, was already deeply engaged in building their complex tunnel network. At the time the INN article appeared, their network was far along in its construction. When their tunnel to Haifa, originally designed to accommodate trucks, became unusable because its air-handling system could not cope with the exhaust fumes in the 25 mile run, the tunnel was retrofitted for trains rather than trucks. The massive underground network extended northeast to the Syrian border, and honeycombed throughout southern Lebanon. It  providing storage for large missiles, ammunition, and military vehicles, as well as covert routes for the transport of materiel and men.

At the time this report was received by Israeli military intelligence in 2010, the Hezbollah network was already well-developed and was an ongoing, complex project with the deep involvement of the IRGC. The threat at the time was already credible and, from all accounts, was being taken seriously. However, the development of the technology that could have detected the construction of a tunnel 100 feet underground was apparently not available.  Its development had not been put on a fast track, as it should have been.

Here are some of the observations of the Israeli expert:

Geologist Col. Yossi Langotsky (res.) for five years was a Commander of Operational Intelligence and won the Israel Security Prize twice. Despite his expertise, however, his warnings about terror tunnels were apparently ignored.

“For nine years I raised hell, and said [terrorists are] digging tunnels into Israeli territory, and the state security system is not organized with enough seriousness required to deal with the intensity of the threat,” he recounted. This operation, he noted, is the result.

[…]

“It’s amazing to me that, less than a year ago, the Army removed the guards posted near several Gaza belt communities,” referring to a controversial IDF decision earlier this year. “It indicates that they have not internalized the real danger.”

Langotsky then turned to the threat from Hezbollah on the Lebanon frontier based on the North Korean tunnels that crossed the DMZ into South Korea.

He noted the ability of Hezbollah to build tunnels threatening the Galilee:

Geologically, the ground in the Galilee is softer and easier to dig compared to the earth in the Koreas, and added that the close relationship between Hezbollah and North Korea is already well-known. North Korea has reportedly played an important role in helping Hamas dig its own tunnels from Gaza, as well as providing them with rockets.

Langotsky concluded:

But action must be taken now, he said, before the situation in Lebanon mirrors that in Gaza.

“The facts were known,” he said, regarding terror tunnels in the Gaza belt. “The system went to sleep for a few years and did not do what needed to be done.”

One wonders whether the warnings about the vulnerability on Israel’s northern frontier might have prodded Tzahal to correct its threat reduction priorities on several fronts; tunnel detection, mapping and strategies for destroying those in existence  and those yet to come, under both frontiers. Four years later, we wonder why it didn’t.

Israel’s military faces sobering facts about weaknesses in its defense plans that must be overcome so it can faithfully protect its citizens. Langotsky told us that he had warned current IDF Chief of Staff General Benny Gantz about the threats. But sadly, something fell into the bureaucratic cracks, ignored or overlooked by the decision-makers of Tzahal in Tel Aviv.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of an IDF soldier in Gaza tunnel during Protective Edge.  Source:  AP Photo.

Benghazi and Iran: The Two Faces of Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is much in the news as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee given the release Wednesday of the long-awaited bi-partisan Benghazi Report.  Contrast that with her withering criticism of  the  nearly veto-proof  new Iran Sanctions legislation.  On Tuesday she rose on the floor of the US Senate to give a ringing condemnation of the bipartisan Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (S. 1881), seeking standby sanctions authorities,  as unnecessary and dangerous legislation acceding to saber rattling by our ally Israel.  She castigated it for disrupting the Administration’s diplomatic initiative with Iran with what she deems a ‘strong’ P5+1 agreement triggered by concerns over Israel’s security.  She observed:

 And let me acknowledge Israel’s real well founded concerns, that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its very existence. I don’t disagree with that. I agree with it, but we’re not there yet. While I recognize and share Israel’s concern, we cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war. By stating that the United States should provide military support to Israel in a former resolution should it attack Iran, I fear that is how this bill is going to be interpreted.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in a release yesterday, upbraided Sen. Feinstein for these remarks. Matt Brooks, RJC executive director said:

Senator Feinstein is within her rights to disagree with a bipartisan majority of her colleagues who support Kirk-Menendez, but her suggestion that those colleagues have ceded control over ‘when and where the United States goes to war’ to Israel is outrageous, inflammatory and completely baseless.

[…]

We are deeply troubled to see Senator Feinstein making such incendiary and inaccurate remarks on the Senate floor. We call on her to retract this reckless and false charge and apologize to her colleagues and to the millions of Americans who support a comprehensive, robust strategy to prevent the Tehran regime from obtaining nuclear weapons capability.”

Watch Sen. Feinstein’s Senate floor speech on this C-SPAN video clip.

Contrast Sen. Feinstein’s Senate Floor remarks on NWFIA with the news that followed the release of yesterday’s Benghazi Report by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Benghazi Report, according to The Wall Street Journal in a lead article in today’s edition, “Benghazi Report Spreads Blame”, lambasted both the State Department and the Intelligence community.  It indicated that this was a “preventable attack” that took the lives of four Americans including the late Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens.  These valiant Americans may have died because of the lack of State Department attention to requests for enhanced security that might have been provided prior to the September 11, 2012 attack.  That could spell trouble for former Secretary of State Clinton  poised many believe to seek her party’s nomination for the Presidency in 2016.  Senator Feinstein in remarks captured in a  Global Affairs blog article of The Hill, “Feinstein rejects NYT on Benghazi, lent the impression that the attack may have been perpetrated by a local terrorist group, Anshar al-Sharia  ‘influenced’ by  Al Qaeda. The Global Affairs blog noted both her comments:

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said that key conclusions of a recent New York Times investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack are wrong.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) rejected the Times’s conclusion that al Qaeda wasn’t responsible for the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. She also took issue with the notion that the Libya strike was sparked by a U.S.-made anti-Islam video online.

“I believe that groups loosely associated with al Qaeda were” involved in the attack, she told The Hill last week. “That’s my understanding.”

She also disputed the notion that the Sept. 11, 2012, assault evolved from a protest against the video, which was widely disseminated by Islamic clerics shortly before the attack.

Given  her Senate floor speech on NWFIA and Israel, Sen. Feinstein  might address the objections  of RJC executive director Brooks by heeding the comments made during the January 14th Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) conference call – listen to this excerpt on You Tube – by both former Israeli Amb. (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, Dr. Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Sarah Stern, EMET’s executive director.

Commenting  that  Iran’s nuclear threat is directed at the US, Amb. Ettinger said:

 I think that when it comes to Iran the top priority is to send a message to legislators, you don’t do that for Israel.  You do it for America, namely Israel’s best friends on Capitol Hill are being told today by Israeli leaders and by friends of Israel, please have the back of our ally in the Middle East.  It is the wrong approach.  Israel should not be part of any Iranian related activity on the Hill.  It is America which is the number one target for Iran and not Israel. Once American legislators realize that we are going to see a sea change of attitudes on the Hill which could be the element stopping Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Stern of EMET  then drew attention to just such an initiative by her group:

We at EMET are working on a television campaign with exactly that message to go all over the United States without even mentioning Israel.  Instead, we talk about the annual November 4th ‘Death to America Rallies’ when they burned the American flag, etc…  Iran has actually said that by 2015 they will develop a Shahab missile to reach the Eastern seaboard of the continental United States.

In an Iconoclast post in late November 2013 on the cusp of the P5+1 agreement, we raised the issue of “Could Iranian missiles threaten Florida by 2015?”  I was acutely aware of this danger as a young US Army intelligence officer who  lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.  Sen. Feinstein was a young adult when the Soviet-backed threat nearly brought catastrophe to this hemisphere, prevented only because we were militarily prepared to act.  In our blog post we drew attention to that eerie precedent. We cited current comments from Mark Regev spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and a Clarion project briefing with IDF Brig. Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog on the Iranian missile threat to the US.  We also referred to international investigative reports that a company owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was allegedly building a possible missile base equipped with those Shahab missiles Stern referred to on the Paraguaná peninsula in Venezuela.

As head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Feinstein may have also been briefed on the same information. For her to disregard this clear and present danger by Iran to the US and her constituents is myopic, misleading and dangerous.  The stronger stand by sanctions authorization under S. 1881 with near veto-proof bi-partisan support buttresses the diplomatic initiative the Administration is seeking to achieve.  Sen. Feinstein needs to correct her Senate speech mistakes and apologize to her fellow Senators, all Americans and to our ally Israel.  We must be realistic about the “catastrophic apocalyptic” threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to regional and world peace.  The current generation of Americans doesn’t have to live through another nuclear crisis as many of us and Sen. Feinstein did 52 years ago.

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