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Iran Seizes Two U.S. Patrol Boats – Holds 10 Sailors Hostage

Two U.S. Navy riverine torpedo boats were on a training mission between Kuwait and Bahrain when one of the vessels became disabled ‘drifting’ into Iranian waters.  The boats were promptly detained by Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval units on Farsi Island in Persian Gulf.  Ten U.S. sailors  (9 men and 1 woman) aboard the two boats were arrested Secretary Kerry called his opposite number in Tehran, Foreign Minister Zarif seeking the release of both the boats and crew. The response was that their release “might come with hours”. Don’t count on it.

US Navy Riverine Command Boat 802

U.S. Navy Riverine Command Boat 802. Source: US Navy

Note the comments in this NBC news report from retired Army Gen . Barry McCaffrey, GOP Presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio:

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News military analyst, said the seizure of American boats is “very bad news” and highlights how the Navy may have failed to have surveillance on its vessels.

“We simply can’t allow ground, air or naval units to be seized by a foreign hostile power,” McCaffrey said on MSNBC. “I hope they’re back real quickly. This is an affront to our military presence in the Gulf and will unsettle our allies in the region.”

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush was among the first to attack Obama for appearing weak in front of Iran, which has been at odds with the U.S. over a nuclear deal that was finally reached last year.

“No more bargaining. Obama’s humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again,” Bush tweeted.

GOP rival Marco Rubio during an interview on Fox News called for Iran to release the sailors immediately, saying the nation is “testing the boundaries of our resolve.”

With less than 270 vessels in our Navy, we cannot project power in any of the world trouble spots, be it the volatile Persian Gulf with much of the world oil trade traffic flows or the South China Sea.

Last April 2015, the Iranian fired warning shot across a Marshall Islands flagged vessel, the Maersk Tigris forcing the container ship with 34 Eastern European and South Asian sailors aboard to anchor off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. See our  NER/Iconoclast  Post, “What’s Behind Iran’s Piracy in the Persian Gulf over an Unresolved Cargo Claim?” Allegedly the seizure of the container ship was for alleged unpaid claims. The US did not provide naval intervention as required under a treaty with the Marshall Islands. When the alleged unpaid claims were paid, the vessel returned to its original voyage dropping off cargo in the UAE. Obviously the Administration didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of their Iranian nuclear deal  interlocutors.

In discussions this afternoon with Shoshana Bryen of the Jewish Policy Center we 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 Reuters report on today’s seizure of US patrol boats and arrest of US 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. the 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.

The President is giving his last SOTUS tonight. Perhaps members of Congress might show their contempt for this latest action of Iran seizing our vessels arresting 10 sailors by not applauding him, or better yet, not showing up.  Meanwhile the spin at the White House is 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.  We’ll believe the release of our sailors when that occurs and the patrol boats are also returned. The patrol boats are used to monitor freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.

The fate of the American civilian prisoners held by the Ayatollah and his IRGC henchman are uncertain at best.

RELATED ARTICLE: Humiliated in Front of the Entire World

RELATED VIDEO: White House spokesman: Iran’s seizure of Navy boats “precisely” why Obama made the nuke deal:

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

Who Profits from the Deadly Illegal Migrant Trafficking Trade Across the Mediterranean?

Smugglers Net for Illegal Migrant Trade

For a larger view click on the map.

Yesterday, we drew attention to the massive surge in the deadly illegal migrant trade across the Mediterranean that figured in an emergency meeting of EU Foreign ministers in Luxembourg. The loss of over 1,000 in two separate trafficking ship disasters last week  spurred on deliberations requested by Italian President Renzi and Maltese PM Muscat. Today charges were brought in Italian courts against the 27-year old Tunisian captain and 25-year old Syrian mate of the 66 foot fishing boat that capsized off Libya with a loss of upwards of 900 crammed into the flimsy vessel.  NBC news reported:

The Tunisian captain of the boat — 27-year-old Mohammed Ali Malek — was arrested along with a Syrian crew member, 25-year-old Mahmud Bikhit.

Sicilian prosecutors said Tuesday that Malek has been charged with culpable shipwreck, manslaughter and aiding and abetting illegal immigration. Bikhit has been charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration, the statement from Catania’s prosecutors said.

The question is who benefits from this deadly smuggling business?

The answer is the jihadists in Libya who  have profited from the turmoil in the  region. A Wall Street Journal report revealed how profitable the business of  trafficking  illegal migrants  is worth taking the risks involved as deadly as the results have been to their customers seeking refuge in the EU,. The bottom line of the  WSJ report: “Brazen, multi-million-dollar people-smuggling enterprise run by Libyan militias and tribesmen proves hard to combat.”

The WSJ wrote:

Various armed groups in Libya are aggressively advertising their services to would-be migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and Syrians fleeing conflict in their country, presenting the collapse of order in Libya as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure safe passage to Europe, says Arezo Malakooti, the director of migration research for Paris-based Altai Consulting, a consultancy that works with the International Organization for Migration and other migration-related groups.

“The profits from human trafficking have consolidated a new balance of power in the Sahel and Libya,” says Tuesday Reitano, head of the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

How a Saharan tribe profits:

The Saharan Tebu tribe, for instance, is now making “a killing,” according to Ms. Reitano, who estimates the tribe pockets some $60,000 a week by charging West African migrants for a seat on four-wheel-drive cars that take them to Agadez, a major city in Niger. From there, they ferry the migrants to the central Libyan city of Sabha and then proceed to northern Libya ahead of their sea journey to Italy and Malta.

The profits are such that tribes normally at war cooperate at times in getting migrants from one place to the next.

[…]

Mustapha Orghan, an activist who has worked with aid groups to track  smuggler operations said:

Tebu and Tuaregs used to smuggle goods. The new alternative is human trafficking…and now both Tuaregs and Tebu are trying to get their share of the cake.”

Mr. Orghan said Ghat, a southern Libyan town near the Algerian border where he lives, is the first entry point from Algeria for Africans. There, he said, “African migrants get sold from one smuggler to another.”

He said the trafficking business has become increasingly lucrative since chaos in Libya sharply reduced traditional sources of income in the region: heavily subsidized oil, food and other goods from Algeria.

“Farming” migrants to make profits:

In Sabha, African men typically spend months working as laborers, and women as housemaids, to earn the roughly $1,000 to pay for the crossing from Libya’s northern coast. If there is no demand for their services in Sabha, smugglers farm them out to cities further north and west for approximately 700 Libyan dinar, or about $500.

Discrimination among “customers” leads to  deadly trips:

Ismail, an African migrant who declined to give his full name and nationality, tried to cross three times in recent weeks but was thwarted by overcrowding and breakdowns of the cheap plastic boat of the sort usually provided for Africans. Syrians, who can often pay more and aren’t discriminated against by the overwhelmingly Arab smugglers, typically make the crossing in sturdier wooden boats.

The EU  according Frontex agency has arrested 10,000 involved in the illegal migrant trade, mainly truck drivers and many migrants involved in navigating the flimsy crafts.  Italian authorities have arrested `1,000 smugglers since 2014. However of these, less than 100 have been convicted. They simply lack the resources in contending with the mushrooming human trafficking business as Libya devolves into a failed state.

Watch this WSJ video dramatizing the journey of an Eritrean illegal migrant across Africa to Libya and his perilous transit via smugglers to his ultimate destination in the Italian island of Lampedusa:

Yesterday’s EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg may have surfaced calls for safe and secure channels to reduce the deadly toll of illegal migrants, but going after the lucrative smuggling trafficking business at its source means contending with warring militias and the criminal activities of tribal groups in Libya.  Note this ironic comment from the UN Human Rights Commission head:

“Europe is turning its back on some of the most vulnerable migrants in the world, and risk turning the Mediterranean into a vast cemetery,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein Monday. “Migrant smugglers are the symptom, not the cause of this wretched situation.”

Jihad conflicts in the Middle East and Africa are driving hundreds of thousands annually in desperation to pay top dollar for  a deadly ride on those rickety boats whose owners cop big time profits. Nature abhors a vacuum when chaos creates rich opportunities to rake in enormous wealth from trafficking  illegal migrants. As we saw yesterday, the successful smugglers even alert EU officials that they are bringing another shipload of hapless migrants to fatten their margins from this deadly trade. How the EU and the Union for the Mediterranean deal with problem of illegal mass immigration will surely be daunting costing billions of Euros. In the meantime, Italian and other EU coast guards continue to provide  a picket line of vessels  daily monitoring these dangerous trips in  flimsy craft across the Mediterranean from the failed state of Libya.

Stay tuned for developments.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of the Captain and first mate of capsized illegal migrant vessel Mohammed Ali Malek, left, and Mahmud Bikhit. Source: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Too Many Lies, Too Much of the Time

“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.” — THOMAS JEFFERSON, letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 19, 1785

I am beginning to wonder if Americans have grown so accustomed to the lies told by the President, his administration, and others said to be highly regarded, that we are losing a sense of outrage?

Hillary & Brian WilliamsTo the degree that Brian Williams’ serial lies have evoked a national discussion, it’s good to know that most people think he has lost credibility to the point of not being a news anchor, but one still has to wonder what NBC will do at the end of the six month suspension it has imposed on him. I am cynical enough to think he may be offered a job at MSNBC.

It is far more significant that, regarding the leading candidate to be the Democratic Party’s choice to run for President in 2016, we know she engaged in similar lies of having been “under fire.”

It’s one thing to expect politicians to lie, but the nation’s future is at stake when we still do not know the truth of Hillary Clinton’s full role in the Benghazi attack that left a U.S. ambassador and three others dead. She was the Secretary of State at the time and we watched her stand at his side as the President attributed the attack to a video no one had ever seen. The fact that the attack occurred on the anniversary of 9/11 was conveniently ignored.

The refusal to identify the Islamic State (ISIS) as an enemy representative of the global jihad is not just politics. It is a lie on the order of the President’s assertion that “The Islamic State is not Islamic.” As we are repeatedly reminded, if you cannot or will not identify an enemy, you are leaving yourself and, in this case, the nation open to attack.

Indeed, many elements of the Obama administration have engaged in lying on a level that goes beyond “politics.” It is a deliberate attack on science itself when the EPA, NOAA and NASA actively engage in distorting data to say that the Earth is warming when it has been in a well-established cooling cycle for 19 years at this point.

How are we expected to maintain any confidence in an administration that lies about employment statistics and other critical data we need to know regarding the economy?

The lie about “income inequality” is the core rational for Communism. There is no such thing as equality when it comes to income because some people enjoy higher pay for higher skills, higher productivity, and higher responsibility. We don’t pay “sanitation engineers” the same as we pay real engineers. And you don’t create new jobs by raising the minimum wage when it will reduce existing and potential new jobs.

Most dramatically, it was a series of lies told by the President that led to the passage of ObamaCare. Its two thousand-plus pages were not read by the exclusively Democratic members of Congress who passed it and, today, we learn that it is a major contributor to the nation’s deficit which is the result of the government spending more than it takes in. For the past six years Obama’s policies have added trillions to our national debt, now $18 trillion and growing. It is going to be a burden on generations to come.

There is no evidence of the tax reforms that Congress knows are needed, nor reforms to the entitlement programs that are just years from becoming insolvent.

Whether it is domestic or foreign affairs, Americans have been at a loss to expect the national press to address the lies because they would have to abandon the protection they have afforded the President for the past six years. Only one news service, Fox News, is credited with providing the truth. Fortunately the Internet has provided access to many other outlets where the truth can be found. And, yes, many that maintain the lies.

It should come as no surprise that the Obama administration wants to regulate the Internet with a program that call “Net neutrality”, but there is nothing neutral about it. The freedom the Internet enjoys is the best example of the value Americans put on an uncensored source of information and communication. The Obama administration wants to control the Internet in the same way that despots around the world want to do.

There is always a far higher price to pay for believing lies than knowing the truth.

We expect our enemies to lie. We should not expect our government to do so in such a routine and obscene fashion.

© Alan Caruba, 2015

Iran Behind the Rocket Blitz on Israel?

Last night, both Ilana Freedman and I briefed the state coordinators of the National Security Communications Strike Team (NSCST) on the strategic development in the latest rocket war on Israel from Gaza.  We were referring to the launch of several Syrian made and Iran supplied Khaibar M-302 rockets with  a range of 150 to 160  kms. Freedman notified the group in the briefing that the rockets launched from Gaza had ranged as far north Zikron Ya’akov 12 miles north of Tel Aviv.  Today, a rocket struck Ma’aleh Adumim where cousins live. That meant that nearly two thirds of Israel’s population, approximately 5 million, were at risk of strikes in the current rocket war by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad  (PIJ).  There are an estimated 10 to 12,000 rockets in possession of these terrorist groups in Gaza.

In March 2014, the Israeli Navy intercepted a Panamanian flagged vessel the Klos-C. The ship 40 of the M-302’s and a large quantity of 120mm mortar rounds and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition for AK-47 and Kalashnikov assault rifles.  They were displayed in the southern port city of Eilat on the Red Sea.  In the NSCST briefing, Lisa Benson noted that Eilat was very close to the Jordanian town of Ma’an where ISIS supporters have battled security forces.  Freedman and I noted that  40 of those M-302 rockets were shipped from Syria to Iran, put aboard the false-flagged  Klos-C, hidden underneath sacks of flour. The ship  sailed out  of a Persian Gulf port down  the Arabian sea to be off loaded at Port Sudan and trucked overland via Egypt and the Sinai into Gaza through smuggling tunnels.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Uzi Rubin,  Israel ‘s missile defense architect, presented in an Israel Project interview the full capabilities of the Hamas/PIJ rocket inventory and capabilities.  Before its News had this summary drawn from the Yid with Lid blog:

General Rubin explained that Hamas has three families of weapons:

  • Home-made, short-range (10-12km) – mainly crude manufacture -in use for 13 years;
  • ·Factory-made Grad 122mm with 40 km range used to attack Beersheba and Ashdod;
  • Another is the 4-inch M-75 rocket probably designed for the Gaza factions with a range  from 75-80 kilometers. That is the one fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Also it seems the missile which landed near Hadera was a Syrian M-302 , with a potential range of  150 – 160 kilometers.

  • They also have tactical mortar bombs to distract  IDF troops  close to Gaza and to hit local villages;
  • After Pillar of Defense (Nov. 2012) it was easier for Hamas to smuggle in weapons via Sinai because Egypt was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The materials and machinery for local rocket production was probably also smuggled in. It was an open route. A two-way route;
  • Rockets  were smuggled in from Iran and Syria. Remember the Klos C.  A Ship intercepted by the IDF which was carrying Iranian weapons meant for Gaza;
  • The locally-made rockets M-75s  are well made with components are smuggled in. These are almost factory like but they are not sophisticated. They have the range and the warhead but not the accuracy; and
  • Iron Dome is not the solution for everything. It only targets rockets that will hit populated areas.

Listen to The Israel Project interview with Dr. Rubin on this YouTube video:

The existence of the strategic M-302 rockets was the subject of a UN study released in May 2014 on the Klos-C weapons cargo.  The report proposed to the Security Council sanctions against Iran.  An NBC Report noted, “the Klos-C shipment traveled from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, and from there in the direction of Port Sudan.” Whether those sanctions might be seriously adopted in the midst of the final days of negotiations by the P5+1 with the Islamic Regime seeking to achieve a final agreement on curtailing Iran’s nuclear program is moot. That leaves Israel to ponder what to do on its own, as the Administration in Washington suggests the myopic view that both sides restrain themselves from further violence.

This is the third day of Operation Protective Edge.  Israel’s Air Force and Navy have undertaken in excess of 500 strikes in Gaza.  It intercepted Hamas commando teams on Zikim Beach near an IDF Base in Israel. Rockets targted Israel’s nuclear Facility at Dimona and an IAF air base.  No Israeli civilian casualties have been incurred, while 53 deaths and  500 injuries have been reported by Hamas spokespersons in Gaza. That umbrella of protection for Israelis is a product of the 90% interception rate for Iron Dome batteries taking down potential rocket strikes against major population centers. This is coupled with the relative inaccuracy of locally made rockets in the Hamas/PIJ inventory.  The low number of Iron Dome interceptions is purposeful, as Israel’s Home Command adopted a strategy learned during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 to let Hamas/PIJ rockets harmlessly strike unpopulated areas.

Nonetheless, there appears to be resolve in Israel that this time the rocket war and the people behind it must be crushed.   That objective is not without significant costs in both blood and treasure given the difficulty pinpointing targets often hidden in schools, hospitals, office buildings and even homes in Gaza. As reported by Israel Hayom, a senior IAF officer said that they were not in possession of complete target intelligence as rocket launchings have originated in underground or disguised office buildings and even homes.  A BBC  world servicreport gave evidence of that when a barrage of likely Grad rockets erupted adjacent to their offices in Gaza.

Rubin made the point on the Israel Project  interview  that current launches of rockets from Gaza are below that experienced during the eight day Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.  He commented that means that Israel could be in for a longer war than previously experienced. That led to the question of when might Israel launch ground operations in Gaza akin to that of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.  Freedman noted that the reserve call up of 40,000+  authorized by the Netanyahu security cabinet might be focused on reinforcing northern and Golan frontier borders and security in Judea and Samaria. Thus, freeing up regular IDF forces for actions in Gaza.  The necessity of ground operations to destroy the infrastructure of rocket inventory, launching sites and removal of Hamas and PIJ leadership was underscored in an Israel Hayom Op-ed by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Uzi DayanHe was  former IDF deputy chief of the general staff and former head of the National Security Council, “Ground operation necessary”. Dayan noted:

The purposes of Operation Protective Edge must be defined precisely: the toppling of the Hamas regime and the elimination of all rockets in Gaza.

Is it possible to defeat a terrorist group? Can these objectives be achieved using military force? The answer to both questions is yes. A terrorist group with a territorial base can be deterred by threatening its hold on that base. The destruction of Hamas governing infrastructure and the targeted killing or expulsion of Hamas leaders are attainable goals.

Will this require a ground operation? Will such an operation involve the loss of troops? Yes and yes. Every military commander knows the challenge is to fulfill the mission and protect soldiers, in that order. Our sensitivity regarding the lives of soldiers is an asset, but when it becomes the main consideration, this undermines the main mission of the IDF — providing security to the citizens of Israel.

[…]

Will we get stuck in the “Gaza mud”? No. But we will stay in the areas we capture to deal a lethal blow to terrorist groups, dismantle the rocket infrastructure and topple the Hamas government.

Hamas and the PIJ current rocket war is not the only threat facing Israel. There is the estimated 60,000 rockets/ missiles in fortified areas of Southern Lebanon held by Hezbollah.  Those fortified positions were designed by Iranian engineers with the aid of North Korean tunneling experts as Freedman has previously pointed out.  Further, the IDF Home Command has to be concerned about an even more formidable missile in Hezbollah’s inventory, the Syrian M-600. It has a range of 250 km sufficient to cover all of Israel and capable of carrying a full range of conventional and non-conventional warheads. That is not lost on Israel’s Home Command, they opened up shelters in the north.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the New English Review. The featured photos is of Syrian-made M-302 missiles captured by Israeli Naval commandos on display in Eilat March 2014. Source:  Ariel Schalit/AP.