#1 Armada of British naval power massing in the Gulf as Israel prepares an Iran strike09-16-2012, 11:35 PM
An armada of US and British naval power is massing in the Persian Gulf in the belief that Israel is considering a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s covert nuclear weapons programme.
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
10:00PM BST 15 Sep 2012
Battleships, aircraft carriers, minesweepers and submarines from 25 nations are converging on the strategically important Strait of Hormuz in an unprecedented show of force as Israel and Iran move towards the brink of war.
Western leaders are convinced that Iran will retaliate to any attack by attempting to mine or blockade the shipping lane through which passes around 18 million barrels of oil every day, approximately 35 per cent of the world’s petroleum traded by sea.
A blockade would have a catastrophic effect on the fragile economies of Britain, Europe the United States and Japan, all of which rely heavily on oil and gas supplies from the Gulf.
The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most congested international waterways. It is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point and is bordered by the Iranian coast to the north and the United Arab Emirates to the south.
In preparation for any pre-emptive or retaliatory action by Iran, warships from more than 25 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, will today begin an annual 12-day exercise.
The war games are the largest ever undertaken in the region.
They will practise tactics in how to breach an Iranian blockade of the strait and the force will also undertake counter-mining drills.
The multi-national naval force in the Gulf includes three US Nimitz class carrier groups, each of which has more aircraft than the entire complement of the Iranian air force.
The carriers are supported by at least 12 battleships, including ballistic missile cruisers, frigates, destroyers and assault ships carrying thousand of US Marines and special forces.
The British component consists of four British minesweepers and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay, a logistics vessel. HMS Diamond, a brand-new £1billion Type 45 destroyer, one of the most powerful ships in the British fleet, will also be operating in the region.
In addition, commanders will also simulate destroying Iranian combat jets, ships and coastal missile batteries.
In the event of war, the main threat to the multi-national force will come from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps navy, which is expected to adopt an “access-denial” strategy in the wake of an attack, by directly targeting US warships, attacking merchant shipping and mining vital maritime chokepoints in the Persian Gulf.
Defence sources say that although Iran’s capability may not be technologically sophisticated, it could deliver a series of lethal blows against British and US ships using mini-subs, fast attack boats, mines and shore-based anti-ship missile batteries.
Next month, Iran will stage massive military manoeuvres of its own, to show that it is prepared to defend its nuclear installations against the threat of aerial bombardment.
The exercise is being showcased as the biggest air defence war game in the Islamic Republic’s history, and will be its most visible response yet to the prospect of an Israeli military strike.
Using surface-to-air missiles, unmanned drones and state-of-the-art radar, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and air force will combine to test the defences of 3,600 sensitive locations throughout the country, including oil refineries and uranium enrichment facilities.
Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya air defence base, told a conference this month that the manoeuvres would “identify vulnerabilities, try out new tactics and practise old ones”.
At the same time as the Western manoeuvres in the Gulf, the British Response Task Forces Group — which includes the carrier HMS Illustrious, equipped with Apache attack helicopters, along with the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle - will be conducting a naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean. The task force could easily be diverted to the Gulf region via the Suez Canal within a week of being ordered to do so.
The main naval exercise comes as President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, today to discuss the Iranian crisis.
Many within the Obama administration believe that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities before the US presidential elections, an act which would signal the failure of one of Washington’s key foreign policy objectives.
Both Downing Street and Washington hope that the show of force will demonstrate to Iran that Nato and the West will not allow President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian leader, to develop a nuclear armoury or close Hormuz.
Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, reportedly met the Israeli prime minister and Ehud Barak, his defence secretary, two weeks ago in an attempt to avert military action against Iran.
But just last week Mr Netanyahu signalled that time for a negotiated settlement was running out when he said: “The world tells Israel 'Wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?’
“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”
The crisis hinges on Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme, which Israel believes is designed to build an atomic weapon. Tehran has long argued that the programme is for civil use only and says it has no plans to an build a nuclear bomb, but that claim has been disputed by the West, with even the head of MI6 stating that the Islamic Republic is on course to develop atomic weapons by 2014.
The Strait of Hormuz has long been disputed territory, with the Iranians claiming control of the region and the entire Persian Gulf.
Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps recently boasted that “any plots of enemies” would be foiled and a heavy price exacted, adding: “We determine the rules of military conflict in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.”
But Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, warned that Iranian attempts to exercise control over the Strait of Hormuz could be met with force.
He said: “The Iranians need to understand that the United States and the international community are going to hold them directly responsible for any disruption of shipping in that region — by Iran or, for that matter, by its surrogates.”
Mr Panetta said that the United States was “fully prepared for all contingencies” and added: “We’ve invested in capabilities to ensure that the Iranian attempt to close down shipping in the Gulf is something that we are going to be able to defeat if they make that decision.”
That announcement was supported by Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, who added: “We are determined to work as part of the international community effort to ensure freedom of passage in the international waters of the Strait of Hormuz.”
One defence source told The Sunday Telegraph last night: “If it came to war, there would be carnage. The Iranian casualties would be huge but they would be able to inflict severe blows against the US and British.
“The Iranian Republican Guard are well versed in asymmetrical warfare and would use swarm attacks to sink or seriously damage ships. This is a conflict nobody wants, but the rhetoric from Israel is unrelenting.”
If Israel attacks before the election Obama will come to their aid, if they attack after the election regardless of the outcome of the election Obama will tell them to pound sand.
#2 Benjamin Netanyahu warning on Iranian nuclear progress09-17-2012, 12:08 AM
Benjamin Netanyahu stubbornly ignored warnings from the White House to tone down his rhetoric on Iran, warning that Tehran would be on the brink of nuclear weapons capability in six to seven months.
Phoebe Greenwood inTel Aviv
5:46PM BST 16 Sep 2012
Speaking on the most popular Sunday morning news show, Meet The Press, he repeated his demand for Washington to draw a "red line" over the Iranian regime's nuclear weapons ambiton.
"You have to place that red line before them [Iran] now, before it's too late," he said.
Earlier, Mr Netanyahu rejected as "completely groundless" the notion that he is wielding the Iranian nuclear threat as a political weapon to weaken President Obama ahead of the US elections, which has gained currency among some American commentators.
The Israeli prime minister also emphatically denied claims made by Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, that Israel's insistence on a "red line", after which the US would guarantee to attack Iranian nuclear installations, was mere "posturing".
Mr Panetta said that "red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner".
Dismissing Mr Panetta's damning analysis of his policy, he assumed a tone of long-suffering patience with his allies and their reluctance to issue Tehran with a genuine military threat.
"I started speaking about the Iranian threat 16 years ago. If I was not a lone voice then, I was one of the few, and then others joined… Now I speak about red lines for Iran. So far I am one of the few; I hope others will join," he told the Jerusalem Post paper in comments published yesterday.
"It takes time to persuade people of the wisdom of this policy."
As early as 1986, Mr Netanyahu, then Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, advocated decisive military action as the only way to deal with terror threats. In 'Terrorism: How the West Can Win' the burgeoning leader identified the Islamic Republic of Iran among the greatest threats to global security and criticised US reluctance to use its military might to thwart terrorism under what he termed the 'Western malaise'.
"The rules of engagement have become so rigid that governments often straightjacket themselves in the face of unambiguous aggression," he wrote. "The application of military force, or the prospect of such application, inhibits terrorist violence."
As prime minister, Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed frustration with American reluctance to condone military action in Iran. Only last week, he thundered that the international community had 'no moral right' to put 'red lines before Israel'.
But this bullish approach met a cool reception in Washington. President Obama is reported to have declined a request to meet with Mr Netanyahu during the United Nations general assembly later this month.
The consensus that Mr Netanyahu has deliberately used the Iran issue to insert himself in the American electoral race, to embarrass the president and boost the Republican ticket, is also gaining momentum in the US media.
The Jerusalem Post, a right-leaning Israeli newspaper, observed that this suggestion "annoys him [Netanyahu]" and concluded that the tough rhetoric he has used to assert Israel's right to take arms against the Iranian threat was for the benefit of his domestic- rather than the American - electorate. The prime minister did not refute the possibility that general elections could be called in Israel as early as March next year.
Mr Netanyahu did, however, promise the Jerusalem Post's readers that Iran's nuclear programme will be crushed, concluding that his main regret for the year was "we have not yet stopped Iran."
"When you interview me next year, I hope I can give you a different answer," he said.
The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard meanwhile warned that "nothing will remain" of Israel if it takes military action against Tehran over its controversial nuclear programme.
Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari said Iran's response to any attack will begin near the Israeli border. The Islamic Republic has close ties with militants in Gaza and Lebanon, both of which border Israel. It was the latest of a series of apocalytpic threats by Iranian leaders directed at the Jewish state.
#3 Iran plans military exercises in preparation for Israeli strike on nuclear facilities09-17-2012, 12:11 AM
Iran will stage massive manoeuvres next month in a muscle-flexing show of preparedness to combat a US or Israeli aerial bombardment on its nuclear installations.
8:30AM BST 16 Sep 2012
The exercise is being showcased as the biggest air defence war game in the Islamic Republic's history and will be Iran's most visible response yet to mounting speculation that Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may order a military strike this autumn.
Using surface-to-air missiles, unmanned drones and state-of-the-art radar, Iran's Revolutionary Guards and air force will combine to test the defences of 3,600 sensitive locations throughout the country, including oil refineries and uranium enrichment facilities.
"This manoeuvre is intended to assess the preparedness both of our manpower forces and air defence installations," Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya air defence base, told a conference marking Iran's annual air defence day earlier this month. "We will also identify vulnerabilities, try out new tactics and practise old ones."
The high-profile manoeuvres will represent a riposte to planned naval exercises this week by the US in the Persian Gulf. The American exercises, which focus on tackling threats from sea mines, are seen - though not officially acknowledged - as a response to Iranian threats to close or sabotage the waterways of the Strait of Hormuz, the strategically vital transit route for around one-fifth of the world's oil.
Last week, General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, promised to "drag the war inside the enemies' borders" if Iran were attacked. His comments may have referred to Iran's capacity to call on the services of Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite group widely seen as Tehran's proxy, to fire rockets into Israel in the event of hostilities.
Mohsen Rezai, who led the Revolutionary Guards during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and is now an influential member of Irab's powerful Expediency Council, made more explicit threats than Mr Salami.
"I have heard they [the Israeli government] have estimated that 400 to 500 people in Israel would be killed. They are wrong," he told a newspaper. "Iran's reaction would be so severe that nobody would ever dare think of attacking us again."
The targets of Iranian retribution are unlikely to be just Israeli. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, told a Lebanese television station this month that the US would be held responsible for any Israeli action. "The response will not just be Iranian targets. If Israel targets Iran, America bears responsibility."
However, despite the bluster, the official Iranian assessment appears to be that an imminent attack is highly unlikely.
"It's hard to assess exactly what they think but from everything the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force (the elite unit tasked with operations abroad) say, I don't think they believe Israel will attack Iran," said Mohsen Sazegara, a founder member of the Revolutionary Guards now exiled in the US.
"All their statements indicate that they think Netanyahu is indulging in psychological warfare."
Indeed, with negotiations between the West and Iran over Tehran's nuclear programme at a standstill, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader who has the final say over all state matters, appears to have calculated that he can wait until the US presidential election and possibly well beyond it before either side makes a decisive move.
Believing that President Barack Obama's hands are tied, Ayatollah Khamenei may even prefer to see Mitt Romney triumph in November's poll on the grounds that a Republican president has greater domestic scope to make concessions to Iran than a Democrat incumbent.
"Khamenei is relatively relaxed that nothing will happen before the US presidential election and so there is no sense of urgency in Iran to make a concession on the nuclear issue," said Mehdi Khalaji, senior fellow with the Washington Institute and a former seminary student in the Iranian religious city of Qom.
"He believes that although Israel is talking about war, what they actually want is to mobilise the West against Iran rather than go to war themselves. If Obama gets re-elected, Khamenei believes he won't go to war - instead he needs to come up with a new package to offer Iran.
"If Romney wins, it will take him several months to form a national security team and he then needs to try diplomacy first before going to war. That gives Iran another year."
Mr Khalaji added: "Khamenei thinks Romney winning would be great for Iran. He thinks he might be willing to comrpomise than Obama. And historically, despite their tough talk, the Republicans have always been more willing to cooperate with Iran."
Despite a catalogue of economic woes including plummeting oil revenues and a sharp decline in the value of the Iranian rial against the dollar, there is little sign that the economy is about to implode. Although President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently acknowledged that Western sanctions have caused difficulties, officials are trumpeting the emergence of a self-sufficient "resistance economy" that will see Iran become less reliant on its oil income.
"Economically, Iran is doing better than expected," Mr Khalaji said. "It is true that prices are going up and ordinary people are suffering, but it doesn't mean life has stopped in Iran. What we are seeing is more mismanagement rather than the impact of sanctions. In the short-term, sanctions cannot cripple the economy in a way that would force Iran to suspend uranium enrichment."
09-17-2012, 12:37 AM
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