Commentary Magazine


Topic: Diego Garcia

Slow-Roll to Diego Garcia?

It’s going to be impossible to keep up with these reports and rumors, but one new item merits discussion. Emanuele Ottolenghi has pretty thoroughly discredited the originators of the rumor that bombs shipped to Diego Garcia are for an imminent attack on Iran. Now, however, there’s a report from a less-dismissible source that the original intention may have been to ship the bombs to Israel. Much of the blogosphere is running with the story that Obama “diverted” the shipment, with the timing of these revelations apparently related to Washington’s ongoing tiff with Jerusalem.

My assessment up front: the blogosphere’s got that story wrong. The U.S. may well have decided to change the destination of bombs being prepositioned overseas, but the decision was clearly made at least two months ago, before the January 2010 contract to ship the munitions to Diego Garcia was posted. Nevertheless, if the World Tribune report is valid, that change in our prepositioning plan could be part of a disquieting trend in the Obama administration’s arms policy toward Israel.

A key fact in this tangled tale is that Israel has been one of the U.S. military’s principal foreign prepositioning sites for the last 20 years. (Others are South Korea and Thailand.) Munitions we store with these hosts, while intended for our own forces’ use in contingencies, can be used by the host nations in the case of national emergency. We only store such stockpiles in nations with which we have defense agreements. A previous ammunition shipment to the storage sites in Israel became quite famous a year ago when the cargo ship bearing it was originally scheduled to arrive during the IDF operations in Gaza. In light of a December 2009 agreement on doubling the size of our munitions stockpile in Israel, it’s quite probable that we intended to ship additional bombs to the storage sites there this year.

The World Tribune piece appears to be discussing a U.S. policy-related shipment of this kind, rather than the diversion of arms that were actually sold to Israel. I don’t believe that a weapons sale is being reneged on. But a decision to suspend further prepositioning of U.S. munitions at the Israeli sites would be in character with the Obama administration’s emerging policy of delaying and blocking military sales to Israel. The most notable instance involves the Apache Longbow helicopter: a pending sale of Apaches to Israel was blocked by the administration in June 2009, due to the concern that they would be used to threaten Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

The U.S. has delayed arms sales to Israel before, but as the JINSA article above notes, Obama’s policy of slow-rolling Israel while concluding major arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan is a new one. His administration’s bumpy history with Israel lends weight to the possibility that our military prepositioning strategy is being modified to prevent further growth in the munitions stockpile Israel might be able to drawn on. Implementing policy by this arcane method has the advantage of being a quiet and attritional approach.

We should note that Israel already has the types of bombs listed in the manifest for the Diego Garcia shipment.  We sold the IDF several thousand of them in the last decade. There is no need to hyperventilate over the erroneous implication that a type of weapon Israel desperately needs is being withheld. But the possibility that the Obama administration hopes to control the limits on Israel’s options is not so easily dismissed.

Deciding what we do with our own weapons is, of course, America’s sovereign right. The discretion and logistic convenience we retain by storing bombs at Diego Garcia are things any administration might seek. But while this bomb shipment may be a politically unremarkable logistic decision, reports that it may have implications about our relations with Israel are credible after months of one-sided policy from the Obama administration.

It’s going to be impossible to keep up with these reports and rumors, but one new item merits discussion. Emanuele Ottolenghi has pretty thoroughly discredited the originators of the rumor that bombs shipped to Diego Garcia are for an imminent attack on Iran. Now, however, there’s a report from a less-dismissible source that the original intention may have been to ship the bombs to Israel. Much of the blogosphere is running with the story that Obama “diverted” the shipment, with the timing of these revelations apparently related to Washington’s ongoing tiff with Jerusalem.

My assessment up front: the blogosphere’s got that story wrong. The U.S. may well have decided to change the destination of bombs being prepositioned overseas, but the decision was clearly made at least two months ago, before the January 2010 contract to ship the munitions to Diego Garcia was posted. Nevertheless, if the World Tribune report is valid, that change in our prepositioning plan could be part of a disquieting trend in the Obama administration’s arms policy toward Israel.

A key fact in this tangled tale is that Israel has been one of the U.S. military’s principal foreign prepositioning sites for the last 20 years. (Others are South Korea and Thailand.) Munitions we store with these hosts, while intended for our own forces’ use in contingencies, can be used by the host nations in the case of national emergency. We only store such stockpiles in nations with which we have defense agreements. A previous ammunition shipment to the storage sites in Israel became quite famous a year ago when the cargo ship bearing it was originally scheduled to arrive during the IDF operations in Gaza. In light of a December 2009 agreement on doubling the size of our munitions stockpile in Israel, it’s quite probable that we intended to ship additional bombs to the storage sites there this year.

The World Tribune piece appears to be discussing a U.S. policy-related shipment of this kind, rather than the diversion of arms that were actually sold to Israel. I don’t believe that a weapons sale is being reneged on. But a decision to suspend further prepositioning of U.S. munitions at the Israeli sites would be in character with the Obama administration’s emerging policy of delaying and blocking military sales to Israel. The most notable instance involves the Apache Longbow helicopter: a pending sale of Apaches to Israel was blocked by the administration in June 2009, due to the concern that they would be used to threaten Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

The U.S. has delayed arms sales to Israel before, but as the JINSA article above notes, Obama’s policy of slow-rolling Israel while concluding major arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan is a new one. His administration’s bumpy history with Israel lends weight to the possibility that our military prepositioning strategy is being modified to prevent further growth in the munitions stockpile Israel might be able to drawn on. Implementing policy by this arcane method has the advantage of being a quiet and attritional approach.

We should note that Israel already has the types of bombs listed in the manifest for the Diego Garcia shipment.  We sold the IDF several thousand of them in the last decade. There is no need to hyperventilate over the erroneous implication that a type of weapon Israel desperately needs is being withheld. But the possibility that the Obama administration hopes to control the limits on Israel’s options is not so easily dismissed.

Deciding what we do with our own weapons is, of course, America’s sovereign right. The discretion and logistic convenience we retain by storing bombs at Diego Garcia are things any administration might seek. But while this bomb shipment may be a politically unremarkable logistic decision, reports that it may have implications about our relations with Israel are credible after months of one-sided policy from the Obama administration.

Read Less

RE: Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran? Check the Source First

Emanuele Ottolenghi’s instincts are spot-on regarding the Scottish Herald report of bunker-buster bombs going to Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia is a British-owned island in the Indian Ocean where the U.S. has maintained storage and communication facilities for decades. The island is a hub in our global network of prepositioned supplies and ammunition; shipments to and from the island occur far more often than we go to war.

The bomb shipment discussed in the Herald item isn’t of a kind that happens frequently, but it’s exactly the sort that happens as a result of long-term contingency planning. The Pentagon parks ammunition in certain spots around the world to support the operations we may have to undertake. Standing policy drives these preparations most of the time.

The bombs in question — assuming the Herald got their nomenclature right — aren’t our most impressive bunker-busters anyway. The BLU-110 and BLU-117 bombs described in the report are 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs, respectively: weight classes we have used since the early 1990s or before. Fitting these bombs with modern guidance packages and improved penetration capability has given them more punch, but it doesn’t place them in the same category as our premier weapons.

For comparison, the bunker-busters we sold to Israel in 2005 are 5,000-pound weapons. In the U.S. inventory we have an 18,700-pound bunker-buster and a newer 30,000-pound penetrating bomb. Without turning this into “Bomb 101,” the point to take away is that we move the little bombs, which are the workhorses of our inventory, on a more routine basis than we do the big, exotic bombs. Presidents since Bill Clinton have wanted the military to be prepared to attack Iranian targets if it should become necessary, and having the right bombs staged forward is part of that effort. We can deduce from the shipment to Diego Garcia that the military is updating CENTCOM’s inventory and that Obama hasn’t ruled out a military approach to Iran. But there are no grounds to conclude that a strike must be imminent.

Emanuele Ottolenghi’s instincts are spot-on regarding the Scottish Herald report of bunker-buster bombs going to Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia is a British-owned island in the Indian Ocean where the U.S. has maintained storage and communication facilities for decades. The island is a hub in our global network of prepositioned supplies and ammunition; shipments to and from the island occur far more often than we go to war.

The bomb shipment discussed in the Herald item isn’t of a kind that happens frequently, but it’s exactly the sort that happens as a result of long-term contingency planning. The Pentagon parks ammunition in certain spots around the world to support the operations we may have to undertake. Standing policy drives these preparations most of the time.

The bombs in question — assuming the Herald got their nomenclature right — aren’t our most impressive bunker-busters anyway. The BLU-110 and BLU-117 bombs described in the report are 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs, respectively: weight classes we have used since the early 1990s or before. Fitting these bombs with modern guidance packages and improved penetration capability has given them more punch, but it doesn’t place them in the same category as our premier weapons.

For comparison, the bunker-busters we sold to Israel in 2005 are 5,000-pound weapons. In the U.S. inventory we have an 18,700-pound bunker-buster and a newer 30,000-pound penetrating bomb. Without turning this into “Bomb 101,” the point to take away is that we move the little bombs, which are the workhorses of our inventory, on a more routine basis than we do the big, exotic bombs. Presidents since Bill Clinton have wanted the military to be prepared to attack Iranian targets if it should become necessary, and having the right bombs staged forward is part of that effort. We can deduce from the shipment to Diego Garcia that the military is updating CENTCOM’s inventory and that Obama hasn’t ruled out a military approach to Iran. But there are no grounds to conclude that a strike must be imminent.

Read Less

Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran? Check the Source First

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

Read Less




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