Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | June 23, 2010

Smackdown! at Sea

In the esoteric world of attack flotillas, the heat is on.  Iran, Turkey, and Lebanon are all hosting the preparation of blockade-busting flotillas that will reportedly head for Gaza in the next few weeks.  Iran’s state-sponsored flotilla is now scheduled to leave on Sunday, 27 June – although its departure has been delayed a couple of times already and may slip again.  The Iranian leadership has said it will not, in spite of its previous bluster, send a naval escort for the flotilla.

Less specificity attends the planning for the flotillas from Turkey and Lebanon, where the fiction of private, non-state sponsorship is being maintained.  We do hear that one of the Lebanese ships will be carrying only women passengers (presumably the crew will be male).  We also hear – appallingly, in my view – that His Eminence Gregorios III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch (the spiritual head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the region), is endorsing and blessing the Lebanese flotilla.  This news comes in the wake of the discovery that one of the activists in the previous flotilla, Father Hilarion Capucci – also a Melkite Greek Catholic – is the same man who was caught in 1975 smuggling guns into the West Bank.  (One thing we can say for certain:  that’s not what Jesus would do.)

I assume the Turkish and Lebanese flotillas are being held pending the approach of the Iranian flotilla, so they can all converge on Israel’s coast at once.  It’s not clear whether Turkey will make good on the threat to provide a naval escort.  But if this does turn into a multi-pronged, unified effort, I anticipate Hezbollah being ready to deploy armed speedboats and anti-ship missiles from the coast of Lebanon.  Turkey’s posture is most likely to involve sending at least one warship, but having it stand off from the scene of action and monitor the situation, being ready to respond if necessary.  Turkey will presumably have reconnaissance aircraft aloft for the incident as well, if her participation in the flotilla effort itself is robust.

The vulnerability this could all create for innocent commercial shipping and local fishing traffic is tremendous.  It will be one of the biggest tactical challenges Israel has ever faced, in any warfare dimension, to handle such an invasion without having to shoot and kill, but to also manage to keep ships from reaching the coast.  Like the Turkish IHH operatives on M/V Mavi Marmara, many of those mounting the upcoming “flotilla Intifada” fully intend to incur martyrdom.  If the flotillas converge, as I expect, they will not be tentative or watchful in their approach.  They will do everything possible to create disorder, force the situation out of control, and induce the Israelis to take lethal action.

Where is the US in all this?  I’ve argued before that we need to lead NATO in saddling up and taking order to this nonsense.  The flotilla Smackdown is intended to put Israel’s border security at risk:  to get the West to intervene and put itself, through the UN, on the hook for keeping Israel and Hamas separated.  The most important result of that would be curtailing Israel’s sovereign options for self-defense.  Hamas likes the example of UNIFIL in Lebanon, which has been colossally ineffective:  it operates in a very small area and has no impact on Hezbollah’s ability to control large swaths of the country and arm itself at will.  A UN force in Gaza would be less than a band-aid.  Hamas would walk all over it, stockpiling arms and hardening its own defenses.

Regardless of the outcome anyone wants, in good faith, for Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, Israel should not be subject to homicidal harassment by a Hamas that is allowed to arm itself.  There can only be a “peace process” if Israel is able to act in the capacity of a sovereign nation, acknowledged as responsible for her security.  Westerners who think we can disregard the perquisites of sovereignty for Israel, but have them observed intact for ourselves, are profoundly and inexcusably in error.  Affirming Israel’s right to negotiate her borders in peace, and defend them when they are under attack, is an obligation of Western civilization, and we will pay for it in blood later if we do not undertake that obligation today.

A few days ago, the always-invigorating DEBKAfile website reported that the American aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75) was being held in the Mediterranean, instead of proceeding on to her station in the Persian Gulf, because of the flotilla-related instability in the Eastern Med.  Other news sources are now reporting, however, that Truman and her carrier strike group have passed southward through the Suez Canal.  (The Truman strike group, based on the US East coast, is beginning its deployment and stopped briefly for port visits in the Western Med.  Truman is expected to relieve USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69) in the Persian Gulf.)

The strike group’s Suez transit was noteworthy for one particular aspect:  it was conducted with the Canal closed to other traffic, and reportedly with a large Egyptian security force manning the Canal’s banks.  That is unusual, although not unprecedented; special security precautions have been taken for US warships in the Canal on a number of occasions in the past.  Warships are convoyed together, in any case (except for submarines, which transit in the rear of a convoy because of Canal-imposed restrictions on their speed).  But closing the Canal to other traffic while warships complete their transit is not a measure that’s taken very often.  The Egyptians always have armed security on the Canal’s banks, but apparently the force was beefed up considerably for this transit.

USS Dwight D Eisenhower, USNS Arctic, USS Harry S Truman, and USS Enterprise in 2005

These circumstances are informative in themselves.  How many Americans are aware that the threat to our forces is considered so high right now?  It strikes me as particularly unusual that the MSM are paying this no attention at all.  At any rate, there was another interesting aspect of the transit, which also included one Israeli Saar-class corvette (a light frigate), and that is the number of ships it reportedly included.  If the reporting is accurate, there were a total of 12 US warships:  Truman and 11 others. (One was actually FGS Hessen, a German frigate deployed as part of the Truman force.)  Truman’s own strike group doesn’t have that many ships in it.  The tally probably represents most of the warships that were in the Mediterranean.  Some may be heading for antipiracy operations off Somalia; and it may be that the ships all transited together because of the security precautions, which can’t conveniently be taken piecemeal.

But it’s natural, when civilian commentators see such a big convoy of warships, for them to think something unusual is up.  I’m inclined to think this transit wasn’t a “sign” – but I do think it leaves very few US warships in the Mediterranean for the moment.  Bloggers are speculating that the ships have been dispatched to intercept the Iranian flotilla before it gets to the Suez Canal.  I doubt that.  I suspect, unfortunately, that what’s going on represents putting security precautions in the driver’s seat for forward readiness.

A likely scenario is this one:  the ships that just went south through the Canal are heading to relieve others conducting normal operations on station in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Aden (antipiracy).  When those other ships are relieved, they will pile up in Port Suez (at the south entrance to the Canal, in the Red Sea) until they are all together, and then transit in unison into the Med.

I would love to be wrong about this.  The US Navy doesn’t appear to have enough ships in the Med right now to “announce its presence with authority” if a real flotilla Smackdown emerges off the Levantine coast.  We do, I note, have maritime reconnaissance aircraft that operate from bases on land.  Their ability to affect the operations of ships on the surface – short of using weapons on them – is virtually nil.

Meanwhile, at the end of May a brief disclosure reached the UK Times that Israel was putting “Dolphin submarines” (the report implied more than one) on permanent forward patrol in or near the Persian Gulf.  The Times cited an Israeli military source.  What this disclosure was not accompanied by was any information suggesting the submarines went through the Suez Canal, as we saw at this time last year.  The Dolphins are homeported in the Mediterranean and must either go through the Canal or around Africa to get to the Persian Gulf.

One journalist reports that Israel recently took possession – a year earlier than scheduled – of its two new Dolphins from the German shipyard where they were being constructed.  There was a report of the same two Dolphins heading for Israel last fall, and it turned out to be incorrect (the Dolphins were seen around the same time in their construction bays).  So that should be kept in mind.  But if the report is accurate (I have not seen a contradiction of it), one possibility is that the Israeli crews took those submarines directly from the construction yard in the Baltic Sea to patrol stations near Iran.  The main logistic hurdle would be finding a way to load weapons somewhere in Africa.  (Refueling in Africa – perhaps in South Africa, Mozambique, or Tanzania – would be less of a challenge.)

Taking advantage of such an opportunity – operating new submarines in this manner – brings a high enough payoff to be worth the effort.  The real payoff is in maintaining operational secrecy for the submarine force.  Port-watchers in Haifa could easily discern when a new patrol pattern had started, by counting the number of submarines and how long one or two of the original three were absent from the piers.  But if a new pattern can be launched using hulls no one has counted before, it takes much greater sophistication in surveillance and analysis to establish a baseline for an order-of-battle accounting.  The newest submarines would eventually come “home,” but the rotation could be maintained at that point without emitting unnecessary clues.

What’s going on at sea today is real and meaningful.  The worst aspect of the whole situation is that the intentions of the United States have not been made clear.  There is nothing about these circumstances that argues for strategic or political secrecy on our part.  Rather, we would be shaping the outcome to our advantage by being more explicit.  We should be stating our intention to keep order in the Eastern Mediterranean.  We should be telling Turkey and Lebanon to not even think about introducing an armed naval element into the flotilla Smackdown.  We should most definitely announce that our warships will be on station to keep the peace (and then, of course, have them there).  We should bolster Egypt’s confidence by showing a strong hand, while asking Egypt to block the Iranian flotilla’s entry into the Mediterranean.

Above all, we should convey the message that it’s too bad Turkey, Iran, and Hezbollah want to arm Hamas and increase the risk to Israel through this shabby, disgusting back-door method:  they don’t get to.  Of course they wouldn’t like hearing this.  But the firmer and more determined we look, the less likely they are to try to come to asymmetric blows that won’t win them anything.  We still have the power to suppress and avert the flotilla Smackdown and change the course of events.  That power just went south through the Suez Canal.  Instead of sneaking it through the chokepoint with special security precautions, we should be using it for what gray hulls have routinely been used for over the past 200 years: showing force so that we don’t have to use force.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.

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Responses

  1. Great post. Keep watch to explain any further events to us close to shore crowd. You expect leadership from this White House! I really think only force of public opinion will get the Democrats to do anything that is logistically advantageous.

  2. Thnk you! I have ben following the USS Truman as closely as possible. NavyNews reported on their interoperability exercise with France’s carrier DeGaulle in Marseilles on June 8. My assumption is the DeGaulle is covering the Med.

    It is extremely difficult to find out where the other USS carrier groups are.

    Turkey will not risk their NATO membership over this, especially now that they are so pre-occupied by the PKK.

    So many dots to connect since the Mavi Marmara!

  3. K2K,
    Can’t agree that Turkey won’t risk their NATO membership over this, as the Turkish gov’t. is an Islamist one.

    J.E.,

    That “the intentions of the United States have not been made clear” is entirely intentional, as is the ‘coincidental’ exit of our ships from the Mediterranean.

    The Obama administration wants there to be another confrontation, so as to further ramp up the pressure upon Israel. If US ships were in the area and did nothing, there would be repercussions but if they’re not in the area…

    Netanyahu has yielded to US pressure and ended the land blockade, now further international condemnation will force him to drop the sea blockade and Iran will have its port in Gaza.

    Caroline Glick lays it out in the The high price of coalition stability

    In a remarkable comment over at the neo-neocon
    blog
    , a commenter, Occam’s Beard, explains the duplicity of the left in terms that apply equally to the Israeli blockade, as it does other shibboleth’s of the left he describes;

    Environmentalism isn’t about the environment.

    Feminism isn’t about women.

    Peace groups aren’t about peace.

    Free speech groups aren’t about free speech.

    Civil rights groups aren’t about civil rights.

    Homosexual marriage isn’t about homosexuals.

    Human rights groups aren’t about human rights.

    Organized labor isn’t about the working man.

    These are all merely wedge issues to mobilize the useful idiots to “build a mass movement.” The issues themselves are of no consequence to the organizers.

    Consider the competing hypotheses:

    1. The organizers and decision makers of each group above actually care first and foremost about issue.

    In this case we should be able to predict their response based on what has happened.

    2. The organizers and decision makers of each group above actually care first and foremost about building a socialist movement – and merely employ the issue as a vehicle to do that.

    In this case we should be able to predict their response based not on what has happened, but rather on its effect on advancing socialism.

    Hypothesis #1 would predict that environmentalists would be howling about the oil spill and Chinese pollution, and would have howled about the Aral Sea and Chernobyl, that feminists would have howled about the treatment offered Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Condoleeza Rice, and Monica Lewinsky (not to mention women in Islamic countries), that civil rights groups would have howled about the treatment offered Clarence Thomas and Condoleeza Rice, that peace activists would have howled about Soviet SS-20s back when, and would be howling now about Obama’s continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that human rights groups would be howling about, well, most of the world outside the US and Europe.

    Hypothesis #2 would predict that the response of each of the groups above would depend on the political affiliation of the dramatis personae, rather than just the facts of the case. Environmental catastrophe? Is America in any way involved, or be made to look responsible? If yes, is there any way to lay this at the door of patriotic Americans, Republicans, or corporations? If yes, break out the papier mache heads. If not, forget it. Aral Sea, Chernobyl, Chinese pollution…yawn.

    In each case, hypothesis #2 stomps hypothesis #1 and leaves it for dead. Hypothesis #1 simply does not comport well with the data, and therefore must be rejected in favor of hypothesis #2, which uniformly predicts the experimentally observed outcome.

    I submit to all, that Occam’s hypothesis #2 applies equally well to the Israeli blockade and the attack flotillas…

    The left’s strategy and tactics are not really that hard to figure out. Rather the difficulty lies in accepting the simple truth of the duplicity, hypocrisy and mendaciousness on display.

    Because acceptance forces us to confront the willingness of the left to use whatever means necessary to implement their agenda.

    Regardless of whether lives are destroyed in countless ways, the lives of our military sacrificed for political gain, economic livelihoods decimated, entire region’s eco-systems threatened, national security made more vulnerable, borders left unprotected and individual freedoms reduced, none of those issues are sufficient to stop their lust for power.

    And it is a lust for power, the ‘issues’ merely rationalized justification for their actions. The proof of that assertion is that they have no hesitation in taking away other people’s freedoms in order to effect their agenda.

    Were they not Americans, we would have long ago declared them enemies of the state.

    • Sadly, quite correct.

      It is frustrating when well meaning people of the political right want to accept these group leaders at face value without fully understanding what they are doing.

      As I have said before, all of those movements are just feints. Our current administration is one of them as well.

  4. Thanks, J.E., for your usual cogent analysis.

    Does Smackdown at Sea have any resemblance to Victory at Sea (minus Richard Rodgers’ superb music)?

    • I fear the sound track to Smackdown! at Sea will be something more like the theme from Sanford and Son.

  5. Thank you for your usual hilarious inconsistencies.

    1. Re. Hilarion Capucci: Alas, the clergy ain’t what it used be. I hardly imagine that Meir Kahane and his acolyte, Baruch Goldstein were what Moses or Abraham had in mind either. (Nor the “religious” fanatics who claim God told them to steal the homes of the non-jews living on the West Bank)

    2. The blockade-busters are indeed activists. More power to them. Activism is not unlawful. There isn’t a whit of evidence that the people on the Mavi Mara were engaged in unlawful activity, or were armed. They were challenging an unlawful collective punishment against a civilian population (Chocolate, spices, educational materials, and such other dangerous items were on the ever-changing Isreali punishment-embargo).
    I recall another blockade buster the “Exodus”/President Warfield. This blockade-buster was organized and crewed by the Palmach/Haganah terror group. The British intercepted it on the High Seas and several of the (armed) crew were killed when they resisted. The Israelis still celebrate the martyrs.

    3. There is not a whit of evidence that the people on board the Mavi Mara invited “martyrdom or anticipated they would be harmed. They were murdered in international waters while lawfully resisting heavily armed state-sponsored pirates.

    4. Unifil in Lebanon has been extremely successful since its wider deployment. Israel hasn’t been able to attack Lebanon and no more Lebanese civilians have fallen victim to the Israelis (Save for several children who have been killed or maimed by unexploded Israeli cluster-weaponary).

    5. NATO does need to “saddle up”. A ship belonging to a NATO member and democracy is attacked on the High Seas by armed pirates sponsored by a non-Nato state and a number of the citizens of the NATO member are unlawfully killed while trying to defend their liberty against the pirates. The agents of the non-NATO state then seizes the property of the NATO member. All with apparant impunity.
    No doubt the Turks have taken due note of the effectiveness of NATO in defending their freedoms and interests.

    • You obviously didn’t see the video then, did you.

      • Oh you mean the bits the Israelis extracted which showed the people whom the Israelis were (illegally) attacking (legally) resisting their attackers with whatever improvised weaponary was at hand.

        The Israelis, per usual, confiscated all the footage so that you haven’t seen the bits which show the Israelis murdering NATO citizens.

        So, the answer to your rather disingenuous question is: Neither have you!

  6. GB — there is much support for your argument. I do note that the US is reportedly taking the half-measure of asking the flotilla organizers to let their aid shipments be convoyed over land, rather than persisting in the attempt to break the blockade. That’s well and good, but as long as it is a mere request, with no implication of determination to prevent the blockade-busting effort from exploding, it just looks weak and ineffective.

    Obama’s problem with his base is that he has continued to do things like that, however. He accords the traditional forms of our international relations perfunctory observance, instead of just dispensing with them. The Obama voting base would be thrilled if he would just endorse the aspirations of the flotilla organizers and drop all pretense of behaving like a responsible nation.

  7. Thanks, Jennifer!
    Ray

  8. [...] wrote a month ago about the troubling fact that the Patriarch of Antioch, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic church [...]


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