Babylon the Great Prepares for Nuclear War: Daniel 7

Classified US military war game set to take place as concerns about threats posed by China and Russia increase

Saturday, March 27th 2021, 6:19 AM EDT

Updated: Saturday, March 27th 2021, 10:19 AM EDT

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent

The “enemies” will have fictional names, but when hundreds of US military personnel around the globe log on to their computers later this summer for a highly classified war game, it will be clear what a major focus of the scenarios will be — how the US should respond to aggressive action and unexpected moves by China and Russia.

Several defense officials tell CNN that the war game is a top priority for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, who will lead the exercise. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be briefed as it plays out.

The war game is designed to equip the US military’s top leaders to deal with a fictional global crisis erupting on multiple fronts and players will have to deal with constantly changing scenarios and compete for military assets like aircraft carriers and bombers.

They will take place at a crucial time for the Pentagon just months into Joe Biden’s presidency.

The military budget is being set and major decisions on troop levels and priorities are being made so it’s hoped the war game will help prepare the military to face the challenges of the next few years.

War games are always sensitive and outcomes are closely guarded because they can reveal shortfalls in US military plans and operations. One former defense official confirmed that in a recent exercise gaming out a conflict against major adversaries like Russia and China, “we found the Blue Team, the US and allies, kept losing.”

The scenarios covered in the game this summer will reflect real life possibilities. Those could include major cyber attacks, a Russian advance in the Baltics, further militarization of the Arctic by Moscow or China flexing its muscles in the South China Sea or even invading Taiwan.

Arctic exercises

And preparations aren’t just virtual. This week, the US and Canada have been carrying out military exercises, in tough conditions where temperatures can plunge to -20 Fahrenheit, to make clear they are ready to push back against Russian military advances in the resource rich Arctic.

Russia has put advanced missiles in the region to protect its bases there and is directly challenging the US. In 2020 more Russian aircraft flew near US airspace off Alaska than at any time since the end of the Cold War, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command with multiple flights of heavy bombers, anti-submarine aircraft, and intelligence collection planes.

For NORAD, the US and Canadian command overseeing the exercise, a key priority is “being able to track and then defeat” potential Russian military activity in the Arctic, Canadian NORAD Region Commander, Major-General Eric Kenny, told CNN.

Concerns about Russian and Chinese activity are increasing and there are no signs of tensions abating since Biden took office.

“Russia and China military modernization creates some serious potential operational challenges for the US,” Eric Edelman, a former defense undersecretary for policy and expert on military planning, told CNN.

Both nations are expanding their ability to operate in wider areas in Europe and Asia meaning the Pentagon could be forced to send US forces thousands of miles away. “Russia and China are playing a home game, we are playing an away game,” Edelman said.

At the same time the rhetoric from the Biden administration is heating up. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called out Russia for “reckless and adversarial actions” at a NATO meeting in Brussels this week and observed that Moscow has “built up a forces, large scale exercises and acts of intimidation, in the Baltic and Black Sea.”

And on China, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks pulled no punches in a speech earlier this month. “Beijing has demonstrated increased military competence and a willingness to take risks, and it has adopted a more coercive and aggressive approach,” she said before adding that Beijing’s actions “constitute a threat to regional peace and stability, and to the rules-based international order on which our security and prosperity and those of our allies depend.”

Blunt warnings

There is no indication the tough words are tamping down Russian President Vladimir Putin and China President Xi Jinping’s plans to strengthen their militaries to ensure they are capable of challenging the US and its allies. Austin, in the coming weeks, “will focus on deterrence” improvements to counter adversaries, a senior defense official told CNN.

Top commanders are increasingly blunt about both countries, especially on nuclear modernization.

Russia is upgrading bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles and warning systems, “in short, its entire strategic force structure,” wrote Admiral Charles Richard, head of the US Strategic Command in a recent article in the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute journal. Moscow is also building hypersonic weapons that travel more than five times the speed of sound, and nuclear-powered torpedoes, capable of reaching US shores quickly.

Richard warned that China is about to become a nation with a full nuclear triad, with an inventory of nuclear capable missiles, submarines and soon a long-range bomber.

“While the PRC has maintained a “No First Use” policy since the 1960s—contending it will never use a nuclear weapon first—its buildup of advanced capabilities should give us pause. This policy could change in the blink of an eye. Beijing is pursuing capabilities and operating in a manner inconsistent with a minimum deterrent strategy, giving it a full range of options, including limited use and a first-strike capability,” he wrote.

The US military is doing substantive planning for the challenge from Russia and China, with billions of dollars of spending planned on modernization in both the nuclear and non-nuclear arena if its wins Congressional approval.

The US is also looking to send a clear message to Beijing amid concerns about Taiwan as China has increased aircraft and shipping activity near the island.

“Taiwan is clearly one of their ambitions,” Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the Indo Pacific Command, told Congress earlier this month. “The threat is manifest during this decade, in fact, in the next six years.” Admiral John Aquilino, who has tapped to replace Davidson told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, “My opinion is this problem is much closer to us,” adding that the US needs to field weapons and capabilities to deter China “in the near term and with urgency.”

In response to Russian advances in eastern Europe, the US and NATO allies are increasing their own presence. But it’s not enough, warns David Ochmanek, a senior RAND Corporation analyst and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development. “The US and its allies do not have sufficient combat power,” he told CNN. The reality he says is “within 48 to 60 hours Russian forces could be on outskirts of a Baltic capital,” once it pre-positions forces.

US military experts say this underlines why war games like the upcoming summer exercise are so important to ensure the military can practice and plan ahead before a crisis hits.

US, 3 others, preparing for war in the Arabian Sea

US, 3 others, conducting naval drills in the Arabian Sea

The US Navy said Sunday it will hold a major naval exercise alongside Belgium, France and Japan in the Middle East.

The US Navy said Sunday it will hold a major naval exercise alongside Belgium, France and Japan in the Middle East.

The US Navy said Sunday it will hold a major naval exercise alongside Belgium, France and Japan in the Middle East. The drill comes amid continuing high tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme in the region.

Your daily dose of must-watch videos, curated by Republic TV’s Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami


The Group Arabian Sea Warfare Exercise will see ships from the four countries conduct drills in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. The warships involved include the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle, as well as the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island. The Belgian frigate HNLMS Leopold I and the Japanese destroyer JS Ariake also will take part, as well as aircraft from the four nations.

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The drill comes as Iran has abandoned all limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in the wake of then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from the accord.

Thai Cabinet reshuffle replaces 3 members booted by court

Current US President Joe Biden has expressed a desire to return to the deal if Iran honours the deal’s limits on its nuclear programme, but tensions remain high after militias in Iraq — likely backed by Iran — continue to target American interests.

Biden last month launched an airstrike just over the border into Syria in retaliation, joining every American president from Ronald Reagan onward who has ordered a bombardment of countries in the Middle East.

There was no immediate reaction from Iran to the naval drill.

(Disclaimer: This story has not been edited by and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

The alliance of the European nuclear horns

NATO To Remain Nuclear Alliance As Long As Nuclear Weapons Exist – Stoltenberg

Faizan Hashmi 48 minutes ago Tue 23rd March 2021 | 10:17 PM

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik – 23rd March, 2021) NATO wants to see a world without nuclear weapons but will remain a nuclear alliance as long as they exist, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.

“NATO’s goal is a world without nuclear weapons but as long as nuclear weapons exist NATO will remain a nuclear alliance,” Stoltenberg said during a press conference following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.

The secretary general added that working on arms control is necessary for strategic stability and NATO welcomes the recent extension of the new START treaty between the United States and Russia.

“We strongly believe that the extension of the New START agreement should not be the end, it should be the beginning of renewed efforts to strengthen arms control, covering more weapons’ systems and also, at some stage, get China into global arms control,” Stoltenberg added.

A Glimpse of the Babylon the Great’s New Nuclear Posture

A Glimpse of the U.S.’ New Nuclear Posture

March 23, 2021 | Walter Pincus

Walter Pincus

Contributing Sr. National Security Columnist, The Cipher Brief

Walter Pincus is a contributing senior national security columnist for The Cipher Brief. He spent forty years at The Washington Post, writing on topics from nuclear weapons to politics.  In 2002, he and a team of Post reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. He also won an Emmy in 1981 and the 2010 Arthur Ross Award from the American Academy for Diplomacy.

OPINION — The Biden Administration will begin its own Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in the coming weeks to determine what the U.S. needs in order “to sustain deterrence and defense,” and “how we can continue to reduce reliance on the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy,” according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in comments made to Nikkei Asia and other Japanese reporters during a virtual press conference last Wednesday in Tokyo.

Cyber creates opportunities to reduce dependence on nuclear weapons, and the team putting together the Biden NPR study should explore making advanced cyber capabilities part of the U.S. deterrence package. One idea already in the works is “Pathfinder,” a new approach to all-domain awareness using artificial intelligence (AI) being promoted by Northern Command’s boss, Air Force Gen. Glenn D. VanHerck.

“Harnessing the capability of distributed multi-domain sensors, machine learning, and artificial intelligence will provide military leaders, the intelligence community, and senior civilian officials with the information necessary to anticipate, rather than react to, competitors’ actions,” VanHerck told the Senate Armed Services Committee last Tuesday.

He has described that as getting “left of launch,” i.e. being able “to posture [U.S.] forces and message to create doubt in their [adversaries] minds about utilizing these capabilities [their ICBMs] to attack the [U.S.] homeland to achieve their objectives.”

VanHerck added, “That’s what I mean by deterrence by denial. It’s about [creating] doubt about the success that they can actually achieve.”

Dr. James Andrew Lewis, Senior Vice President and Director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (and a Cipher Brief Expert), recently recalled to me conversations he had with Russian experts two years ago, saying they already feared a combination of U.S. technologies and advanced conventional weapons that “circumvented nuclear deterrence.”

They [the Russians] said that the combination of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], cyber, stealth, hypersonics, and PGMs [precision guided munitions], gave the U.S. the ability to achieve strategic effect without using nuclear weapons, by crippling command and control and Russian nuclear weapons,” Lewis said.

More about this later.

Another task for the Biden NPR would be to question the need for several proposals contained in the Trump administration’s 100-page, 2018 NPR. It led to several proposed and actual increases in U.S. nuclear weaponry starting with the January 2020 deployment of the new, low-yield W-76-2 warheads on several strategic Trident sub-launched ballistic missiles now on patrol.

It also called for research on a new, sea-launched, nuclear cruise missile (SLCM-N) and stepped-up production of a new, bomber-carried, long-range, stand-off, air-launched, nuclear cruise missile (LRSO). Both drew Democratic opposition in Congress, but the LRSO is in development while the SLCM-N has remained a paper study.

On March 2, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) sent a letter to President Biden calling on him “to withdraw the low-yield W76-2 warhead from deployment and cancel the SLCM-N.”

The Trump NPR also reversed an Obama Administration plan to retire the B83-1, the most powerful bomb in the U.S. arsenal with a top yield of 1.2 megatons (equivalent to 1.2 million tons of TNT).  The stated rationale for keeping this 40-year-old weapon in the active stockpile was that it holds “at risk a variety of protected targets,” which means those underground inside mountains.  The current B-61 tactical nuclear bomb, some 200 of which are deployed in NATO countries, can handle the job so there is no need for the B-83-1.

The Trump NPR also called for a new facility with the “enduring capability and capacity to produce plutonium pits at a rate of no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030.” Plutonium pits are located at the core of thermonuclear weapons and serve as the trigger for the devices.

A pit production facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory currently produces 11 a year and could do 20. A new facility to meet the proposed goal of 80 pits yearly could cost upwards of $2 billion and has been the subject of congressional hearings over the years. The proposed new pit facility at Savannah River, S.C., remains under study.

Biden’s quick agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend for five years, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) could provide the Biden NPR team with a basis for formulating future nuclear arms control efforts, not only with Russia but also with China and other nuclear armed nations.

A British announcement last Tuesday that it planned to “move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads” from a previous ceiling of 225, raised a complaint from Moscow. “This decision harms international stability and strategic security,” Kremlin press spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters last Wednesday.

The need for some new multilateral approaches to nuclear arms control is growing.

Russia and China are creating new, hypersonic, nuclear cruise weapons and even nuclear submersible arms. Britain and France as well as India and Pakistan are modernizing their stockpiles. Israel is constructing a new underground facility at its undeclared nuclear weapons complex and North Korea has become a nuclear power.

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The Trump team unsuccessfully sought to include China in START extension talks, seeking a freeze on all nuclear warheads, including non-strategic ones to include weapons that were once part of the now-defunct Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) as well as even shorter-range battlefield weapons that are not currently covered by any treaty.

It’s clear that while Russia and the U.S. are in a class by themselves when it comes to strategic nuclear systems, the time may have come to create, with the help of technology, some new approaches for controlling and perhaps even limiting each individual country’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, no matter the weapon’s size or range.

The Biden NPR should explore what new arms control opportunities may exist as part of seeking reduced reliance on nuclear weapons for strategic deterrence.

Gen. VanHerck, in promoting his deterrence by denial approach, told Senators last week that, “Sensors and systems such as Over-the-Horizon Radars, polar satellite communications, Integrated Underwater Sensor Systems, and space-based missile warning and tracking sensors are essential.”

He also pointed out that “currently, vast quantities of data are trapped by incompatible systems and antiquated organizational structures.” He called for “breaking down these stovepipes…[and] breaking away from a culture that favors compartmenting and isolating information, in order to fully realize the full potential of our capabilities—including those that reside with our allies and partners.”

An Air Force, September 2020, large-scale joint force demonstration “established a network with embedded machine learning and artificial intelligence to rapidly detect, track, and positively identify a simulated cruise missile threat, while providing a common operating picture and all-domain awareness for commanders at multiple levels,” VanHerck said. He called it a “glimpse of the future,” which showed “potential pathways for accessing and distributing data in ways that allow leaders to think, plan, and act globally rather than relying on outdated regional approaches.’

Speaking more broadly, VanHerck said, “Armed with timely and accurate information, equipped with modern sensors and software, and backed by a flexible and responsive conventional deterrent that provides defeat mechanisms below the nuclear threshold, commanders will achieve decision superiority with the options and time necessary to allocate resources wherever needed to deny or deter aggression in competition, de-escalate potential crises, and defeat adversaries should conflict arise.”

The Biden NPR has the opportunity to take advantage of VanHerck’s Pathfinder approach, along with other cyber and technological advances, to come up approaches that meet Blinken’s goals, “to sustain deterrence and defense,” and “reduce reliance on the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy.”

Biden refuses to pull the trigger in Iraq

Despite three rocket attacks in a week on US targets in Iraq, Washington yet to respond

Updated 23 February 2021 RAY HANANIA February 23, 2021 05:26

CHICAGO: A week after five Americans were injured and a foreign contractor working for the US was killed during a rocket attack on a military base near Erbil International Airport in northern Iraq, Washington has yet to decide how to respond to the escalation of violence.

In the meantime there have been two additional attacks on US-linked targets in country: at least four missiles hit Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad on Feb. 20, leaving one person wounded, and on Monday two rockets landed in the Green Zone near the US embassy in Baghdad. There were no reports of casualties in the latest attack.

It is widely suspected that Iran is behind the attacks but the Biden administration has so far been hesitant to assign blame, stating after the Feb. 15 attack in Erbil that it is “assessing” who is responsible and will respond “at a time and place of our choosing.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that President Joe Biden has not given up on pressuring Iran on the issue of nuclear weapons, as he addressed Iran’s disruptive activity in the region.

“Iran has been not standing down but acting up in the region with various destabilizing actions, attacks on our own forces in Iraq and elsewhere, (and) on our partners,” Blinken said when he was asked whether the US had surrendered its leverage on Tehran by agreeing to enter into negotiations for a return to 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018.

“So the problem has gotten worse, not better. And President Biden believes strongly that strong, principled diplomacy is the best way to try to deal with these issues, to put the nuclear problem back in the box and to push back on Iran in other areas.” Earlier White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that the priority with Iran remains preventing the regime obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“We don’t anticipate taking additional steps, as in snapback — snapping back of sanctions in advance of that,” she said. “This is about having a conversation about the path forward. “And, yes, part of that, as we look ahead, would be a desire to have a conversation about their role in the region, their use of ballistic missiles, and that certainly is the administration’s objective.”

Last week Blinken joined French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in issuing a joint warning about the attacks.

“We the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America condemn in the strongest terms the Feb. 15 rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region,” they said.

“We offer our condolences to the victims, their families and the Iraqi people. Together, our governments will support the Government of Iraq’s investigation into the attack with a view to holding accountable those responsible. We are united in our view that attacks on US and coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks and the militants have been identified only as “Iraqi armed groups.”

However many analysts, and Iranian dissident groups, believe the blame lies squarely with Tehran.

“There is no question that the Iranian regime is behind the recent spate of rocket attacks on the US military bases and the Baghdad embassy,” said Ali Safavi, an official with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran. “It has coined phony names for its terrorist proxy groups in fear of a harsh response. “These attacks are an attempt by Tehran to raise the stakes in the nuclear negotiations, as the ball is in its court because both the Europeans and the US have predicated any new talks on the Iran nuclear deal on the regime halting its violations and strictly abiding by the terms of the JCPOA.

“The international community should not blink and should adopt a firm approach because the ruling clerics understand only the language of decisiveness and power. Any concessions will be construed as weakness and will only embolden the regime.”

Tensions in Iraq heightened in January last year when Trump ordered the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, who was considered the second-most powerful person Iran after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Iranian officials vowed to extract “severe revenge.” The situation in northern Iraq is further complicated by the uneasy relationship between the US and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has criticized Washington for protecting Kurdish forces. Erbil is the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. Shortly before the Feb. 15 missile strikes there, Kurdish militants executed 13 Turkish hostages, including soldiers and police officers. Ankara argues that the build-up of Kurdish forces in northern Iraq represents a threat to Turkish security.

Blinken previously said he called Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Khadimi on Feb. 16 to reassure him that Washington remains committed to the safety of Iraq, and to express his “outrage” at the attack on Erbil. He also spoke with Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government. He added that he had encouraged Al-Kadhimi to continue to work closely with the regional government to address violent extremism.

Iran was NOT responsible for Iraq attacks

Iran tells UN it was not behind attacks on US interests in Iraq

Several rockets hit a military base in Erbil, northern Iraq last month, killing a foreign civilian contractor.

Maziar Motamedi15 Mar 2021

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Guterres, the country’s UN envoy Majid Takht-Ravanchi ‘decisively’ rejects claims against Tehran [File: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Iran has told the United Nations that claims of its role in attacks on United States interests in Iraq are “completely baseless and lacking legal credibility”.

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the country’s UN envoy Majid Takht-Ravanchi “decisively” rejected claims that Iran-backed paramilitary forces were behind recent attacks against the US.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has not had any involvement, directly or indirectly, in any armed attacks by any entities or individuals against the United States in Iraq,” he wrote, according to parts of the letter’s text published by state-run IRNA news on Monday.

Last month, several rockets hit a military base inside the airport in Erbil, northern Iraq, which killed one foreign civilian contractor and wounded at least nine others, including an American soldier.

Foreign troops deployed as part of the US-led coalition that helped Iraq fight the ISIL (ISIS) armed group since 2014 are stationed at the site.

A shadowy group calling itself Awliya al-Dam – or the Guardians of the Blood – claimed responsibility for the attack and said it would continue to target “occupation” American forces in Iraq.

Several other rocket attacks were launched against US interests in Iraq in the following weeks.

Most recently, several rockets landed in the Ain al-Asad base in early March.

In January 2020, shortly after the US assassinated Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired more than a dozen rockets at the base in an attack that bore no casualties.

Biden orders military operation

In response to the recent attacks, US President Joe Biden launched the first military operation of his administration, ordering an air attack on facilities in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq, which the US said are used by Iran-backed militias.

The air attack, which Biden said was “proportionate” and aimed at creating “deterrence”, killed 22 people, according to war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In his letter, Iran’s envoy to the UN condemned the air attack, calling it “illegal”.

The US attacks amount to a “violation of the sovereignty of the region’s countries and a clear symbol of the gross violation of international rights and the UN Charter”, Takht-Ravanchi said.

The representative also said the US moves only destabilise the region further and serve to advance the interests of “terrorist groups”.

He requested the letter be formally recognised as a UN Security Council document.

In late February, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, in Tehran that the recent rocket attacks against US positions in Iraq are “suspicious” and the perpetrators must be identified.

The regional conflicts have escalated as Iran and the US continue to be at a standstill over restoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

With Iran, ANYONE can do better than Obama did

With Iran, Biden can do better than Obama did

–Within a month of entering office, Biden withdrew Trump’s claim that Iran’s violating provisions of the JCPOA tracked the snapback mechanism in the JCPOA and mandated that the UN re-impose sanctions on Iran. Almost immediately, Iranian-funded terrorism, which had been mostly dormant during the Trump administration, flared up again. On January 29, a bomb exploded 50 meters away from the Israeli embassy in New Delhi. Counter-terrorism experts blamed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”) for that explosion.

In addition to violence abroad and at home, Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, followed Biden’s giveaways by threatening to increase Iran’s uranium enrichment to 60%. The Iranian parliament then passed a bill to suspended Tehran’s cooperation regarding the Additional Protocol, blocking the IAEA from inspections. The parliament also rejected an interim agreement reached between President Hassan Rouhani and the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Babylon the Great Will Defend Her Troops in Iraq

S. will defend troops and interests after rocket attack in Iraq, Defense Secretary says

Amanda Macias

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks to Defense Department personnel during a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, February 10, 2021.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned those responsible for carrying out last week’s rocket attack against an Iraqi base that hosts American troops will be held to account.

“The message to those that would carry out such an attack is that expect us to do what is necessary to defend ourselves,” Austin said in an interview with ABC that aired on Sunday.

“We’ll strike if that’s what we think we need to do at a time and place of our own choosing. We demand the right to protect our troops,” he said, adding that the U.S. is still assessing intelligence with its Iraqi partners.

Defense officials have previously said the attack had typical hallmarks of a strike by Iran-backed groups. Iran has denied involvement.

When asked if Iran would view a potential U.S. response as an escalation of tensions, the new Pentagon chief and retired Army four-star reiterated that Washington would do whatever is necessary to protect Americans and U.S. interests in the region.

“What they [Iranians] should draw from this, again, is that we’re going to defend our troops and our response will be thoughtful. It will be appropriate,” Austin said. “We would hope that they would choose to do the right things,” he added.

On Sunday, the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees the wars in the Middle East, flew its fourth bomber deployment to the region.

The show of force mission included two B-52H Stratofortress bombers alongside aircraft from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar at different points to “deter aggression and reassure partners and allies of the U.S. military’s commitment to security in the region.”

Last month, Iran rejected an invitation from global powers who signed the 2015 nuclear deal to discuss the regime’s potential return to the negotiating table, a significant setback in the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

The White House said that the Biden administration was disappointed with Iran’s decision to skip the informal meeting but would “reengage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments.”

President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani speaks during the National Combat Board Meeting with Coronavirus (Covid-19) in Tehran, Iran on Nov. 21, 2020.

Iranian Presidency Handout | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Biden administration has previously said that it wants to revive the nuclear deal but won’t suspend sanctions until Tehran comes back into compliance. Tehran has refused to negotiate while U.S. sanctions remain in place.

The 2015 JCPOA, brokered by the Obama administration, lifted sanctions on Iran that had crippled its economy and cut its oil exports roughly in half. In exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief, Iran agreed to dismantle some of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections.

The U.S. and its European allies believe Iran has ambitions to develop a nuclear bomb. Tehran has denied that allegation.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump kept a campaign promise and withdrew the United States from the JCPOA calling it the “worst deal ever.” Following Washington’s exit from the landmark nuclear deal, other signatories of the pact ⁠have tried to keep the agreement alive. 

Washington’s tense relationship with Tehran took several turns for the worse under the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on Hurricane Michael in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, October 10, 2018. 

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Last year, the U.S. carried out an airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top military commander. Iran retaliated by launching at least a dozen missiles from its territory on Jan. 7 at two military bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops and coalition forces.

A day later from the White House, Trump said that Iran appeared “to be standing down” and warned Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

On the heels of the deadly U.S. strike, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the Trump administration had committed an “act of terror.”

People gather to protest the US air strike in Iraq that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who headed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds force in Sanaa, Yemen on January 6, 2020.

Mohammed Hamoud | Andalou Agency | Getty Images

Soleimani’s death led the regime to further scale back compliance with the international nuclear pact. In January 2020, Iran said it would no longer limit its uranium enrichment capacity or nuclear research.

In October, the United States unilaterally re-imposed U.N. sanctions on Tehran through a snapback process, which other U.N. Security Council members have previously said Washington does not have the authority to execute because it withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.

A month later, a top Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated near Tehran, which led Iran’s government to allege that Israel was behind the attack with U.S. backing.

A view shows the scene of the attack that killed Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020.

WANA via Reuters

During the summer of 2019, a string of attacks in the Persian Gulf set the U.S. and Iran on a path toward greater confrontation.

In June 2019, U.S. officials said an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an American military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said the aircraft was over its territory. That strike came a week after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region and after four tankers were attacked in May.

The U.S. that June slapped new sanctions on Iranian military leaders blamed for shooting down the drone. The measures also aimed to block financial resources for Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Tensions soared again in September of 2019 when the U.S. blamed Iran for strikes in Saudi Arabia on the world’s largest crude processing plant and oil field. The strikes forced the kingdom to shut down half of its production operations.

The event triggered the largest spike in crude prices in decades and renewed concerns of a budding conflict in the Middle East.

The Pentagon described the strikes on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities as “sophisticated” and represented a “dramatic escalation” in tensions within the region.

All the while, Iran maintains that it was not behind the attacks.

Babylon the Great’s Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Game

America’s Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Game

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten is urging the United States to expand how it looks at strategic threats to the United States especially cyber, biological, as well as the traditional concern with nuclear weapons. To do so, he underscores the need to fully modernize the U.S. nuclear enterprise including the command-and-control system. Otherwise, as  U.S. Strategic Command warns, the entire nuclear force will rust to obsolescence and, says Hyten, “without the backstop of the nuclear Triad, it basically is all impossible” to deter an adversary with nuclear capability. 

Critics of the U.S. modernization effort—begun in earnest under the Obama administration and robustly continued under the Trump administration—are trying to unilaterally eliminate whole sections of U.S. nuclear forces, including all four hundred Minuteman missiles, up to half of our submarines, and the cruise missile for America’s strategic bombers. If accepted, then these cuts would eliminate fully five hundred of the seven hundred strategic nuclear delivery vehicles the United States is allowed under the New START arms agreement, which was just extended for another five years.

Even more worrisome however is that while 92 percent of all U.S. nuclear forces are still limited by the START Treaty, only 45 percent of Russia’s systems are, while China, now doubling its nuclear forces over the next five years, is under zero treaty restraints. Given such a hugely imbalanced strategic environment, the current modernization effort simply keeps the United States in the nuclear business and is the minimum necessary to keep deterrence credible.

The proponents of these big cuts, such as Global Zero and Ploughshares, with multi-million-dollar budgets, think somehow Russia, with 92 percent of its nuclear forces fully modernized, will generously give up large numbers of its nuclear forces in return for the United States not even having any forces on the table with which to trade.

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For example, Global Zero argues that if the United States actually commits to building a new land-based missile, it will not be available to leverage further Russian reductions under a new arms treaty. However, Global Zero argues phasing out U.S. ICBMs, will “make it easier” for the Russians to follow suit. With both the United States and Russia coming down, then perhaps China will buildup to the same level.

In the 1980s the nuclear freeze advocates argued the United States could not get rid of the massive Soviet SS-20 missile deployments in Europe even if the United States deployed counter missiles such as the Pershing and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles.

Reagan disagreed with the disarmament folks and the nuclear freeze advocates, built, and deployed the U.S. Pershings and GLCMs and in a stunning development, leveraged the Soviets into agreeing to “Zero-Zero,” the 1987 INF treaty that got rid of all such Soviet and U.S. medium-range missiles. So, too, did Reagan’s call for strategic missile defense and modernization of all our strategic systems lead to the series of START treaties that reduced Soviet and then Russian strategic nuclear warheads by at least 80 percent.

We currently rely on the very nuclear deterrent the Reagan administration put into place. The 2010 New START Treaty under which the United States and Russia operate to at least 2026, is fully consistent with the entire nuclear modernization plans that Congress has approved for the past twelve years. In short, there is no choice between maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent and arms control—the two can go together if arms deals are verifiable and nuclear modernization is fully funded and secured. Such a strategy in dealing with our enemies is called “peace through strength.” It works, as opposed to the new idea from the children of the Nuclear Freeze which could be best expressed as “peace through disarmament.”

Peter Huessy, President of GeoStrategic Analysis, Potomac, Maryland.

Image: Reuters

Iran Blows Up Israeli Ship

Israel says initial assessment is Iran behind explosion on its ship

February 28, 2021

JERUSALEM: Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday his “initial assessment” was that Iran was responsible for an explosion on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman.

The ship, a vehicle-carrier named MV Helios Ray, suffered an explosion between Thursday and Friday morning. A US defence official in Washington said the blast left holes above the waterline on both sides of the hull. The cause was not immediately clear and no casualties were reported.

“Iran is looking to hit Israeli infrastructure and Israeli citizens,” Gantz told the public broadcaster Kan. “The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the notion, the assessment, that it is the Iranians.”

“Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context – that is my assessment,” Gantz said, adding a deeper investigation still had to be carried out.

There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials.

The ship is owned by a Tel Aviv company called Ray Shipping through a company registered in the Isle of Man, according to a UN shipping database.

Israeli Channel 13 News said defence officials believed the Iranian navy had launched a precision strike to avoid casualties, firing two missiles at a part of the ship that if damaged would not have sunk the vessel.

It added an Israeli delegation was en route to Dubai, where the ship was docked, to investigate.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report.

Kan named the owner as Rami Ungar and quoted him on Friday as saying: “The damage is two holes, diameter approximately 1.5 metres, but it is not yet clear to us if this was caused by missile fire or mines that were attached to the ship.”

Iran said in November it would make a “calculated” response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist, which it blamed on Israel.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf region since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then-president Donald Trump withdrew Washington from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.

Washington has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, notably on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, in May 2019. Iran has denied carrying out those attacks.