The next domino

With virtually no attention from the mainstream media, the United States has been taking actions calculated to ratchet—up pressure on the mullahs of Iran. A complex plan has been carefully crafted to avoid a direct military attack on Iran, which would inflame nationalism and build support for the mullahs. Once again, the scope, subtlety, and vision of President Bush's foreign policy confounds his carping critics.

The fall of Lebanon's pro—Syrian government validates GW's strategy of staying the course in Iraq, to prove to the people of the Middle East that freedom and liberty can flourish in a region where many thought it was impossible to institute democratic reforms.  We mustn't lose sight of the fact that, despite criticism from the so—called realists, the US is implementing change in the region for our own long—term national interests.  That is, the more functioning democracies there are in the world, the less the chance of armed conflict and terrorism.

Over the last several months, Iran's support of Shia terrorists in Iraq and its nuclear ambitions have dominated the discussions of our next steps in the War on Terror.  Some commentators, including me, have criticized CENTCOM for its failure to view the war in Southwest Asia from a regional perspective.  However, we may have been wrong, or at least too hasty.

Iran has been aggressively moving to export terror and build—up its ability to threaten the world in two places: the Horn of Africa, and the vital Straits of Hormuz, where the Persian Gulf's oil riches must pass on their way to market. There are now some serious indicators that the Coalition, including both French and German military elements, has been deftly executing a combined political and military operation to roll back Iranian gains from the last 12 years.

The Iranian maneuver to dominate the Central Region and isolate the Arabian Peninsula started in the Horn of Africa in the early 90s. By aligning with warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed's forces, Iran hoped to gain a foothold in Somalia that could potentially threaten shipping moving through the Red Sea. Following the US strategic retreat from Somalia after the 'Blackhawk Down' ambush in 1993, the remaining UN peacekeepers withdrew in 1995 and abandoned the country to the terrorists and their Iranian sponsors.  After 9—11, the Coalition was forced use Djibouti as a base to secure the shipping lanes on the Western side of the Arabian Peninsula, and to interdict the movement of terrorists into and out of the region.

There are strong indications that the efforts of Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa (CJTF—HOA)  are starting to push Iranian operators out of the Horn, if they have not gone already.  United States naval and ground forces, French commandos, and Die Deutsche Kriegsmarine (German Navy), through a combined series of special and conventional operations, naval power, and humanitarian assistance projects, have established the conditions for the introduction of up to 7,500 troops from the African Union and the Arab League.  This is a watershed event for the Coalition in this area, and shows that the Somali people are anxious to finally rid their country of bandits, terrorists, and Iranian agents, and are looking forward to having the government—in—exile return to Mogadishu.

The Coalition also mounted a synchronized diplomatic  and military blitz in neighboring Ethiopia, with elements of the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) moving into the country  last year to secure territory for military assistance training and for 'other operations' in the War on Terror. (For a summary of the $1.2 billion U.S. humanitarian assistance program in the country click here.)  In addition, there were several visits by the former and current commanders of CENTCOM, General (retired) Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid, and visits by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.  This was all done under the radar screen of the major press, but it was not lost on the mullahs.  All they had to do was look at the map.  The Kriegsmarine had sealed off Somalia from the eastern sea approaches, Ethiopia became increasingly untenable for cross—border terror bases and Iranian training camps, and, more than likely, Coalition special operations forces from Djibouti were taking their toll.  In short, the Iranians in the Horn of Africa have been surrounded.

The other prong of CENTCOM's operations against Iran involves Abu Musa Island.  The island had been the object of a long—running dispute between Iran and the UAE because of its oil reserves and its strategic location midway in the narrow channel of the Straits of Hormuz.  In 1992, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took complete control of the island , and proceeded to fortify it and deploy thousands of troops, modern air defense batteries, sophisticated anti—ship missile systems, and, according to former SecDef William Perry, chemical weapons.  For over a decade, the Iranians have had the capability of shutting down the shipping lane and paralyzing shipment of over one—fifth of the world's oil supply.  However, recent US operations in the Persian Gulf are, at a minimum, presenting a more aggressive military posture to pressure the mullahs, or are signaling a run—up to seizure of Abu Musa itself.

This past week, Expeditionary Strike Group 5 (ESG—5) completed an amphibious exercise on the coast of Kuwait.  Keep in mind that a rehearsal is a phase of any amphibious operation, and allows the afloat Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Navy to test the communications links, practice disembarkation, exercise the procedures for naval surface fire support and air support, and, of course, practice the assault itself. The ESG rarely loads at home port in a manner that will completely satisfy every contingency.  Therefore, the rehearsal is a chance to unload everything on the beach, and then load according to a specific assault plan.  This was done in Gulf War I during a 'rehearsal' when an actual amphibious assault on Kuwaiti beaches was still a viable option.

Additional naval forces are also present in the Gulf .  Besides ESG—5, the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group is underway, as is the USS Harry Truman Carrier Battle Group.  One MEU is the ideal force to seize Abu Musa, but the additional forces would be needed to protect an amphibious group from any interference from nearby Qeshm Island, and to continue to secure the Iraqi oil terminals off the Al—Faw Peninsula.  Simply put, the mullahs' 12 year old gambit to squeeze oil shipments through the Straights of Hormuz could come to an end very quickly.

Rather than risk a popular backlash by the citizens of Iran against the US by conducting a direct air or land campaign against the Iranian homeland, seizure of an island that has been disputed for decades would show the Iranians we were willing to support their fight against the mullahs without putting their lives at risk or destroying their infrastructure. The mullahs launched their gambit as an act of aggression; reversing it would demonstrate strength, but indicate no hostility to the Iranian people.

This analysis doesn't even include any possible covert Special Operations Force activities designed to foment rebellion in what is viewed as an increasingly restive Iranian population.  Because of the pressure being applied in the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf, it may require only a slight push from the freedom—loving people in Iran to rid themselves of this oppressive regime, following through on the very visible promise to them made by President Bush in his State of the Union Address.

Sadly for Germany and Russia, they may have to wait a long time, if at all, to recover their decades—old investments in Iranian nuclear facilities.  Unfortunately for them, their cash flow problems will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.  Maybe they should have jumped on GW's freedom bandwagon a long time ago.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent

With virtually no attention from the mainstream media, the United States has been taking actions calculated to ratchet—up pressure on the mullahs of Iran. A complex plan has been carefully crafted to avoid a direct military attack on Iran, which would inflame nationalism and build support for the mullahs. Once again, the scope, subtlety, and vision of President Bush's foreign policy confounds his carping critics.

The fall of Lebanon's pro—Syrian government validates GW's strategy of staying the course in Iraq, to prove to the people of the Middle East that freedom and liberty can flourish in a region where many thought it was impossible to institute democratic reforms.  We mustn't lose sight of the fact that, despite criticism from the so—called realists, the US is implementing change in the region for our own long—term national interests.  That is, the more functioning democracies there are in the world, the less the chance of armed conflict and terrorism.

Over the last several months, Iran's support of Shia terrorists in Iraq and its nuclear ambitions have dominated the discussions of our next steps in the War on Terror.  Some commentators, including me, have criticized CENTCOM for its failure to view the war in Southwest Asia from a regional perspective.  However, we may have been wrong, or at least too hasty.

Iran has been aggressively moving to export terror and build—up its ability to threaten the world in two places: the Horn of Africa, and the vital Straits of Hormuz, where the Persian Gulf's oil riches must pass on their way to market. There are now some serious indicators that the Coalition, including both French and German military elements, has been deftly executing a combined political and military operation to roll back Iranian gains from the last 12 years.

The Iranian maneuver to dominate the Central Region and isolate the Arabian Peninsula started in the Horn of Africa in the early 90s. By aligning with warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed's forces, Iran hoped to gain a foothold in Somalia that could potentially threaten shipping moving through the Red Sea. Following the US strategic retreat from Somalia after the 'Blackhawk Down' ambush in 1993, the remaining UN peacekeepers withdrew in 1995 and abandoned the country to the terrorists and their Iranian sponsors.  After 9—11, the Coalition was forced use Djibouti as a base to secure the shipping lanes on the Western side of the Arabian Peninsula, and to interdict the movement of terrorists into and out of the region.

There are strong indications that the efforts of Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa (CJTF—HOA)  are starting to push Iranian operators out of the Horn, if they have not gone already.  United States naval and ground forces, French commandos, and Die Deutsche Kriegsmarine (German Navy), through a combined series of special and conventional operations, naval power, and humanitarian assistance projects, have established the conditions for the introduction of up to 7,500 troops from the African Union and the Arab League.  This is a watershed event for the Coalition in this area, and shows that the Somali people are anxious to finally rid their country of bandits, terrorists, and Iranian agents, and are looking forward to having the government—in—exile return to Mogadishu.

The Coalition also mounted a synchronized diplomatic  and military blitz in neighboring Ethiopia, with elements of the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) moving into the country  last year to secure territory for military assistance training and for 'other operations' in the War on Terror. (For a summary of the $1.2 billion U.S. humanitarian assistance program in the country click here.)  In addition, there were several visits by the former and current commanders of CENTCOM, General (retired) Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid, and visits by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.  This was all done under the radar screen of the major press, but it was not lost on the mullahs.  All they had to do was look at the map.  The Kriegsmarine had sealed off Somalia from the eastern sea approaches, Ethiopia became increasingly untenable for cross—border terror bases and Iranian training camps, and, more than likely, Coalition special operations forces from Djibouti were taking their toll.  In short, the Iranians in the Horn of Africa have been surrounded.

The other prong of CENTCOM's operations against Iran involves Abu Musa Island.  The island had been the object of a long—running dispute between Iran and the UAE because of its oil reserves and its strategic location midway in the narrow channel of the Straits of Hormuz.  In 1992, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took complete control of the island , and proceeded to fortify it and deploy thousands of troops, modern air defense batteries, sophisticated anti—ship missile systems, and, according to former SecDef William Perry, chemical weapons.  For over a decade, the Iranians have had the capability of shutting down the shipping lane and paralyzing shipment of over one—fifth of the world's oil supply.  However, recent US operations in the Persian Gulf are, at a minimum, presenting a more aggressive military posture to pressure the mullahs, or are signaling a run—up to seizure of Abu Musa itself.

This past week, Expeditionary Strike Group 5 (ESG—5) completed an amphibious exercise on the coast of Kuwait.  Keep in mind that a rehearsal is a phase of any amphibious operation, and allows the afloat Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Navy to test the communications links, practice disembarkation, exercise the procedures for naval surface fire support and air support, and, of course, practice the assault itself. The ESG rarely loads at home port in a manner that will completely satisfy every contingency.  Therefore, the rehearsal is a chance to unload everything on the beach, and then load according to a specific assault plan.  This was done in Gulf War I during a 'rehearsal' when an actual amphibious assault on Kuwaiti beaches was still a viable option.

Additional naval forces are also present in the Gulf .  Besides ESG—5, the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group is underway, as is the USS Harry Truman Carrier Battle Group.  One MEU is the ideal force to seize Abu Musa, but the additional forces would be needed to protect an amphibious group from any interference from nearby Qeshm Island, and to continue to secure the Iraqi oil terminals off the Al—Faw Peninsula.  Simply put, the mullahs' 12 year old gambit to squeeze oil shipments through the Straights of Hormuz could come to an end very quickly.

Rather than risk a popular backlash by the citizens of Iran against the US by conducting a direct air or land campaign against the Iranian homeland, seizure of an island that has been disputed for decades would show the Iranians we were willing to support their fight against the mullahs without putting their lives at risk or destroying their infrastructure. The mullahs launched their gambit as an act of aggression; reversing it would demonstrate strength, but indicate no hostility to the Iranian people.

This analysis doesn't even include any possible covert Special Operations Force activities designed to foment rebellion in what is viewed as an increasingly restive Iranian population.  Because of the pressure being applied in the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf, it may require only a slight push from the freedom—loving people in Iran to rid themselves of this oppressive regime, following through on the very visible promise to them made by President Bush in his State of the Union Address.

Sadly for Germany and Russia, they may have to wait a long time, if at all, to recover their decades—old investments in Iranian nuclear facilities.  Unfortunately for them, their cash flow problems will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.  Maybe they should have jumped on GW's freedom bandwagon a long time ago.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent