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The New Pearl Harbour: The Neoconservative Agenda to Sacrifice the Fifth Fleet
The Bush administation has covered up and ignored dissenting Pentagon war games analysis that suggests an attack on Iran's nuclear or military facilities will lead directly to the annihilation of the Navy's Fifth Fleet now stationed in the Persian Gulf. Lt. General Paul Van Riper led a hypothetical Persian Gulf state in the 2002 Millennium Challenge wargames that resulted in the destruction of the Fifth Fleet. His experience and conclusions regarding the vulnerability of the Fifth Fleet to an assymetrical military conflict and the implications for a war against Iran have been ignored. Neoconservatives within the Bush administration are currently aggressively promoting a range of military actions against Iran that will culminate in it attacking the US Navy's Fifth Fleet with sophisticated cruise anti-ship missiles. They are ignoring Van Riper's experiences in the Millennium Challenge and how it applies to the current nuclear conflict with Iran.
Iran has sufficient quantities of cruise missiles to destroy much or all of the Fifth Fleet which is within range of Iran's mobile missile launchers strategically located along its mountainous terrain overlooking the Persian Gulf. The Bush administration is deliberately downplaying the vulnerability of the Fifth Fleet to Iran's advanced missile technology which has been purchased from Russia and China since the late 1990's. The most sophisticated of Iran's cruise missiles are the 'Sunburn' and 'Yakhonts'. These are missiles against which U.S. military experts conclude modern warships have no effective defense. By deliberately provoking an Iranian retaliation to U.S. military actions, the neoconservatives will knowingly sacrifice much or all of the Fifth Fleet. This will culminate in a new Pearl Harbor that will create the right political environment for total war against Iran, and expanded military actions in the Persian Gulf region.
The Fifth Fleet's Vulnerability to Iran's Anti-Ship Missile Arsenal
The U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet is headquartered in the Gulf State of Bahrain which is responsible for patrolling the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Suez Canal and parts of the Indian Ocean. The Fifth Fleet currently comprises a carrier group and two helicopter carrier ships. Its size peaked at five aircraft carrier groups and six helicopter carriers in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq. Presently, it is led by the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier commissioned in 1961. It is the oldest of the Navy's nuclear powered class carriers and scheduled to be decommissioned in 2015 when the first of the new Ford Class carriers enters service. The Enterprise has over 5000 Navy personnel, and on November 2, began participating in a Naval exercise in the Persian Gulf. .
The Fifth Fleet is part of Central Command which is responsible for military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, including the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Central Command is led by Admiral William Fallon, the first naval officer to head Central Command. His appointment reflected widespread opinion that Naval forces would be central in the evolution of missions and goals in the Persian Gulf region. Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense explained: "As you look at the range of options available to the United States, the use of naval and air power, potentially, it made sense to me for all those reasons for Fallon to have the job." It would be Central Command and the Fifth Fleet that would be directly responsible for carrying out a new war against Iran. As a result, it would be the Fifth Fleet that would be most vulnerable of all U.S. military assets to Iran's arsenal of anti-ship cruise missiles.
The Fifth Fleet's base in Bahrain, is only 150 miles away from the Iranian coast, and would itself be in range of Iran's new generation of anti-ship cruise missiles. Also, any Naval ships in the confined terrain of the Persian Gulf would have difficulty in maneuvering and would be within range of Iran's rugged coastline which extends all along the Persian Gulf to the Arabian sea.
Iran began purchasing advanced military technology from Russia soon after the latter pulled out in 2000 from the Gore-Chernomyrdin Protocol, which limited Russia's sales of military equipment to Iran. Russia subsequently began selling Iran military technology that could be used in any military conflict with the U.S. This included air defense systems and anti-ship cruise missiles in which Russia specialized to offset the U.S. large naval superiority. One researcher of Russia's missile technology explains its focus on anti-ship technologies:Many years ago, Soviet planners gave up trying to match the US Navy ship for ship, gun for gun, and dollar for dollar. The Soviets simply could not compete with the high levels of US spending required to build up and maintain a huge naval armada. They shrewdly adopted an alternative approach based on strategic defense. They searched for weaknesses, and sought relatively inexpensive ways to exploit those weaknesses. The Soviets succeeded: by developing several supersonic anti-ship missiles, one of which, the SS-N-22 Sunburn, has been called "the most lethal missile in the world today."
The SS-N-22 or 'Sunburn" has a speed of Mach 2.5 or 1500 miles an hour, uses stealth technology and has a range up to 130 miles. It contains a conventional warhead of 750 lbs that can destroy most ships. Of even greater concern is Russia's SSN-X-26 or 'Yakhonts' cruise missile which has a range of 185 miles which makes all US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf vulnerable to attack. More importantly the Yakhonts has been specifically developed for use against Carrier groups, and has been sold by Russia on the international arms trade.
Both the Yakhonts and the Sunburn missiles are designed to defeat the Aegis radar defense currently used on U.S. Navy ships by using stealth technology and low ground hugging flying maneuvers. In their final approaches these missiles take evasive maneuvers to defeat anti-ship missile defenses. The best defense the Navy has against Sunburn and Yakhonts cruise missiles has been the Sea-RAM (Rolling Actionframe Missile system) anti-ship missile defense system which is a modified form of the Phalanx 20 mm cannon gun . The Sea-RAM has been tested with a 95% success rate against the 'Vandal' supersonic missile capable of Mach 2.5 speeds but does not have the radar evading and final flight maneuvers of Russian anti-ship missiles. Naval ships are having their anti-ship missile defense fitted with the new Sea-RAM http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htada/articles/20060412.aspx. However, the Sea-RAM has not yet been tested in actual battle conditions nor against the Sunburn or Yakhonts missiles which out-perform the Vandal. The Vandal is currently scheduled for replacement by the 'Coyote' which replicates many of the evasive maneuvers of the Russia anti-ship missiles necessary for developing an effective defense.
So great is the threat posed by the Sunburn, Yakhonts and other advanced anti-ship missiles being developed by Russia and sold to China, Iran and other countries, that the Pentagon's weapons testing office in 2007 moved to halt production on further aircraft carriers until an effective defense was develope. Iran has purchased sufficient quantities of both the Sunbeam and Yakhonts to destroy much or all of the Fifth Fleet anywhere in the Persian Gulf from its mountainous coastal terrain.
Millennium Challenge Wargames and GAO Report
In 2000, the Government Accountability Office (formerly General Accounting Office - GAO) conducted a study on the US Navy's preparedness for anti-ship cruise missiles. Subtitled, Comprehensive Strategy Needed to Improve Ship Cruise Missile Defense, the study pointed out that the "threat to surface ships from sophisticated anti-ship cruise missiles is increasing. Nearly 70 nations have deployed sea- and land-launched cruise missiles, and 20 nations have air-launched cruise missiles." The study found that although "the Navy has made some progress in improving surface ship self-defense capabilities, most ships continue to have only limited capabilities against cruise missile threats." A subsequent military study in 2003 found that only 27 Naval ships were fitted with the Sea-RAM anti-missile defense which had performed well in tests. The GAO study found that while "Navy leaders express concern about the vulnerability of surface ships, that concern may not be reflected in the budget [1997-2005] for ship self-defense programs." Most importantly, the GAO study found that Navy assessments "overstates the actual and projected capabilities of surface ships to protect themselves from cruise missiles." The GAO study's criticism of the Navy's capacity to satisfactorily deal with cruise missile threats was vividly illustrated in the Millennium Challenge wargames held in the summer of 2002.
The "Millennium Challenge" was one of the largest wargames ever conducted and wargames involved 13,500 troops spread out at over 17 locations. The wargames involved heavy usage of computer simulations, extended over a three week period and cost $250 million. Millennium Challenge involved asymmetrical warfare between the U.S military forces, led by General William Kernan, and an unnamed state in the Persian Gulf. According to General Kernan, the wargames "would test a series of new war-fighting concepts recently developed by the Pentagon." Using a range of asymmetrical attack strategies using disguised civilian boats for launching attacks, planes in Kamikaze attacks, and Silkworm cruise missiles, much of the Fifth Fleet was sunk. The games revealed how asymmetrical strategies could exploit the Fifth Fleet's vulnerability against anti-ship cruise missiles in the confined waters of the Persian Gulf.
In a controversial decision, the Pentagon decided to simply 'refloat' the Fifth Fleet to continue the exercise which led to the eventual defeat of the Persian Gulf state. The sinking of the Fifth Fleet was ignored and the wargames declared a success for the "new war-fighting concepts" adopted by Gen. Kernan. This led to Lt General Paul Van Riper, the commander of the mythical Gulf State, calling the official results "empty sloganeering". In a later television interview, General Van Riper elaborated further:There were accusations that Millennium Challenge was rigged. I can tell you it was not. It started out as a free-play exercise, in which both Red and Blue had the opportunity to win the game. However, about the third or fourth day, when the concepts that the command was testing failed to live up to their expectations, the command at that point began to script the exercise in order to prove these concepts. This was my critical complaint.
Most significant was General Riper's claims of the effectiveness of the older Cruise missile technology, the Silkworm missile which were used to sink an aircraft carrier and two helicopter-carriers loaded with marines in the total of 16 ships sunk. When asked to confirm Riper's claims, General Kernar replied: "Well, I don't know. To be honest with you. I haven't had an opportunity to assess what happened. But that's a possibility… The specifics of the cruise-missile piece… I really can't answer that question. We'll have to get back to you"
The Millennium Challenge wargames clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of the US Fifth Fleet to Silkworm cruise missile attacks. This replicated the experience of the British during the 1980 Falklands war where two ships were sunk by three Exocet missiles. Both the Exocet and Silkworm cruise missiles were an older generation of anti-ship missile technology that were far surpassed by the Sunburn and Yakhonts missiles. If the Millennium Challenge was a guide to an asymmetrical war with Iran, much of the U.S Fifth Fleet would be destroyed. It is not surprising Millennium Challenge was eventually scripted so that this embarrassing fact was hidden. To date, there has been little public awareness of the vulnerability of the US Fifth Fleet while stationed in the Persian Gulf. It appears that the Bush administration had scripted an outcome to the wargames that would promote its neoconservative agenda for the Middle East.
The Neo-Conservative Strategy to Attack Iran
Neoconservatives share a political philosophy that US dominance of the international system as the world's sole superpower needs to be extended indefinitely into the 21st century. Part of the neoconservative agenda is to identify and overthrow states that are opposed to the current U.S. dominated international system. After the 911 attacks, rogue states viewed as supporters of international terrorism were elevated into what President Bush called in his 2002 State of the Union speech the "Axis of Evil." These originally included Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Neoconservatives view forceful diplomacy backed by military intervention as the price to pay for reigning in rogue states that support terrorism. Up until the 2003 invasion, Iraq had been the principal rogue state that was a targeted by neoconservatives. Subsequent to the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein and forceful multilateral diplomacy on North Korea, neo-conservative attention has firmly shifted to Iran.
In early 2006 neoconservatives within the Bush administration began vigorously promoting a new war against Iran due to the alleged threat posed by its nuclear development program. Iran has consistently maintained that its nuclear development is lawful and in compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Article IV.1 of the NPT states: "Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes…" The only constraint on this "inalienable right" is that states must agree not to pursue a nuclear weapons program as identified in Articles I and II of the NPT. Since 2004, The Bush administration has been citing intelligence data that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons and must under no circumstances be allowed to do this.
Much of Iran's nuclear development has occurred in underground facilities built at a depth of 70 feet with hardened concrete overhead that protect them from any known conventional attack. This led to the Bush administration arguing in early 2006 that tactical nuclear weapons would need to be used to take out Iran's nuclear facilities. This culminated in a fierce debate between leading neo-conservatives such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff which remained adamantly opposed. Seymour Hersh in May 2006, reported the opposition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.In late April, the military leadership, headed by General Pace, achieved a major victory when the White House dropped its insistence that the plan for a bombing campaign include the possible use of a nuclear device to destroy Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. …. "Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning," the former senior intelligence official told me. "And Pace stood up to them. Then the world came back: 'O.K., the nuclear option is politically unacceptable.'
Subsequent efforts by the neo-conservatives to justify a conventional military attack have been handicapped by widespread public skepticism by the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, and Iran's compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that Iran is complying with its inspection requirements. In a statement on October 8, 2007, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, dismissed the main argument used by the Bush administration when he said "I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now." ElBaradei went on to cite U.S. military assessments that Iran is a few years away from developing weapons grade nuclear fuel that could be used for nuclear weapons. The Bush administration, frustrated by the determined opposition both within the U.S bureaucracy, military and the international community to its plans has adopted a three pronged track strategy for its goal of 'taking out' Iran.
First Attack Strategy
The first strategy is to drive up public perceptions of an international security crisis by warning of a Third World War if Iran's nuclear program is not stopped. In a Press Conference speech on October 17, President Bush declared:
I've told people that, if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them [Iranians] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously. And we'll continue to work with all nations about the seriousness of this threat.
Bush's startling rhetoric was followed soon after by Vice President Cheney on October 23 who warned in a speech before the Washington Institute for Near East Studies: ''Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions." Cheney went on to allude in his speech to military action where the US and its allies were "prepared to impose serious consequences." He then declared: "We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.''
Bush's and Cheney's alarming rhetoric provides political cover for Israel, which is also adamantly opposed to Iran's nuclear developments plans, to bomb its nuclear facilities. On September 6, 2007 an elite Israeli Air Force Squadron launched a daring air raid and destroyed a secret Syrian facility that had allegedly received nuclear material from North Korea. According to a Sunday Times report, the "Israelis proved they could penetrate the Syrian air defense system, which is stronger than the one protecting Iranian nuclear sites." The Syrian raid was a test run for what Israel could do against Iran's nuclear facilities. The Bush administration has been encouraging a covert Israeli military strike against Iran given determined opposition to a U.S. led military strike. An earlier Sunday Times report from January 2007 exposed Israeli plans for airstrikes against Iran using nuclear armed bunker busting weapons in the event the U.S. did not move forward. However, the U.S. military is also opposed to a unilateral attack by Israel which would result in a furious Iranian retaliation against American forces.
There were unconfirmed reports that the U.S. denied Israel the flight codes to fly over Iraqi airspace for an early 2007 air raid sanctioned by neoconservatives within the Bush administration. Currently, Admiral Fallon, the Commander of Central Command, is opposed to U.S. military strikes against Iran. During his confirmation hearing in February 2007, Fallon privately confided that an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch." It is highly likely that Fallon would veto any Israeli attack on Iran, and deny it the flight codes it requires for flying over Iraqi airspace.
Second Attack Strategy
The second strategy has been shift emphasis from removing Iran's nuclear facilities, to emphasizing its support for terrorism. Given widespread military and political opposition to attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities, the Bush administration is now depicting Iran as a supporter of terrorism in Iraq. Seymour Hersh described the shift as follows:
The change in strategy was given a powerful boost by the passage of the Kyle-Lieberman Amendment by the U.S. Senate on September 26 which designated "the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization." This would enable the Bush administration to authorize strikes against Iranian Revolutionary Guard facilities inside Iran on the basis that they are supporting Iraqi terrorist groups targeting U.S. military forces. According to Hersh the shift in strategy is gaining support from among the American military. While Admiral William Fallon has privately expressed opposition to military action against Iran, the commander of U.S. forces inside Iraq, General Petraeus, supports the Bush administration's Iran policies. Petraeus has declared: "None of us, earlier this year, appreciated the extent of Iranian involvement in Iraq, something about which we and Iraq's leaders all now have greater concern". Petraeus went on to claim that Iran was fighting "a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq." Consequently, limited surgical strikes against Revolutionary Guards facilities might be authorized by the Bush administration.
Third Attack Strategy
The third and most dangerous strategy used by the Bush administration is to sanction a covert mission that would create the necessary political environment for a war against Iran. This is arguably best evidenced in the infamous B-52 'Bent Spear' incident on August 30, 2007 where five (later changed to six) nuclear armed cruise missiles were found en route to the Middle East for a covert mission. The nuclear warheads had adjustable yields of between 5 to 150 kilotons, and would have been ideal for use against Iran's underground nuclear facilities or in a false flag operation that would be blamed on Iran. According to confidential sources, the covert mission involving the B-52 was to coincide with Israel's September 6 military strike against a Syrian military facility. However, Air Force personnel stood down 'illegal' orders that most likely came from the White House, and averted what could have been the detonation of one or more nuclear devices in the Persian Gulf region. There is much evidence to believe that ultimate responsibility for the B-52 incident can be traced to the office of the Vice President. Due to the Bush administration's authority directly order military units to participate in covert missions regardless of their legality, the possibility that a covert mission will be used to provoke a war with Iran remains high.
Consequences of Iran being Attacked
In an effort to intimidate Iran, the Bush administration has regularly placed two aircraft carrier group formations in the Persian Gulf. In the naval exercises that began on Novembers 2, the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and a helicopter carrier, the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), are in the Persian Gulf simulating "a quick response to possible crises." The size and timing of possible U.S. military attacks on Iran's nuclear and/or military facilities, will influence the speed and scale of an Iranian response. Iran's response will predictably result in a military escalation that culminates in Iran using its arsenal of anti-ship cruise missiles on the U.S. Fifth Fleet and closing off the Strait of Hormuz to all shipping. Iran's ability to hide and launch cruise missiles from mountainous positions all along the Persian Gulf will make all Fifth Fleet ships in the Persian Gulf vulnerable. The Fifth Fleet would be trapped and unable to escape to safer waters. The Millennium Challenge wargames in 2002 witnessed the sinking of most of the Fifth fleet. Less advanced Silkworm cruise missiles, when compared to Iran's stock of Sunburn and Yakhonts missiles, were used in a simulated asymmetric warfare that would resemble what would occur if Iran and the U.S. went to war. The sunk ships included an aircraft carrier, two helicopter carriers in the total of 16 ships that were 'refloated' in the exercise to produce a scripted outcome.
If an attack on Iran were to occur before the end of 2007, it would lead to the destruction of the USS Enterprise with its complement of 5000 personnel on board. Further losses in terms of support ships and other Fifth Fleet naval forces in the Persian Gulf would be catastrophic. An Iranian cruise missile attack would replicate losses at Pearl Harbor where the sinking of five ships, destruction of 188 aircraft and deaths of 2,333 quickly led to a declaration of total war against Imperial Japan by the U.S. Congress.
The declaration of total war against Iran by the U.S. Congress would lead to a sustained bombing campaign and eventual military invasion to bring about regime change in Iran. Military conscription would occur in order to provide personnel for the invasion of Iran, and to support U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that would come under greater pressure. Tensions would rapidly escalate with other major powers such as Russia and China who have supplied Iran with sophisticated weapons systems that could be used against U.S. military assets. The closing of the Strait of Hormuz to all shipping and total war conditions in the U.S. would lead to a collapse of the world economy, and further erosion of civil liberties in a U.S. engaged in total war.
The above scenario is very plausible given the military capacities of Iran's anti-ship cruise missiles and the U.S. Navy's vulnerability to these while operating in the Persian Gulf. The Bush administration has hidden from the American public the full extent of the Fifth Fleet's vulnerability, and how it could be trapped and destroyed in a full scale conflict with Iran. This is best evidenced by the controversial decision to downplay the real results of the Millennium Challenge wargames and the dissenting views of Lt. General Van Riper over the lessons to be learned. This culminated in General Van Riper joining a group of retired generals in calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. In a PBS interview he referred to Rumsfeld as "unwilling to accept advice … relieving people or publicly humiliating people" and even making decisions that "are unlawful." The Bush administration is also downplaying the significance of the 2000 GAO report on US Navy vulnerability to cruise missile attacks.
Neo-conservatives within the Bush administration are fully aware of the vulnerability of the Fifth Fleet, yet have at times tried to place up to three carrier groups in the Persian Gulf which would only augment U.S. losses in any war with Iran. Yet the Bush administration has still attempted to move forward with plans for nuclear, conventional and/or covert attacks on Iran which would precipitate much of the terrible scenario described above.
A reasonable conclusion to draw is that neoconservatives within the Bush administration are willing to sacrifice much or all of the U.S. Fifth Fleet by militarily provoking Iran to launch its anti-ship cruise missile arsenal in order to justify 'total war' against Iran, and force regime change. An immediate solution is to expose the neo-conservative agenda to sacrifice the Fifth Fleet and to make accountable all those responsible for it.
On April 24, 2007 Congressman Dennis Kucinich began circulating articles for impeachment proceedings against Vice President Dick Cheney which included among his "high crimes and misdemeanors" his advocacy of aggression against Iran. The relevant section in the Kucinich bill states:With respect to Article III, that in his conduct while vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney openly threatened aggression against the Republic of Iran, absent any real threat to the United States, and has done so with the United States's proven capability to carry out such threats, thus undermining the national security interests of the United States.
After gaining additional support from 21 members of Congress as co-sponsors, Kucinich introduce his articles of impeachment as a privileged resolution on November 6 to force a vote in the House of Representatives. His privileged resolution was voted on and referred to the House Judiciary Committee for further study.
In addition to Vice President Cheney, President Bush also is culpable for the neo-conservative agenda to sacrifice the Fifth Fleet by militarily provoking Iran into launching hostilities that culminates in total war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Impeachment proceedings also need to be launched against President Bush for "high crimes and misdemeanors" for approving neoconservative plan to sacrifice the U.S. Fifth Fleet through an unnecessary military provocation of Iran. A new Pearl Harbor can be averted by making accountable Bush administration officials willing to sacrifice the Fifth Fleet in pursuit of a neoconservative agenda.
About the Author
Dr. Michael Salla is an internationally recognized scholar in international politics, conflict resolution, US foreign policy and the new field of 'exopolitics'. He is author/editor of five books; and held academic appointments in the School of International Service& the Center for Global Peace, American University, Washington DC (1996-2004); the Department of Political Science, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia (1994-96); and the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington D.C., (2002). He has a Ph.D in Government from the University of Queensland, Australia, and an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Melbourne, Australia. He has conducted research and fieldwork in the ethnic conflicts in East Timor, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Sri Lanka, and organized peacemaking initiatives involving mid to high level participants from these conflicts.