Moon of Alabama presents compelling account of Iran’s drone shootdown and Trump admin pirouettes

FROM MOON OF ALABAMA, BY “B”

ACT ONE

Iran Shoots Down Strategic U.S. Drone – Is Ready For War – Puts “Maximum Pressure” On Trump – Updated

Updated below
[First posted on June 20, 2019]

Early this morning Iranian air defense shot down a U.S. high altitude reconnaissance drone:

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have shot down a U.S. “spy” drone in the southern province of Hormozgan, which is on the Gulf, the Guards’ news website Sepah News said on Thursday.State news agency IRNA carried the same report, identifying the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk.

“It was shot down when it entered Iran’s airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in the south,” the Guards’ website added.

A later statement by the IRGC detailed the incident:

The American UAV took off from an US base in the south of the Persian Gulf at 00:14 am today morning and contrary to aviation laws, it shut off all of its introduction equipment and proceeded from the Strait of Hormuz to Chabahar with complete secrecy.The unmanned aircraft while returning to the west of the region towards the Strait of Hormuz, violated the territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and start collecting information and spying.

At 4:55 am, when the aggressive UAV entered our country’s territory, it was targeted by the IRGC air force and was shot down.

The U.S. says that the drone was a MQ-4C Triton, the navy variant of the Global Hawktype that is specialized on Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS). It claims that the drone was in international airspace when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot it down.

(Interestingly no MQ-4C is supposed to be in the Middle East. The deployment must have been secret. Update: This specific drone seems to have arrived in Qatar only five days ago. Additional details are discussed here. /update)

Global Hawk type drone

The incident is another piece of evidence that Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran now works against him.

Trump allegedly told his staff to stop talking up war on Iran:

Two senior officials and three other individuals with direct knowledge of the administration’s strategy in the region tell The Daily Beast that the president has asked officials to tone down their heated rhetoric on Iran …

Trump does not want to open a military conflict with Iran. But he is already waging a brutal economic war against Iran and the country is pushing back. Trump wants negotiations with Iran without first lifting his sanctions against it. Iran rejects that.

It no longer matters what Trump wants. Iran has achieved escalation dominance. It can cause a myriad of incidents that force Trump to react. He can either launch a hot war and thereby risk his reelection bid, or he can cut back on the sanctions that hurt the Iranian people. If he does not do either, more pinpricks will follow and will over time become more costly.

Abas Aslani @AbasAslani – 7:29 UTC · 20 Jun 2019#Iran’s #IRGC commander Salami: Shooting down the US drone had a clear & strong message i.e. we’ll react strongly against any assault to the country. Borders are our red line. We are not after a war with any country, but we are ready for war. Message of today’s incident was clear.

The loss of the Global Hawk drone is significant. These huge birds, with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737, are considered strategic assets. They were built as replacements for the infamous U-2 spy planes. They carry highly classified sensors and cost more than $120 million a piece.


This loss can certainly be attributed to Iran. But to blame Iran for it the U.S. will have to prove that its drone did not enter Iranian air space. Only two days ago the Federal Aviation Authority issued a warning for aircraft flying in the area.

U.S. drones have violated Iran’s sovereign airspace many times. In 2011 Iran acquired a stealthy RQ-170 drone which had flown in from Afghanistan by manipulating its command signals. In 2012 Iran took down another U.S. drone, a Boeing Scan Eagle, that had flown in from the Persian Gulf. Many other U.S. drones were shot down over Iranian territory:

In January [2011], Iran said it had shot down two conventional (nonstealth) drones, and in July, Iran showed Russian experts several US drones – including one that had been watching over the underground uranium enrichment facility at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Fox News on Dec. 13 that the US will “absolutely” continue the drone campaign over Iran, looking for evidence of any nuclear weapons work. But the stakes are higher for such surveillance, now that Iran can apparently disrupt the work of US drones.

The Persian cats are by now well trained in anti-drone measures.

Persian cats train to take down RQ-170 drones

Photo via Thomas Erdbrink – bigger

How will Trump react to this incident? President John Bolton will demand military action against Iran as revenge for the shoot down. He will surely also press for sending more troops to the Middle East.

Trump may again play down the incident, like he recently did with the tanker attackwhich he called “very minor”. But the war hawks in the media and Congress, and Iran, will put more pressure on him. More incidents would surely follow.

Trump has a way out. He could issue sanction waivers to allow China, Japan, South Korea, India and others to again import Iranian oil. It would take the “maximum” out of his now failed “maximum pressure” campaign and could be a way to move towards negotiations.


Update 2:00 PM

The Pentagon just held a very short press conference. Via telephone Lt General Joseph T. Guastella from the U.S. Central Command made a very short statement. No questions were allowed.

He said that the drone was in international airspace at high attitude and “34 kilometer from the nearest point of the Iranian coast” when it was shot down.

That is trickery, or if you will trigonometry.

High attitude means that the drone flew at a height of around 60,000+ feet or 20 kilometer. It it would have flown directly over the Iranian coastline it would have been “20 kilometer from the nearest point of the Iranian coast”.

The 34 kilometers is the length of the hypotenuse AC of the right-angled triangle. The hight is the opposite AB. What we have to find is the length of the adjacent BC.

? = square root of ( 34 x 34 – 20 x 20) = 27.5 kilometer

National maritime zones and national air zone are measured in nautical miles: 27km / 1.852 = 14.85 nautical miles.

The length of the adjacent BC, i.e. the legal distance of the drone to the Iranian coast, was 14.85 miles. That is at least according to the CentCom talking head.

Iran’s national maritime zone, which equals the national airspace limit, is 12 nautical miles from its coast. The U.S. navy claims that its drone was a tiny bit further away.

This map was shown during the Pentagon briefing.


Now compare it with this map that shows the maritime borders of Iran, Oman and the UAE in the Straits of Hormuz.


There is no international airspace in the tightest, northern part of the Straits of Hormuz. There is only the national airspace of Iran and Oman. If what the CentCom map shows is the correct location of the drone, which had come from the south, it was in the mid of a blind alley of international airspace flying towards its end.

The drone was the RQ-4N BAMS-D. It was the U.S. navy owned prototype for the new MQ-4C Trition type of the Global Hawk that is currently build. The RQ-4N was unique. It used an old Global Hawk frame packed with new electronic equipment. It was used as the test bed for the gigantic data hoover that the Triton will be. But it was also a piece of equipment that was hard to maintain and that had served its purpose. The first of the hew drones will be delivered this summer. The RQ-4N was arguably expandable.

The Iranian IRGC says that the drone had switched off its transponder shortly after take off. A look at the usual live air traffic sites confirms that the drone was not tracked by the civil aviation systems which monitor transponder signals.

The U.S. airforce, which each day flies reconnaissance missions near potentially hostile countries, always keeps its transponders on. The transponder signal demonstrates that it has no hostile intent. It prevents accidental air defense engagements. It also allows it to prove that it stays outside of foreign national airspace.

The U.S. has threatened Iran with war and regime change for some 40 years. There is currently a crisis caused by Trumps violation of the nuclear deal with Iran. If the CentCom claim is correct the Navy drone flew extremely near to Iran’s border, seconds away from entering it, in a way the Iran had reason to interpret as ould well interpret as hostile. Iran released a video that supposedly shows the shoot down.

Iran says that the drone entered Iranian airspace. I find that to be likely correct. CentCom is not known for telling the truth and the list of proven hostile drone entries into Iranian air space is quite long.

Trump just held a press conference in the Oval Office. He seemed to play down(vid) the event. He empathized that the drone was unmanned. He said he had “a big, big feeling” that “someone made a mistake”, that “some Iranian general probably made a mistake”. That means that he does not accuse the government of Iran of the shoot down, but some lowly grunt who “might have made a mistake.”

That statement gives him room to avoid a large retaliation.

Someone made a mistake? So what.

Posted by b on June 20, 2019 at 04:57 AM | Permalink

***

ACT TWO

What made Trump —at the last moment—pull back from sparking a possible huge conflagration? A secret call from fellow bully and accomplice Netanyahu telling him he feared Iran would wipe out Israel if attacked and laid waste by the Americans and their supine vassals? Selfish election 2020 considerations? Irritation and alarm at some behind-his-back warmongering maneuvers by his sociopathic henchmen —the toxic duo Bolton and Pompeo—in charge of “national security” and foreign policy? At this point the answer is anyone’s guess.


White House Pushes ‘Trump Pulled Back’ Story – He Likely Never Approved To Strike Iran

[First posted June 21, 2019]

Last night U.S President Trump allegedly pulled back from a military strike against Iran after it had already been ordered.

That is the official story but there are doubts that it is true. The Iranian campaign of “maximum pressure” against Trump’s sanctions is still on. But there are first signs that it is successful.

The New York Times headlines: Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, but Then Abruptly Pulls Back

WASHINGTON — President Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching them on Thursday night after a day of escalating tensions.As late as 7 p.m., military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike, after intense discussions and debate at the White House among the president’s top national security officials and congressional leaders, according to multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.

Officials said the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries.

The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official said. Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down, the official said.

The NYT story blames the hawks in the Trump administration, Bolton, Pompeo and CIA torture queen Gina Haspel, for arguing for a strike. The Pentagon and some congressional leaders are said to have been against it. The NYT report includes this curious paragraph:

Asked about the plans for a strike and the decision to hold back, the White House declined to comment, as did Pentagon officials. No government officials asked The New York Times to withhold the article.

The Associated Press has a similar story: US prepped for strikes on Iran before approval was withdrawn. The Washington Post and ABCNews also report along the same line. The White House is clearly pushing this version of the story.

But not everyone is buying the claim of a planned attack that was called back. Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar on international conflicts, remarks:

Jeffrey Lewis @ArmsControlWonk – 3:43 UTC – 21 Jun 2019I don’t buy this. Trump’s team is trying to have it both ways — acting restrained but talking tough. This is pretty much what Nixon did in 1969, too. Why not just admit that sometimes restraint is smart?

The @nytimes ran the same story Nixon in 1969. 🤷‍♂️ Nixon was not going to retaliate but he wanted people to think he almost did — and the Gray Lady obliged. —> Aides Say Nixon Weighed Swift Korea Reprisal

Elijah Magnier, a journalist with excellent sources in Tehran, also rejects the NYT claim. Pointing to the NYT story he remarks:

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai – 4:02 UTC – 21 Jun 2019This is highly inaccurate and Iran “knew” about it yesterday: the US administration whispered this info for Trump to save his face.

I hinted to this info yesterday before it was released this morning by the US media. Iran – sources – rejected the “war-theatre scenario”. More details this evening.

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai – 19:41 UTC – 20 Jun 2019I have very valuable information on US intel sending a message to the Iranians to agree on a certain scenario to happen.
This and much more information will force me to write an article tomorrow (hopefully) on #Iran and #US crisis.

After the drone shoot down the price of oil jumped 10%. Trump will have noticed that. He was also already warned by Iran that there is no room for talks and that any strike against it would have deadly consequences:

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian officials told Reuters on Friday that Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump through Oman overnight warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent.

The second official said: “We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision … However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.”

The whole storyline of “a strike was ordered but Trump held back and saved the day” might well be fake.

When Trump spoke to the press yesterday afternoon he was already playing down the Iranian downing of a U.S. Global Hawk drone. As we wrote in the update to yesterday’s drone story:

Trump just held a press conference in the Oval Office. He seemed to play down(vid) the event. He empathized that the drone was unmanned. He said he had “a big, big feeling” that “someone made a mistake”, that “some Iranian general probably made a mistake”. That means that he does not accuse the government of Iran of the shoot down, but some lowly grunt who “might have made a mistake.”

That statement gives him room to avoid a large retaliation.

A strike in retaliation for the downed drone may have never been on the table. An alternative interpretation is that the U.S. sought agreement for a symbolic ‘strike’ from Iran. It would hit some empty desert place to allow Trump to save face. Iran would have disagreed with that plan.

But there are also signs that some strike was really in preparation:

𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙄𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙡 𝘾𝙧𝙖𝙗 @IntelCrab – 3:26 UTC – 21 Jun 2019Not sure I have an opinion yet on this NYT piece, but I will say one thing…the HF traffic we’ve seen today is consistent with the assertion that at least SOME sort of strike package was authorized.

Unusual High Frequency radio traffic pointed to strike preparation, says the open source analyst IntelCrab.

There is also a different plausible explanation why an imminent strike might have been called back. From the Wall Street Journal:

Saudi Plant Struck by Missile, Apparently From Yemen
Senior U.S. officials called back to White House after desalination facility in kingdom hit

Senior officials from a range of U.S. government agencies were called back to the White House to meet Wednesday evening, the official said.“The President has been briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday. “We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies.”

The Houthi, aka Ansar Allah, yesterday hit the Saudi desalination and electricity plant at Al-Shuqaiq near the southern Saudi city Jizan. The Saudis confirmed the strike:

Colonel Turki al-Maliki, the spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Ansar Allah, confirmed the attack, saying a hostile projectile that had yet to be identified landed near the Al-Shuqaiq water desalination plant, but caused no casualties or damage. He added that it was another example of the rebels deliberately attacking civilian targets.

This must have come as a shock for the Saudis. Some 75% of the water the Saudis use comes from desalination plants. Their people will die of thirst when those get destroyed. Did the Saudi King call the White House and urged it to call off the strike against Iran because he feared for his water resources? Was this the real reason why the White House called back its advisors and canceled the strike?

The Houthi also launched an large attack on Jizan airport:

Brasco_Aad @Brasco_Aad – 18:17 UTC – 20 Jun 2019Mass Houthi drone attack on Jizan airport tonight.
Saudi witnesses are reporting significant damage in and around the airport.

Flights to Jizan were delayed after the reported strike.

The recent Houthi hits on Saudi Arabia are notable escalations in their quality and extend. The Houthi have obviously received new weapons. Their actions are part of the Iranian campaign to put “maximum pressure” on Trump. As Abdel Bari Atwan writes:

The US’ Israeli and Gulf allies have been exploiting Trump’s stupidity to try to drag him into a war against Iran on their behalf. The Iranians are trying to impress on him that any such war would incur an exorbitant cost on the US, and also on those allies – Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned that any war would not be confined to Iran but set the entire region ablaze.Even if there is no direct US attack, the Iranians will not simply sit back and wait to be starved into submission by Trump’s embargo and halting of their oil exports. That is another thing the US president does not understand. And he may never understand it until he sees the extent of their retaliation against his country’s forces, warships and bases, and his allies’ cities, airports, and power and desalination plants.

Trump wages an economic war on Iran through sanctions on everything Iran exports or imports. Iran is doing its best to to push back against this by creating incidents that are plausibly deniable but put Trump under maximum pressure. But there are now signs that Trump is finally getting that.

Yesterday evening Tucker Carlson, a FOX News host with a direct line to the White House, had two strong anti-war segments on his show (vid). In the second segment Carlson talks with retired army Colonel Douglas McGregor. Both argue for pulling back on sanctions. This was likely a preplanned exchange (at 9:56 min) designed to give Trump cover for his decision:


SIDEBAR: Editor’s Note
While Carlson has done everyone a service by helping to defuse a possible catastrophic assault on Iran, he did so while leaving the chief mainsprings of US imperialist aggression untouched, in fact reinforced, i.e., US exceptionalism, America’s “noble intentions”, and the rest of that hypocritical and sickeningly sanctimonious self-serving rubbish that has plagued the world for over a century now. Furthermore, again in a long tradition of amoral punditocratic advice, he argues against miltary adventures (possibly believing that in an immoral culture no one will pay any attention to ethical behaviour, just self-interest) from the standpoint that such meddling has not been beneficial to the United States, a purely “pragmatic” approach, not that it is simply and clearly criminal, period, according to every international covenant, and thus should never be considered.. This is the kind of pandering to existing myths that keeps this monster alive. —P. Greanville

Carlson: Is there some good reason to maintain this level of sanctions against Iran? Are we getting something out of that?
..
McGregor: Well, I think the idea was to destroy the Iranian economy to bring the nation to its knees. That is really not what we should be trying to do at this point. I think the president senses that there is now an opportunity for diplomacy, for a new approach to Iran that could deescalate this set of conditions and produce a positive outcome.
..

Look, this will ruin our economy if we engage Iran in a war. Iran will instantly have support from around the world. They will be the victim of this “limited strike” that is being discussed. The limited strike idea is sheer insanity. It will provoke a war. Anyone, China, Russia, India, many European states will come to the aid of Iran. We will end up with a larger coalition of the willing against us, than we have seen in decades.
..

I think the president has figured this out. He’s got good instincts. But he needs to get rid of the warmongers. He needs to [be] through [with] these geniuses and their limited strikes out of the Oval Office. The last thing the America First agenda needs is a stupid pointless unnecessary war with Iran and he knows that and he needs to act.

[Tucker Carlson agrees]

Trump may well want some diplomatic exchange with Iran. But Iran will not talk to him as long as the sanctions against it are kept in place. It will continue its maximum pressure campaign by creating new incidents that will again increase the price of oil. The easiest way out for Trump is to abolish sanctions against Iran. He at least should issue waivers for China and others to allow them to again buy Iranian oil.

Unless he does so Iran will hit again and again against those who press for war against it. Yesterday it was a U.S. drone and a Saudi desalination plant that were the targets. The next incident could be in some oil facility in the United Arab Emirates or a symbolic strike against Israel.

The ball is still in Trump’s court. He has to act further to avoid a larger war.

Posted by b on June 21, 2019 at 05:06 AM | Permalink

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