Quotulatiousness

November 30, 2014

Even the Marxists think laws “protecting” women are paternalistic and patronizing

Filed under: Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In Britain’s Weekly Worker — subtitled “A paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity” — Yassamine Mather argues that the demand for “safe spaces” is insulting to women and denies their legal and moral equality with men:

In her speech to LU conference the Communist Platform’s Tina Becker, arguing against the proposed ‘safe spaces’ document, said it was patronising and bureaucratic. What did she mean by these two adjectives?

The idea that women in leftwing organisations need ‘protection’, as opposed to ‘empowerment’, is what is patronising. No doubt Felicity Dowling’s extensive work in dealing with child abuse cases and fighting for children’s rights is commendable. However, time and time again when she speaks about safe spaces she starts with abused children, before moving swiftly to the need for safe places for women, gays, blacks in society and, by extension, in the organisations of the left. I disagree with such a classification of women, gays and blacks as weak creatures — actual and potential victims who constantly need ‘protection’ from the rest of society.

On the contrary, as adults they need a progressive culture that encourages them and everyone else to challenge sexism, homophobia and racism. Comrades in Left Unity are not weak creatures: they are conscious individuals who recognise capitalism as their enemy — that is why they are in politics. They do not need protective legislation of the type social workers use when dealing with vulnerable children.

Here the example that comes to my mind is the struggles of Iranian women over the last 35 years. They had to fight misogyny not only at home, but in every aspect of social, political and economic life. The state claimed that their ‘safety’ was best maintained by segregation — in the home, or beneath the hijab in the street. But women rejected this from the first days of the Islamic Republic. They took to the streets and fought against misogynist legislation and, although there are still many battles to win, they have made great strides against all odds — to such an extent that the women’s movement in Iran is by far the most significant social movement of the region. Would they have been able to achieve this if in their battles against misogyny they had retreated to ‘safe spaces’? Of course not. On the contrary, it is precisely the ‘safe spaces’ provided by the clerical regime that they are rebelling against.

On the left the most effective way to fight sexism and racism is to make sure we battle against privileged positions and the abuse of power, against secrecy and cronyism. It was not lack of safe spaces that led to the disastrous situation in the Socialist Workers Party. It was secrecy, the power of those in authority, their ability to use ‘confidentiality’ to suppress reporting. A ‘safe spaces’ policy cannot protect women from a ‘comrade Delta’.

H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.

November 7, 2014

QotD: Freedom of speech versus “fear, cowardice and rationalization”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Middle East, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

On Feb. 14, 1989, I happened to be on a panel on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review when someone in the audience told us of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious edict for blasphemy against the British novelist Salman Rushdie. What did we think? We didn’t, as I best recall, disgrace ourselves. We said most of the right things about defending freedom of thought and the imagination.

But the death sentence from Iran’s supreme leader seemed unreal — the sending of a thunderbolt from medieval Qom against modern Bloomsbury — and we didn’t treat it with the seriousness that it deserved. I recall, alas, making a very poor joke about literary deconstructionism. My colleagues, though more sensible, were baffled and hesitant. Was it even true — or perhaps just a mistranslation?

We knew soon enough that it was true. The literary, media and political worlds rallied in defense of Mr. Rushdie. He became a hero of free speech and a symbol — even if a slightly ambivalent postcolonial one — of Western liberal traditions. But he also went, very sensibly, behind a curtain of security that was to last many years.

And by degrees — when it seemed that not only Mr. Rushdie’s life but the lives of his publishers, editors and translators might be threatened — his base of support in the literary world thinned out. Sensitive intellectuals discovered that, in a multicultural world, respect for the Other meant understanding his traditions too, and these often were, well, sterner than ours. Freedom of speech was only one value to be set against…ahem, several other values. Fear, cowardice and rationalization spread outward.

John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.

September 17, 2014

QotD: Fun has no place in Islam

Filed under: Middle East, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. Islam does not allow swimming in the sea and is opposed to radio and television serials. Islam, however, allows marksmanship, horseback riding and competition …

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, meeting in Qom “Broadcast by radio Iran from Qom on 20 August 1979.” quoted in Taheri, The Spirit of Allah (1985) p.259

September 7, 2014

ISIS and its local and regional enemies

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:27

Strategy Page looks at the various forces and factions opposed to the rise of the Caliphate of ISIS:

In the Middle East Islamic radicalism, and its murderous offshoot Islamic terrorism, comes in many different flavors. Most groups are mutually antagonistic and will often kill each other as eagerly as they go after kaffirs (non-Moslems.) Nearly all these radical movements now condemn ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) and condemn ISIL for being too extreme. To the West these seems absurd, and many Moslems agree. But radical Islam is what Islam began as and to this day there are always Moslems who embrace the concept of extreme Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism as being the ultimate form of Islam. Thus while Saudi Arabia bans all other religions in its territories and regularly beheads people accused of sorcery and other religious offenses, the Saudis condemn ISIL. One reason for this is that ISIL considers the Saudi government weak and not Islamic enough and worthy of being replaced (after a righteous bloodbath of the current Saudi royal family) by someone more suitable (like ISIL). Al Qaeda also condemns ISIL, initially for not ignoring al Qaeda orders to tone down the barbaric treatment (mass murder and torture) of the enemy because al Qaeda realized that this eventually triggers a backlash from other Moslems. Iran condemns ISIL because all Shia (meaning all Iranians) are heretics and deserving of summary execution. Iran-backed Hezbollah is now using that ISIL threat to justify Hezbollah grabbing more power in Lebanon, where Shia are a third of the population but far more powerful politically because Iranian cash, weapons and training have made Hezbollah too strong for the elected Lebanese government to suppress or even oppose. In Syria, the minority (more Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL.

Whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni faction and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.

Islamic terrorism has long been trapped in a self-destructive cycle of its own making. It works like this. Islamic radicals obtain their popularity and power by proclaiming that they are defending Islam from non-believers and sinners (within Islam, often local Moslem dictators). In order to maintain this moral superiority, the Islamic radicals must be better Moslems, and insist that others do as they do. Since Islam is a religion that dictates how one lives, in considerable detail, as well as how one plays, this business of being a “good Moslem” can get tricky. And it is. There’s a race underway by Islamic radicals, and the clergy that provide theological support, to issue, and enforce, more and more rules on how a good Moslem should live.

May 22, 2014

Trigger warnings and the closing of the western mind

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:49

Tiffany Jenkins says that the rising demand for trigger warnings are like a loaded gun pointed at the head of literature:

In Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, the Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi recalls how, when living in the Islamic Republic of Iran, she secretly brought together seven female students in her living room every Thursday morning so they could read and discuss forbidden classic works of Western literature. These books were considered ‘anti-revolutionary’ and ‘morally harmful’ by the Iranian authorities. Nafisi and the girls put themselves at risk so they could enter the worlds created by writers that included Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, Jane Austen and F Scott Fitzgerald.

Nafisi’s passion for literature and her defiance of the authorities is inspiring, as is the determination of the girls who attended her class, but Reading Lolita in Tehran is an upsetting read. Books – ideas – are powerful, of course, and deal with difficult and sometimes questionable ideas, but they are not so powerful that we should be prevented from studying them, and it makes me angry to think that those wonderful, if tragic and complicated, worlds of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, Humbert Humbert and Dolores Haze, are not available to everyone in many parts of the world. All because those books are considered immoral, and because women, especially, are deemed too susceptible to negative influences.

[…]

One thing a novel never is is simple. That’s why we read them, because they are challenging and thoughtful. You don’t read The Great Gatsby or any other book to learn about whether it is good or bad to betray your husband, or long after a lost love, or make loads or money, or to hit your mistress, or commit suicide, you read to explore how complicated, and human, these desires, wishes and acts are. And there is no such thing as the ‘last word’ when it comes to a novel. The ongoing conversation between readers and writers shouldn’t be curtailed, or deemed too difficult a task for us. What we know or think is never complete or final.

As someone who has taught many students, I can say that most lecturers have faith in their students and know how to help students with issues navigate difficult material. What the students calling for trigger warnings fail to realise is that these are issues that will never be addressed by a warning sticker.

This is a generation of students, it would seem, that does not want university to be a place of free thought, of experimentation, and of reading the best that has been known and thought. This is a generation that sees knowledge as dangerous and themselves as incapable of dealing with it, who seem to want to erase from the world any written words that address complexity, difficulty, nastiness, or the depth of human feeling. These students don’t want to be disturbed, stretched or challenged, and nor do they want others to be. It is a generation that just wants to be sheltered from the world, from one another and even themselves. These are students who, if they are not careful, will find that members of their classes are forced to organise private reading groups in their own homes in order to experience a world of literature that is being denied to them.

October 13, 2013

QotD: Luck of the draw

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

When the time came for us to leave Persia and make the long trek back to Iraq, we stopped again for a few days with Robertson in Kermanshah. Then I said good-bye to my host, my Persian friends, and to his house with keen regret — with, as a matter of fact, a secret personal regret.

As a junior officer in the first World War, I had been presumptuous enough sometimes to hope that if I survived and were not found out, I might with tremendous luck, by the time the next great war arrived, be a general. Then, I fondly imagined my headquarters would move from château to château, from which I would occasionally emerge, fortified by good wine and French cooking, to wish the troops the best of luck in their next attack. Alas, when the time did come and, by good fortune in the game of military snakes and ladders, I found myself a general, I was so inept in my choice of theatres that no châteaux were available. More often than not, I had to make do with a plot of desert sand, a tree in the African bush, or a patch of jungle, while my cuisine was based on bully beef and the vintages of my imagination were replaced by over-chlorinated water. Once or twice, however, I did get, if not my château with its chef and its cellar, at least an excellent substitute — an oil company bungalow. Once having sampled its comfort I would not have swapped Robertson’s house for all the châteaux of the Loire. Dug in there, a delectable future had spread before me in which I achieved my youthful ambition and conducted the war from linen-sheeted bed and luxurious long bath. But, like other youthful hopes, the vision faded. I was once more, had I known it, destined to châteaux-less wilderness.

Field Marshal William Slim, “Persian Pattern”, Unofficial History, 1959.

May 5, 2013

Sorcery, conspiracy theories, and a magical worldview

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:12

Strategy Page looks at some of the widely held beliefs in some Islamic countries:

… in most countries where there is a dominant religion, especially a state approved one, there is usually still a fear that the previous religion (or religions) will try to make a comeback. The former faiths often involved some really old-school stuff, including magic and sometimes animal, or even human, sacrifice. It is not uncommon for there to be civil laws covering those accused to be practicing such sorcery, and severe punishments for those convicted. At the very least, the accused will be driven from any senior government jobs they might hold, and that’s what’s being done to dozens of Ahmadinejad associates.

All cultures have a certain belief in magic and what Westerners call “conspiracy theories” to explain otherwise unexplainable events. In the Islamic world, there is a lot of attention paid to sorcery and magic, and people accused of practicing such things are regularly attacked and sometimes executed. Conspiracy theories are also a popular way to explain away inconvenient facts.

For example, back in 2008 many Pakistanis believed that the then recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai, India was actually the work of the Israeli Mossad or the American CIA and not the Pakistani terrorists who were killed or captured and identified. Such fantasies are a common explanation, in Moslem nations, for Islamic terrorist atrocities. Especially when women and children, and Moslems, are among the victims, other Moslems tend to accept fantastic explanations shifting the blame to infidels (non-Moslems).

[. . .]

American troops arriving in Iraq after 2003 went through a real culture shock as they encountered these cultural differences. They also discovered that the cause of this, and many other Arab problems, is the concept of “inshallah” (“If God wills it.”) This is a basic tenet of Islam, although some scholars believe the attitude was a cultural trait that preceded Islam. In any event, “inshallah” is deadly when combined with modern technology. For this reason, Arab countries either have poorly maintained infrastructure and equipment (including military stuff), or import a lot of foreigners, possessing the right attitudes, to maintain everything. That minority of Arabs who do have a realistic attitude towards maintenance and personal responsibility are considered odd, but useful.

The “inshallah” thing is made worse by a stronger belief in the supernatural, and magic in general. This often extends to technology. Thus many Iraqis believed that American troops wore sunglasses that enabled them to see through clothing, and armor vests that were actually air conditioned. When they first encounter these beliefs, U.S. troops thought the Arabs are putting them on. Then it sinks in that Arabs really believe this stuff. It’s a scary moment.

April 27, 2013

The Caspian Sea as a potential trouble zone

Filed under: Asia, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:46

Strategy Page provides some background on the possibility of conflict on the Caspian in the post-Soviet era:

The Caspian Sea, long a Russian lake, is now witnessing a naval arms race. Before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the only nations bordering the Caspian were Russia (with most of the coastline) and Iran. But now those two nations have been joined by parts of the Soviet Union that have become independent states (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan). It goes downhill from there.

Iran shares a land border with Azerbaijan and has a historical claim on Azerbaijan. In the 19th century Azerbaijan (as in the area occupied the Azeris, a Turkic people) was divided by Russia and Iran. Currently about a quarter of the Iranian population is Azeri, but the Azeris of Azerbaijan believe all Azeris should be part of an independent Azerbaijan. This was how it was for centuries before Turkey, Russia and Iran began seeking to conquer Azerbaijan. Some Iranian Azeris like this idea and Iran is always looking for ways to make Azerbaijan back off. So Iran is building up its Caspian naval forces, which is annoying Russia more than Azerbaijan.

The Iranian buildup includes a new corvette, an Iranian built 1,400 ton ship. Azerbaijan responded by buying $1.6 billion worth of weapons from Israel (which angered Iran a great deal.) Among the items ordered were Gabriel anti-ship missiles. These are 522 kg (1,150 pound) weapons with a range of 36 kilometers. Azerbaijan will use these to protect its Caspian Sea coast from the growing number of Iranian warships being introduced in the area. Most of the Iranian Caspian “fleet” consists of small patrol boats. Some are armed with anti-ship missiles but they are basically coast guard type craft.

What really controls the Caspian is aircraft and Russia has the most of those. Russia also has the only water link to the ocean and thus the ability to bring in more warships on short notice. These, plus Russia’s larger air force gives Russia the edge.

April 9, 2013

US Navy to deploy laser ship defence system in the Persian Gulf next year

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:55

At The Register, Neil McAllister reports on the most recent successful test of the US Navy’s LaWS prototype and plans to deploy the weapons to the Persian Gulf:

The US Navy says it has successfully test-fired a ship-mounted laser weapon, and that it plans to deploy the device to an actual maritime staging area beginning in 2014.

On Monday, the Navy released video and still images showing the somewhat-unimaginatively named Laser Weapon System (LaWS) firing on an unmanned drone, causing the aircraft to burst into flames and plummet from the sky.

Speaking at the Navy League Sea Air Space Exposition at National Harbor, Maryland on Monday, Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval research, said the device would be deployed to the Persian Gulf, where Iran has been “harassing” US ships with drones and small, fast boats.

“The area we’re going to test this in is a very intensive maritime region of the world,” Klunder told USNI News. “Lots of commerce, lots of ships.”

Klunder said the Navy has field-tested the solid-state laser 12 times so far, and in each case it managed to destroy its target. He added that the weapon also has a nonlethal mode that can generate a “dazzle” effect, which can be used to blind enemy vessels by overwhelming their sensors.

In addition to being effective against small, fast-moving craft, the cannon offers another benefit: its low cost relative to traditional weapons systems. According to The New York Times, firing LaWS costs less than $1 per sustained pulse. Compare that to the cost of a short-range interceptor missile, which the paper estimates run around $1.4m apiece.

The YouTube description:

120804-N-ZZ999-001 SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Jul. 30, 2012) The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) in San Diego, Calif., is a technology demonstrator built by the Naval Sea Systems Command from commercial fiber solid state lasers, utilizing combination methods developed at the Naval Research Laboratory. LaWS can be directed onto targets from the radar track obtained from a MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon system or other targeting source. The Office of Naval Research’s Solid State Laser (SSL) portfolio includes LaWS development and upgrades providing a quick reaction capability for the fleet with an affordable SSL weapon prototype. This capability provides Navy ships a method for Sailors to easily defeat small boat threats and aerial targets without using bullets. (U.S. Navy video by Office of Naval Research/ Released)

February 25, 2013

What Argo doesn’t show about “The Canadian Caper” of 1979

Filed under: Cancon, History, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:15

In Maclean’s, one of the American diplomats who took part in the actual hostage drama in Tehran provides a bit of supplementary material to the film Argo:

Ben Affleck’s Argo has stormed box offices, collected awards [. . .] yet Canadians of a certain age may find themselves thinking: This is not quite how I remember those days. I was there when Iranians took over the American Embassy in Tehran, and it is not quite how I remember them either. Argo is terrific entertainment, but it tells only a part of our story, and says nothing at all about many of the real heroes — most Canadian — who helped rescue us. Before Argo came along, our rescue was routinely called the “Canadian Caper.” It still should be. The operation consisted of four distinct phases. Three were almost entirely Canadian, and only one involved significant U.S. assistance.

For those not of a certain age, a brief summary is a good starting point. Nov. 4, 1979 brought cold rain and hinted of trouble of a different sort. Two weeks earlier, then-president Jimmy Carter decided to admit the former shah of Iran to the U.S. for cancer treatment. Iranians were outraged; many suspected it was a plot by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to remove Iran’s new ruler, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and put the shah back in charge. Protests outside Tehran’s U.S. Embassy had become daily occurrences. That November morning, demonstrators climbed the gate and soon controlled the compound.

[. . .]

Phase four always receives the least attention. The U.S. government was desperate to keep the CIA’s role secret, rightly fearing its disclosure might endanger the hostages (who weren’t freed until 1981). This concern was sufficiently real that we were asked to live under false names in Florida until the hostages were set free. I was looking forward to seeing how many speeding tickets my alter ego could accumulate, but La Presse decided to publish Jean Pelletier’s story once the Canadian Embassy in Tehran had closed. We came home to a rousing reception and the Canadians were asked to claim complete credit for our escape. That job understandably fell to ambassador Taylor, who spent the better part of a year on the rubber chicken circuit at receptions to honour the Canadian government and people for helping us. Some have said he did the job too well, or failed to share the credit with other embassy staff. My own experience contradicts this. I heard Taylor speak several times. He always mentioned his staff. I also tried, during press interviews I gave, to mention others, particularly the Sheardowns. My comments were edited out. It seemed the press could handle only one hero at a time. Unfortunately, this meant John Sheardown, who was indispensable in phase one, became invisible in phase four. I truly believe John did not care. He did his duty as he saw it. For those who loved and respected him, it was painful.

[. . .]

As I wrote at the beginning, Argo is a wonderful film. Not because it is historically accurate, but because, aside from its technical brilliance, it reminds us of a time when ordinary people performed great deeds, and two neighbours that feud over many small and not so small things came together and did something magnificent. Maybe it didn’t change history, but for we six house guests it was truly life changing. And it was, and should always remain, the Canadian Caper.

October 22, 2012

Want to learn a new language? How about proto-Elamite?

Filed under: History, Middle East, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:10

If you have the ability to decode the world’s oldest undeciphered texts, you can be our first proto-Elamite scholar:

“I think we are finally on the point of making a breakthrough,” says Jacob Dahl, fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and director of the Ancient World Research Cluster.

Dr Dahl’s secret weapon is being able to see this writing more clearly than ever before.

In a room high up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, above the Egyptian mummies and fragments of early civilisations, a big black dome is clicking away and flashing out light.

This device, part sci-fi, part-DIY, is providing the most detailed and high quality images ever taken of these elusive symbols cut into clay tablets. This is Indiana Jones with software.

It’s being used to help decode a writing system called proto-Elamite, used between around 3200BC and 2900BC in a region now in the south west of modern Iran.

And the Oxford team think that they could be on the brink of understanding this last great remaining cache of undeciphered texts from the ancient world.

October 17, 2012

Matt Gurney on Iran’s anti-Canadian coverage

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:17

A pair of former First Nations chiefs have been on Iran’s Press TV to denounce Canada and Canadian treatment of natives:

Friends, I have a double dose of bad news for you. There’s no easy way to say it. So here it is. Not only is Canada set on exterminating a whole segment of its population. That would be bad enough. It also turns out that we frankly aren’t very good at it.

These painful revelations come to us from Tehran courtesy of Terry Nelson, formerly chief of the Roseau River Anishinabe nation south of Winnipeg, and Dennis Pashe, of the Dakota Tipi nation. Both men have plenty of time to travel these days, having both lost their jobs as chiefs. Nelson lost his after his own band council gave him the boot, for the third time, last fall. Pashe was fired by Ottawa in 2003, after the federal government sent in a third-party manager in the face of corruption allegations and violence on his reserve, compounded by Pashe’s refusal to call elections.

[. . .]

But ignore Tehran’s pathetic attempts to portray Canada as worse than Iran (or ask some of the protesters gunned down, raped or tortured during the post-2009 election protests what they think about the two nations’ comparative human rights records). The truly sad thing about Nelson and Pashe’s trip is that there are, indeed, systemic issues facing Canada’s native population, and Nelson and Pashe have made a mockery of them.

Nelson isn’t wrong to point out that many native women are missing. Or that natives are overrepresented in the prison population. Or even to point out that many resource extraction projects, including petroleum sites, are on or near native reserves. And many Canadians, native and otherwise, agree that many reserves are essentially designed to fail, and that the living conditions for natives there are unacceptable. These are all fair things to say.

September 25, 2012

Mine operations in the Straits of Hormuz

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:18

Strategy Page runs down the history of naval mines and explains why Iran is most likely to try using mines to close down the critical Straits of Hormuz to tanker traffic if a new Gulf War begins:

The U.S. and over 30 other nations recently held a joint mine clearing exercise called the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (September 16-27). The numerous training events were directed at dealing with Iranian attempts to block the entrance (Straits of Hormuz) to the Persian Gulf. Iran insists it will have no trouble doing this and blocking the export of oil. Some 35 percent of the world’s oil shipments pass through these straits, which comes to about 15-20 tankers a day (plus a dozen or more non-tankers). The Persian Gulf, in general, is a busy waterway. It is 989 kilometers long, and the average depth is 50 meters (maximum depth is 90 meters). Naval mines are Iran’s best bet if they want to shut down the straits.

[. . .]

The Iranian military is in worse shape today than it was 25 years ago, and would not last long trying to attack ships. That leaves the Straits of Hormuz. This is actually a wide (about 30 kilometers) deep channel. Normally, shipping sticks to narrow (a few kilometers wide) channels, going in and out, to avoid collisions. The main Iranian threat has always been seen as naval mines. The Arab states have lots of mine clearing equipment, and more numerous air and naval forces than Iran. In addition, there are the United States and NATO forces in the area. The problem was that all these mines clearing forces had never practiced under realistic (wartime) conditions. In short, what would everyone do if Iran did mine the straits.

Iran would probably mine the straits if sanctions, or military action, halted all Iranian oil exports. Otherwise, mining the straits would be economic suicide. If Iran tried to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, it’s more likely that effort would fail and the straits would remain open for non-Iranian oil. With the loss of their oil exports, Iran would find its remaining military forces being hunted down and destroyed day after day. Not only would Iranian oil exports be halted, but so would imports. Iran depends on imports of food (over 100,000 tons a week) and gasoline to keep its economy operating.

For an Iranian mining attempt to work they would have to get the mines onto the bottom of the straits and then prevent the rest of the world from clearing those mines. That would be difficult, as will Iranian attempts to plant additional mines. Such attempts would not be impossible as Iran has small submarines and speed boats along with sailors willing to carry out suicidal missions to deliver the mines. Even that may not be sufficient as this sort of fanaticism failed against the Americans in the 1980s. While Iran has worked to overcome their shortcomings, most of the solutions appear to be publicity stunts mainly meant to make the Iranian population feel better.

July 29, 2012

US Navy’s surge to the Persian Gulf

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:36

Strategy Page has the details:

The U.S. is sending another carrier task force to the Persian Gulf, and the ships are heading out four months early and will stay at sea for eight months instead of four. There are already two carrier task forces in the Gulf area, and for a short while there will be three when the third task force arrives in five months.

This is what the U.S. Navy describes as “surge capability” (getting the maximum number of ships to a war or hot sport in the shortest possible time). It’s a new policy, getting a workout here because of rising tensions in the Persian Gulf.

It all began eight years ago, after a massive surge for the invasion of Iraq. This caused several problems, one of them being a dip in morale. So the navy decided it had to keep ships at sea less often. That’s because the ships need more time in port for maintenance, and the more you keep the ships at sea (especially for more than four months at a time), the more sailors decide to leave the navy.

For the 2003 Iraq campaign the navy sent 72 percent of the combat fleet (221 of 306 warships, including seven of twelve carriers, 75 percent of the amphibious ships and 33 of 54 attack submarines). There were 600 navy (and marine) warplanes involved, and over 100,000 sailors and marines. But this was done in the midst of the navy’s usual (for several decades) routine of six month cruises followed by six months in port. The navy got so many ships and aircraft into the Iraqi campaign by skipping scheduled maintenance, keeping sailors at sea for very long periods and basically improvising. This meant that when the Iraq operation was over, the navy had more than half its ships out of action for months as maintenance for ships and rest for crews was caught up on.

June 5, 2012

Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame: joint US-Israeli projects

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:02

The US and Israeli governments have admitted that the Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame malware infections were joint efforts:

American and Israeli officials have finally confirmed that the industrial grade Cyber War weapons (Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame) used against Iran in the last few years were indeed joint U.S.-Israel operations. No other details were released, although many more rumors are now circulating. The U.S. and Israel were long suspected of being responsible for these “weapons grade” computer worms. Both nations had the motive to use, means to build and opportunity to unleash these powerful Cyber War weapons against Iran and other that support terrorism.

The U.S. Department of Defense had long asked for permission to go on the offensive using Cyber War weapons. But the U.S. government regularly and publicly declined to retaliate against constant attack from China, mainly because there were fears that there could be legal repercussions and that weapons used might get out of control and cause lots of damage to innocent parties.

Iran turned out to be another matter. Although not a serious Cyber War threat to the United States, Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons and apparently Israel had already been looking into using a Cyber War weapon to interfere with that. Given the nature of these weapons, which work best if the enemy doesn’t even know they exist, don’t expect many details to be released about this Cyber War program. What is known is that the Cyber War weapons unleashed on Iran were designed to concentrate only on very specific targets. So far, only three weapons that we know of have been used. One (Stuxnet) was designed to do damage to one specific facility, the plant where Iran produced nuclear fuel for power plants, and atomic weapons. That one worked. The other two (Duqu and Flame) were intelligence collection programs. They also apparently succeeded, remaining hidden for years and having lots of opportunity to collect enormous quantities of valuable data.

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