Friday, May 23, 2008

Olmert to U.S.: Let's You and Iran Fight

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on May 21 that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has proposed to speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi that “a naval blockade be imposed on Iran as one of several ways to pressure Iran into stopping its uranium enrichment program.”

Hmm. By whom did Olmert propose this naval blockade be imposed, I wonder? Israel’s navy could no sooner get to the Persian Gulf than Iran’s navy could charge up the Red Sea to assault the Israeli naval base at Haifa. Both maritime forces would sink of natural causes before they got anywhere close to each other.

The concept of this story is laughable enough, but the way the once respectable Haaretz told it is enough to make you spit your martini across the room.

Bad Examples

Judith Miller and Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times set the brave new world standard for government toadying journalism when they wrote the infamous Nigergate article in September 2002. The piece supported the claims of Dick Cheney’s cabal that Saddam Hussein was actively seeking nuclear weapons by citing anonymous “officials” an astounding 30 times. In some passages, they went so far as to indirectly quote what unreliable anonymous third parties told unnamed officials (Iraqi defectors who once worked for the nuclear weapons establishment have told American officials that…), which amounts to triple secret hearsay.

Haaretz managed to outdo Miller and Gordon in their “Let’s you and them fight” piece.

Right after it implied that Olmert and Pelosi had agreed between the two of them on the best way to start World War III, the piece said that the White House “denied a published report that U.S. President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term in January.” It quickly added, though, that the Bush administration “is said not to have ruled out entirely the possibility of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.”

The “published report” was “A story in the Jerusalem Post,” and the possibly of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was said by “an unidentified official as claiming that a ‘senior member’ of Bush's entourage to Israel last week made the statement about attacking Iran in a closed meeting.”

So we’ve got the so-called moderate Israeli paper quoting the Israeli neocon/likudnik rag (the 2003 Jerusalem Post Man of the Year was Paul Wolfowitz) paraphrasing what faceless Thing A claimed faceless Thing B said about attacking Iran in a meeting that, for all we know, was so closed that no one was at it except Thing A and Thing B. You have to wonder why Thing B didn’t allow himself to be anonymously paraphrased directly. Maybe he’s just shy, huh?

It gets better. The person at the White House who said the neocon/likudnik rag article about what Thing A said that Thing B said was "not worth the paper it's written on" was White House press secretary Dana Perino. (Dana Perino said the administration prefers to deal with Iran through diplomatic means, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more!)

AND… “Israelis who spoke to Bush and his entourage while they were in Israel last week said they had the impression that the military option ‘is on the table,’ and that the president felt a sense of deep obligation to overcome the Iranian threat.”

What Israelis who spoke to Bush? Jerusalem school kids? Hookers from Haifa? What did Bush do or say that gave them the impression that the military option is on the table and made them feel a deep sense of the deep sense of obligation Bush feels?

Bad Company

The schwerpunkt of the Haaretz piece, though, is its characterization of the meeting between Olmert and Pelosi in Israel. "The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves," Haaretz said Olmert told Pelosi. I guess we can take Olmert’s word for that. He’s been right about everything so far, especially that woebegone war he got his army in with Hezbollah that Dick Cheney goaded him into.

Haaretz also said that Olmert told Pelosi “there was a great deal of space between the present sanctions and military action” and that, as Haaretz paraphrased, “Aggressive action could be taken that was not violent.” I’d guess that aggressive action that isn’t violent would fall under young Mr. Bush’s notion of “appeasement.” Maybe that’s why Olmert told Pelosi about it instead of Bush.

Olmert proposed two kinds of non-violent aggressive action to “isolate the Iranian regime.” First is the naval blockade, which Olmert admitted would have to be performed by the U.S. fleet. For the record, a naval blockade is not a non-violent measure. It is an act of war that denies the target nation its inalienable right to access international waters. A blockade only works if when it comes time to shoot, you shoot. If the time to shoot comes and you don’t shoot, you’ll spend years and maybe decades squeezing the egg out of your nose pores.

The other non-violent measure Olmert wants according to Haaretz is “limitations on Iranian aircraft.” "Iranian businesspeople who would not be able to land anywhere in the world would pressure the regime," Olmert said.

There are only two sure ways to keep business air travelers from reaching their destinations: shoot them down or bomb them before they get on the airplane.

The real objective of the article, though, was to frame Olmert’s crack talk as something he “told Pelosi,” as if they were carrying on an intimate conversation even though, if you read the story closely enough, there were at least a dozen if not scores of other people in the room at the time. The bottom line message is that if the U.S. goes along with Olmert’s bull goose Iran strategy, it was Nancy Pelosi who agreed to it, not Dick Cheney. And if America ignores Olmert’s wishes and something bad happens to Israel, it’s Pelosi’s fault, not Olmert’s.

Either way, now that Olmert has touched Pelosi in a public forum, it’s just a matter of time before her nose and fingers fall off.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .

"So we can play war…"

"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly

"A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.


  1. '...the Bush administration “is said not to have ruled out entirely the possibility of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.”'

    It all depends on what your definition of (any word in that sentence) is.

    Olmert's actions in this propaganda stunt amount to a playground bully talking too loud to his friends, trying to make sure everyone overhears him. "What're you gonna do, knock my books outta my hand...? Step on my glasses? Ooh! I may have soiled myself in terror!"

    It's just the beginning. Summer will be long and full of the stench of horseshit.

  2. (a) Is Olmert going to make it through the summer, without being indicted?

    (b) The J-Post today reports that Israel has asked the Pentagon for a fleet of F-35's.

    (c) Ha'aretz reports this morning, that all the while the Turks are hosting "peace talks" between Syria and Israel, a new Israeli shopping mall will open in the Golan Heights. (The developer, totally not worried.)

  3. Anonymous11:48 AM

    This is somewhat off-topic, but I'm always interested when someone invokes the concept of an "inalienable right" (as you have done with respect to Iran's right to access international waters).

    I will suggest that one of the underlying problems plaguing today's world is the dilution of the concept of an "inalienable right". Actually, that's not quite right - the notion that certain rights are inalienable has been abandoned in favor of rights that are very much defined by those asserting them.

    Now, there are those who have always argued that there is no such thing as an "inalienable right", and fair enough. But I do find it curious that a country who is perhaps most famously associated with the concept is the one that, today, appears to be far more selective in its recognition of "rights" which one could argue should be "inalienable".

    I'd like to think I'm enough of a realist to know that the solution to today's problems cannot be found in a single package, conveniently wrapped and labeled "inalienable rights", but I firmly believe that if we all did onto others, as we would have them do onto us (surely, a practical approach to defining fundamental, if not inalienable, rights), we'd all be a lot further ahead.

  4. The very essence of international maritime law is that all nations have a right to use international waters for commerce and defense. I don't remember offhand if "inalienable" is used to describe that right, but it may as well be.

    It's at least as "inalienable" as the rights we're supposed to have as Americans, though that's the beginning of a whole 'nother column.


  5. Anonymous4:39 PM

    from the watchman- "Watchman, what of the night? 'Day cometh.'"

  6. Anonymous5:47 PM

    A naval blockade doesn't have to be an act of war if approved by the UN as part of a sanctions package. Iraq under Saddam was essentially under a blockade.

    Though considering what a blockade would do to the price of oil, not to mention Bush's lack of credibility, I simply don't see such a measure passing the Security Council. At the very least China would veto it.

  7. Anonymous,

    You have introduced one of the most fascinating subjects in the realm of international relations about which there has been nearly universal disagreement.

    A lot of folks in the business will agree with your position on this. I'm not one of them.

    My argument, and it's more or less the standard argument my side would take I think, is that having the UN or any other international body sanction a certain act doesn't make that act war or not war.

    If, for example, the UN security council were to "sanction" a bombing or invasion of Iran, those things would still be acts of war.

    An opposite argument sort of says that you can't differentiate act of war sanctions from other sanctions since almost all other sanctions--embargoes, for example--constitute economic warfare, or so the argument goes.

    But I go back to what is or is not withing the realm of any given nation's inherent or inalienable set of sovereign rights.

    The US, for example, has a right not to buy things from Iran or sell things to them. That doesn't violate Iranian sovereignty. Nor does it violate Iran's sovereignty if a group of nations (the UN, for example) agree not to trade with Iran. Iran doesn't have any right to make any other nation trade with it, so its sovereignty isn't violated.

    If I blockade Iran, I'm restricting one of its sovereign rights by force, and that's an act of war whether I bully, beg or bribe an international body to sanction it or not.

    Nobody's been able to budge me from that opinion yet, though I'm certainly open to probes in the logic of it.

    Hope to have more of this discussion, and thanks for introducing the topic.



  8. Anonymous10:49 PM

    Israel's inability to put a naval task force in the Persian Gulf reminds me of what Bismarck said about the colonial ambitions of Italy: "Cursed with a great appetite but such poor teeth."

    Freedom of the seas was set forth in the Declaration of Paris in 1856. These rules provide that: (1) privateering is unlawful; (2) a neutral flag covers an enemy's goods except contraband of war; (3) neutral goods, except contraband, are not liable to capture under the enemy's flag; and (4) blockades, in order to be binding, must be effective, i.e., must be backed by force sufficient to block access to the enemy's coast. Since then "contraband" has been broadened to mean pretty much anything and everything.

    Of course the Federal government committed a hideous blunder at the beginning of the Civil War by placing the Confederate ports under blockade instead of "closing" them. This gave major pro-Confederate European governments the loophole to declare the Confederacy a "belligerent," instead of insurrectionists. The moral is, if you're going to start a war you're gonna need a good lawyer.

  9. Yep, you need a lawyer all right. Like all laws, the laws of armed conflict were written by lawyers.

    And thanks for digging up the Bismarck quote. History doesn't note often enough what a wit the guy was.

    They told some great stories at the war college about what he was like as a younger man. Big hitter, as they say, liked to slam back shots and steins with his buds then go out back and play with the guns.


  10. Anonymous11:52 AM

    Sovereignty stops at the border (or continental shelf) so the right to free transit on international waters is not per se an inalienable sovereign right. If somebody tried to swim across an ocean, he can be fished up by anybody. The actual crux of the matter lies in the status of ships. Taking action against vessels can be considered a violation of sovereign rights and is hence, by your argument, grounds for war.

    If one accepts that any violation of sovereignty provides a casus belli then about the only way to maintain a "peaceful" naval blockade would be to modify treaties on ship sovereignty. Yes, I'm cheating because I'd be changing the rules. But that's kind of the point since I got the impression there are some things you think can't be tampered with, as they're supposedly inalienable rights. But isn't it actually the ability to trade that's the inalienable right?

    So if a boat is entered, searched and contraband confiscated, would that be a violation of inalienable rights? I'd say no, signatories of the UNCLOS treaty have the right to enter any civilian ship as far out as 24 nautical miles of their own coastlines (or out to the continental shelf when enforcing economic rights). They can also put strict restrictions on where foreign military vessels can move within maritime borders. So that's one area where countries are ready to yield on ship sovereignty, recognizing national security as paramount.

    Now extend the security issue to the high seas, and make it something of regional (Middle east) or global (terrorism) importance. Not that far-fetched, and more or less what the US is striving for. So far it has been handled through bilateral treaties with countries like Panama and Liberia. Trojan horses for change?

  11. Well, my quick answer is that there is no way to maintain a peaceful blockade unless the target agrees to not try to run it, in which case you don't need a blockade.

    One more thing: ships sovereignty is a function of the flag they fly and to what nation they're registered.


  12. It is always refreshing and educational to come here and read about your observations and opinions. Have you ever published anything in a 'regular' newspaper? I know in Phoenix for example, the Arizona Republic allowed people to write in a long piece in lieu of a shorter letter to the editor. Practically editorial size. I think Americans could stand to be enlightened..
    have a great Memorial Day tomorrow. I for one will remember the soldiers who liberated Holland (Americans, Brits and Canadians)..


  13. Thanks, Ingrid, that's nice of you to say. I used to write for Proceedings and other military magazines. Then I couldn't get published in my market any more because of my views, so I started this website. Now, my pieces in, here, Aviation Week's blog section, and other places probably get read more than my magazine articles ever did.


  14. Jeff, I just read this in Haaretz' Rosner's blog;
    "The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WI) has just published the final version of a report by the Task Force on the Future of U.S.-Israel relations. The title is appealing: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge. But no less appealing is the list of people endorsing this report: Tony Lake and Susan Rice of the Obama campaign, Vin Weber, James Woolsey of the McCain camp."
    what bothers me is this;
    "And here is another interesting nugget, signed by the two most senior Obama advisers: The President should begin "a national conversation with the American people on the challenges, risks, and dilemmas posed to U.S. interests by the potential Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability, and on ways to prevent it - to raise popular awareness of the fact that Iran's nuclear ambitions are likely to trigger a surge of nuclear proliferation and raise the potential of terrorists gaining nuclear weapons."

    Coming from the Obama camp I'm wondering how much is just postering or if they really believe it.

    (and and btw.. I have to laud you for taking a stand because your opinions are considered so much heresy by some. We (husband and I)bought and send your book for my brother in law who's a retired commander of a nuclear submarine (I better get my rank right, I'm not always too good with that I'm afraid)but we haven't heard from him yet. They're pretty conservative but you never know. When we saw the show 'Carrier' on PBS the other day, my husband turned to me (when someone got dressed down for not doing what they're supposed to do) and he grinned saying, yep that's why my brother loved being in the Navy. (oldest brother syndrome, telling the others what to do, of course I won't ask you what made you join , lol)

  15. First blush: that looks like a totally bogus story to me. I'll do some investigating and get back with you on this.

  16. thanks Jeff. I know that some bloggers are pretty upset with Obama's support of the FISA Bill but I thought well, he'll need to do some 'politickin' and now with this, I figured it's all 'words' for now. I wished I was more knowledgable about it all but the time I can spent reading and researching is pretty minimal these days. The only reason it might 'look' like I do is that I type pretty fast!
    I'll check back with you later. We're off to pick up child number one from his week-away-camp..have a good saturday, hope it's not as sweltering hot where you are,

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