U.S. and Iranian leaders seem to be looking for an offramp today after a barrage of Iran’s ballistic missiles rained down on two military bases in Iraq (al-Asad airbase, and another base near the northern Kurdish city of Irbil) hosting American forces. No U.S. or Iraqi troops were harmed, and there was no “major damage” at either base, CNN reports.
Latest: President Trump is scheduled to speak at 11 a.m. ET, and you can catch a livestream via the White House’s site, here.
Indeed, Iran reportedly gave a heads-up notice to multiple nations with troops in Iraq, including Iraq and Finland and Lithuania, Military Times reports.
U.S., too, troops likely had some warning of the incoming missiles, thanks to “a special, little-discussed” NSA facility at Fort Meade, Maryland. “The Defense Special Missile and Aerospace Center, known as DEFSMAC, harnesses a network of satellites, radar and other systems to detect the heat signatures and other telltale signs of missile launches in real time.” NBC News has a bit more, here.
The missiles appear to have been of two types: Qiam 1s (liquid-fueled, short-range Scud variants) and Fateh-110s (short-range, solid-propellant ballistic missiles), according to Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California. (NBC News)
Iran has been testing its ballistic missiles in conflicts in Yemen and elsewhere, Tom Karako, who leads CSIS’ Missile Defense Project, told Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber. Some of the known attacks include:
- June 2017: Missiles hit Deir Ezzour, Syria, after ISIS claimed attacks in Tehran.
- September 2018: Short-range missiles were launched against Kurdish opposition groups in Iraq.
- September 2019: Missiles and drones struck a Saudi Arabian oil facility at Abqaiq.
And here’s the CSIS fact sheet on Iran’s missiles.
How Iran views Tuesday’s action: As “proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of [the] UN Charter targeting [a] base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched,” Zarif tweeted, referring to the U.S. drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani on January 3 in Baghdad.
Hope for an offramp. “I believe this was intentional by the Iranians that they didn’t kill Americans so they can bring this to an end,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., told CNN late Tuesday evening.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is calling for restraint today on Twitter, writing, “In my view, retaliation for the sake of retaliation is not necessary at this time. What is necessary is to lay out our strategic objectives regarding Iran in a simple and firm fashion.” More on U.S.-Iran tensions below…
From Defense One
Iran Launched Missiles at Iraqi Bases with US Forces, Pentagon Says // Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams: More than a dozen ballistic missiles were fired at the Al-Assad air base in Anbar province and a base in Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, a DOD statement said.
Offering No Evidence, Esper Says Soleimani Attack On US Was ‘Days’ Away // Katie Bo Williams: Meanwhile, confusion continues over draft letter citing plans to move U.S. forces in Iraq.
Don’t Use the Iran Crisis As An Excuse To Boost Pentagon Spending // William D. Hartung: Use it to reconsider the American approach to national security.
What Motivates Chinese Peacekeeping? // Lucy Best, Council on Foreign Relations: China’s unusual status as a top contributor of both funds and troops to the UN’s peacekeeping program has stirred suspicion.
Trump’s Fixation on the Hostage Crisis Is Driving His Iran Policy // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: The president’s approach to the Islamic Republic appears stuck in 1979.
US Space Force Lists 20 Tough Problems for 1st Pitch Day // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: The military’s newest branch invites industry to bring solutions on March 4. Officials want to move quickly if they see something they like.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson outlined his idealistic plan for peace known as the Fourteen Points in remarks to Congress. Bonus trivia: In his time as president, Wilson helped popularize the phrase “international order,” as University of Chicago Professor Paul Poust recounted on Twitter just before the New Year. Read more about the phrase’s usage and history, via the University of Sydney’s Glenda Sluga, writing in 2017, here.
Commercial airlines are rerouting flights crossing the Middle East to avoid U.S. and Iranian tensions, the LA Times reports this morning. That follows a notice several hours earlier from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration forbidding U.S. pilots and carriers from flying over portions of Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman due to the “potential for miscalculation or mis-identification.”
FAA bans U.S. flights near Persian Gulf. On Wednesday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement temporarily barring American civil aviation operators from “operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.” (Fox News)
But a Ukrainian airliner with 176 passengers and crew crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday morning from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. Al-Jazeera reports everyone aboard the Boeing 737-800 jet has died. Fox reports “Both Ukrainian and Iranian officials say they suspect a mechanical issue brought down” the aircraft. Ukrainian officials, however, aren’t yet ruling out foul play, CNN reports.
“Eighty-two Iranians, 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians died in the crash,” as well as “10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three British nationals,” according to CNN.Context: In 2019, 257 people died in eight fatal accidents, down from 534 deaths in 13 fatal accidents the previous year. (CBS News, citing the To70 consultancy.)
Here’s the Wall Street Journal rolling up the economic impact to the region from Iran’s attack Tuesday evening. In short: “Brent crude, the global benchmark, gained 0.47% to $68.57 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures exchange.” And “The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries isn’t debating an emergency gathering and doesn’t foresee any major disruptions.” More behind the paywall, here.
Reminder: there’s no Director of National Intelligence. Acting officials fill many of the top slots in Trump’s national security team. Besides the DNI, other vacancies include:
- Navy secretary,
- Pentagon comptroller,
- Army undersecretary,
- deputy assistant defense secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security/Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction,
- deputy assistant defense secretary for International Security Affairs/Middle East,
- principal deputy assistant defense secretary for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, and more.
Why this matters, according to former NSC staffer Brett Holmgren: “[R]ecent statements by administration officials regarding the IC’s assessment of the imminence of the threat posed by Soleimani raise questions about whether the IC’s analysis of the threat has been characterized accurately to the American people. As a general matter, if the plot Soleimani was directing against U.S. interests was in fact imminent, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior administration officials have insisted, it would’ve been routine for the Departments of State or Defense to issue a travel or threat warning to American citizens or U.S. military personnel in the region cautioning them about an imminent threat of attack.” Read on at Just Security, here.
Russia’s Putin met with Turkey’s Erdogan today — and just one day after Putin traveled to Syria for just the second time since 2015, AP reports today from Istanbul.
One matter the two discussed publicly: TurkStream, which is “a new export path for Russian gas into Turkey and Europe” via “two 930-kilometer (578-mile) lines under the Black Sea… Turkstream has already begun transporting gas but the two leaders turned a symbolic valve in the ceremony.”
About U.S.-Iran tensions, Erdogan said: “No one has the right to throw the region, especially Iraq, into a new ring of fire for their personal gains.”
Said Putin: “Unfortunately, the situation in the region we are at tends to escalate. But Turkey and Russia are demonstrating different examples – examples of cooperation for the sake of our nations and all of Europe.” More from AP, here.
Elsewhere in the world: Indonesia just deployed fighter jets as its dispute with China intensifies. Jakarta sent four jets to the South China Sea on Tuesday, the latest move in a dispute that began in mid-December “when a Chinese coast guard vessel, accompanying Chinese fishing boats, entered waters off the coast of Indonesia’s northern Natuna islands, prompting Jakarta to summon Beijing’s ambassador,” reports CNA, a Singapore-based news organization. “The issue has soured Indonesia’s generally friendly relationship with China, its biggest trading partner and a major investor in Southeast Asia’s largest country.” Read on, here.
Fighting in Libya has intensified in Sirte, with both sides exchanging reportedly fatal airstrikes around a location called al-Washka. Reuters has more, here.
And finally today, from the satirical writers at Duffel Blog: “Hotels in Iran deemed unsuitable for Air Force deployment needs.” That’s according to a (fake/humorous) Air Force “feasibility study.”
What’s more, “Adding to the concern are the disrupted shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, which will make it difficult to deploy the air conditioning units necessary for Air Force facilities. This issue was brought to the Air Force’s attention by a group of Anthony’s Pizza franchise owners, who have ruled out the possibility of expanding into Iran, even if escorted through the strait by the military.” Read on, here.