As the international hand-wringing continues over whether there is an actual heightened “Iran threat” with American troops in the cross hairs, and as some US allies – notably Spain, Germany, and The Netherlands – actually withdraw their forces from US operations support in the region, we must ask at this point, what do we actually know in terms of Bolton’s original intelligence cited earlier this month which sparked the ongoing crisis?
Aside from knowing much or all of the intelligence was reportedly provided to the administration by Israeli Mossad, we have the piecemeal explanations of both top admin officials and regional allies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Iraqi officials during his unplanned stopover in Baghdad last week that “U.S. intelligence showed Iran-backed militias moved missiles near bases housing American forces,” according to Fox.
According to that report, a senior Iraqi source relayed of the US message: “They said if the U.S. were attacked on Iraqi soil, it would take action to defend itself without coordinating with Baghdad.” So the crisis appears focused on potential Iranian proxy actions in Iraq – apparently enough to take the very rare step of evacuating all non-emergency US personnel from the US embassy in Baghdad (a move that hadn’t even been done at the height of ISIS’ offensive across western and northern Iraqi).
However, US allies even disagree on this point. For starters, the deputy head of the US-led coalition, British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, caused an almost unheard of row among allies when earlier this week he flatly stated: “No – there’s been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” in a videolink briefing at a Pentagon press conference.
Furthermore, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday that the Iraqis had no information showing “movements that constitute a threat to any side,” but added that his government “is doing its duty to protect all parties.”
So is the new “threat” which warranted the latest US military build-up, which has caused Iran’s military to warn “We are on the cusp of a full scale confrontation with the enemy” — all based on either Iran or Iran-backed “popular mobilization units” in Iraq moving around a few missiles? If so, it would be nothing new.
All the way back in August of last year we reported, based on Reuters, “Iran Stuns Enemies By Moving Ballistic Missiles To Iraq – Within Easy Striking Distance of Tel Aviv.” It was known at that time that Iran had transferred short-range ballistic missiles to Shia proxy forces in Iraq for “months” prior, according to Western and Iraqi intelligence sources. This is why a number of prominent Middle East watchers and military analysts have shrugged, “nothing new… nothing to see here” in response to the “new” vaunted White House intelligence. This also appears to be the attitude of Britain’s chain of command within the joint “Operation Inherent Resolve” coalition.
And enter the New York Times, which in a report published late Wednesday citing three defense officials, found that: “The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces.”
Secret satellite photos of Iranian missiles in Persian Gulf ignites heated debate among White House, Congress, allies and the public over new threats from Iran https://t.co/F1i3G39Jt0
— Eric Schmitt (@EricSchmittNYT) May 16, 2019
And further, the report stated:
Overhead imagery showed fully assembled missiles, stoking fears that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps would fire them at United States naval ships. Additional pieces of intelligence picked up threats against commercial shipping and potential attacks by Arab militias with Iran ties on American troops in Iraq.
The NYT also noted that some top lawmakers are seeking to ensure that Congress is consulted before taking any military action against Iran. Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly “criticized the administration’s lack of transparency on the intelligence” in a closed-door meeting involving House Democrats.
Pompeo’s latest statements presented in the earlier Fox report seems to confirm the new NYT report. US allies in the region have also reportedly dismissed the “satellite evidence” of the Iranians moving missiles as mere usual defensive posturing.
And then there’s the possibility that all of this bluster and heated war rhetoric and build-up could have merely originated from Iran’s moving or assembling missiles on their own soil or in their own territorial waters in the Persian Gulf.