US v Iran
On Sunday, 5 May, the US National Security Council announced that the US was sending an aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Gulf in response to “troubling and escalatory” warnings from Iran.
The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group canceled a stop in Croatia to sail to the Persian Gulf region. It was already scheduled for deployment in the Middle East, but its arrival was “expedited.” The bomber task force consists of four B-52 bombers that will operate from Al Udeid air base in Qatar.
The US View
US government officials cited intelligence that indicated Iran had crafted plans to use proxies to strike U.S. forces off the coast of Yemen and stationed in Syria. One official said Iran moved short range ballistic missiles by gunboat.
Concerning the Iranian threat, the US Secretary of State said, “This would be an effort to take American forces out that continue our campaign against ISIS, something that’s incredibly important to the Iraqi Government.”
The Iran/Persian View
The Iranian response. A spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, Keyvan Khosravi, said that the US National Security Advisor had “no understanding of military or security” and that his comments were “mostly for show.”
Khosravi pointed out that the Iranian armed forces observed the ship’s arrival in the Mediterranean three weeks ago and called Bolton’s remarks an “awkward use of a finished event for the sake of psychological warfare.”
The spokesman added that it was unlikely that US military commanders wanted to test their capabilities against Iran’s armed forces
The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, Major General Suleimani, said the US was bluffing because the ships were already due to be on station. He also said that the US would lose a war with Iran.
(Editorial comment) The “nuke their ass and take their gas” scenario is not on the table but it could be. Iran has an exaggerated view of their capacity to do much in the event of general war or nuclear war with the United States.
Open sources contain only sketchy information about the Iranian activity that has generated the strong US military reaction. The information supposedly is classified indications of preparations for an attack. The one detail reported in public is the movement of short -range ballistic missiles by gunboats.
The Iranians have provided no explanation for any activities that might have prompted the US military moves. My sense is that the IRGC was making preparations to retaliate for its designation as a foreign terrorist organization on 8 April.
The IRGC has many options for attacking US personnel by using proxy forces in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The US Secretary of State suggested the threat is primarily to the 5,200 US military personnel in Iraq, rather than Yemen, Some US forces in Syria are vulnerable to a proxy attack by Iranian-backed allies of the Syrian forces.
When the US makes adjustments to deployment schedules and deploys bombers, as it did in the past week, it is not bluffing. A single carrier strike group and a US Marine Corps Amphibious Ready Group are normal in the Persian Gulf region. The ARG is already on station. The bomber force is not normal. That deployment is the most persuasive action to indicate that the US is serious about deterring or responding to any Iranian misadventures.
The US is prepared to deliver a strong response to any Iranian provocation, but not to go to war. For that enterprise, it assembles three carrier task groups, support ships and more bombers.
Maduro Strikes Back (cautiously)
The Venezuelan Interior Minister, Nestor Reverol announced on 7 May that the government will take direct control of three airports in Caracas.
“On the instruction of our President Nicolas Maduro, we announce that the government undertakes administrative and operative control over the airports of Caracas, Higuerote and Metropolitano in order to take effective measures and prevent illicit activities,” he wrote on Twitter.
The minister noted that the officials will restructure the offices of Interpol, criminal investigation department, border, drug control and immigration services at those airports. The illicit activities presumably include the departure by air of persons wanted for crimes, sedition or treason. The airports will remain open but under tighter security. Land and sea entry points are already closed.
This step is a logical follow-up to action by the Supreme Judicial Tribunal, the supreme court. The supreme court opened a criminal investigation against seven opposition lawmakers in the aftermath of a failed attempt to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.
The nation’s highest court announced Tuesday, the 7th, that the lawmakers are suspected of “betraying the homeland” and “instigating an insurrection,” among other charges.
The lawmakers facing accusations include prominent opposition legislators, such as Henry Ramos Allup and Luis German Florido.
The opposition controls the national parliament. Most of its leaders, including Guaido, are members of the national assembly.
The government is moving remarkably cautiously against its opponents. That suggests it is not as confident of its status as its public defiance implies.
The announcement of criminal investigations appears intended to test public and international reaction to legal action against some of the leaders of the failed overthrow attempt.
While Russia and China have asked the US not to engage in ‘nation building’ in Venezuela, neither of those parties pretend to control President Trump in the way that they managed his feckless, foolish predecessor. Maduro knows this.