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SPACE LASER TAKES OUT IRANIAN HELICOPTER

THE WEEK IN STRATEGY

Summaries and Links to This Week’s Curated Strategy Articles

21 – 26 MAY 2024



FROM THE WORLD OF THE ABSURD

Our friends at the Duffle Blog offered a sublime article this week entitled – “Iranian president witnesses firepower of fully armed and operational Jewish space laser - Chem trails and time travel likely played a part as well.” This article is a satirical account of a conspiracy theory in which Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's helicopter crash is attributed to a "Jewish space laser" allegedly used as a weapon of mass destruction. The piece parodies and exaggerates the narrative by incorporating elements of modern conspiracy theories, such as chemtrails, time travel, and an overarching Jewish global conspiracy. It also mocks various political figures and the absurdity of the claims by presenting fictional statements from Iranian officials and other involved parties. The tone is humorous and absurd, intended to critique and ridicule the spread of conspiracy theories and the people propagating them. As our Presidential election season gears up, we are certain to see disinformation spread across the internet at unprecedented levels.  Be on the lookout!

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This week in the Middle East has been marked by significant developments that will likely influence regional dynamics and international relations. The sudden death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash has introduced political uncertainty in Iran, potentially altering its domestic and foreign policies. Concurrently, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has intensified due to Israeli military operations in Rafah, leading to severe shortages of essential supplies and warnings of imminent famine. Amidst these tensions, Djibouti has emerged as a crucial hub for shipping and military operations in the Red Sea, balancing its strategic importance and neutrality despite regional instability. Additionally, the recognition of Palestinian statehood by Ireland, Norway, and Spain has sparked geopolitical tensions, with Israel recalling its ambassadors in response. These events underscore the region's volatility and the complex interplay of local and international actors striving to navigate the ongoing conflicts and humanitarian challenges.

 

MIDDLE EAST

"Don’t Go to War With the ICC: America Can Help Israel Without Attacking the Court," by Oona A. Hathaway, discusses the tension between Israel, the United States, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the potential arrest warrants for Israeli leaders and Hamas officials for alleged war crimes. The ICC's Chief Prosecutor, Karim Khan, has applied for arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as three Hamas leaders, for crimes committed during the Israel-Hamas conflict.

 

The central point of the article is that attacking the ICC is a misguided response and that Israel should instead conduct a genuine investigation into its actions. This approach would not only demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law but could also render the ICC's cases against Israeli officials inadmissible. The author argues that the U.S. should support this strategy rather than undermine the ICC, as retaliation would damage America's credibility in advocating for international justice and harm its efforts in other geopolitical contexts, such as holding Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine.

 

"Iranian President Raisi’s Death in Helicopter Crash Creates Political Uncertainty" by Jack Detsch examines the significant implications of the sudden death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. The crash also claimed the lives of other top officials, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, creating a power vacuum in Iran during a period of regional instability.

 

The central point of the article is the political uncertainty and potential upheaval in Iran following Raisi's death. Raisi's tenure was marked by a hard-line approach, increased uranium enrichment, support for Russia in the Ukraine war, and heightened tensions with Israel and the United States. His death could lead to significant shifts in Iran's political landscape, with the potential for both internal power struggles and changes in Iran's regional strategy.

 

Raisi and other officials died in a helicopter crash in northern Iran, caused by dense fog, halting a transformative but contentious period in Iranian politics. Raisi was a hard-liner closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He accelerated uranium enrichment, slowed negotiations on the nuclear deal, and supported regional militias. His death creates a power vacuum, with First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber likely to assume temporary leadership. There is potential for internal power struggles, particularly involving the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

 

Raisi's policies solidified Iran’s antagonistic stance towards the U.S. and Israel. His death might not alter Iran's established strategies but could influence the execution and leadership of these strategies. Public reaction to Raisi's death has been mixed, with some celebrating. There is a slim chance that his demise could invigorate protest movements, although a liberal shift in leadership is considered unlikely. The article emphasizes the complexity of Iran’s future political landscape and the potential for significant shifts in both domestic governance and international relations.

 

"Western Officials Brace for Volatile Iran After Raisi Death" by Laurence Norman and Michael R. Gordon discusses the political uncertainty and potential ramifications following the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. Western officials anticipate a period of increased volatility in Iran as the country navigates the selection of a new president, but they do not expect major shifts in Iran's foreign policy. Ultimate authority in Iran remains with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is expected to maintain the country's current trajectory of deepening ties with China and Russia, supporting regional militias, and advancing its nuclear program.

 

The coming election campaign, culminating in a vote on June 28, could see Iran adopt a more assertive regional posture, especially given the approaching U.S. elections and the potential for a White House transition. The article highlights concerns that Iran might react defensively to perceived threats, exacerbating tensions as the new government forms against a backdrop of widespread protests. U.S. officials aim to keep communication channels open to prevent direct conflict.

 

The death of Raisi and other top officials, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, has prompted condolences from international leaders and underscored the strategic importance of Iran's leadership choices. Russia's President Vladimir Putin was quick to express condolences to Iran's new interim President Mohammad Mokhber. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that the Iranian people might be better off without Raisi, given his controversial actions as a judge and president.

 

The article emphasizes that while Iran's strategic direction is largely set by Khamenei, the new president and his team will influence its implementation. Western officials will closely monitor the presidential candidates and election outcomes to gauge potential shifts in Iran's foreign policy priorities. Recent indirect talks between U.S. and Iranian officials in Oman, which were disrupted by Raisi's death, aimed at addressing nuclear and regional issues, highlight the ongoing complexities in U.S.-Iran relations.

 

Western officials are particularly concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran's nuclear program has advanced significantly, with enough fissile material for several nuclear weapons, though Tehran denies any intent to develop them. The article notes that talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal collapsed in 2022, adding to the uncertainty. Additionally, Iran's approach to Gaza and its regional militias is expected to remain consistent, with Tehran supporting Hamas' fight against Israel and opposing regional normalization efforts between Israel and Arab states.

 

In summary, the article underscores the potential for heightened tensions and political uncertainty in Iran following Raisi's death while emphasizing that the country's fundamental strategic direction is likely to remain unchanged under Khamenei's leadership.

 

"The Day After Iran Gets the Bomb" by Stephen M. Walt explores the potential consequences and strategic shifts that could occur if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon. The piece delves into the longstanding antagonism between Iran and the United States, highlighting key events such as the U.S. backing Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, the inclusion of Iran in George W. Bush's "axis of evil," and the assassination of General Qassem Suleimani. It also discusses the covert war between Israel and Iran and the various actions both countries have taken against each other over the years.

 

Walt presents the contrarian view of the late Kenneth Waltz, who argued that a nuclear-armed Iran could actually stabilize the Middle East by reducing Iran's security fears and deterring regional rivals from aggressive actions that might lead to nuclear conflict. According to Waltz's theory, nuclear deterrence would ensure that no rational leader would risk a nuclear exchange, thereby reducing the likelihood of major wars.

 

The article examines the U.S. government's consistent efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, including economic sanctions, covert operations, and diplomatic measures such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Despite these efforts, Iran has continued to advance its nuclear program, especially after the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018.

 

Walt discusses the possible reasons why Iran has not yet crossed the nuclear threshold, including potential moral objections by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the lack of an urgent threat perception, and the deterrent effect of potential preventive strikes by the U.S. or Israel. He suggests that to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the U.S. and its allies should combine threats of consequences with assurances of non-aggression if Iran refrains from pursuing a nuclear arsenal.

 

The central point of the article is the uncertainty surrounding what would happen if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon. While some, like Waltz, believe it could lead to a more stable Middle East, others fear it could spark an arms race or another regional war. Walt concludes by expressing his reluctance to test this hypothesis, acknowledging the profound risks and unpredictability involved in such a scenario.

 

"What’s Next for Iran and Israel?" by Ali Vaez and Hamidreza Azizi examines the implications of the recent deaths of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in a helicopter crash. This event has thrown Iran into a state of political instability, raising questions about the future of its regional policies and the ongoing conflict with Israel. Despite this leadership vacuum, the strategic direction of Iran's foreign policy, heavily influenced by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is expected to remain unchanged.

 

The article explores how the recent escalation in hostilities between Iran and Israel is shaping Iran's strategic thinking. Iran perceived Israel's April 1 attack on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, which resulted in the death of several IRGC members, as a significant escalation. In response, Iran conducted a large-scale drone and missile strike on Israel on April 14, demonstrating its willingness to retaliate directly against a powerful adversary. This move was aimed at restoring deterrence without triggering a full-scale war.

 

Iran's leadership believes that its recent military actions have bolstered its standing among regional allies and showcased its capabilities. However, U.S. officials argue that the primary goal of Iran's strike was to inflict significant damage and deaths, a goal that was not achieved due to both offensive vulnerabilities and the strength of Israeli defenses. The article suggests that Iran may now seek to enhance its military capabilities, including developing more advanced missiles and stockpiling arms closer to Israel.

 

The central point of the article is the evolving nature of the Iran-Israel conflict in the wake of Raisi's death. While the immediate strategic goals of both countries remain consistent, the potential for miscalculation and escalation is high. Iran aims to maintain its influence in the region and project strength, while Israel continues to counter Iran's military presence and nuclear ambitions. The instability within Iran's leadership could either prompt a period of recalibration or lead to further aggressive posturing, with significant implications for regional security and international relations.

 

"Ireland, Norway, Spain Plan to Recognize Palestine" by Alexandra Sharp discusses the decision by these three European countries to recognize the state of Palestine, a move intended to grant international legitimacy to the Palestinian cause. Announced on May 22, this largely symbolic gesture is meant to support the two-state solution as a pathway to lasting peace in the Middle East. Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store emphasized this recognition as an investment in peace.

 

While the immediate impact on Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank may be minimal, the recognition has been praised by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. They argue that it offers hope for peace and security amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, which has resulted in severe humanitarian crises and significant casualties. The article notes that around 140 United Nations members already recognize Palestine, and recent U.N. General Assembly votes have further bolstered Palestine's status with new rights and privileges.

 

However, major Western powers, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have not followed suit. The U.S. maintains that a Palestinian state should emerge through direct negotiations rather than unilateral recognition, a stance reiterated by the White House. The UK also holds back on recognition while Hamas controls Gaza. In contrast, Israel vehemently opposes these moves, viewing them as rewards for terrorism. In response, Israel has recalled its ambassadors from the three countries and summoned their diplomats for reprimand.

 

The article's central point is the geopolitical tension and varying international responses to Palestinian statehood. While Ireland, Norway, and Spain’s recognition of Palestine is symbolic, it underscores a significant divide in international diplomacy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This decision highlights the contrasting approaches between European countries advocating for Palestinian recognition and major Western powers advocating for a negotiated settlement. The article suggests that these recognitions might encourage other European countries to consider similar moves, despite Israel's strong opposition and retaliatory diplomatic actions.

 

"As Rafah Offensive Grinds On, Hunger in Gaza Spirals" by Vivian Yee, Bilal Shbair, and Matthew Mpoke Bigg details the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza amid ongoing Israeli military operations. Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip, has become a focal point of this crisis. Previously one of the few places where residents could access aid and food, Rafah has now seen its resources dwindle due to intensified Israeli incursions that have effectively closed the main aid crossings.

 

The incursion has led to severe shortages of essential supplies, with bakeries and malnutrition treatment centers closing and the prices of basic goods skyrocketing. Residents like Ahmed Abu al-Kas describe the desperate conditions, noting how families are rationing their dwindling food supplies. International aid officials and health experts have warned that famine is imminent unless barriers to aid are lifted, the fighting stops, and vital services are restored. However, none of these conditions have been met, and the situation continues to deteriorate.

 

The closure of aid crossings has exacerbated the crisis, with little fuel entering Gaza to power aid operations, hospitals, or municipal services. The displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from Rafah to northern areas with inadequate water and medical care has further strained the region. Despite some food entering northern Gaza, the overall aid remains insufficient, and prices have soared, making it difficult for residents to afford basic necessities.

 

International responses have included calls for Israel to allow more aid into Gaza, but Israel argues that it must thoroughly screen cargo to prevent Hamas from obtaining supplies that could be used for attacks. This has led to delays and rejections of essential items. The Biden administration has suspended arms transfers to Israel over the offensive, and there is pressure on Israel and Egypt to coordinate on reopening aid crossings. However, political and security challenges continue to impede the flow of aid.

 

The central point of the article is the severe humanitarian impact of the Rafah offensive on Gaza's population, highlighting the urgent need for increased aid and international intervention to prevent widespread famine. The situation is critical, with aid officials emphasizing that immediate action is needed to avert further deaths and suffering in Gaza.

 

"Supply Chain Latest: Shipping Risks in the Red Sea" by Simon Marks explores the strategic importance and emerging challenges Djibouti faces amidst the ongoing turmoil in the Red Sea region. Djibouti, positioned where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden, has become a crucial hub for shipping and military operations due to the violence instigated by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels against commercial ships. Despite the instability in neighboring countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, Djibouti has maintained relative stability and is described as the "eye of the cyclone."

 

The article highlights Djibouti's bustling container port, which is pivotal for transshipment activities. Ships from Asia offload goods onto smaller vessels that navigate the perilous Red Sea toward the Suez Canal. Despite its strong support for Palestinian rights and criticism of Israel's actions in Gaza, Djibouti has facilitated naval vessels from the European Union's Aspides mission to protect cargo ships. It has repaired several vessels damaged by Houthi missiles.

 

The strategic location of Djibouti has attracted significant international investments in military hardware and intelligence gathering, underscoring its importance. However, the country is carefully balancing its position of neutrality, as demonstrated by its refusal to allow the U.S. to launch offensive actions against the Houthis from its territory.

 

The article's central point is Djibouti's critical role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of shipping routes through the Red Sea amidst regional conflicts. Djibouti's stability and strategic positioning enable it to serve as a key transshipment hub and a base for military operations, highlighting its importance in global trade and security dynamics. The article underscores the complex interplay between maintaining neutrality and leveraging strategic advantages in a highly volatile region.

 


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