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April 21, 2010

Tea Leaf Reading...Admiral Mullen Refuses To Say The US Would Rule Out Firing On Israeli Planes Over Iraq On The Way To Iran

In short, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff punted when asked by an airmen ROTC cadet to respond to rumors that the US might fire on Israeli jets transiting Iraqi airspace on the way to Iran.

“We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.”

The airmen ROTC cadet tried again in a more direct fashion and received a similar response.

Quite a bit of talk about this around the internets.

Grimm at BlackFive discusses why this would be an absolutely awful situation to be in for US troops from a personal standpoint.

Meanwhile Jennifer Rubin at Contentions notes the difference in treatment by this administration towards Iran and Israel.

I have a few thoughts...

First, I don't think this falls on Mullen. Not only is it a loaded question, it's one of policy that in fact is above his pay grade. Unless Obama has said something one way or another, he can't commit or limit the civilian leadership. If there's any ambiguity, that's on Obama, not Mullen. In fairness, there may not be any and that it goes without saying we wouldn't do that but without having guidance from above, Mullen simply can't go out and make that call.

Now, someone at today's briefing with Gibbs really needs to follow up on this. If Gibbs dissembles in this way, well, that's a whole different story.

On an emotional level, of course it's idiotic to think we'd fire on Israeli planes but there is one other factor to consider, we have obligations to the Iraqi government to defend their country or at least to discuss options with them.

From the Status of Forces Agreement we have with Iraq (pdf)

In the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq that would violate its sovereignty, political independence, or territorial integrity, waters, airspace, its democratic system or its elected institutions, and upon request by the Government of Iraq, the Parties shall immediately initiate strategic deliberations and, as may be mutually agreed, the United States shall take appropriate measures, including diplomatic, economic, or military measures, or any other measure, to deter such a threat.

You might say the Israelis aren't going to attack Iraq but that's besides the point. There's no government in the world that wouldn't view armed military jets flying though its territory with out permission as an act of agression against it. This is especially true when you consider the history between Israel and Iraq.

That would seem to make it pretty hard for us to unilaterally announce we are OK with Israel using Iraqi airspace and won't do anything about it if they do. Yes, we'd be supporting Israel and our own security but if the Iraqi government asked us to stop this, we'd be betraying our obligations to them.

Now Iraq doesn't want Iran to get nukes either and they maybe ok with it. They will not want to be seen publicly involved in this in anyway, even with a wink and a nod.

Again, emotionally it's an easy call but there are a lot of factors in play here. Any Israeli attack the uses Iraqi airspace puts us in a major bind. Admiral Mullen was right to stay the hell out of that right now.

Added: A lot of people who will be crying out against Israel will be privately happy if it happens, some will even have helped behind the scenes. None of this however is helped by the the top US military official opening his mouth on the subject. This is a case where "layers" is the reality, not a fantasy.

BTW-Just to add to the fun, there is a report the US already talked the Israelis out of attacking Syrian arms shipments to Hezbollah.


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posted by DrewM. at 12:48 PM

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