Iran Question & Turkey’s Own Nuclear Options

Western nations and Israel have employed all conceivable means to stop Iran’s nuclear program, from sabotage to assassination, from diplomatic pressure to economic embargoes and even cyber attacks.

Iranian airplanes carrying nuclear weapons-related technological equipment have been destroyed, nuclear laboratories have been blown up, imported equipment has been delivered to Iran in broken pieces, and scientists have been murdered. But the greatest blow thus far to Iran’s program came from a computer virus called Stuxnet, a joint US-Israeli venture. First an exact replica of the Iranian facilities was built by the Israelis in the desert at the Dimona nuclear site. This virus targeted command centers run by Siemens computers, which the Iranians were using to enrich uranium. The virus had unprecedented strength, with the ability to penetrate all Siemens systems worldwide, though it would only be active in the process of uranium enrichment. The virus made the tubes inside protective cylinders suddenly rotate very rapidly, ultimately breaking them apart.

It was in the latter half of 2009 that Stuxnet was released. Then, in the first months of 2010, the enrichment process in Iran began to falter. Thousands of tubes shattered due to Stuxnet, thus drastically slowing down its uranium enrichment program. By the end of the year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Tehran’s nuclear program had been set back many years. Meir Dagan, then head of Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, also said that Iran would not be able to produce nuclear weapons before 2015. America and Israel believed that their computer virus had accomplished what many had expected a military attack to do. This also explains why Iran’s nuclear program was put on the geopolitical back burner until mid-2011.

Turkey’s role as mediator

In May 2010, as a result of Turkey’s mediation, Iran accepted an exchange of the low-grade uranium it then possessed. But although the US had agreed to an identical exchange just the previous November, this time it refused. This change of mind was almost certainly connected to the Stuxnet virus. At the end of 2009 it was still unclear what the virus would achieve. But by the next May, even though the public was in the dark, Washington surely knew the damage had been done by the virus, and knew that such an exchange would be to Iran’s advantage this time around. Moreover, from the other side of the fence, this is probably the same reason that Iran was ready to accept an offer that it had rejected just six months earlier.

As it happened, however, the West was once again mistaken in its analyses. Iran was able to quickly shake off the effects of Stuxnet. By mid-2011, Iran was able to run even more centrifuge tubes, in more developed models, which revolved even faster. An unexpected consequence of all these attempts to derail its nuclear program was that Iran simply gained more experience and skill with nuclear technology.

To produce nuclear weapons using uranium, the most critical part of the process is to enrich it to weapons grade, around 90 percent purity. Iran has now succeeded in the most difficult steps: obtaining uranium enriched to at least 20 percent. Getting 90 percent enrichment in a few months no longer appears very difficult. In the meantime, there is some evidence indicating that Iran has initiated work to assemble nuclear warheads. Western countries are now planning to try to stop Iran with an oil embargo. If that doesn’t do the job, the West may come to the conclusion that it has no choice but a military operation.

An attack on Iran?

It is known that the Obama administration does not look warmly on an attack on Iran, and that it opposed the idea of Israel single-handedly carrying out such an assault on more than one occasion. The biggest supporter of a military solution is Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who obviously hopes for an attack sometime this summer or fall, capitalizing on the competitive atmosphere of the US presidential campaign, and pressure Obama may possibly be facing. But even in Israel many stand opposed to an attack, including influential defense and security establishment figures, some prominent right-wing politicians and even members of the current government. For instance, after stepping down from the helm of Mossad, Dagan began an unusual media campaign. He publicly argued that attacking Iran would be “stupid,” and would cause a strategic catastrophe for Israel, leading to years of chaos in the region, along with adding legitimacy to Iran’s alleged reasons for developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, he contended, Israel lacks the military capability for an effective strike against Iran without help from the US.

What should Turkey do?

Even if a military attack on Iran — which currently seems unlikely — were to occur, Iran now possesses enough know-how that the production of nuclear weapons is ultimately only a matter of time and political will. In such a case, Turkey will face a thorny question: Should Turkey also have nuclear capabilities?

Nuclear weapons were used for the first and last time by the US during World War II, on two Japanese cities. In the decades since, the huge effect of nuclear weapons on the strategic balance of global politics has come not from their use but rather their mere possession. According to the dictates of international strategy, the power of a country is, until it is used, the power that others assume it has. During the more than half-century of the Cold War, the single greatest weight on the strategic balance between the two blocs was the Soviet Union’s deployment of nuclear weapons.

A sound strategy, one with a good chance of standing the test of time, should take into consideration what might look like unthinkable options. Strategic efforts should aim at avoiding surprises. History has seen many victories and defeats emerge from options that once seemed totally unlikely. The winners have often been those who were able to think outside the box, while the losers were undercut by their inability to do the same. Politics and diplomacy, in protecting the interests of a country and even its survival, must always run reasonable, even calculated, risks. A policy aiming for zero risk is a policy of impotence. The risks that diplomacy can run are proportional to the margin of safety enjoyed by a country. Additionally, the risks faced by a country tend to rise as the power and associated ambiguities of the other sides also rise.

If and when Iran conducts its first nuclear test and continues to build up a nuclear arsenal, this would deeply upset the strategic geopolitical balance and psychology in this region. In fact, what follows would be unlike anything ever seen in the Middle East. Israel currently maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its nuclear weapons, to keep the world guessing what conditions would lead to their use. If Iran also finally manages to obtain nuclear weapons, it will probably take a similar path. Such developments in turn would sow ambiguity even denser than that of the tense Cold War period.

If Iran does go nuclear, the US will most likely offer its nuclear protection umbrella to a number of countries in the region, including Turkey. For Ankara to accept such an offer would be reasonable only if it doesn’t relinquish its own nuclear option. Otherwise Turkey could be, as circumstances develop, a strategic hostage to the US in the Middle East. Turkey has a legitimate right to consider all future possibilities. For instance, the US might choose to withdraw into its own shell, pulling back beyond the Atlantic. Or a new administration may emerge in Washington under the influence of the extremist pro-Israel and evangelical Christian groups. And if the current Iranian regime changes or even if it doesn’t, there is also the possibility — currently a remote one, to be sure — that Washington and Tehran could build an alliance of sorts. Each of these possibilities may force the need for nuclear capability for Turkey.

EU membership and the nuclear option

European Union membership would certainly reduce Turkey’s risks, and largely eliminate the nuclear option. The opposite scenario, in which Turkey’s EU membership prospects die and Iran builds up a nuclear arsenal, would pose a troublesome situation. In that case, to avoid getting stuck in a bottleneck of heightened risks, Turkey would need to seriously consider developing its own nuclear capability. To date, the relationship between a possible nuclear option for Turkey and its EU prospects has not received a great deal of attention. Yet this relationship ought to be handled carefully.

For the time being, Ankara could initiate a well thought-out and comprehensive nuclear technology program. It should aim to develop its technological know-how, essentially in pilot plant capacities for nuclear fission chain reaction materials. This could encompass various methods, including centrifuge and laser technologies. And finally, Turkey must also improve the range of its guided missiles.

By Haluk Özdalga

Pentagon: No Special Operations Bases in Turkey

The Pentagon, Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2012 – The United States will not base more troops in Turkey, Pentagon officials said here today.

“Reports about additional U.S. force presence in Turkey are false,” said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. “We have had no such discussions with the Turkish government.”

News reports over the past days have said the United States wanted to base special operations forces in Turkey. This is not true, Pentagon officials said.

The United States has about 5,000 personnel based at Incirlik Air Base, an area shared with Turkish Air Force units. It is the largest U.S. military presence in the country.

Turkey is an important NATO ally. “The United States military deeply values its close relationship with the armed forces of Turkey, one of our closest allies and NATO partners,” Kirby said.

By Jim Garamone

Turkey is not platform for attacking Iran – Turkish FM

Turkey and Iran have shared a peaceful border for centuries.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu underlined that his country will not allow the NATO to use its territory to strike Iran.

Davutoglu made the remarks during a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

He said that Turkey has never cooperated with those who wanted to harm its neighboring countries like Russia, Iran or Syria.

Iran-Turkey border has always been a border of peace, and it will continue to be so, he added.

Noting that he discussed Iran and Syria issues with Lavrov, Davutoglu said that Turkey’s position with Russia was very similar in Iran issue, adding that talks on Iran’s nuclear program should resume rapidly.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia and Turkey had almost the same position on Iran and Russia wanted this issue to be solved through diplomatic means.

Moscow believes that Iran’s nuclear problem can be solved only diplomatically and politically, he added.

Russia wants the soonest resumption of the talks between Iran and the Group 5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran.

Israel and its close ally the United States accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, while they have never presented any corroborative document to substantiate their allegations. Both Washington and Tel Aviv possess advanced weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear warheads.

Iran vehemently denies the charges, insisting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. Tehran stresses that the country has always pursued a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.

Iran has, in return, warned that it would target Israel and its worldwide interests in case it comes under attack by the Tel Aviv.

The United States has also always stressed that military action is a main option for the White House to deter Iran’s progress in the field of nuclear technology.

Iran has warned it could close the strategic Strait of Hormuz if it became the target of a military attack over its nuclear program.

Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the strategic Persian Gulf waterway, is a major oil shipping route.

Ahmadinejad: Iran Is Ready For Nuclear Talks

Even as he became the latest and most senior member of the Iranian government to publicly declare his readiness for nuclear talks, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday lashed out at the West over its tough new economic sanctions that he said have hurt the Iranian people.

Addressing students in the southern city of Kerman, Mr. Ahmadinejad blamed the West for what he called its “excuses” for not restarting negotiations and heaped scorn on the United States and Europe over new sanctions, which target Iran’s oil industry. While they have hurt ordinary Iranians, he said, the sanctions have done nothing to weaken Iran’s resolve in the face of “bullying” over its nuclear program.

“You are the real enemy of the people and are putting pressure on them,” the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying. “I admonish you to pave the right track and do not make any excuses while the time is ripe for negotiations.”

The remarks come ahead of a visit by United Nations nuclear inspectors to Iran next week and March 2 parliamentary elections in Iran, where the economy has sputtered under the weight of sanctions and high inflation. With the country’s currency, the rial, having weakened to a record low against the dollar, Mr. Ahmadinejad on Wednesday reversed himself and allowed interest rates on bank deposits to rise in an attempt to ease inflationary pressure. The move was seen as a rare tacit admission of the effect the sanctions have exerted in Iran.

The uranium enrichment program in Iran has become the most urgent point of contention between Iran and the West, which has long suspected the Iranians are working to build a nuclear weapon despite their repeated denials. Iran has said it is enriching uranium for civilian energy and medical purposes. Israel, which considers Iran its most dangerous adversary, has hinted at the possibility of a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said publicly on Thursday that the sanctions had created hardships for average people in Iran but that they would weather the difficulties. He added that Western insistence that sanctions are aimed at curtailing its nuclear program and not at the Iranian people was “a big lie.”

While Mr. Ahmadinejad said he was ready to resume nuclear talks, his comments did not appear to bring Iran closer to resuming negotiations with Europe and the United States. The previous round of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program broke down over a year ago after Iran presented conditions considered unacceptable to the West.

European leaders are waiting for Iran to respond to an October letter seeking a resumption of talks without preconditions if Iran agreed to discuss its nuclear enrichment program. During the last talks, Iran refused to discuss that main issue, seeking instead the removal of sanctions and the recognition of a right to enrich uranium before negotiating could begin.

Some Western diplomats have viewed Iran’s latest public offers of negotiations as an effort to buy time, allowing the country to enrich more uranium as talks get under way. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements on Thursday did not appear to coincide with any official diplomatic response, European officials said. Earlier this month during a visit to Turkey, the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that his country was ready to resume negotiations. He said discussions were under way about the site and date, Iranian news media reported, and that the talks would “most probably be held in Istanbul.”

Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris.

The NYT

Serial Production Started in Key Weapon Programs

Turkey's nationally developed UMTAS anti-tank missiles and Cirit laser-guided rockets on display at a military exhibition in Istanbul.

The head of the under-secretariat for the defense industry, Murad Bayar, has outlined Turkey’s armaments objectives in coming years. This year, Turkey plans to finish tests on several national weapons systems that have been developed and move to the serial production phase. In the next stage, building on that momentum, Turkey plans to increase its arms exports as well as reduce its reliance on imports (Anadolu Ajansi, January 23).

During the past decade, Turkey has embarked on ambitious programs to reduce its dependence on external sources for the procurement needs of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF), the second largest army in NATO. On the one hand, through stringent rules on procurement tenders, Ankara wanted to ensure that domestic firms will take part in the production of imported weapons systems, as well as enabling technology transfers. On the other hand, building on the accumulation of knowledge gained from these joint projects and the assistance and subsidies provided to the domestic arms industry and R&D activities, Turkey has been working to develop several “national” weapons systems. So far, Ankara’s ambitious national arms projects included the development of a national warship, main battle tank, attack helicopter, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and an infantry rifle.

Turkey has been cooperating with Italy’s Augusta-Westland on an attack helicopter project, which is aimed at resolving the Turkish army’s deficiencies in its fight against the PKK. Earlier, a prototype of this helicopter was developed, which is going through flight and weapons systems tests (EDM, September 29, 2009). Turkey is proud of the attack helicopter deal and sees it almost as an advertisement for its recent national projects. Turkey obtained the sole production license from Italy and introduced the necessary modifications, in order that it meets the specific operational needs of its army in mountainous terrain. Moreover, reflecting its self-confidence in indigenous technological abilities, the electronic systems and the software of the helicopter will be developed in Turkey, meaning it will have full control over the platform’s operation. The weapons installed on the helicopter will also come from national weapons developed domestically in recent years, including Cirit laser-guided rocket systems.

Bayar announced that they are planning to finish firing tests and start the first deliveries to the TAF this year, and complete the delivery of 51 helicopters in the coming years. Bayar also noted that once this platform is added to TAF’s inventory, it will have good marketing prospects. This system will be in demand, Bayar believes, especially in countries that are currently fighting terrorism, given that Turkey developed it with such considerations in mind. Several Middle Eastern countries are believed to be considering ATAK. After successfully passing the flight tests in summer 2011, ATAK has also been invited to submit its bid to a procurement tender in South Korea (Sabah, September 25, 2011).

Another major project is the main battle tank ALTAY, developed in partnership with South Korea’s Rotem (EDM, August 7, 2008). This project seeks to increase the TAF’s firepower in conventional warfare through the procurement of 250 third generation main battle tanks. Currently, ALTAY is in its design phase and the initial deliveries are expected to start from 2013. Bayar noted that this year they plan to develop the first prototype and start the necessary tests.

Turkey also has been working on another ambitious project to bolster its surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities. In need of actionable intelligence in its fight against the PKK, Turkey has relied on the United States and Israel to either lease or buy UAVs. This cooperation, however, proved difficult to sustain given the tensions encountered in its bilateral relations with Israel and occasionally the US. Turkey has launched an indigenous medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV system program that will initially meet the TAF’s reconnaissance requirements, and later a modified version with combat capability will be developed. The prototypes are going through several tests. Following the maturity tests, Bayar expect the five prototypes to be put into operation and their serial production will start. Ankara sees this project also as a sign of prestige, as it will join the few nations with this technology and eventually develop the potential to export it. Similarly, Bayar expects that the first indigenous satellite developed by Turkey, the Gokturk-2, will be launched into space this year.

Another project has been the development of a national infantry rifle. Turkey is currently conducting tests on a rifle designed and developed domestically, and anticipates moving to the mass production stage this year. The country has also been running a national warship program, MILGEM, to develop a littoral combat capacity. Under the project, the Turkish Navy will be supplied with eight corvettes and four frigates, as well as exploring possibilities for exports. The first corvette has already been delivered, while the second is undergoing tests.

Recently, Ankara announced plans to develop a national fighter jet. Bayar described it as a long term objective, which would mark Turkey’s elevation to a higher class in arms producing countries. Turkey is currently considering this option and will soon initiate two-year long feasibility studies. If the project is deemed feasible, further work will be authorized to develop the first prototype in ten years’ time and serial production in the following decade. Turkey has also announced another ambitious program to develop long-range missiles with a range of up to 2,500 km (www.trt.net.tr, January 13).

Although Turkey remains a major arms importer, through these programs it is now able to procure slightly more than half of its needs from domestic sources. Currently, Turkey is producing short range missiles, armored vehicles and personnel carriers, training aircraft, small UAVs, etc. Especially in advanced weapons systems, Turkey remains dependent on imports, and addressing that deficiency is one of the objectives of the procurement programs. In the future, while seeking to increase the share of domestic contributions, Turkey will also work to bolster its export figures to $1 billion, from last year’s $800 million. Overall, two principles will underpin Turkey’s defense industry policies, as underlined by Bayar: depth, i.e., increasing the national contributions in the new platforms through the development of sub-systems; and sustainability, or, building a viable arms industry that can sustain mass production at competitive prices.

By Saban Kardas

UAV Technology: Israel Cuts Turkey Off

Growing political hostility between Turkey and Israel has led to the Israeli military cancelling the export permit for UAVs and support services for Turkey. This will cost the firm that sold Turkey Heron UAVs some $90 million. The Israeli military has veto power over any arms exports and in this case believed it was too risky to complete the supplying of Turkey with UAV technology.

Meanwhile, Turkey has a Plan B. Two months ago, four American Predator UAVs, which had long operated in Iraq, were moved to Turkey. There, the American UAVs will be under the control of the Turkish security forces and assist in tracking Kurdish separatist (PKK) rebels. American UAVs based in Iraq had been helping the Turks track the PKK, but with all American forces gone from Iraq, the Turks were happy to give some of the Iraq-based Predators a new home.

Turkey has six Predator and four Reaper UAVs on order but there is a big backlog. Meanwhile, Turkey has been using ten Israeli Heron UAVs. This has been complicated because of growing Turkish hostility towards Israel. The latest accusations are that Israel is assisting the PKK and the Turkish media is having a good time with this sort of thing. After that sort of thing, the Israeli armed forces decided that the Turks could not be trusted. This was not a sudden change of mind. Last year Israeli UAV technicians and instructors were recalled from Turkey, where they were training Turkish troops on how to operate and maintain Israeli Heron UAVs. The Israeli personnel were withdrawn because it was believed they might be attacked.

The Turkish government has become increasingly anti-Israel in the last seven years. The Islamic politicians, who were elected in 2002, adopted an anti-Israel, anti-West attitude and strove to increase their stature in the Islamic world. Actually, the Turks are trying to regain the stature they used to have in the Islamic world. Until 1924, the Sultan of the Turks was the Caliph (technically the leader of all Moslems). But in the 1920s, Turkey turned itself into a secular state. Although Turkey became a major economic power in the Middle East, with one of the best educated populations, it was still hobbled by corruption and mismanagement. The current Islamic politicians promised to attack the corruption (which they have) and return religion to a central place in Turkish culture (in progress). This has upset a lot of secular Turks. But the Islamic politicians have made it fashionable to hate Israel.

The Turks ordered ten Herons seven years ago but delivery was delayed because of problems with the Turkish made sensor package. Meanwhile, the Turks were still fighting Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq and really needed those UAVs. Four years ago, the Israeli manufacturer made an interim deal to supply Israeli (without the Turkish sensors) Herons, along with support personnel, on a $10 million lease. But now those Herons are inoperable and the Turks have turned to locally made IHA UAVs, which are much less effective.

The Heron Shoval UAVs are very similar to the American Predator A (or MQ-1). The Shoval weighs about the same (1.2 tons) and has the same endurance (40 hours). Shoval has a slightly higher ceiling (9,600 meters/30,000 feet, versus 25,000 feet) and software which allows it to automatically take off, carry out a mission, and land automatically. Not all American large UAVs can do this. Both Predator and Shoval cost about the same ($5 million), although the Israelis are willing to be flexible on price. The Shoval does have a larger wingspan (16.5 meters/51 feet) than the Predator (13.2 meters/41 feet) and a payload of about 137 kg (300 pounds).

StrategyPage

Turkey threatens intervention into Iraq

Relations between the Turkish and Iraqi governments have deteriorated sharply. In a speech to parliament on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the head of a Sunni Islam-based religious party, accused his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of a Shiite-coalition, of promoting sectarian violence against the Sunni minority in Iraq.

Erdogan warned: “Maliki should know that if you start a conflict in Iraq in the form of sectarian clashes it will be impossible for us to remain silent. Those who stand by with folded arms watching brothers massacre each other are accomplices to murder.”

Erdogan was responding to complaints by Maliki that Turkey has been interfering in Iraqi domestic politics through its support for the largely Sunni-based Iraqiya coalition, which is engaged in a fierce power struggle with the government in Baghdad.

The implications of Erdogan’s statement are unmistakable. They amount to a direct threat that Turkey will support an intervention into Iraq on the same pretext of “defending civilians” used to justify the NATO-led intervention to oust Gaddafi regime in Libya. In the case of Iraq, intervention would be justified with the allegation that Maliki is persecuting the country’s Sunnis.

The Turkish stance toward Maliki is inseparable from the broader US-backed drive to refashion geopolitical relations in the Middle East and, above all, to shatter the regional influence of Iran. US allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf state monarchies—all dominated by Sunni elites—have lined up with Washington against Shiite-ruled Iran. They are using inflammatory sectarian language to try to galvanise support for a policy that threatens to trigger a regional war.

The Syrian regime, which is a longstanding Iranian ally and based on an Allawite Shiite ruling stratum, has been targeted for “regime change.” The current Iraqi government, while it is the direct creation of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, is also viewed as unacceptable by the regional US allies. The Shiite factions forming the Maliki government have longstanding ties with the Iranian religious establishment. Maliki has refused to support an ongoing US military presence in Iraq or economic sanctions, let alone military aggression, against Syria and Iran.

Iraqiya, which was part of the ruling coalition, campaigned aggressively to weaken the political dominance of the Shiite parties in the lead-up to the withdrawal of US combat troops in December. Sunni leaders accused Maliki of reneging on an agreement to preside over a “national unity” government and pressured him to place the main security ministries under the direction of Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, had been a long-time American collaborator before the US invasion and was installed by the US in 2004 as the “interim” prime minister of Iraq. He sanctioned the military repression of the Sunni population and atrocities such as the destruction of the largely Sunni city of Fallujah. Despite this history, he was adopted by the Sunni elites as their main representative after the effective collapse of the anti-occupation insurgency. His qualifications are his hostility to the Shiite religious parties, his anti-Iranian Arab nationalism and his close connections to Washington.

Attempts to elevate Allawi, with clear support from the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have suffered something of a shipwreck. Maliki and his Shiite-based Da’wa Party, which was repressed by the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, responded with a pre-emptive strike against the challenge to their grip on power.

Hundreds of ex-Baath Party members, particularly former senior military officers, have been rounded up and detained. Allawi alleged this month that more than 1,000 members of his and other parties opposed to Maliki had been arrested in recent months. He claimed they had been subjected to torture to extract false confessions of committing “terrorism.” There has been a growing number of indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas and religious events by suspected Sunni extremists. Last week, 34 men accused of terrorism were executed in a single day.

In the most high-profile case of alleged Sunni “terrorism,” the bodyguards of Iraqiya Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi—one of the country’s highest ranking politicians—were detained and allegedly tortured. They were paraded on national television in late December to accuse the Sunni leader of personally directing a sectarian death squad.

Hashemi has only escaped arrest by taking refuge in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. He has been charged with crimes that carry a death sentence.

Maliki responded to a walkout of Iraqiya ministers from his cabinet by having their offices locked and stripping them of their political responsibilities. The Iraqi parliament has continued to sit despite a boycott by most Iraqiya members.

Last Friday, the Iraqiya deputy governor of the majority Sunni province of Diyala, who agitated last year for regional autonomy, was seized by secret police operating under Maliki’s command. He has been charged with “terrorist activities.”

The present crisis could rapidly lead to the eruption of civil war and potentially fracture Iraq along sectarian lines, drawing in other regional powers such as Turkey and Iran. The majority of the 300,000-strong Iraqi military are Shiites. While poorly trained and equipped, they have a degree of allegiance to Maliki’s government.

A confrontation is looming between the Maliki government and the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Last week, a Shiite politician advocated an economic blockade of the Kurdish region unless Vice President Hashemi was handed over for trial. The Kurdish government has its own 200,000-strong armed forces.

Following the 2003 invasion, the US fostered sectarian divisions as a means of undermining the previous Baathist elite and blocking a unified resistance by ordinary working people against the occupation and collapse of living standards. Now the US is encouraging its regional allies to back the Sunni and Kurdish elites against the Maliki government, with reckless indifference for the rapidly escalating violence.

By James Cogan, WSWS

Pentagon to reduce spending by $260 billion

The Pentagon will unveil a five-year budget proposal this week that aims to implement $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade by trimming the size of the military and canceling or scaling back some weapons programs.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will outline a budget request for the 2013 fiscal year today that will cut $260 billion in spending through 2017, taking the Pentagon more than halfway to its target for the decade.

Details about the 2013 spending plans have begun to emerge from sources familiar with the budget proposal despite the Pentagon’s efforts to keep its funding discussions secret until they are formally announced.

The budget proposal is expected to eliminate thousands of military and civilian jobs over the next five years at a time when President Barack Obama is running for re-election against a field of Republicans who accuse him of being weak on national security.

 Cut in unmanned planes

The proposed budget will terminate or scale back spending on dozens of weapons programs, including the Air Force’s high-altitude Global Hawk unmanned surveillance plane built by Northrop Grumman Corp and the Pentagon’s biggest weapons program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

But it will not tackle some $600 billion in additional spending cuts due to take effect in January 2013 after lawmakers failed to agree on $1.2 trillion in deficit-cutting measures.

Officials said they would revisit the issue and address those cuts later if Congress did not take action this year. Panetta is expected to seek a Pentagon base budget of about $523 billion.

Some programs to be hit by Pentagon’s savings plans are as follows:
– Lockheed’s F-35 jet fighter program, the Pentagon’s largest at $382 billion, will face its third restructuring in three years, with officials slashing 179 jets from the five-year budget and pushing their purchase to later years at a savings of more than $20 billion.
– The Navy will maintain a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers, but has not clarified if it will award a contract to Huntington Ingalls Industries for the next carrier on schedule.
– The number of combat brigades stationed in Europe will be cut in half, from four to two, Panetta said recently.
– The overall size of the Army, which was already scheduled to fall to 520,000 by 2016, could be further reduced to 490,000, a drop of another 30,000 soldiers, analysts say.
– The Navy will retire seven aging cruisers and several amphibious warships, saving money on increasingly expensive maintenance and upgrades.
– It will also propose multiyear procurements of more DDG-51 destroyers and Virginia-class submarines, both built by General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls, moves that could save about $4 billion by allowing bulk purchases of materials.
– The Navy will also propose a multiyear procurement for more V-22 Ospreys, a tiltrotor aircraft built by Boeing Co. and Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter unit that flies like a plane but takes off and like a helicopter.
– The Air Force will lose several programs, including upgrades to its C-130 cargo planes being done by Boeing Co., a troubled weather satellite being built by Northrop, and a new helicopter to replace the Bell UH-1N, which provides security to U.S. nuclear ballistic missile fields.
– The Air Force will continue design work on a new bomber and get two additional orders for a Lockheed communications satellite and one more Lockheed missile warning satellite.
– The Army would rebalance its mix of active duty troops and the National Guard and Reserve, which cost less to fund but can be called up more rapidly than reconstituting a force from scratch.

HDN

Boeing wins $3.48 bln missile defense contract

Boeing beat out Lockheed Martin to retain its position as the prime contractor for the U.S. long-range missile shield, the Pentagon said on Dec. 30.

The U.S. Defense Department said it was awarding Boeing a $3.48 billion, seven-year contract to develop, test, engineer and manufacture missile defense systems.

A team led by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon had vied with Boeing to expand and maintain the “Ground-based Midcourse Defense” (GMD) hub of layered antimissile protection.
Boeing partnered with Northrop Grumman to retain the work.

“We believe the government conducted a fair and open competition, making the right decision for the future of the program,” Norm Tew, Boeing vice president and program director of GMD, said in a statement.

‘Shield against Iran, North Korea’

The GMD contract’s value to Boeing will have been about $18 billion from January 2001, when it formally became the system’s prime contractor, through the end of this year, Boeing has said.

GMD uses radar and other sensors plus a more than 32,000-kilometer fiber optic communications network to cue interceptors in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The shield has been shaped initially to guard against ballistic missiles that could be fired by Iran and North Korea. It is the only U.S. defense against long-range missiles that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.

Reuters

Turkey awaits key counterterrorism weapons

Turkey's T129 attack helicopter during flight tests.

The Turkish military is slated to acquire several weapons systems to use against terrorists from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) this year, one senior procurement official said last week.
Italy’s AgustaWestland and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) have been collaborating on building the T-129 attack helicopter, a Turkish version of the company’s A129 Mangusta International.

AgustaWestland is scheduled to deliver the first nine of a planned 59 helicopters to the military toward the end of 2012.

Turkish authorities then will assemble the required weapons systems on the platforms, and the nine helicopter gunships are expected to enter service in 2013, the official said.

Separately, the United States is expected to deliver three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters early this year. The U.S. Congress approved the sale of these three choppers, worth $125 million, toward the end of 2012.

Additionally, TAI, Turkey’s state-owned aerospace powerhouse, is scheduled to deliver to the military three Anka Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles in 2012, to be used for reconnaissance purposes, the official said.

Turkey is already operating nine Israeli-made Heron MALE drones against the PKK. The United States has also deployed another four RQ-1 Predator MALE drones at Turkey’s southern İncirlik airbase to fly over PKK camps in northern Iraq and provide the Turkish military intelligence.

Additionally Turkey has requested to buy four RQ-1 Predator reconnaissance drones and two armed MQ-1 Reapers, but the U.S. has not responded to the request.

In addition to its MALE drone capabilities, the Turkish military operates scores of smaller drones.

Unmanned vehicles

TAI’s efforts to develop and produce the Anka have seen a delay of several years. “Attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles are among the most effective weapons against terrorists, and we will have an abundance of these weapons soon,” said one security official.

The PKK this year intensified terrorist attacks against Turkish military and civilian targets, causing a public outrage.

Separately, the U.S. Boeing is expected to deliver the first of a planned four spy planes to the Turkish Air Force in 2012. The program to manufacture the four Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft is worth more than $1.6 billion and is behind schedule a few years.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee, Turkey’s highest procurement agency, is also expected to select a foreign company in Turkey’s $4 billion long range air and missile defense system program. Among the candidates competing to build an air and missile defense system with Turkish partners are U.S. companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, with their Patriot Air and Missile Defense System; Russian Rosoboronexport’s S-300; Chinese CPMIEC’s (China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp.) HQ-9; and European Eurosam’s SAMP/T Aster 30.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee’s members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and Procurement Chief Murad Bayar.

Finally, the committee would select a national commercial shipyard which will manufacture the third through the eighth of the Milgem national corvettes. The first two corvettes were built at a military shipyard. The first corvette, the TCG Heybeliada, already has entered service in the Navy, and the second, the TCG Büyükada, has been put to sea for tests.

HDN