‘PREPARED TO TURN TO OTHER OPTIONS’: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon and Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department yesterday, and high on the agenda was a discussion of options in the event diplomacy fails to bring Iran back in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration.
The meetings come as Reuters quoted a senior U.S. official as saying the two defense chiefs were expected to discuss “possible military exercises that would prepare for a worst-case scenario to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities should diplomacy fail and if their nations' leaders request it.”
In remarks at the Pentagon, Austin alluded to possible military action but stressed diplomacy should be the first option. "The president has made clear that if the policy fails, we are prepared to turn to other options," Austin said. “We are completely aligned in our commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — this is a national security interest of the United States and Israel and the world."
‘WE WILL DEFEND OUR INTERESTS’: As the talks were underway, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby would not confirm that Iran-specific exercises with Israel were in the works. “We routinely conduct exercises and training with our Israeli counterparts, and I have nothing to announce to, or speak to, or point to, or speculate about today,” he said, adding that the threat Iran poses is “a threat that we understand well right along with our Israeli friends, and Israel is a great friend and a partner in the region.”
"The Department of Defense will continue to work closely with all of our partners throughout the region, including Israel, first and foremost, to ensure that we're working together to address Iranian threats,” said Austin. “We will defend ourselves, we will defend our friends, and we will defend our interests."
"I am totally confident in the commitment of the administration of the United States as a global power to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons," said Gantz. "The international community, with the United States's leadership, has an opportunity to act against Iran's hegemonic aspirations, restore stability, and prevent the oppression of nations across the region."
‘A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE MISTAKE’: A brief State Department readout of Blinken’s meeting with Gantz made only passing mention of Iran, but in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Tuesday, Blinken called President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 deal in favor of a maximum pressure campaign “a terrible, terrible mistake.”
“Iran has used that in the last couple of years, despite the maximum pressure being exerted against it, has used that as justification for turning back on the nuclear program and moving very, very deliberately toward having an incredibly dangerous nuclear capacity, spinning more sophisticated centrifuges, accumulating 20% and 60% enriched uranium,” Blinken said, while admitting the negotiations in Vienna are going nowhere.
“The Iranians did not come to the table with a seriousness of purpose necessary to get back into compliance,” he said. “‘Hopeful’ is probably not a word I'd use based on what we've seen so far. And again, the runway is short.”
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HAPPENING TODAY: A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. for former Sen. Bob Dole at the Washington National Cathedral. President Joe Biden is among the eulogists scheduled to speak at the service, along with former Sens. Pat Roberts and Tom Daschle.
The service is private but will be livestreamed on big screens at the World War II Memorial downtown for the public.
Dole died Sunday of lung cancer at the age of 98.
IRAQ MISSION CHANGES WITH LITTLE FANFARE: The Pentagon has announced that in accordance with an agreement with the Iraqi government, it has ended its combat mission in Iraq and designated the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops to be in a purely advisory role.
“We had been making this transition for quite some time,” said spokesman John Kirby at yesterday’s briefing. “They have been working themselves out of offensive combat operations against ISIS for quite some time, and the bulk of what they've been doing, the vast majority of what they've been doing for a while now has been advise, assist, and train.”
But while little will change, Kirby insisted the change of mission was more than simply symbolic.
“It's an affirmation of what we've agreed to do and what we have accomplished,” Kirby said. “We've been working on it pretty studiously for months.”
Despite the shift by U.S. forces to a noncombat role in Iraq, they will still provide air support and other military aid for Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State, U.S. Central Commander Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said in an interview with the Associated Press at the Pentagon yesterday.
US ENDS COMBAT IN IRAQ, BUT TROOP LEVELS WILL REMAIN THE SAME
U.K. COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF ASSANGE EXTRADITION: A British court has ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the U.S. to face espionage charges.
The ruling, which is still subject to appeal, could mean Assange, 50, would be tried in U.S. federal court on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for obtaining and leaking thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents. Conviction could carry a prison term of up to 175 years.
DISASTER IN HAWAII: At this week’s Senate confirmation hearing for Adm. Christopher Grady to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono used her time to call attention to a crisis with the water supply in her state that is not only a public health disaster but has national security implications.
The problem is the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage facility in Oahu, which has leaked petroleum into drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“I'm not sure how familiar you or my colleagues are with the Red Hill fuel storage facility, but it is a huge complex that I liken to the Hoover Dam. Red Hill has 20 massive underground fuel storage tanks built into the side of a mountain that holds 250 million gallons of fuel to support military operations across the Indo Pacific,” Hirono said. “These tanks serve as a strategic war reserve in the event of a crisis. Red Hill sits 100 feet directly above Oahu's aquifer, which is the source of drinking water for all of Honolulu and the surrounding area threatening the safety of our clean drinking water.”
The water supply contamination is affecting some 100,000 military service members, their families, contractors, and other residents, and more than 2,800 families have been displaced weeks before the holidays, according to Hirono.
“This is not just the short-term matter to resolve the drinking water problem, which the Navy must do expeditiously, but also a long-term question about the department's plans for strategic fuel storage,” Hirono said. “Admiral, once confirmed, I'd like a commitment from you that Red Hill will be a top priority, both solving the short-term contamination issue and developing a credible long-term plan for the storage or for the strategic water reserve needs.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Grady said.
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FRIDAY | DECEMBER 10
8:30 a.m. — Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies virtual Spacepower Forum, with Lt. Gen. John Shaw, deputy commander of the U.S. Space Command; and retired Gen. Kevin Chilton, explorer chair for space warfighting studies at Mitchell Institute's Spacepower Advantage Research Center https://mitchellaerospacepower.org/event
11 a.m. — Heritage Foundation virtual discussion: “The Crisis in Belarus,” with U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher https://www.heritage.org/europe/event
11 a.m. — Cato Institute virtual discussion: “The Meaning of European Defense,” with French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Etienne; Joshua Shifrinson, associate professor of international relations at Boston University; Rachel Rizzo, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council; Justin Logan, senior fellow at Cato; and Peter Goettler, president and CEO of Cato https://www.cato.org/events/meaning-european-defense
12 p.m. — Woodrow Wilson Center Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies virtual book discussion on Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin's Russia, with author Timothy Frye, professor at Columbia University https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event
MONDAY | DECEMBER 13
9 a.m. — Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Aerospace Nation event with Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander, U.S. Air Forces, Europe, Africa, Allied Air Command, and director, Joint Air Power Competence Center. Moderated by retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean, Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. https://mitchellaerospacepower.org/event/aerospace-nation-gen-jeffrey-l-harrigian
12 p.m. — Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and the Advanced Nuclear Weapons Alliance Deterrence Center forum: ‘National Nuclear Security Administration, the Cornerstone of U.S. Strategic Nuclear Deterrence,” with Mark Anderson, assistant deputy administrator research, development, test and evaluation, National Nuclear Security Administration; E. Michael Campbell, director, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, University of Rochester; Mark Herrmann, deputy program director, fundamental weapons physics, program director for NIF/WCI Integration, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Kimberly Scott, program director, Office of Experimental Sciences,Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Daniel Sinars, director, Pulsed Power Sciences Center, Sandia National Laboratories https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nnsa-nuclear-weapons-stockpile-stewardship
12 p.m. — Association of the U.S. Army “Noon Report” webinar “Growing the Force for Tomorrow’s Army Reserve,” with Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew Lombardo, senior enlisted leader for the Army Reserve. https://www.bigmarker.com/ausaorg/AUSA-s-Noon-Report-CSM-Lombardo
2 p.m. — Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress virtual book discussion on “Building a Defense Strategy to Confront China,” with The Strategy of Denial author Elbridge Colby co-founder and principal, The Marathon Initiative; former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development. https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register
2 p.m. — CSIS International Security Program online event “Detect and Understand: Modernizing Intelligence for the Gray Zone,” with Michael Vickers, former undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and Jake Harrington, intelligence fellow in the CSIS International Security Program https://www.csis.org/events/conversation
TUESDAY | DECEMBER 14
1 p.m. — Center for a New American Security conversation with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger; and Stacie Pettyjohn, senior fellow and director of the CNAS Defense Program. https://www.cnas.org/events/fireside-chat
THURSDAY | DECEMBER 16
1:30 p.m. — CSIS Stephenson Ocean Security Project livestream event: “Ocean Security Forum 2021,” with Carlos Del Toro, secretary of the Navy; Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant, U.S. Coast Guard; Monica Medina, assistant secretary of state for oceans and international; Beth Lowell, vice president for U.S. campaigns, Oceana; Paul Woods, chief innovation officer, Global Fishing Watch; Duncan Copeland, executive director, Trygg Mat Tracking; Jared Dunnmon, technical director for AI and machine learning, DOD Defense Innovation Unit; Ian Ralby, CEO, I.R. Consilium; and Whit Saumweber, director, Stephenson Ocean Security Project https://www.csis.org/events/ocean-security-forum-2021
SATURDAY | DECEMBER 18
Arlington National Cemetery — National Wreaths Across America Day to place wreaths on the more than 253,000 headstones at Arlington National Cemetery to honor of the nation’s fallen service members and their families. @ArlingtonNatl
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"I learned that it is difficult to get anything done unless you can compromise — not your principles but your willingness to see the other side. Too many of us have sacrificed too much in defending that freedom from foreign adversaries to allow our democracy to crumble under a state of infighting that grows more unacceptable by the day.”
Sen. Bob Dole’s final message, composed just two weeks before he died and published in USA Today.