Saturday, October 8, 2011

Northern Wheatear

One of these birds, a Northern Wheatear, a close relative of the American Robin, is seen in Pennsylvania about once every ten or fifteen years. They're common in the arctic and occasionally an adventurous individual will wander down along the east coast from Greenland.
Northern Wheatear (photo by Geoff Malosh)
This one was found this week behind a Days Inn hotel in northern Lebanon county in Pennsylvania. A local resident said it'd been hanging around for several weeks, but until a birder from South Carolina who was staying at the hotel happened to spot it in the parking lot no one but the locals knew about it. Since the word got out, though, people have been coming from all over in a steady stream to see it.

It doesn't look particularly special because it's a juvenile and not yet in adult plumage. It's noteworthy because it's so rare.

Winds of War

According to debkafile, Iran is planning a massive retaliation on American-owned oil facilities in the Caspian Sea region in the event of an American or Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities:
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud warned on Sept. 28 that Iran runs a high risk of a military strike if it continues on the path to nuclear proliferation. "Some countries won't accept the prospect of Tehran reaching the threshold of nuclear armament," he said. "Personally I am convinced that it would be a very complicated operation...with disastrous consequences in the region."

Ambassador Araud's comment confirmed reports from debkafile's military sources in recent months that US and European sanctions against Iran had been ineffectual and the ayatollahs had no intention of slowing down on their drive for a nuclear weapon. The French diplomat was not the only one to raise the alarm this week about regional war clouds circling over Iran.

Sept. 9-26, the Russian army, joined by Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, deployed 12,000 troops in a huge combined military exercise code-named Center-2011 which simulated an Iranian attack on Caspian oil fields operated by American firms in reprisal for a US strike against Iranian nuclear sites.

Russian intelligence postulated an instantaneous Iranian reprisal for this strike and based the war game staged by Russian-led Collective Rapid Force and the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces of the Central Asian Region –CSTO – on this assumption.

Our military sources disclose that the forces taking part in the exercise were briefed for a two-stage scenario:

Stage One: An naval attack on the Caspian Sea coast coming from the south (Iran).

Stage Two: A large-scale air and ground attack from the south by 70 F-4 and F-5 fighter-bombers, namely, the bulk of Iran's air force, along with armored divisions, marine battalions and infantry brigades landing on the northern and eastern shores of the Caspian Sea.

The Russian briefing conjectured that the Iranian offensive would single out the Kazakh oil field at Mangustan on the Caspian coast, a field which debkafile reports Exxon Mobile is operating.

Moscow clearly attached the highest importance to the exercise and extreme credibility to the hypothetical scenario. Russian chief of staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov personally commanded the drills and on Monday, Sept. 26, President Dmitry Medvedev toured the field commands and units.

Tehran was not idle: Tuesday, the day before the war game ended, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the Iranian Navy, stated that Iranian warships would be deployed "close to US territorial waters," since the Islamic Republic of Iran considers the US presence in the Persian Gulf "illegitimate and makes no sense."

After Tehran rejected a recent US request to establish a "red phone" link between the countries to avoid unwanted confrontation between their armed forces in the Gulf region, Ali Fadavi, Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Navy chief, commented enigmatically: "When we are in the Gulf of Mexico, we will establish direct contact with the United States."
It wasn't clear from the debkafile piece whether the Russians would deploy against the Iranians or in concert with them.

At any rate, how much of this is bluster and how much is serious I certainly can't say, but it seems to me that an attack on an American-owned oil facility while the Iranian fleet sits in the Gulf of Mexico would be a fine way to relieve oneself of the financial burden of one's navy. I'm sure that the Iranians know this, which is why I'm also sure that they would not telegraph their punch.