The Cable

Situation Report: The Deal is done; Israel unhappy; the coming Gulf spending spree; U.S. soldiers learning from Ukrainian troops; Pentagon studying transgender troops; lots of robot news; and more

By Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley It starts here. An agreement has been reached. After an intense 18 days of negotiation, six world powers and Iran finally managed to strike a historic deal Tuesday to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. The agreement will prevent Iran ...

By Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley

It starts here. An agreement has been reached. After an intense 18 days of negotiation, six world powers and Iran finally managed to strike a historic deal Tuesday to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. The agreement will prevent Iran from producing enough material for a nuclear weapon for at least a decade while giving the international community access to Iranian facilities, including military sites, to ensure compliance.

For Iran, the deal will give the country access to more than $100 billion in assets frozen overseas — money that critics fear will be used to step up Tehran’s support for its armed proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere.

A key provision calls for the U.N. arms embargo on the country to stay in place for at least five more years, though it could end earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency can certify that Iran has stopped all work on nuclear weapons. A U.N. restriction on the transfer of ballistic missile technology to Tehran is set to stay in place for up to eight more years.

FP’s Colum Lynch and Dan De Luce tackle the highly contentious arms embargo issue, writing that U.S. negotiators believe the embargo — which prevents Iran from importing a range of military hardware, including warplanes and battle tanks — “has done little to impede Iran’s ability to arm and equip its proxies throughout the region, including in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.”

On the other hand, the agreement mostly leaves in place the infrastructure that Tehran has built up at its main nuclear sites, though much of it will be taken apart and placed in storage. Iran will also be allowed to continue enriching smaller amounts of lower-grade uranium and plutonium.

Fallout. The administration will now start trying to sell the deal to skeptics on Capitol Hill and throughout the Middle East, where both Israel and Gulf powers like Saudi Arabia believe the agreement will eventually allow for Iran to attain a bomb.

The deal will likely set off a new round of weapons buys by Gulf countries who have eyed the Iran talks warily. FP recently reported on the potential Gulfie wish list: more expensive missile defense systems, more long-range radar units, and better command and control equipment to stitch the region’s various missile defense batteries into a networked whole.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — one of the biggest critics of the talks on the world stage — said on Tuesday in Jerusalem that the deal was “a historic mistake for the world,” since “in every area where it was supposed to prevent Iran attaining nuclear arms capability, there were huge compromises.”

Netanyahu gave a high-profile speech on Capitol Hill lobbying against a potential deal earlier this year; now that one has been reached he and Israel’s top diplomats are sure to do what they can to derail the deal or tighten its terms.

Speaking early Tuesday morning at the White House, President Barack Obama said that the deal “is not built on trust, it is built on verification,” while insisting that the U.S. would reinstate sanctions — and potentially use force — if Iran cheated and continued work towards a nuclear weapon. Obama also said he would veto any attempt by the Republican-controlled Congress to scuttle the agreement.

Meanwhile, in Iraq. The presence of the almost year-long deployment of U.S. trainers and intel analysts to Iraq is being felt in the fight to take back the city of Ramadi, with two U.S.-trained and supplied Iraqi Army brigades now operating near the city, and dozens of coalition airstrikes pounding Islamic State positions over the past two days.

A spokesperson for the coalition tells FP that U.S. planners are also helping draw up battle plans, offering command and control, and working intelligence collection activities with the Iraqis as they kick off the fight to take back the city. On Sunday and Monday, 29 coalition airstrikes hit Islamic State positions around Ramadi, wiping out 67 targets, as Iraqi forces push toward the city that fell in May to small jihadist force.

Elsewhere, mostly Iranian-backed Shiite militia fighters are surrounding Fallujah, the city of 500,000 that saw the U.S. Marines and Army engage on brutal house-to-house fighting in two assaults in 2004.

Training the trainers? An unexpected twist in another critical U.S. training mission is seeing American soldiers learning about Russian tactics — including how to react to electronic warfare attacks — from the Ukrainian national guard troops they’re training in western Ukraine.

“All of these guys are veterans,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, head of U.S. Army Europe told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. “I was talking to [US] noncommissioned officers who’ve been with the Ukrainians, and they were like, wow, ‘these guys, they’ve done stuff we’ve never seen…so we’ve actually learned a lot from them.”

Hodges said that while he doesn’t expect a big Russian offensive in Ukraine in the near future, he did say that there are still thousands of well-supplied Russian troops stacked up in eastern Ukraine and near the Russian border that can move out quickly. He also downplayed the idea of a major offensive against the southern industrial center and port city of Mariupol. The Russians are almost certainly interested in piecing together a land route between Russia and occupied Crimea, where Moscow has 25,000 troops it has to resupply by air, but “that would be such a huge fight that it would be impossible for the rebels to do by themselves,” Hodges said. “That would remove any facade of ‘there’s no Russian participation.’”

Opening doors. In a potential seismic shift in personnel policy for the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Monday kicked off a six-month working group to explore what he called the Pentagon’s “outdated” policies when it comes to integrating transgender service members into the military. Led by Brad Carson, Carter’s newly-appointed under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, the group — composed of both military and civilian personnel — will report to Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work. In a statement, the SecDef said that the working group “will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness.” Carter also ordered a evaluation of all discharges for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender.

Good morning from the crew at the Situation Report, where we’re tracking nuke deals, arms embargoes, and everything else happening out there. We’re always happy to hear from you about breaking news, new reports, big ideas, and the like. Hit us up at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary and @arawnsley.

Russia

Moscow Times columnist Alexander Golts argues that Russia’s war in Ukraine is killing  the country’s attempts at reforming its military. For years, Russia has tried to modernize its military by increasing the percentage of professional soldiers over conscripts. There have been reports that contract soldiers from the 33rd Brigade have deserted their posts after their commanders pressured them to ‘volunteer’ for service in Russia’s covert war in Ukraine. The desertion of professional, volunteer soldiers, Golts argues, indicates that Russian military commanders are failing to create the necessary climate to recruit and retain a professional, modern force.

Yet another disaster has struck Russia’s air force. A Tu-95 bomber crashed in Russia’s Far East on Tuesday. The incident marks the second incident involving a Tu-95 and the sixth involving a Russian military aircraft, all within the past month. The pilots were reportedly able to eject from the aircraft. Analysts and a Russian Defense Ministry source point to the increased optempo following the invasion of Ukraine, an aging fleet and poor sustainment practices as likely causes for the spate of crashes.

Son of JIEDDO

The Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is dead, long live the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency (JIDA). Yesterday the Pentagon announced that JIDA will take the place of JIEDDO, the much-criticized agency in charge of countering the weapons that have caused the most damage to U.S. troops over the past 14 years. JIDA will inherit JIEDDO’s counter-IED responsibilities along with a broader mission to “to look at the next IED,” the agency’s vice director, Army Maj. Gen. Julie A. Bentz, said on Monday. JIDA, Gen. Bentz said, will be tasked with looking “upstream” at the networks developing IEDs.

Syria

An interview with a captured Syrian Air Force colonel offers new details on the apparently declining state of Bashar al-Assad’s air force and the mechanics behind the regime’s most iconic weapon, the barrel bomb. Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group fighting against the Assad regime in Syria, let Al-Jazeera interview the officer, who claimed that Syria is relying on naval helicopters because the Syrian air force has lost 90 percent of its rotary wing fleet. He also claimed that Syrian troops use iPads to aim chopper-borne barrel bombs, the improvised bombs that have caused such devastation in Syria’s densely populated cities, relying on the tablets to calculate wind and aircraft speed. While helicopters are allegedly in short supply, the captured officer did say the Syrian air force still has a number of MiG fighter jets.

Robots!

One step closer to Gundam! American and Japanese robotics companies are set to square off in a giant, human-piloted robot fight. Megabots, the American firm, summed up the motivation in a succinct message to its Japanese counterparts, “Suidobashi, we have a giant robot, you have a giant robot. You know what needs to happen.” The Megabots’ Mark II, equipped with a paintball machine gun, will fight Suidobashi Heavy Industries’ Kuratas, which has a B.B. Gatling gun. Whether the matchup will be a gunfight or a melee, however, remains to be settled.

Over at PopSci, Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer take a look at China’s up and coming mechanical exoskeleton. Mechanical exoskeletons are all the rage in defense technology circles here in the U.S., arising out of the need to keep troops moving farther and longer as militaries saddle them with ever more gear. Here in the States, Lockheed Martin is working on the HULC frame. In China, the 201 Institute is working on its own exoskeleton, aimed at letting troops carry an extra 100 pounds for 20 kilometers at roughly 4.5 km/hour.

More new tech

President Obama’s nominee for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford may be angling for a return of the flying lightsaber concept, a system that looks to zap missiles in the boost phase. In written responses to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Dunford signaled his support for the airborne laser concept, saying that a directed energy weapon shows promise in targeting missiles during the boost phase.

With Islamic State-linked jihadis conducting large scale attacks against Egyptian police and army targets in the Sinai lately, Israel is responding to the threat with anti-MANPADS systems for its airlines traveling to the southern city of Eilat on the Red Sea. The SkyShield system will be used for flights from Arkia and Israir airlines. Similar to many of the countermeasures seen on U.S. military helicopters, the system uses infrared jamming to confuse the seeker heads on surface-to-air missiles.

Who’s where when

9:30 a.m. Senate Armed Services Committee holds a confirmation hearing for two U.S. Air Force generals: Gen. Paul J. Selva, to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. and Gen. Darren McDew to be commander, U.S. Transportation Command

10:00 a.m. Center for American Progress holds an event on “Confronting ISIS One Year On: A Conversation With Special Presidential Envoy Gen. John Allen.”

Think tanked

The Jamestown Foundation looks at series of recent reports about Houthi rebel incursions from Yemen into Saudi Arabia, which have led to deadly attacks on Saudi troops, particularly in Najran province in southwestern Saudi Arabia close to the Yemeni border. The reports identifies some tricky ethnic and religious fault lines in the region, noting that “Najran has a significant presence of Ismaili Shi’as, who historically formed a majority in the city and surrounding areas, and also a small number of Zaydi Shi’as, hailing from the same sect as Yemen’s Houthi movement.”

 

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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