Surprise Pick for New NATO Commander

March 28, 2013

This item just came across the news wire. I know it is not an intelligence-related item, but it really caught me by surprise. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has just announed that President Obama intends to nominate General Phillip M. Breedlove, USAF, the current commander of U.S.  Air Forces Europe (USAFE), to be the next Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and commander of U.S. E uropean Command (EUCOM).

I was suprised because Breedlove was junior to a lot of other generals and admirals with a lot more experience working in a multinational military environment in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you look at his bio, General Breedlove, who is a traditional USAF “fighter jock," does not have any high-level command experience in either a joint services or multinational combat environment. I also don’t see any evidence that he has served tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. His last job before moving to USAFE in July 2012 was as vice chief of staff of the USAF from January 2011 to July 2012.

I don’t know how General Breedlove’s nomination will play in NATO command circles. I guess we shall find out soon.

The American Perception of the State of Israeli Security

September 4, 2012

Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientisists (FAS) has placed online excerpts of the March 2012 closed-door testimony of Admiral James G. Stavridis, the commander-in-chief of U.S. European Command (EUCOM), before the House Armed Services Committee.

Amongst the interesting items contained in the volume is this assessment of the security threat to Israel by Admiral Stavridis:

“Admiral STAVRIDIS. First, while Israel is certainly in a volatile region of the world, I would argue that the threats to Israel have not increased in the last year. If you take the broad view of the history of the modern state of Israel, it is certainly more secure now that it was in 1948, 1967, 1973, or even during the First or Second Intifadas. Israel currently has signed peace treaties with two of its four neighbors. A third neighbor, Syria, is currently undergoing a period of serious internal unrest and is in no position to threaten Israel militarily. The terrorist threat posed by Lebanese Hezbollah from within the fourth neighbor has been deterred from overt attacks since the war in 2006. Moreover, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has renounced violence. Unrest in the West Bank has subsided significantly over the last few years. Similarly, since Operation Cast Lead in 2008, rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip have never been more than sporadic. The most recent attack, from March 9–12, saw nearly 250 rockets launched without causing a single Israeli casualty.”

In other words, EUCOM (and ipso facto the U.S. intelligence community) believes that Israel is in much better shape today from a security standpoint than it has been in many years.

What is curious is that this assessment differs markedly from that of senior Israeli government officials, who continue to see threats all around them. For example, Israeli government officials continue to believe that Hezbollah in Lebanon poses a direct threat to Israeli security despite the fact that there have been no armed clashes between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters in over six years. Then there is the question of the threat to Israel posed by Iran. Israeli officials, such as defense minister Ehud Barak, think that Iran is well on its way to building a nuclear weapon. But the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and a number of former and current senior Israeli intelligence officials have publicly stated that they believe that Ehud Barak and his supporters in the Israeli cabinet are distorting the danger posed by Iran.

So how are we supposed to reconcile these two diametrically opposing views? I know for a fact that the U.S. intelligence community agrees with Admiral Stavridis’ views. And today the Israeli intelligence community presented their annual threat briefing to the Israeli cabinet, which as I understand it, differs significantly from some of the more alarmist statements coming from Israeli civilian officials in recent months. So who are we supposed to believe?