Will strikes on Iran be Trump's Plan B?

The world is breathing a collective sigh of relief after General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy officially contacted the team of president-elect Joe Biden, marking the Trump administration's belated initiation of the transition process. However, the widespread portrayal that Trump has blinked and is accepting Biden's victory is highly questionable at best. Both Murphy's Nov. 23 letter and Trump's tweet about it state that the decision was Murphy's, taken unilaterally, and that Trump is continuing to contest the election results. Murphy was likely facing what she thought to be the inevitable—Michigan lawmakers had that same day resisted Trump pressure and certified Biden's win in the state, while Trump's legal team got laughed out of court in Pennsylvania. However, the team continues to appeal and is conceding nothing. So no, Trump may not have blinked. And if his Plan A of a judicial coup fails, he and his cabinet may now be preparing the hypothesized Plan B....

Along with the news of Murphy's capitulation come reports that the US has deployed numerous heavy (and potentially nuclear-armed) bombers to the Middle East. The Times of Israel writes that "the B-52H Stratofortress planes were seen flying toward Israeli airspace on Saturday en route to the base where they will be stationed, likely in Qatar." 

Simultaneously, Yemen's (Iran-backed) Houthi rebels have conveniently claimed responsibility for a missile that struck a Saudi Aramco oil distribution facility in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea port of Jeddah. This is a replay of a similar unnerving scenario which sparked a brief spasm of war jitters just over a year ago.

Finally, while it is being officially denied by the Israelis, there are widespread reports of a secret meeting over the weekend between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman at the Saudi techno-city of NEOM. And this comes just days after the disconcerting news that Trump had gathered his cabinet and advisors for a White House conclave weighing the options for military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities.

You don't have to be on drugs to be seeing patterns here. Trita Parsi, VP of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, tweets

So Netanyahu secretly visited Saudi Arabia yesterday...

Are Bibi and the Saudis preparing an attack against Iran? Is it a psyop aimed at goading Iran into war?

Or is the actual target the incoming Biden team, with the aim of deterring the US from seeking diplomacy with Tehran?

We consider that the most innocent interpretation. Recall that over the summer, Trump actually broached postponement of the election under pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic. His Plan B could be postponement (read: cancellation) of the presidential transition under pretext of a world crisis of his own making. 

We will be all too happy to be dismissed as paranoid freaks for having raised this possibility come Inauguration Day. But remember... You read it here first.

Iran: top nuclear scientist killed in attack

Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed in an ambush on his vehicle by unidentified gunman outside Tehran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter. "This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators." (NPR)

There was a string of deadly attacks on figures associated with Iran's nuclear program in 2011-2.

Did robots kill Iranian scientist?

Iranian officials now claim that Israel killed top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh using a gun in either a remote-controlled or entirely automated mount on a pickup truck and that no actual human assassins were involved. (The Drive)

Iran moves to increase uranium enrichment

Iran’s Guardian Council approved a bill Dec. 2 that would increase uranium enrichment and stop UN inspections of nuclear sites, measures that go against the 2015 nuclear deal, if sanctions are not eased against Iran within two months. (Jurist)

SCOTUS turns down challenge to Pennsylvania election

In amusingly terse and dismissive language, the US Supreme Court denied injunctive relief on Dec. 8 to Pennsylvania Republicans seeking to block certification of the state's election results on the ground that the expansion of mail-in ballots violated the state constitution. (Jurist)

To us, this just means the Plan B looms closer...

Pentagon acknowledges sending bombers to Persian Gulf

The Pentagon is now confirming reports that it dispatched bombers to the Persian Gulf. A statement from US Central Command and statements from officials, two B-52H "Stratofortresses" flew from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on a roughly 36-hour mission that included a loop around Qatar, staying closer to the western side of the Gulf and outside Iranian airspace. Aircraft from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar flew with the US planes during portions of the mission. (NBC)

We just hope they aren't trolling for a Gulf of Tonkin incident...

SCOTUS turns down new challenge to election

The US Supreme Court late Dec. 11 denied the motion for leave to file a complaint in Texas v. Pennsylvania, which had sought to invalidate election results in four swing states that President Donald Trump lost in the November election: Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claimed there was rampant lawlessness in the defendant states. The suit was supported by 17 states and 126 Republican lawmakers who signed an amicus brief urging the court to hear the case.

The motion was denied for lack of standing, with the court stating that "Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections." 

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas stated that they believed the court lacks discretion to deny filing in any case where it has original jurisdiction; they said they would have granted Texas' motion but also made clear that they would not have granted any relief in the case. (Jurist)

US imposes new sanctions on Iran

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Iranian Interior Ministry officials, who it said were "involved in the abduction, detention and probable death" of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent. (NYT, Politico)

US nuclear submarine transits waterway near Iran

A US nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine traversed the strategically vital waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula on Dec. 21, the Navy said, a rare announcement that comes amid rising tensions with Iran.

The Navy’s 5th Fleet based in Bahrain said the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia, accompanied by two other warships, passed through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passageway through which a fifth of the world's oil supplies travel. (AP)