Covid-19, Iran, and the Middle East

An Interview with Dr. Stephen Bryen

by Jerry Gordon and Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant (April 2020)



US Troops at Camp El Taji in Iraq hit by rockets fired by Iran-controlled Kaitaib Hezollah militia, March 11, 2020



The Coronavirus Pandemic has not stopped Iran’s proxy war machine from attacking undefended US bases in Iraq. According to the latest World Health Organization report as of March 29, 2020, Iran ranks sixth in the world with 38,309 cases and 2,640 fatalities caused by the spread of the novel virus.  In contrast, the US, Spain and Italy appear to be accelerating the spread of COVID-19 with new cases reported as the epicenter of the Pandemic has shifted to the West.


Among those infected and fatalities in Iran were several IRGC senior officers, a Senior Ayatollah, a health minister and a key adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei. Iran has not adopted a disciplined approach to control the community spread of the novel and deadly virus. As Lebanon is also afflicted with the coronavirus, amid a roiling economic crisis, it has announced that it will be locked down for two weeks, effectively barring travel from several countries in the Gulf region, notably Iran.


The contrast is with what Israel has done to defend against the novel virus. It has implemented a partial lockdown, called up reservists in its Medical Corps to bolster its health system requested its citizen abroad return home. As of March 29, 2020, Israel has 3,865 coronavirus cases and 15 fatalities. Meanwhile, the MIGAL medical research center in northern Galilee appears to have a running start on development of a promising oral vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus based on transfer from infected poultry to humans.


Despite the onslaught of the coronavirus, Iran’s Shiite proxies in Iraq, were engaged in a rocket war with US and coalition forces bases north and south of Baghdad. It is the continuing revenge campaign by the Shiite Popular Mobilization Force Kataib Hezbollah militia, whose commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed in a US drone hellfire missile attack in late December 2019 that also took out the late Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. The revenge campaign began with the January 8, 2020 Iranian short-range precision ballistic missile attack on the al Asad airbase in Western Iraq that injured dozens of US personnel. Last week witnessed a series of Katyusha and Grad rocket attacks on El Taji and Bismayah coalition bases in Iraq resulting in killing of US and UK soldiers and contractors and injuring Iraqi air defense soldiers and Polish NATO trainers. These attacks brought a warning from US Defense Secretary Esper followed by launch of US coalition air attacks on Kataib Hezbollah weapons facilities that produced casualties, among them suspected IRGC officers and Shiite proxy fighters. Following these attacks, the US announced it was rushing Patriot air defense batteries to these bases that may not be effective against short range rocket, mortar and missile threats. The US Army has yet to deploy the two Iron Dome batteries it purchased from Israel’s Rafael Industries that could address this rocket threat.



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This conundrum about the gap in US short range rocket defense prompted us to bring back Dr. Stephen Bryen for a wide ranging discussions about the lack of an adequate US defense against Iran and proxy precision rockets and missiles, Turkey’s surprising armed drones used in Syria armed with Umtas or Mizrak missiles similar to Israel’s Spike missile. Also addressed is the conflicted relations between Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin, backer of the Assad Regime, in the battle for geo-political dominance in Syria and in Libya.


Dr. Bryen is a former Reagan era Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for technical security, a noted Military Technologist and Asia Times Columnist. Bryen found the US Army rationale for not deploying the two Iron Dome batteries for base defense in the Middle East as both “incomprehensible and irresponsible.” He contends that deploying the Patriot batteries would be like launching a “$1 million missile to take down the equivalent of a $1,000 rocket.” He considers the alleged explanation for the cancellation that Rafael Industries refusal to supply the source codes as questionable as it is not required for integration of Iron Dome in a US layered defense system. He speculates that perhaps Raytheon, a partner in the development of Iron Dome—it supplies the sensors for the Tamir interceptors—might be angling to convince the Army to develop a competitive system. Bryen noted that Raytheon was involved in the lobbying effort with the Army that ended the billion-dollar MEADS international development program.




Michael Peck writing in The National Interest blog “Israel’s Iron Dome System Has Cracked“ noted comments in Congressional testimony of General John Murray of the Army Future Command:


A top U.S. Army general told Congress that Iron Dome can’t be integrated into the Army’s new Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) air and missile defense system. Despite Army protests, Congress in 2019 mandated the Army buy two Iron Dome batteries. But in February 2020, General John Murray, chief of Army Futures Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that Iron Dome was not compatible with IBCS.


It took us longer to acquire those two batteries than we would have liked for a lot of different reasons,” Murray testified.


We believe we cannot integrate them into our air defense system based upon some interoperability challenges, some cyber [security] challenges, and some other challenges. So, what we ended up having is two stand-alone batteries that will be very capable, but they cannot be integrated. My assessment right now is, it would be—and I hate to ever use the word ‘impossible’ —but exceptionally difficult to integrate Iron Dome into our layered air defense architecture [and] to get Iron Dome talk to other systems, other radars, specifically the Sentinel radar,” Murray told a reporter for Breaking Defense.


What you’re probably—almost certainly—going to see is two standalone systems, and if the best we can do is standalone systems, we do not want to buy another two batteries.


Peck noted the rebuttal to General Murray’s Armed Services Congressional testimony by Army Space and Missile Command chief Lt. General Karbler:


Yet other U.S. commanders seem to wish they could have more Iron Domes, after pro-Iranian militias in Iraq killed two Americans and one Briton in a rocket attack on Camp Taji, Iraq, on March 11th. “We know that Iron Dome has a combat-proven capability,” Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, head of Army Space and Missile Defense Command told Army Times. “I’ve got to assume that it would have worked, given it was in the optimal state of readiness as well as positioned to defend that particular asset.”


Peck raised the issue of why General Murray testified against use of Israel’s Iron Dome system:


The more interesting question is what this means for missile defense overall. Whatever its merits or flaws, Iron Dome is the most combat-tested defense system of its kind. It has become the poster child for missile defense, offering the dream that soldiers and civilians can be protected not just from ICBMs, but also from tactical rockets and mortar shells.


Given the Grad and Katyusha rocket attacks on US coalition bases in Iraq cited by General Karbler, Bryen’s criticism warrants Congressional Armed Services Committee oversight hearings on why Iron Dome batteries were not deployed to deal with the lethal threats of Iran’s Iraqi Shiite proxies.


Against this background what follows is the Israel News Talk RadioBeyond the Matrix with Dr. Stephen Bryen.




Rod Bryant: Thank you so much for joining us. Steve, there were UK and US soldiers who were killed and injured by rocket attacks at the Al-Taji, coalition base north of Baghdad. That sparked retaliation by coalition air resulting in casualties. Was Iran behind the attack by its Shiite Iraqi militia proxy?


Stephen Bryen: It is certain that it was Shia proxies who launched the Katyushas. Whether there were Iranians standing next to them is speculative. However, I would note that when the US retaliated at least one or two Iranians were killed in the retaliation operation against the Shia proxy, which is a Hezbollah spin off. The chances are the IRGC were standing there and helping them. I think the weapons come from Iran in close coordination with these Shia groups in Iraq. There is no doubt where these weapons came from.


Rod Bryant: There are reports that the IRGC Generals and Ayatollahs are among the dead in Iran. Do you think that this is going to have a serious effect on their ability to continue the proxy campaigns against the US in Iraq and Israel in Syria?


Jerry Gordon: Steve, the US has close to 90,000 troops in bases in the Middle East and in South Asia. What anti-rocket and short-range missile defense systems do these bases have, if any, given these recent attacks?


Rod Bryen: The Patriot batteries are primarily high-altitude defense weapons.


Jerry Gordon: Steve, with that in mind, the US Army is allegedly considering ending a proposed billion-dollar buy of the Israeli jointly developed Iron Dome System.


Rod Bryant: What was all the discussion about codes? That Israel was not willing to share certain source codes.


Stephen Bryen: The army was demanding from Israel that they turn over the source codes for the Iron Dome System and the Israeli company Rafael said no.



Rod Bryant: I wonder sometimes if contractors might have a play in this whole thing.


Stephen Bryen: Well, I think that they do.


Rod Bryen: Like Raytheon?


Rod Bryant: Wow.


Stephen Bryen: The US backed out of it after spending a couple of billion dollars.




Stephen Bryen: The secret sauce is it must cost more than a billion dollars, or it isn’t worth it.


Jerry Gordon: Steve, Turkey is apparently using armed drones in the battle against Assad in Idlib province. So, what can you tell us?


Jerry Gordon: Erdogan has been acting dangerously in his search to control Idlib province, including trying to invoke NATO Articles 4 and 5, over three dozen dead Turkish soldiers. What’s going on there?


Jerry Gordon: Erdogan then tried to attack the EU via Greece, by unloading thousands of refugees from the battles in Idlib.


Rod Bryant: What leverage does Putin have to bring Erdogan into line in Syria?


Rod Bryant: Do you think we would be forced to help him?



Stephen Bryen: I think he rattled very hard. I suspect that Erdogan was there with his tail between his legs during the Moscow meetings. Yes.


Rod Bryant: I was wondering if it was special relationship.


Rod Bryant: W ould the United States somehow come to the aid of Turkey, if that happened?





Jerry Gordon: There are news reports that the Israel Air Force appears to be attacking chemical weapons that pose a threat inside Syria and in the process killing Iranian generals.


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Rod Bryant: How is chlorine delivered?


Rod Bryant: Just powdered chlorine?



Jerry Gordon: Are Turkey and Russia trying to take over those oil fields held by Kurdish and US forces in eastern Syria?


Rod Bryant: Israel appears to have been on the forefront of developing a virus test and vaccines for the coronavirus Pandemic. Why is Israel on the forefront of this and no other advanced countries perhaps even the United States?



Rod Bryant: Absolutely.


Rod Bryant: Or not trusting the government.


Rod Bryant: Wash your hands.



Stephen Bryen: Exactly. The less they understand, the worse it is.


Rod Bryant: Absolutely. We have had an informative interview with you Steve. Hopefully, we will have you come back, soon. We say shalom from Beyond the Matrix until next time.


Listen to the Israel News Talk Radio—Beyond the Matrix interview with Dr. Stephen Bryen or watch this Netiv—Online You Tube video of the Israel News Talk Radio—Beyond the Matrix interview with Dr. Stephen Bryen



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Jerome B Gordon is a Senior Vice President of the New English Review, author of The West Speaks, NER Press 2012, and co-author of Genocide in Sudan: Caliphate Threatens Africa and the World, JAD Publishing, 2017. Mr. Gordon is a former US Army intelligence officer who served during the Viet Nam era. He is producer and co-host of Israel News Talk Radio—Beyond the Matrix. He was the co-host and co-producer of weekly The Lisa Benson Show for National Security that aired out of KKNT960 in Phoenix Arizona from 2013 to 2016 and co-host and co-producer of the Middle East Round Table periodic series on 1330amWEBY, Northwest Florida Talk Radio, Pensacola, Florida from 2007 to 2017.


Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant is creator and host of Israel News Talk Radio—Beyond the Matrix.

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast