Failing to Confront Iran

An Interview with Dr. Stephen Bryen

by Jerry Gordon and Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant (December 2019)


Iran Proxy in Gaza. Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 450 Rockets into Israel, November 12 and 13, 2019



The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to breach the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal by ramping up uranium enrichment at the Fordow and stockpiling of heavy water at Arak. Those violations may enable Iran to produce enough fissile material for multiple nuclear weapons within a year. Successful strikes by Iranian cruise missiles in Saudi Arabia prompted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Kochavi to warn of credible Iranian threats to launch precision missile strikes against Israel from Yemen, Syria and possibly Gaza.


On November 12, 2019, the Iranian proxy in Gaza—Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—launched a two day barrage of over 450 rockets against targets in Southern and Central Israel. Israel retaliated with air strikes killing PIJ leader Baha Abu al-Ata and several others in Gaza and destroyed PIJ  offices in Damascus. Many believe that the PIJ was following the orders of the IRGC. PIJ can acquire precision rockets and missiles from Iran via smuggling by sea with delivery by small boats and from the Sinai through tunnels into Gaza.


Hezbollah receives such missiles via Iranian air deliveries to Damascus airport, despite frequent Israeli air and missile attacks. Hamas did not participate in this latest rocket attack on Israel. That was followed a week later on November 20, 2019 with a massive IAF air assault destroying 20 IRGC and Assad regime targets in Syria.


rumors by a Chinese news agency about Russia possibly obtaining an Israeli David Sling air defense system Stunner interceptor missile in Syria. The Stunner interceptor missile, jointly developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Systems and US partner Raytheon, is equipped with sophisticated digital radar, embedded software and electro optical systems enabling it to discriminate decoys from targets at a range of over 190 miles. These Stunner interceptor capabilities makes it a valuable standoff air defense system for Israel against Iranian cruise missiles and drones. It is far superior to the US Patriot Missile air defense system that failed to intercept a swarm of ground hugging Iranian cruise missiles with advanced detachable warheads that made precision strikes on oil tanks in Saudi Arabia in September.


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war with Iran. Instead, the Trump Administration is engaging in a campaign of “maximum pressure “including ratcheting up sanctions against key IRGC officials and controlled institutions. Despite this Iran has doggedly pursued its nuclear program and regional support for terrorist proxies, estimated at $16 billion annually.


November 2019 saw the eruption of violent protests throughout Iran triggered by a 50% increase in gas prices and rationing. The IRGC and paramilitaries launched brutal repression against protesters resulting in an estimated 400 killed, more than 4,000 injured and several hundred arrested. The Islamic Regime shut down access to the internet for Iranians for more than 113 hours during the peak of the protests. Trump’s abandoning the Iran nuclear pact and the maximum pressure sanctions campaign cut off Iran’s oil revenues contributed to the current economic unrest.


The US is not supporting regime change in Iran despite a large opposition in the country. Former US national security adviser John Bolton left because he was at loggerheads with Trump as Bolton’s advice on these issues was not valued.


The rise of violent protests in both Lebanon and Iraq against Iran were in effect pushback against Iran’s regional hegemony intentions in both countries. However, Hezbollah still has sway in Lebanon questioning continuing US support for Lebanon’s military that amounts to training terrorists.


Trump sent a US armored force to protect oil facilities in eastern Syria may have been a ploy to trade with Russia and Assad who needed revenues to pay for the War in Syria. Instead, Dr. Stephen Bryen of The Asia Times believes what the US should pursue seizing IRGC general officers in Syria to exchange for release of captive Americans in Iran. One such US hostage in Iran is former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in March 2007 on what some alleged was an unauthorized CIA mission meeting an American Shiite convert and assassin on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. Iran recently acknowledged that Levinson had gone “missing.”


With this in mind, Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant and Jerry Gordon of Israel News Talk Radio- Beyond the Matrix held this wide-ranging interview with Dr. Stephen Bryen.


Jerry: Thanks, Rod.


Rod: We have an interesting topic that we would like to introduce. We are bringing back Stephen Bryen. We are asking a fundamental question. What has happened with United States and Israel’s posture toward dealing with Iran?


Rod: It almost seems like a foregone conclusion that they have decided there is nothing we can do about Iran’s threat besides trying to contain them. Would you introduce Stephen Bryen for our listeners?


Jerry:  Stephen Bryen is a former Reagan era Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. He is a noted military technologist and he is a closely followed columnist for the Asia Times.


Rod: Once again we have Stephen Bryen to discuss what is going on with in the Middle East. We are immediately concerned about a report about an Israeli David’s Sling missile that allegedly went missing that may have fallen into the hands of the Russians. An episode, if confirmed, some experts in Israel were saying was not a big deal. What is your opinion, Steve?




Rod: Well I mean obviously Raytheon has had the Patriot system on life support for a long time trying to provide the upgrades. It did have a role during the Gulf War. However, I think it was also time for the United States to find a different anti-missile system.


Rod: Especially if it drops down in a populated area. I was in an air defense a unit during the Gulf War when you could see it explode at 2500 feet which is scary.


Rod: One of the big concerns that they had in the past is if hostile missiles had a chemical weapons payload it would pretty much be useless knocking it out of the sky as it just still going to shower the target area. Thank God that has never happened.


Jerry: Steve, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warned about Iran preparing precision missile launching pads exactly in the location you were just talking about in Yemen so does Iran really have precision missiles capable of reaching Israel from Yemen, Syria and Lebanon?


Stephen: The answer is probably yes. We are talking about cruise missiles. We are not talking about ballistic missiles. That is what the Prime Minister of Israel was talking about, cruise missiles. The attacks in Saudi Arabia were a big eye-opener for everybody.  If you remember the photos of the three gas tanks, the huge gas tanks that were hit, they were all hit in the same spot at the same angle of attack. That was quite a feat. I have a friend in Israel who is probably the world’s best missile defense expert, Uzi Rubin. Uzi told me that what they used were optical homing systems probably with infrared optics because these missiles were fired at 4:30 in the morning.


These missiles and drones with fitted with pattern recognition capabilities. That means that if they prepared the right scene for the missile or drone well ahead of time, a picture of those Saudi oil tanks, for example, and designated where they wanted it to hit it would go ahead and do that automatically. That is new because as far as we know they never had that level of sophistication before. That is what the Israelis are concerned about. Iranian technology is effective against fixed targets, not moving targets. That means important military locations could be directly targeted. Up to now most of the missiles that have been fired by the Houthis and by the Iranians through their proxies Hezbollah, Hamas and others are what we call sort of terrorist weapons designed to intimidate people and kill civilians. The idea is to create havoc. However, with these new Iranian missiles and drones, as the attack in Saudi Arabia showed, they could do precision targeting. This means they have accurate weapons that can be used against military targets. This is what concerns the Israelis. They must decide what needs to be done about this new threat.


the outbreak of a precision missile war with Iran. What is the IDF doing to prepare for such a possibility particularly considering what you just discussed?



Stephen: I understand the missiles are coming either by sea or they smuggle them in at night on small boats offloaded from larger vessels offshore. Or they are coming through the Sinai area and through tunnels into Gaza. That is how the PIJ is getting them from Iran. The ones Iran ships to Hezbollah are coming in mainly through the Damascus Airport.


Rod: I know that Israel has a very rigorous interdiction program. However, obviously they are not able to get most of the missiles that are being shipped and received.


Stephen: I think they are getting the vast minority.


Rod: Oh, really?


Stephen: Yes, I mean they are not getting much at all. I mean these guys have thousands of these things. My comment was sarcastic.

Jerry: Steve with that in mind, Hezbollah and Houthi have, as you said before, access to a new kind of missile that detaches the warhead and essentially makes it difficult to pick up on radar.


Stephen: Right.


Stephen: The short answer is the David Sling. It is a sophisticated system which can discriminate targets and deal with not only with warhead separation but also with decoys. It is a very sophisticated system that combines digital radar with electro-optical capabilities. It is very smart, and it has a long standoff range. I think that we will see the David Sling as Israel’s primary air defense system.


Rod: Could the David Sling Stunner missile that supposedly the Russians may have, be reversed engineered in such a way to develop a countermeasure?


Jerry: Iran has thrown down a gauntlet with its pursuit of uranium enrichment with the loading of gasses into centrifuges at the heavily protected Fordow facility near Qom in Iran. How rapidly can Iran enrich uranium to produce weapon grade fissile material. Has Tehran essentially abandoned the 2015 Nuclear Deal?


Rod: Can we expect a response from the United States or Israel to preclude this from happening? Or is it a foregone conclusion that they are going to have the capabilities and there is nothing that we can do about it?



Jerry: Was that one of the reasons why John Bolton resigned? He was an advocate for regime change in Iran.


Jerry: Wow.


Rod: Are massive protests in both Iraq and Lebanon aimed at Iran and its proxies? Does that pose a significant threat to Iran’s regional ambitions?


Stephen: Yes, that is pretty good news in the sense that it does slow them down at least for the time being. There is popular unhappiness with having the Iranians operating in their own countries. Especially in Iraq and in Lebanon we are seeing that and eventually we may see it in Syria.


Rod: Basically, has Iran worn out their welcome in those countries and is that a good sign for us?


Jerry: Steve, does that mean that Hezbollah in Lebanon is on its back foot now or has it still got swagger?


Rod: I wanted to ask you for a quick update about the northeastern Syrian region where we withdrew.



Rod: Well we are going to find out whether the withdrawal from Syria that the President made was either brilliant or wrongheaded. It is going to take some time before we can figure that one out.


Stephen: The consensus in the world is that it was a blunder.


Rod: Yes, it seems that way and there are a lot of people in the military that feel the same way.


Stephen: A lot of dead of people too.



Rod: The art of the deal?


Rod: I think he would rather play a chess game with oil than humans. However, we have the capability to seize these Iranian generals that are in countries like Iraq and Syria.


Stephen: I think we should be more aggressive on these matters and not just let the Americans rot in an Iranian jail.


Rod: Right.


Jerry: One of those Americans rotting away in a jail is a US citizen from Florida, ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson. I have followed that episode for several years. I noticed Trump said it might be a good thing if Iran released him. Your conception of seizing an IRGC Senior General and trading him for Bob Levinson would send a star rocket of thanks here in the state of Florida, especially from his family in Coral Springs.


Rod: A big message.


Rod: For the audience who may or may not know about Levinson supposedly he was over there that he was visiting this island on unauthorized CIA mission. Steve, do you know what the details?



Stephen: Who knows? I think we are just in total speculation at this point.


There is a recent report of the Pentagon ramping up a development of lasers to destroy cruise missiles, drones, etc. How far has military kinetic laser development progressed?


Rod: The technology can help further along the progress. Right now, as you said I know the navy was talking about putting one of those on a ship.


Stephen: They did it, they have it on a ship.


Rod: And they tested it right?


Stephen: Yes.


Stephen: The problem is that you know you take your laser shot and then you have got to recharge your capacitors to use it again. That takes time. I much prefer rapid fire guns with high accuracy.


Jerry: Steve, Israel and the U.S. held a meeting in Washington in late October regarding collaboration on artificial intelligence applications. How significant is that development and what security threats would that joint U.S./Israeli collaboration address?



Stephen: Right. Artificial intelligence is a hard thing to define. Basically, it is a system that can really make decisions based on not so apparent variables that it can select and decide.  That is what it should do and adjust those decisions in real time quickly. It needs a lot of computing power.  Part of the game is going to be using small parallel processors that can be mounted on systems that are not here yet, but that will come.


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Rod: We know the capabilities of missile systems that they have developed over the last fifty years are mind-blowing. Can you imagine when they are able to put those small processors inside of weapons that will be amazing.



Rod: I used to keep track of the different Patriot Pac’s that they were developing upgrades.


Stephen: Maybe the Stunner makes a Pac 4 because it really is a very significant improvement. I think that you can get a190 miles range from the Stunner missile. The Patriot equipped with the Stunner becomes a standoff air defense system much more than a terminal air defense system which is what Patriot is today.


That is a huge improvement. That is where the Russians are trying to go as well with their S-400 and S-500. The difference is that this is a much smarter missile than the Russians have.


Rod: Thank you Steve Bryen for this wide-ranging discussion. You are listening to Beyond the Matrix here on Israel News Talk Radio. Shalom until next week.

Listen to 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