by Karl Denninger, Market Ticker:
Look folks, it’s not that complicated.
In international airspace, which follows the boundaries of international waters (generally 12nm out from shore) peaceful and direct transit is always permissible. Period.
In places where the sea (and air) is not more than 24nm wide there is usually an international agreement, sometimes put into place “forcibly” but most of the time by pretty-clean (by international standards anyway) negotiation. In basically all of these agreements, however, direct transit rights and similar do not include spying and similar activities.
It’s without dispute that the drone in question was in the air not present as a “Freedom Of Navigation” exercise (e.g. “a boat or plane going from one place to another that happens to go through the area in question”) but rather was present for the sole purpose of gathering intelligence. This is very distinct from, for example, one of our destroyers sailing through the Taiwan Straight which, incidentally, is somewhat more than 50nm wide in any event.
The “easement”, if you will, that exists for direct transit and similar in these situations is typically negotiated by nations with such interests (in this case Oman, UAE and Iran) for the specific purpose of peaceable passage for ordinary commercial activity. These sorts of international agreements are typically worded in such a fashion that they do not give license to third parties, no matter who they are, to use that space to conduct military spying operations.
So the key question here is did the drone intrude within 12nm of Iranian soil?
There is no right for an American military asset that is present within 12nm of Iranian soil for the explicit purpose of surveillance to be left alone. End of discussion.
Next we must look at the facts related to these “incursions.” It is a standard military tactic to intrude into a nation’s airspace intentionally for the specific purpose of provoking them to light up radar installations — specifically, targeting radars associated with various weapon systems, especially surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles.
The reason you do this is so you know exactly where they are and the purpose of knowing exactly where they are is so you can blow them up with your own military assets.
If we in fact intruded into Iranian airspace we did so for the explicit purpose of determining the exact location of military targets for the purpose of being able to destroy them. That is by definition a hostile act.
Centcom obviously did not expect that Iran would not only light up their targeting radar but they’d also immediately follow up with a missile. To that I say this: Tough crap, provided we invaded Iranian airspace. That’s the risk and price of doing it; you are committing an act of naked aggression, you are doing so on their sovereign territory, you are doing it for the purpose of identifying targets so you can destroy them and if they shoot at you for doing it that’s your problem, not theirs — you had it coming and deserved it.
Next up is the fact that we’ve very much hyped the supposed “hard to hit nature” of these drones. How’s that working out in the real world seeing as that drone is now a bunch of flaming pieces? It seems that Iran, by the manifest weight of the evidence, had exactly zero trouble knowing from where and when we put it in the air, tracking it, and hitting it with a missile. So much for our $100+ million “investment” in supposedly “resistant to attack” drone technology eh?
The FAA has done the smart thing and issued a “no fly” over the disputed areas. Good idea, considering that Iran can certainly hit a commercial airliner if it can hit an allegedly “stealthy” drone. I doubt very much that they’d do that on purpose as there’s exactly zero benefit to them in doing so but the possibility of an accident is still very present.
As for Trump and his so-called “restraint”, I say “bah!” to that too. Far more likely is that despite all the chickenhawk bullcrap he was being fed he correctly surmised that our so-called “stealth” is worth a warm bucket of spit against these guys and they could quite-easily unload a few more missile launchers in the direction of our assets over there. We might intercept some of them but it only takes one that gets through and hits something with people in it and now you’ve got a real mess on your hands. Go shoot a bunch of their radar installations, which we can trivially do, and it only takes one dead Iranian for them to have every reason to do exactly that at a time and place of their choosing.
Now that risk might be defensible if Iran fired at something that was clearly not in their airspace. But for reasons I pointed out above I don’t believe that’s what happened, and to convince me you’re going to have to prove that drone never entered airspace less than 12nm off Iranian soil; whatever the specifics may exist in a transit agreement they do not apply to a military aircraft engaged in spying. The coordinates published by Iran place the drone at ~9.6 statute miles off the Iranian coastline. If their claim of where the drone was when they decided to shoot was made is accurate then we did indeed violate their airspace. Let’s remember that both sides have an incentive to lie with $100m+ worth of military hardware in lots of little pieces, so I’m not willing to take either side’s claims at face value.