News Brief: Intelligence On Iran, Israeli Election, Emissions Standards
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Pentagon officials have told NPR that Iran set up drones and missiles at launch sites before Saudi oil facilities were attacked on Saturday.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The imagery proving that has not yet been publicly - the image - the imagery proving that has not been publicly released at this point. But two Defense Department officials say that intelligence agencies view the activity as circumstantial evidence that Iran launched the strike in Saudi Arabia.
Iran continues to deny any involvement, with President Rouhani today saying that the accusations are a pressure tactic. Rouhani also accused the United States, along with a Saudi-led military coalition, of starting the war in Yemen. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is headed to Saudi Arabia to weigh a response.
MARTIN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is following the story and joins us now. Hi, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: So what exactly do these images show?
BOWMAN: Well, I'm told the images show the Iranians preparing these sites - missile sites, drone sites - what they call as unusual activity in this area. And they say it's circumstantial evidence. It's not conclusive that these missiles, these drones were used in the attack.
MARTIN: How did they get these images? I mean, is this just...
BOWMAN: Well, it's satellite images.
MARTIN: And this is standard surveillance. And they're determining that this is somehow exceptional behavior. And then they're linking it as evidence that Iran waged this attack?
BOWMAN: Exactly. You know, it's satellite imagery, unusual activity at these locations. So they are linking it to the attack on this Saudi oil facility. But again, they're still gathering evidence. They need a lot more, they say, before they can conclusively say that Iran was behind these strikes.
MARTIN: Right. So what does all this mean? I mean, clearly the Pentagon always has contingency plans for a variety of different circumstances. What are you hearing in terms of the options that the U.S. could take in this particular moment?
BOWMAN: Well, it's pretty early to say what the options are. Of course, there are diplomatic, financial, military actions could be taken. Of course, a couple months back, President Trump authorized cyberattacks against Iran, crippling their efforts to track shipping in the Gulf. You could do something like that again in the cyber realm that's even more intense than last time.
MARTIN: Although, there was also that - the reporting about U.S. fighter jets that were deployed on their way to conduct some kind of strike against Iran for its behavior in the Gulf. And then they were - they were - that mission was scuttled. And those planes were brought back....
BOWMAN: That's right. That's right.
MARTIN: ...I mean, is there any cohesiveness to the Trump administration's approach to Iran right now?
BOWMAN: You're right. President Trump considered attacks on Iranian radar sites and other facilities back in the spring after Iran, of course, shot down that U.S. drone. He rejected it, saying this - he was told by a general that these strikes could have killed up to 150 Iranians. Now, I'm told the Pentagon never gave him such a figure, that it was widely inflated.
MARTIN: You spent some time with U.S. Central Command recently. I mean, what were those conversations like? How concerned is CENTCOM about a possible conflagration between Iran and the U.S.?
BOWMAN: Oh, they're very concerned about it. You could hit U.S. troops in Iraq. Iran could retaliate. There are 5,000 U.S. troops there. And I was told back in May, when Secretary Pompeo went to Iraq, there was a serious threat of car bombs and other attacks by Iranian militia forces on those U.S. troops. That's precisely why the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, went to Iraq. So there's a great worry about that, also retaliation against U.S. warships in the Gulf.
MARTIN: And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo now headed to Saudi Arabia. So we'll see what comes out of that. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, thank you.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel.
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MARTIN: OK. There's a political stalemate in Israel this morning. Israel's do-over election appears to leave the two major parties pretty much where they were after the first round of elections back in April.
GREENE: That's right. The votes are still being counted, but it's looking like right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main centrist challenger, Benny Gantz, could be tied in the race and both left without a clear path to building a majority in Parliament.
MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi. I'm actually in Tel Aviv this morning.
MARTIN: Oh, you're in Tel Aviv. I love Tel Aviv. So from that vantage point, what does this look like to you? I mean, there's no clear winner, just like April. What are the candidates saying?
ESTRIN: Well, neither candidate claimed victory outright. The votes are still being counted. But Gantz, the centrist, gave a late-night speech. And it sounded like he thinks he has the upper hand.
Take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BENNY GANTZ: (Speaking Hebrew).
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ESTRIN: Gantz is saying there, apparently Netanyahu did not succeed in his mission. And Gantz is calling for a wide, unity government, which apparently would mean building a coalition with Netanyahu's party. Now, Netanyahu gave a very late-night speech. And he said Israel needs a strong, stable government. So it sounds like he also is not ruling out a coalition with his competitor, Gantz.
Another thing, however, Rachel, must be on Netanyahu's mind, which is a likely corruption indictment coming at him soon, possibly. And since Netanyahu doesn't seem to have a majority of right-wing friends in his corner, he may not - he may not have the support he needs in Parliament to help shield him from prosecution.
MARTIN: So there's a lot happening. What's the next shoe to drop here? I mean, what are you - what does happen next?
ESTRIN: Well, first, the final results have to come in. And then Israel's president will give either Netanyahu or Gantz the first crack at forming a coalition. Or he could push them to form a coalition together. The kingmaker here is Avigdor Lieberman. His right-wing party denied Netanyahu a coalition last time. This time, he could tip the scales either way.
And he's calling for the two candidates to join forces in a unity government. So it seems like some kind of joint government appears to be the likely result. Big question is, who gets to be No. 1...
MARTIN: Right (laughter)...
ESTRIN: ...Netanyahu or Gantz?
MARTIN: ...That's a big question. What about the Arab parties - the alliance that the Arab parties have? How did they fare in this election? What kind of power could they have in any sharing - power-sharing agreement?
ESTRIN: Well, the Palestinian Arab parties - we're not talking about Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. They don't have voting rights. We're talking about Arab citizens of Israel. And the party that represents them could be the third-largest party in government after Netanyahu and Gantz's parties. That's quite a historic outcome.
If they side with Gantz, it could be the crucial push that Gantz needs to get the first crack at forming the government. And Netanyahu kind of addressed that yesterday to his supporters.
Take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).
ESTRIN: He's saying, "no government can depend on the support of Arab lawmakers who support bloodthirsty terrorists." So he seems to be signaling to Gantz, you know, you can't get around me to form a government. You need me.
MARTIN: What have voters been telling you about this?
ESTRIN: Well, people who voted against Netanyahu are - seem to be happy but upset that this is still a stalemate. People who support Netanyahu are afraid - are sad that he didn't get a clear victory.
MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin from Tel Aviv. Daniel, thanks. We appreciate it.
ESTRIN: Sure thing, Rachel.
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MARTIN: Authority revoked - according to reports, that's the order from the Trump administration to the state of California today over its ability to make its own auto emissions rules.
GREENE: That's right. So for almost 50 years, the state of California has been allowed, by the federal government, to enforce more stringent environmental rules than apply in the rest of the country. Now, reports from several media outlets suggest that privilege could be coming to an end.
MARTIN: Juliet Eilperin broke this story for The Washington Post, and she joins us now. Thanks for being with us.
JULIET EILPERIN: Of course.
MARTIN: So the context here - cars are the biggest source of greenhouse emissions in the U.S. With that in mind, how big a deal is this?
EILPERIN: It's very significant. It really could cause turmoil in the auto market because without a clear path of who sets the rules in this country for fuel efficiency and for what's the mileage your car and light truck are supposed to have, it makes it unclear what's the path forward for the cars and light trucks that all of us buy.
MARTIN: Where are the carmakers in this standoff? I mean, are they with California? Or are they with the Trump administration?
EILPERIN: They're split. That's part of the issue, that there are four automakers, in July, who struck a deal with California saying that they would adhere largely to what the Obama administration had set its standards - it's Ford, Honda, VW and BMW of North America. And - but a lot of the others have not taken a side.
And part of what the Trump administration is trying to do is make it clear to the rest of the carmakers that they should acknowledge that the federal government is the ultimate decider in this and, therefore, they should abide by whatever rules the administration sets, which are expected to come out later this year.
MARTIN: I mean, one has to acknowledge a certain irony here, right? I mean, this idea is not exactly in line with the Republican Party's fundamental tenant of protecting states' rights. What is the administration's reasoning?
EILPERIN: Their argument - and you're right that traditionally the GOP has emphasized states' rights - is that you need to have a law of the land that applies to all 50 states. And in this case, there are 13 states and the District of Columbia that have agreed to adopt California's rules.
And so the argument they're making is we have a national auto market. And you can't have certain states requiring more stringent efficiency standards for cars and trucks while you have, you know, others who are - who have looser standards. And so that's their argument.
MARTIN: Whereas California would argue that that's - they'd like to see that, right? Like, California would like to be a model for other states.
EILPERIN: Yes. And obviously, as you alluded to, that because California has had the right to get this waiver for nearly 50 years, what we have is, you know, a standard where California has often been the driver of things like the catalytic converter, you know, things that now we take for granted but really were spurred by the fact that you had the nation's most populous states exacting more from automakers.
MARTIN: What's the next step for the government - the state government in California? What's the recourse?
EILPERIN: Well, they're going to go to court. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, and the attorney general, Xavier Becerra, have already said that they are poised to challenge this. And so what you're going to see is a really significant court fight where the question is, can this take effect right away? Or is it going to be blocked? And ultimately this is going to be decided...
MARTIN: Juliet Eilperin with The Washington Post on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.