The Obama administration announced Friday, June 27, that unmanned aerial vehicles flying over Baghdad would henceforth be armed in order to defend the US Embassy in the Green Zone. The embassy was originally assigned the tasks of guardian of Iraq’s central government and symbol of post-Saddam national unity. These roles have remained out of reach ever since the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003. Today, the armed drones overhead are reduced to holding back the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and its local Sunni allies from overrunning the Green Zone and seizing the embassy, most of whose 5,000 staff were evacuated as a precaution.
President Barack Obama has again decreed that no US soldiers will take part in combat in Iraq. Therefore, American military personnel on the ground will be there to guide the drones to their targets.
Those targets were defined Saturday, June 28, by Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as striking at ISIS leaders and defending Iraq’s strategic facilities. He did not elaborate.
debkafile reports that he was referring to the Haditha dam on the Euphrates. ISIS fighters have been battered the town of Haditha on and off for some days.
Its dam is the key to the water supply of most of Iraq, including Baghdad. With its capture, Al Qaeda’s affiliates will have gained control of northern Iraq’s oil refineries and pipeline networks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jordan Friday laid out another piece of the Iraq-Syria imbroglio. He estimated that the Syrian rebel recruits enlisted from among the nearly one million Syrian refugees sheltering in Jordan could be deployed in Iraq for fighting ISIS.
His words were accompanied by the Obama administration’s application to Congress for half a billion dollars to arm and train such a force.
President Obama is therefore in the midst of yet another U-turn on the Syrian-Iraqi war scene – this one involving Israel too.
Until now, the Syrian rebels undergoing training by US instructors in Jordan wre sent into southern Syria to hold a line up to the outskirts of Damascus and act as a buffer between the Syrian, Iranian, Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite militia units and the Israeli and Jordanian borders.
Their presence in this sector of the Syrian warfront was to have provided Washington with a bargaining chip against the Assad regime.
This operation was run from an underground US-Jordanian-Israeli war room situated not far from the Jordanian capital of Amman.
Kerry’s latest statement gave this bunker-command a new war focus and diverted Jordan-based Syrian rebel forces from their mission south of Damascus to contesting the rapidly-advancing Sunni Islamists in Iraq.
Our military sources note that these forces – albeit with full US-Jordanian-Israeli intelligence and logistical back-up - were not an outstanding success in their Syrian mission and should not be expected to do much better in Iraq.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Lebanese army and Hizballah militia are bracing against the latest round of ISIS-engineered suicide bombing attacks, which was in fact launched last week with two explosions in Beirut – one by a female bomber.
To the south of Lebanon, Israel’s unusually mild military retaliation against “terrorist targets” in Gaza for the swelling hail of rockets aimed day by day at Ashkelon, Hof Ashkelon and the Eshkol District , points to a decision by Israel’s government military leaders to avoid being dragged into the cauldron boiling up around its borders.
Israel’s armed forces and three intelligence services, the Shin Bet, Mossad and AMAN, are in fact nursing the blow to their prestige from the failure of their massive, all-out hunt of two weeks to discover the three teenagers abducted on June 10.
Some serious soul-searching is taking place about the wisdom of throwing all of the IDF’s deterrent strength against the kidnappers, who have since been identified as a pair of Hamas operatives, who outsmarted Israel’s mightiest resources and vanished off the face of the earth with their captives.
Israel’s conduct in this episode appears in retrospect to have been ruled less by sense than by emotions.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was sidetracked by his fixed desire for a reckoning with Hamas and with the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for dealing with this extremist group – notwithstanding their near-irrelevance to the main stream of events in the region.
Three months after Israel’s National Intelligence Estimate judged the prospect of a conventional war close to nil, Al Qaeda’s cohorts are grabbing wide stretches of Iraq and knocking on the doors of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Iran, Hizballah - and now ISIS - must be wondering what makes Israel tick in view of this behavior. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s jihadis are fighting under the flag of the Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant. For them, the Levant is not just Syria and Lebanon and Jordan, but also “Palestine” i.e. Israel.
Jerusalem had better wake up fast. Jordan and Saudi Arabia have deployed tank divisions on their borders against ISIS encroachments. The two kingdoms are Israel’s eastern and southern next door neighbors.