Tuesday, April 10, the USS Carter Hall amphibious assault ship set out for the Red Sea, as part of the build-up of the Level III sector of the US shield against Iran, which US defense secretary Robert Gates discussed with Middle East leaders last week. On its decks are 400 sailors and 600 US Marines trained for special missions against hostile forces.
The next day, the USS Chafee guided missile cruiser sailed from Pearl Harbor for the Persian Gulf. This week, it turned out that two more guided missile destroyers were heading for the same destination, the USS John Higgins and the USS Paul Jones.
During his Middle East tour, the US defense secretary said that three American aircraft carriers at the head of strike forces had taken up position in the Persian Gulf and the administration was considering deploying a fourth to cruise permanently in the Red Sea.
It was not clear whether he was referring to the USS Nimitz originally assigned to relieve the USS Eisenhower, which would stay on for a further period, or meant the USS Stennis and Nimitz to be joined by the USS Reagan.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources understood from Gates that the American concentration of force in the Red Sea is designed both as a link in the naval and aerial chain running from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and as air and Marine backup for the expanded Saudi air force and the long-term US military forces staying on for the long haul in Iraq and Kurdistan (See separate articles on Levels I and II in this issue).
To gain a land base for the Red Sea deployment, the defense secretary held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman on April 18 on the construction of a large American air facility at Jordan’s H 2 air base in the east, near the Iraqi border.
It would join the line of air bases in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Omani Masirah and the Israeli air facilities available for American use.
Our military sources add that the Level III shield has two more important functions:
- To prop up the Egyptian regime.
- To bring an American military presence into proximity to, and available for intervention in, the local conflicts foreseen in the coming months as potential kindling for regional wars.
Gates reported intelligence received of three such conflicts in the making:
Syria-Israel. Information is accumulating in Washington and Jerusalem on Syrian military plans to launch a military operation against Israel on the divided Golan. The stores the Syrian army has laid in of weapons, ammunition, food and medical supplies befit an army preparing for armed conflict. No intelligence has been received on whether the Syrian offensive will be limited to a commando or terrorist operation, with the built-in threat of a sudden deterioration, or a full-scale Syrian military attack to seize part of the Golan, which would spark a full-blown war.
Hizballah-Israel. Iran’s Lebanese proxy is likewise in the midst of war preparations.
Palestinians-Israel. The same momentum is also conspicuous among the various Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip: Hamas, the radical al Aqsa Brigades which is Fatah’s military arm, the Jihad Islami and the Popular Resistance Committees.
All these measures go forward under the eagle eyes of Revolutionary Guards officers.
The second feature they have in common is that all three fronts are geared to the month of July, 2007. It is not yet known if they are programmed to erupt simultaneously, or whether Iran’s clients will go to war only if the Americans or Israelis attack the Islamic Republic’s nuclear and strategic infrastructure.
Thursday, April 26, clues to some of these enigmas broke surface.
Deputy interior minister Mohammad Baqer Zolghadr told the official Iranian news agency IRNA: If Iran comes under attack, “nowhere would be safe for America with (Iran’s) long-range missiles… we can fire tens of thousands of missiles every day.” He added: “With long-range missiles Iran can also threaten Israel as America’s ally” and US Middle East bases.
His threat was not an empty one, given the hefty missile arsenals Iran has amassed for its clients and proxies in recent weeks. Tehran plus Syria plus Hizballah plus the Palestinians could certainly manage to fire off 1,000 missiles a day in several directions, thereby setting off the biggest missile war in military history.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources attach considerable weight to Zoghadr’s threats. Iran’s rulers have been holding one conference after another on the current crisis and this official has emerged as the favorite for replacing Gen. Rahim Safavi as Revolutionary Guards chief. The ayatollahs are casting about for a fresh, aggressive face at the head of this elite force, one who will give the enemy no quarter.
Zolqhadr is a former deputy RG commander, an extremist and a crony of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The direction of the mullahs’ discussions indicates that Tehran may be contemplating a pre-emptive move against the US and its Middle East allies, rather than waiting to be attacked.