A Large US Air Facility in Lebanon Will Face Damascus
Washington has dramatically revised its military posture on Lebanon since the talks CENTCOM commander US Adm. William Fallon held in Beirut on Aug. 29.
For the first time since President Ronald Reagan pulled all US forces out of Lebanon, an American government is planning to build a number of military bases in the country around the hub of a big air base at Kleiat in the north, facing the Syrian border.
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The aircraft based there will be 75 nautical miles from Damascus, Syria’s capital city which also serves as Iran’s Mediterranean base.
Kleiat lies also 22 nautical miles from the main Syrian naval port of Tartus, where the Russian navy is establishing a main command base for its Middle East fleet.
Earlier this month, Russian Navy chief Adm. Vladimir Masorin said: “Being present in the Mediterranean is very important for our Navy in the Black Sea.”
A senior Russian Defense Ministry official was later quoted as asserting that Russia must be permanently present in the Mediterranean – again.
The US air base in Lebanon will be situated a short distance from the two important Syrian towns of Homs and Hama, where large sections of the joint Syrian-Iranian arms and missile industries are located.
The project will bring American troops back to Lebanon after an absence of 25 years.
In 1983, US bases were closed hurriedly after bombing attacks on the US Embassy and Marines headquarters in Beirut left more than 300 marines, diplomats and Central Intelligence Agency operatives dead.
The attacks were orchestrated by Syrian military intelligence and the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah.
The new base will be presented initially as a joint US-Lebanese project to reactivate a non-functioning small air facility, whose lack was sorely felt in the Lebanese army’s protracted four-month battle against the Palestinian Fatah al-Islam radicals holed up in a Nahr al-Bared camp in the north.
A vital component in blocking Iranian and al Qaeda’s westward expansion
Already, American air force are engineers and crews are at work to get the old Kleiat air facility up and running, before preparing the ground for a major US air base.
This base will be part of the network of air installations, which will remain in American hands in Iraq after the bulk of the US army pulls out, and the facilities situated in Israel and Jordan.
The Lebanese facility will critically affect the balance of military strength in the Levant and the eastern Mediterranean.
1. It will lie a very short flying distance from, and link up with, the US Sixth Fleet and NATO naval forces posted in the eastern Mediterranean, Israel and Jordan.
2. Its presence will have to be factored into President Bashar Assad‘s future military and strategic considerations.
He will find Syria cut off from direct access to the Lebanese Mediterranean coast, as well as hemmed in on all sides by a US and allied military presence: in Turkey in the north, Iraq in the east, Lebanon to the west, as well as Israeli bases and US facilities in both Israel and Jordan, to the south.
3. A massive and permanent American military presence in Lebanon will also alter the balance of strength between the Iranian-Syrian protege Hizballah and the other forces in Lebanon, including the national army. Washington hopes that this presence will finally bring stability to the pro-Western government in Beirut.
4. It will also act as a barrier against Iranian expansion into the Levant, Palestinian Gaza and the West Bank.
5. The US base at Kleiat will be an important component in the struggle to block the expansion of al Qaeda into bases along the eastern Mediterranean shores of Lebanon, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.