America Refurbishes its Gulf-Red Sea Defenses against Iran Menace
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The US Secretaries of State and Defense are traveling together – unusually – next week for a mission weighty enough for the Bush administration to deploy a double-barreled top team.
Built around a massive $20 bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia, it involves a broad boost for US defenses against Iran by means of a three-line deployment strategy across the Persian Gulf and Middle East devised by Secretary Gates.
The system, according to debkafile‘s sources, has three powerful components or levels:
The Iraq Level: US forces remaining in Iraq after the withdrawal would redeploy to giant extraterritorial land and air bases located mainly in the central and northern regions.
The Gulf Level: The US would double in size the armies and air forces of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman, and augment its military facilities in the Gulf region by expansion and new bases.
The Red Sea Level: Jordan and Israel military strength would form the backbone of this line supplemented by new American bases.
On April 27, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 298 divulged the plan when it was still on the drawing board:
American military planners are in the throes of an unprecedented modernization and expansion project for the Gulf emirates’ air, missiles and air defense forces, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources report.
Its linchpins are the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and sultanate of Oman. At the end of the project, the Saudi air force will be the biggest in the Middle East, nearly the size of Israel’s, and equipped with the last word in avionics, electronic warfare systems and missiles.
The function assigned Saudi air fighters in the integrated US defense program is to take on the Iranian air force in an emergency, and prevent its antiquated, low-performance air force from providing support for Iranian naval forces and Iranian marines and saboteurs, should they attempt to seize territory in the Arab emirates.
Iran is known to command 600 bomber-fighters in operating condition.
They include outdated F-4E Phantom II, F5-E and F-14A Tomcats, French Mirage F-1EQ/BQ, Russian MIG-29, Mig-27, MIG-31 and Sukhoi Su-20, 22 and 25. Iran has produced two homemade models: Saeqeh-80 Owj and Azarakhsh. Iran’s most advanced fighting craft will be the Sukhoi Su-27 when it enters service in late 2008.
The Saudi air force, with 350 warplanes organized in 17 squadrons, is much smaller than Iran’s and not much more advanced. Its backbone of 134 Tornado aircraft includes 48 Tornado IDS. Seventy-two F-15S were added in the second half of the 1990s, joining 41 F-15C/D aircraft which served the Saudi Air Fore from the early 1990s.
Washington plans to double the Saudi combat air fleet, by selling the kingdom front-line fighters, including F-16 C and D and F-15 E – or even possibly the F-22 Raptor stealth plane, to which Israel is strongly opposed, although most Saudi Arabian operational aircraft are piloted by Western aviators, some American.
Another key element in Gates’ Level 2 for the Persian Gulf is the conversion of Camp Justice, the US air facility on the Omani island of Masirah, into the biggest American air base in the Persian Gulf and Middle East. An Arabian Sea island, 65 km long by 18 km wide, Masirah lies close to the Strait of Hormuz and the western coast of Iran.
A western military source in the Gulf also reports that a large increment of Marine forces is to be deployed permanently in Kuwait, which lies 130 km west of the nuclear reactor town of Bushehr on the southern Iranian coast.
End of quote fromDEBKA-Net-Weekly.
debkafile adds: Since April 18, when deputy secretary of state David Satterfield met King Abdullah in Riyadh and they went through the list of hardware on sale – marking down the king’s comments against each item – things have changed in US-Arabian relations; so too has the nature of the Iranian military menace hanging over Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and the Middle East.
These changes are marked in four aspects:
1. Washington and Riyadh are at odds on Iraq. In the beginning, the Americans approved of Saudi financial assistance to Iraqi insurgent groups to give them an incentive to pull away from al Qaeda. In recent weeks, however, the Saudis are equally active in undermining the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, calling him an Iran’s agent. This has brought the oil kingdom in direct conflict with the Bush policy.
2. A similar conflict has developed on the Palestinian question. King Abdullah strongly disapproves of US-Israeli backing for the Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad and imposition of an economic boycott against Hamas to overturn its rule in Gaza. The Saudis strongly advocate Palestinian reconciliation, unification of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and acceptance of Hamas as a dominant factor in shaping Palestinian destiny.
3. As oil prices roar towards $80 – and the price of $100 not too far over the horizon – the Bush administration is increasingly critical of Abdullah’s refusal to raise sustained capacity production past its permanent 2.1 million barrels per day. If only Riyadh would relent, they say, world markets would be reassured and demand would cool.
4. Responding to the Bush administration’s Gulf plans for the Saudi air force and Bush’s plan to maintain a post-withdrawal military presence in Iraq, Russian president Vladimir Putin has stepped in with a move of his own: the sale of 250 long-range SU-30MKM fighter-bombers to Iran, as debkafile revealed Friday, July 27.
As acrimony heats up between Washington and Riyadh over key issues, Rice and Gates will have their work cut out next week to talk Saudi leaders round to buying the US Gulf strategy.