Are Two of Three US anti-Iraq Warfronts Buckling?
Sunday, January 19, Israel’s defense minister Shaul Mofaz will present to the full cabinet session in Jerusalem his completed plan for meeting the hazards of a US-Iraqi war in the civilian, security and home front sectors. He will tell the ministers that the country is ready for the war.
That is true – as far as the minister’s responsibility goes. However, by the time Israel with American help, wound up its war preparations, two vital bricks showed signs of dropping out of the American war set-up. The damage may turn out to be reparable but, meanwhile, Israel’s war defenses have sprung an unexpected hole.
Jordanian’s monarch Abdullah II has developed cold feet on his armed forces’ role in the US campaign against Iraq, a mere two weeks after Turkey held back permission for US forces to use its bases as staging posts for its invasion of Iraq from the north (as first revealed inDEBKA-Net-Weeklyon Jan. 10) – halting the transfer to Turkish bases of American armored divisions, warplanes and naval units. Abdullah followed suit by backtracking on his previous consent for additional US forces to ship out to Jordan to build up the invasion force on the Western sector.(To subscribe to DNW clickHERE).
This changes Israel’s strategic situation in the East.
The two defections may not be final, but in the meantime they leave US war commander General Tommy Franks with only one active survivor of his three designation warfronts: the south. US ground assault against Iraq can only come now from Kuwait and Qatar bases plus a Marine landing from vessels of the US naval armada piling up in the Persian Gulf.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘smilitary sources and experts calculate that the United States may partly offset the loss of Turkish bases and units by a general mobilization of Kurdish militias in northern Iraq – some 50,000 paramilitary fighters. They are no substitute for the estimated 70,000 Turkish troops supposed to have fought alongside US soldiers, but they are up to the task of commandeering northern Iraqi oilfields – with the help of US special forces present in Kurdish command centers and air cover from US aircraft carriers deployed in the eastern and central Mediterranean.
But the Kurdish militias cannot be counted on to capture the key northern Iraqi oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. For this task, at least one elite 101st Airborne Division contingent especially trained for months for parachuting missions into the Baghdad metropolitan area will have to be detached. In sum, the US command will have to make do with only two-thirds of the force originally dedicated to the battle for Baghdad and Saddam Hussein’s second seat of government, Tikrit.
If the Jordanian king persists in opting out, the damage to the American military disposition, as weighed up byDEBKA-Net-Weekly‘smilitary sources, will be several times greater than Turkey’s threatened desertion, for the following reasons:
A. The strategic Iraqi air bases – especially the H2 and H3 complexes, which defend the central Iraqi region around Baghdad and Tikrit – will be left in Iraqi hands. The original US plan to drop American airborne forces on those bases or nearby and wrest control of their facilities with the help of Jordanian special and rapid deployment troops, will have to be abandoned. The Iraqi troops assigned to defending this sector against the raiding force will be free to head south and, from the west, harass American tank columns as they advance, or else race to the aid of the Iraqi defenders of Baghdad.
B. Nothing much will stand in the way of Saddam Hussein launching his 60 to 80 al-Hussein surface-to-surface missiles, most of which are hidden in western Iraq, against the advancing American columns or against Israel. The Al Hussein, an improved version of the Scud missile (32 of which wrought heavy damage in the Tel Aviv area in 1991), has a range of about 800 km (500 miles).
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts warn that leaving western Iraq in Saddam’s hands may well tilt the military balance in Iraq’s favor and trigger the kinds of radical military developments that US President George W. Bush has been at pains to avert for nearly two years.
These developments are linked to another of Jordan’s actions, revealed here for the first time byDEBKA-Net-Weekly‘smilitary sources. Abdullah has secretly informed Israel via Washington that he is barring Israeli special forces from mounting operations against Iraq from Jordanian territory or transiting the kingdom on their way to western Iraq.
This ban undoes the work of almost a year of combined covert US, Jordanian and Israeli special forces action in western Iraq. As our military intelligence sources have frequently reported, their mission was to ferret out Iraqi surface missiles and launchers and mobile weapons of mass destruction, as well as hunt down Iraqi commando units manning these systems and terrorists ordered to cross through Jordan and Saudi Arabia for attacks against American targets and Israel.
Select US special forces remain in-theater, operating out of US bases built strung along the Jordanian-Iraq border over the past year. But these relatively small American contingents relied heavily for backup on Jordanian and Israeli special forces. Provided only with sporadic aid from US Marine attack and reconnaissance aircraft, they also counted on the Israeli and Jordanian air forces for air cover.
Jordan’s ban on American and Israeli over-flights has put paid to this arrangement, with immediate effect.
On Wednesday, January 15, Israel and the United States began a large-scale air defense exercise encompassing the central and eastern Mediterranean, Egypt’s Sinai desert and the Red Sea. Air defense teams are testing advanced interception systems designed to shoot down incoming missiles or planes capable of carrying nuclear, biological or chemical payloads. Numerous US military units, including specialists operating batteries of upgraded Patriot missiles, arrived in Israel over the past two weeks and will remain for the duration of the coming conflict, helping to man air defense stations.
At the last minute, the Turkish and Jordanian air forces announced their non-participation in the exercise. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that, hours into the drills, US and Israeli commanders were still uninformed about whether or not they had permission to fly over Jordan. Abdullah did not respond to their inquiries.
A continuing Jordanian flyover ban could give Saddam dangerous ideas. When the war begins, he might use the vacuum to launch missiles from western Iraq or send planes armed with non-conventional weapons streaking toward the Jewish state.DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources estimate that Israel and the United States will respect Jordan’s prohibition during the current exercise but, once real hostilities flare, they will they will need to access Jordan’s air space – even over Abdullah’s objections. Should Israel be hit by any Iraqi weapon of mass destruction, royal anger will be no bar to heavy Israeli ground force units rolling through the Hashemite kingdom to reach western Iraq and scotch any further threats.
What led America’s two staunchest allies in the Middle East to turn their backs?
debkafile‘s Middle East sources offer three primary explanations:
1. US generals and policy-makers began talking about a 100-hour military campaign to conquer Baghdad, meaning a lightening blitz to overthrow the Saddam regime, which began to look to his neighbors like a dangerous precedent.
2. For Arab Muslim rulers, this prospect is historically intolerable too. Since 1914, when British and French armies overran the Arab world and seized it from the Ottoman Turks, no non-Muslim conqueror has ever captured an Arab capital. When Israeli troops entered Beirut in 1982, the Reagan administration made them about-turn without delay so as not to inflame the entire Arab Muslim world. Now that the war on Iraq is around the corner, Arab and Muslim rulers are again up in arms, fearful of going down in history as having lent a hand in 2003 to the unthinkable conquest of a Muslim capital by a non-Muslim army.
President George W. Bush and his team understand what they are taking on and are not afraid to go forward.
3. Reports, messages, hints and electronic chatter attributed to al Qaeda are rife in the last few days, threatening nuclear retribution for an American attack on Iraq. There is no information on the type, scale or sophistication of the threat in question, or whether the nuclear weapon will be wielded by Iraq or come in the form of a terrorist strike, either in the hands of Iraqi agents or al Qaeda terrorists.
The threat, however, is being taken seriously enough for would-be US war allies in the region to stand aside and let the American war wagon roll on without them – for the time being. Most do not admit to desertion, only waiting to see what happens next. Some may climb back on at some point.
The coming week will see a hectic round of continuing Arab-Muslim capital-hopping and conference activity. Ankara is staging a summit, Damascus a foreign ministers meeting, this week with the participation of Turkish, Syrian, Saudi, Egyptian, Iranian and Jordanian leaders, for the avowed purpose of averting the US war on Iraq. The Saudis are trying to get another summit together in March.
They have two immediate goals. According to debkafile‘s sources, all these rulers are bent on demonstrating clean hands in the event of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, while at the same time preserving their interests in Iraq and the region after the American victory.