Fresh US Air-Naval-Amphibious Buildup, Two Upbeat Diplomatic Drives

Wednesday, May 23, nine US military ships entered the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz with 17,000 sailors, air crews and marines aboard. They were led by the USS Nimitz and USS Stennis air carriers and arrived in the wake of the USS Bonhomme Richard LHD 6 Strike Group, the world’s biggest amphibious strike force.


Iran was not notified of the arrival of largest American naval-air-amphibious armada to assemble off its shores since 2003.


Its arrival coincided with the expiry day of the latest 60-day grace period the UN Security Council granted Iran, activating an ultimatum to forego uranium enrichment or else face harsher sanctions.


The maneuver, described by US officials as a training exercise, began less than two weeks after Vice President Dick Cheney visited the region and informed Saudi King Abdullah and fellow Gulf rulers that President George W. Bush had determined that if Iran refuses to waive a nuclear weapon capability, the US will attack its nuclear, military and economic infrastructure before he leaves the White House in Jan. 2009.


(This was first disclosed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 300 on May 11: Cheney in Mid East to End US Zigzags on Iran)


This mighty naval presence backs up Cheney’s pledge, telling the region and Iran that Washington may not be satisfied with sanctions and that the military option is alive. Washington is also stiffening its posture ahead of its first direct talks with Tehran on Monday, May 28, when US and Iraqi ambassadors meet in Baghdad.


The message to Iran and its ally Syria is that if the Baghdad talks fail, and the two governments refuse to suspend their support for Iraq’s insurgents and al Qaeda, the US stands ready with a military force to go.


In Washington, the Democrats were forced to pull the Democratic Party’s Iraq troop withdrawal timeline from the war funding bill, after Bush vetoed the measure. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) glumly conceded: “We don’t have a veto-proof Congress.”


 


High hopes of accommodations with Iraq insurgents


 


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in the US capital report that all these events have combined to engender a surge of confidence in the administration, in contrast to the reports of an indecisive White House in low spirits with its back to the wall. On the contrary, the Bush administration is in the middle of two diplomatic offensives in the Gulf, the Middle East and Central Asia and fully expects them to play out successfully in the coming weeks.


The administration’s newfound buoyancy arises from a number of factors:


1. While Central Command chief Adm. William Fallon has criticized the “surge strategy” in Iraq as “chipping away at the problem,” Bush and Cheney are upbeat; they reckon that July or at latest, early September, will see the security crackdown launched in February markedly slowing down attacks on US troops, an effect generated, they believe, by a serious leap forward in the dialogue with the three most important Sunni insurgent groups.


They are also encouraged by signals that the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, head of the powerful Mehdi Army militia, may be open to an accommodation with the Americans and ready to turn his back on Tehran.


2. The certainty that Turkey has given up its planned offensive against PKK rebel forces sheltering in Iraqi Kurdistan and its proactive claims to the oil city of Kirkuk. This achievement, say administration officials, offers Kurdistan and all of Iraq a better chance of stability. America can now go forward and build the big air bases planned for the autonomous northern region.


3. Washington is in an advanced stage of a gambit to persuade the Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to get off the fence on Iran. The tenor of the talks with the Omani ruler is described as “friendly and sympathetic; with the Qatar emir, sharp and abrasive.


Washington has warned Sheikh al-Thani that his two-faced policy of friendship for America and for Islamic extremist groups including al Qaeda alike will lead Qatar into a crisis with Washington and could culminate in the closure of America’s Udied bases.


4. The United States has taken action to slam the brakes on Iran’s summer proxy offensive in the Middle East (as described in separate articles in this issue) by pumping weapons and funds to pro-US elements fighting in northern Lebanon, Palestinian Gaza and Yemen.


 


Casus belli: An Iranian-al Qaeda Plot against Riyadh from Yemen


 


5. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington report that the administration is considering using the case of Yemen as part of the casus belli for a US military operation against Iran as a sponsor of terror and regional instability. Iran’s involvement in the revolt against the Salah Abdallah regime is amply and strikingly demonstrated by the evidence accumulating in Washington and Riyadh as is Tehran’s complicity with al Qaeda.


The bulk of the 172 al Qaeda terrorists rounded up in late April in Saudi Arabia (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 299 of May 5: Al Qaeda Air Plotters Crept up Unnoticed.) are proved to have received Iran-funded training for air strikes against Saudi oil refineries at the camps of the Zaidi-Shiite rebels in the Saada province of northern Yemen.


Armed with explosives, they infiltrated Saudi Arabia, where they were caught in the nick of time.


6. The White House is so pleased with the round of diplomacy executed by Dick Cheney in the Gulf that a similar excursion is planned to take him to Central Asian Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzistan, in preparation for possible military action against Iran from the north.



  • He will negotiate the use of US bases in their territory.
  • Provide a counterweight to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s tour of those countries in the second week of May. Putin persuaded the Kazakh and Turkmeni rulers to have their gas pumped to Europe across Russia, thereby tightening Moscow’s monopoly control over gas routes to Europe and dashing the American dream of a gas pipeline through the Caspian and the Caucasian and on to Europe through Turkey.
    Cheney will try and talk his hosts around to the proposition that two pipelines are better than one and the competition will enlarge their profits.
  • His tour, on the heels of the second round of the Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) between the US and China on May 22nd and 23rd in Washington, will indicate to Beijing that the US presence in the Central Asian region is solid.

The trouble is that the present upbeat mood in Washington is matched by a similar sense of optimism in Tehran. In both capitals, the tone is one of approaching victory in their summer 2007 offensives. It is therefore hard to see either side giving much ground in the talks the US and Iraqi ambassadors kick off in Baghdad Monday, May 28.

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