Middle East and Gulf capitals have woken up to the likely imminence of a Middle East war in mid-September. It is generally accepted that the US offensive against Iraq will also encompass Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states, notably Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and that Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians will be drawn into the coming conflict as active combatants.
A senior officer in close touch with the field command traced this bird’s eye view for DEBKA-Net-Weekly, as though he were aboard a spy satellite or a reconnaissance aircraft surveying an area from the Caspian Sea through the Middle East and the Persian Gulf: He would report a hectic scene of columns of troops and convoys of tanks, armored vehicles and missiles – some of them decoys – scurrying between assembly points and battle sectors, training intensively and loading up with stocks of war equipment.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that US general Tommy Franks, the supreme commander of the campaign, is heavily focused on preparing for battle the armed forces of America’s three or four allies, whether open or covert: Jordan, to some extent – Egypt, Turkey and Israel.
Jordan: US special forces have taken responsibility for the security of King Abdullah’s palaces in Amman and the Red Sea port of Aqaba and the protection of the royal family.
American officers have effectively assumed command of Jordan’s 7,500-man-strong special forces division, the kingdom’s rapid intervention force, preparing it for integration in the US spearhead against Iraq from the west. The Jordanian force’s main mission will be to find and destroy batteries of surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and their launchers. They will also be assigned to capturing key Iraqi air bases just across the Jordanian border, such as H-3 West and H-3 East.
The US command has designed a training regimen for equalizing Jordanian combat capabilities to mach that of US special forces, enabling them to handle US equipment and fight alongside American soldiers.
Jordanian armored, mechanized infantry and artillery divisions are taking instruction in the desert from hundreds of US military experts and instructors in the use of the new weapons systems ferried into the kingdom round the clock in the past three weeks by air and sea. These troops are being trained in parachute commando tactics and the lightning capture of airfields and military bases. Fording rivers, lakes and canals, the seizure of transport hubs, railway lines and highways as well as nuclear, biological and chemical weapons warfare, are part of their intensive training program.
Israeli armored units and special forces deployed along Jordan’s Iraqi border are also in training with American instructors.
Aqaba on the Red Sea, Jordan’s only port, is being converted into a US military naval base to supply and fuel US warships. The stretch of sea running south from Aqaba up to the meeting point of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal has effectively become a closed military zone patrolled constantly by US and Israeli missile boats.
Egypt: The special forces and parachute units of Egypt’s Third and Second armies are also in training with US officers and instructors. The courses are described officially as a US instruction program on new tactics for defending the Suez Canal, a necessary cover story, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources explain, for as long as President Hosni Mubarak cannot decide where he stands on the American campaign against Iraq.
To help him make up his mind, the Egyptian ruler went looking for urgent advice this week. Saturday, July 20, he flew to Geneva to confer with Saudi Arabia’s ailing King Fahd at his summer palace at Collonge Bellerive on the shores of Lake Geneva, This was quite surprising, since the king is effectively retired and the kingdom’s de facto ruler is his half-brother crown prince Abdullah.
According to our sources in Geneva, Fahd arrived with an exceptionally large entourage of 800 attendants, including a group of senior Saudi intelligence officers loyal to Abdullah. Mubarak, hoping to line up a joint policy with Riyadh on US war plans, was likewise accompanied by his intelligence chiefs.
The Geneva venue was chosen for the Mubarak-Fahd conference because Saudi security cannot guarantee the Egyptian president’s safety from assassination on Saudi territory, including Riyadh and Jeddah.
Four days later, on July 24, Mubarak called on French president Jacques Chirac to consult with him on Egypt’s role in the coming war.
Those two consultations left the Egyptian president even more undecided than he was before.
Turkey: Ankara’s participation in the US war effort hung in the balance until US deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz arrived ten days ago with firm American guarantees that the Kurds would on no account be permitted to establish an independent state in northern Iraq. They had been promised nothing more than an autonomous Kurdish entity with federal links to Baghdad. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the Turkish government had been at the point of pulling back several Turkish special forces units already in northern Iraq. They showed Wolfowitz transcripts of interrogations of Kurdish fighters captured while trying to infiltrate Turkey from Iraq, who quoted Kurdish leaders as declaring that a “Kurdish-Iraqi state” would rise – in violation of Kurdish-US accords – as one of three new Kurdistans; the other two, in Iran and Turkey. The US official promised that US special forces and CIA personnel present on the ground would pin the Kurds to their commitments.
The advanced state of the war preparations around the Middle East make it entirely possible that some party may jump the gun. Rather than wait for the Americans to launch their main offensive in mid-September, preliminary engagements could flare up in Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Syria, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia in late August. These skirmishes, while apparent sideshows of the main action, could in fact determine the course of the opening stages of the war.
The Iraqis, for example, may go for what they see as the soft points of the US-Jordanian-Israeli deployment in Jordan or hit US military targets in the Persian Gulf. The Americans, for their part, may drop advance US-Jordanian units in Iraq to link up with US and Turkish special forces already in position for sabotaging mass destruction weapons depots, surface missile systems, key air bases or transport junctions.
One prime objective of a pre-war assault of this kind would be to cut off Baghdad’s main imported weapons supply routes by road and rail from Syria’s Mediterranean ports to northern and central Iraq.
Israel: Severing these routes could be accomplished by military action in Syria as well as Iraq, while at the same time Israeli forces would launch wide-scale attacks on the Hizballah terrorist bases in Lebanon and strategic targets across Syria. These advance strikes would serve to cut Iraq’s supply routes from the west.
US and Israeli military planners believe it is vital to take out the Hizballah’s missile and heavy rocket alignment along the Lebanese-Israeli frontier, even before the US launches its assault on Iraqi, lest those missiles be unleashed against northern and central Israel as soon as the assault is underway.
One of the Hizballah’s principal targets would certainly be Israel’s Mediterranean port of Haifa, which the US Sixth Fleet has made an important port of call. It is also the location of American emergency supply depots and medical evacuation facilities. Haifa will be the landing point for US reinforcements destined for Jordan and the Iraqi front line. US war planners regard Haifa as an essential facility that must be kept free of any Hizballah missile threat.Of paramount importance too are Israel’s Jezreel Valley air bases east of Haifa, which are also within Hizballah missile range. US generals plan to use these bases for launching air strikes in the Western Desert, where Iraq has massed a large number of surface-to-surface missiles.