Two jumbo military exercises taking place in the Middle East in the last 10 days went almost unnoticed. But they represented the realization by some regional governments that at some point, it would be up to them to come to grips with Iran’s nuclear and expansionist ambitions.
The Israel Defense Forces chose Sunday, May 4, two days before celebrating 66 years of their country’s independence, to practice the mass movement of armored forces up to the Syrian and Lebanese borders, in case of an outbreak of hostilities at short notice. Taken into account was the potential of a surprise attack or limited operation that would require the concentration of forces on the Lebanese border and the possible spillover of fighting to the Syrian Golan.
On that day, 500 tanks, mobile missiles, APCs, heavy self-propelled artillery and multiple rocket launchers were shunted unannounced from the South and Center to the northern borders.
One of the IDF’s Technology and Logistics Branch’s biggest headaches was clearing the country’s major highways, including the Trans-Israeli Highway (Rte 6) and the coast Tel Aviv-Haifa highway, for this massive, rapid deployment. The military therefore roped in the traffic police for a joint operations room, that ordered the highways closed and open to keep the heavy military convoys on the move.
Logistics Branch chief Maj. Gen. Kobi Barak said, “We are taking into account that a northern enemy may target main Israeli road intersections and junctions with heavy volleys of precision missiles in order to disrupt our military movements. The exercise was therefore adapted to this eventuality.”
“It takes 20 vehicles to move one Iron Dome battery”
He also explained that in any war situation, heavy armor would be supplemented by naval and air force participation. Iron Dome missile defense systems would be shifted from place to place as needed.
“Don’t forget that 20 vehicles, including cranes, are required to move just one battery.”
The scenario that DEBKA Weekly’s military experts put forward to account for a military exercise on this vast scale is a possible general Syrian-cum-Hizballah offensive on Israel in the wake of a potential Israel military strike against Iran.
Although this exercise was scarcely noticed or even reported, Tehran was ready with its answer two days later, addressing it not to Jerusalem but Washington. On May 6, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy Chief Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, referring to the mock-up of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier built at the Revolutionary Guards naval base of Bandar Abbas, said that in their coming exercises, “Iranian forces should target the carrier. We should learn about the weaknesses and strengths of our enemy. If war with the United States breaks out, the Iranians will attack American aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, their size making them easy to target.”
Saudis, Gulf and Egypt set for a war in Iran that could go nuclear
Saudi leaders were chagrined by the lack of interest in the West for the most ambitious war game they had ever staged, under the stirring slogan of “Operation Saif Abdullah (Sword of Abdullah).” The event scarcely rated media mention (excepting only debkafile of April 29: “Saudis parade nuclear missiles for the first time in defiance of US-Iranian nuclear accord”).
The 130,000 troop-strong war game, which ended in a massive parade on April 29, displayed Chinese-made nuclear capable missiles as its showpiece – a taunting vote of no-confidence in the US-Iranian negotiations’ chances of putting to rest regional concerns over Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
It was the largest military exercise the Gulf has ever staged and the most encompassing. For the first time, officers from all the Gulf countries save Qatar took part. In another first, members of the Egyptian military also participated in the kingdom’s show of force.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources stress these officers were not there for show. They were high-ranking commanders whose units had trained together with other Gulf armies in tactics of integration with the Saudi Arabian armed forces, in readiness for two eventualities: A potential armed conflict with Iran and the defense of their countries against Iranian aggression.
In a war, these officers would be the nerve center of cooperation and determine which units were deployed to Saudi Arabia and which assigned to hitting targets in Iran.
The drill was tantamount to the first public commitment of Egypt’s future president, ex-general Abdel–Fattah El-Sisi, to send troops to fight against Iran as part of this coalition. If this came to pass, it would be the first time in modern Mid East history that Egyptian troops are pitted against an Iranian army.
The parading of the nuclear-capable DF-3 ballistic missiles (NATO designated CSS-2), and the suggestive presence on the saluting stand of Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif, in the role of nuclear provider, strongly indicated that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States were getting set for a war that could go nuclear.
Saudis act on lessons of US military abstinence in world crises
Our Gulf sources point out that Riyadh’s show of muscle was not only directed at Tehran; it carried a message to US President Barack Obama that the days of Saudi Arabia’s exclusive reliance on the US military or nuclear shield for the region were over.
Political analysts in the Gulf point to three key events in the past year that led up to this conclusion.
1. Obama’s backtracking from the “red line” he set in September 2013, whereby the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict would prompt US military intervention against Bashar Assad. The administration never honored that pledge and, in the meantime, the Assad regime has been deploying chemical weapons unhindered, using new substances developed by Iran. And the war in Syria drags on.
2. The Obama administration’s non-response to China’s November move to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over part of the East China Sea, including the area over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China also lays claim to.
While the US sent two military planes through the zones in response to China’s actions, the ADIZ remains in place and the US has gone quiet on the matter.
3. The Russian Army’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula without firing a single shot, and with no resistance from the US or the West, set off alarm bells in the Gulf countries. While the likelihood of Russia supporting a military operation by its Iranian allies in the Gulf might sound farfetched to Western ears, it makes a lot of sense in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Bahrain.