Two of America’s three designated warfronts against Iraq are buckling. However, they may not be a total loss. The new February 15 timeline leaves all the parties space to indulge in gainful maneuvers and still climb back on the US war wagon at the end of the day.
Turkey was the first defector. This week, Jordan followed.
Ankara raised the stakes Thursday, January 16, by calling a regional summit to discuss ways of preventing the American war against Iraq, inviting Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia to attend.
The Jordanian setback caught United States war planners still shuffling the board round under the shock of Turkey’s refusal to let US forces use its bases and territory for the leap into Iraq from the north (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 92 first revealed on 10 January 2003). They discovered that the second staunch American partner, Jordan’s King Abdullah, had developed cold feet. The monarch suddenly called off the deployment of Marines in Jordanian bases, just as American military planners were frantically mapping out new plans for re-routing entire armored divisions, squadrons of warplanes and fleets of ships, which had been on the point of shipping out to Turkey from their home bases.
Two of the three designated US invasion fronts against Iraq were on the point of folding. The two defections – if sustained – leave US war commander General Tommy Franks with one last invasion front: the south. US ground assault 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‘s military sources and experts expect the United States to partly offset the loss of Turkish bases 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.
The Kurdish militias cannot be counted on to capture the key northern Iraqi oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. For this mission, the US war command will have to reassign at least one elite 101st Airborne Division contingent especially trained for months for parachuting missions into the Baghdad metropolitan area. 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 US military planners can successfully redraw their battle plan and allocation of forces in Iraq, some of the harm will be offset.
Nonetheless, unless the king recants, the damage caused by Jordan’s withdrawal and the loss of the Western front, as weighed up by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, is considerable:
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 US originally planned 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. This plan will have to abandoned, leaving Iraqi troops assigned to defending this sector against the raiding force 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, should Jordan persist in staying out of the conflict – and western Iraq is consequently left in Saddam’s hands – this could 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 by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources.
Jordan Fears Palestinian Flooding
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 pulls down an edifice constructed by US, Jordanian and Israeli special forces in almost a year of clandestine military 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. These forces combed the region for undercover Iraqi commando units manning these systems or trained to steal across the Jordanian and Saudi borders for terrorist attacks against American targets in the Middle East and the Gulf, including oil fields, as well as Israeli targets.
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 on Jordanian and Israeli special forces for backup. 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 American and Israeli 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 have 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.
Abdullah’s reasons for slapping restrictions on US and Israeli troop movements are complex:
1. He recently joined the Saudi – i.e. Arab – initiative for averting a US attack on Iraq.
2. Like his fellow Sunni Arab rulers, the Jordanian king dislikes the Bush administration’s conception of the post-war government in Baghdad. He was bowled over by Washington’s espousal of Jalal Talabani, leader of Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, as candidate for prime minister of the new Iraq
3. Abdullah feels he was not treated with proper respect by President Bush’s special adviser on Iraqi affairs, Zalmy Khalil-Zad. He is also aggrieved at not being awarded his due in US aid as a pivotal ally in the coming war.
4. Abdullah has a long list of grievances against Israel, some of which he conveyed to Washington in the hope of pressure on Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to respond. Sharon turned these complaints aside.
5. The king demands Israeli assurances on the Palestinian issue – in particular, a pledge from Sharon to station units on the border once war with Iraq begins in order to forcibly hold back Palestinians trying to cross from the West Bank into Jordan. Abdullah expects that hundreds of thousands of West Bank and Gazan Palestinians, fearing the effects of Iraqi chemical or biological attacks on Israel, will attempt to hurl themselves across the border into Jordan, since the Palestinian Authority has prepared neither gas masks nor antidotes for the population.
The king and his advisers are afraid that Sharon may take advantage of the crisis and open the door to let the mass-flight of Palestinians through, effectively de-populating Palestinian cities.
In addition to domestic and foreign concerns, both Turkey and Jordan have what they believe to be another good reason for retreating from involvement in a US war against Iraq: Iraqi or al Qaeda nuclear retaliation.