Mid East-Gulf Region Braces for War and Terror
Armed forces and counter-terror security forces across the Middle East are tightly tensed up in a high state of pre-war preparedness and anti-terror jitters – even amid the jubilation over the capture in Islamabad of al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Muhammed and the car bomb killing of Abu Musab Zarqawi’s right hand lieutenant, Abu Mohammad al Masri, in south Lebanon. Both coups occurred on the same day, Saturday, March 1.
Some regional armed forces have also advanced to new positions to guard against Iraqi pre-emptive or punitive action, predatory terrorists – or both:
Saudi Arabia faces a double crunch. The Saudi army is on the alert, its troops strung out along the borders of both Iraq and Kuwait.
An air incident last Thursday, February 27, demonstrated how close the flashpoint is. An Iraqi Mig-25 fighter interceptor, the fastest warplane in its service, sneaked into Saudi air space to probe the readiness of American radar systems in the oil kingdom. Revealing the incident Sunday, March 2, a US F-15C pilot said “Our fighter planes went nose-to-nose” with the intruder at 70,000 feet, 15-20 miles inside Saudi air space. “He wisely turned around when we gave him a good hard radar lock… We were within two minutes of firing an air-to-air missile in his direction.”
debkafile‘s military sources report American, Israeli and Jordanian air forces went on the alert during incident.
The Saudi ground deployment on the Kuwaiti border is there to hamper the movement of al Qaeda terrorists between the two countries.
A German intelligence source told debkafile‘s Kuwait correspondent there are a great many weak points on the Saudi-Kuwait borders through which Saudi-based terrorist groups can easily infiltrate Kuwait, carry out attacks against American or British military targets and slip back into the kingdom. In fact the border is almost nonexistent and the links between Saudi and Kuwait Islamic extremists strong. Following a spate of attacks against US troops, Kuwait sealed off almost one third of its land area to civilians.
Nonetheless, Saturday morning, March 1, two Kuwaitis were discovered in a car outside the Kuwait Hilton Resort Hotel with a supply of Molotov cocktails. The US and British military have set up their press center in the hotel because it is surrounded by a high wall and easily secured. Nonetheless American soldiers bear arms in the public areas – unlike US personnel in other parts of Kuwait City who go about unarmed.
Friday night, the authorities rounded up a further 11 “Kuwaiti Afghans”, a local euphemism for al Qaeda. It is also noted that the highest ranking al Qaeda commander ever caught, Khalid Shaikh Muhammed who was captured in Islamabad on the next day, is also a Kuwaiti national, though of Baluchi origin.
Turkey is betwixt and between. Parliament’s narrow vote Saturday, March 1, to authorize US troops in Turkish bases and Turkish troops abroad may have been nullified, but the last word has not yet been said on the matter. The strategic dialogue between Washington and Ankara continues. Certainly, the Gul government wants a say in the future of its neighbor.
While nullifying the motion, the Turkish legislature was not able to nullify the thousands of American troops of the 4th Infantry Division already present in Turkey, having arrived in the last ten days in civilian attire. debkafile‘s military sources report that altogether forty flights were booked to transport the entire division into Turkey. About half made it to Turkish air bases before parliament cast its nyet and elements of their tanks and equipment were discharged at Iskenderun harbor. Dozens of US warplanes and helicopters also landed and are sitting on the tarmac at the Batman airbase in south Turkey.
Washington and Ankara therefore have a messy situation to sort out. If the Turkish government sets its face finally against the hosting of US troops for Iraq at its bases, something will have to be done about the contingents already present. To solve the quandary, the two governments may decide to circumvent parliament – unless it is amenable to a second vote – and close a deal, or reach a partial agreement that covers the personnel already in Turkey, allowing them to advance into northern Iraq. Their equipment still aboard vessels cruising around the eastern Mediterranean will have to be sent into northern Iraq through an alternative route.
On such alternative is Jordan.
In the meantime, the Turkish armed forces defy the will of their parliament and continue to pour troops, heavy artillery and tanks into northern Iraq. The 18,000-20,000 Turkish soldiers already assembled are poised at a point northwest of Zakho, just inside Iraq.
Jordan hosts US combat contingents. The royal armed forces are on the ready, having beefed-up the units stationed on Jordan’s Iraqi and Syrian borders. This change of posture is accounted for by debkafile‘s military sources by the completion of the US troop deployment in Jordan.
Dubbed Expeditionary Force 22, it consists mainly of helicopter gunships, Marine units and 101st Airborne Division special forces. They are geared up to drive into western Iraq at two bases which are under full American control at Ruwayshid and Abu Tarha.
Jordan may also be asked to stand in for Turkey as an alternative route for the US units heading into northern Iraq.
Syria on the defensive. One-fifth of Syria’s standing army in Lebanon was redeployed last week in readiness for a regional Middle East outbreak of hostilities that could hit that country too. Fearing assault by sea or from Israel, Damascus withdrew its units from Lebanon’s Christian concentrations, the coastal strip and the south and relocated them in five sparsely populated regions in the north and the center. Some are deployed on the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Syrian leaders know their country may be in trouble for ignoring American complaints in the last ten days about the openness of its borders to illegitimate movements.
Since Turkey closed all its border posts into Iraq and Kurdistan, Syria has thrown its frontiers open to any type of traffic coming in from – or going out to – Iraq and Kurdistan, be it people, trucks or military movements. Syria is also waving across into Iraq large arms shipments imported from Belarus, the Czech Republic and Hungary, providing Saddam Hussein with a land bridge from the Mediterranean.
Iran guards against all contingencies. Iranian armed forces, including their air force and navy, are on war preparedness, their ground forces having been shifted lock, stock and barrel to the border with Iraq. The entire Iranian tank force – which is not large, 800 tanks in all – has been deployed in two concentrations: half at Qasr Shirin in the north and half at Khorramshahr in south.
The armed forces ofTurkey, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAEare all similarly in a high state of preparedness.
Israel makes ready for rapid call-up. The navy, air force, air defenses, homeland command and the mobilization administration are in a state of preparedness. Israel is in a position to complete a general call-up of its reserves in the space of 24 hours. The US Patriot anti-missile batteries shipped into the country with American crews will have been placed in emergency array around Tel Aviv early this week.
Three continents prepare for al Qaeda
A high terror alert is in force in response to intelligence that al Qaeda is on the point of striking. Counter-terrorist agencies may have eliminated two senior terror planners on Saturday, March 1, but this will not necessarily affect cells already in place and armed with orders, targets and weapons.
The alert was declared in response to specific intelligence that al Qaeda had found ways of smuggling a vast number – around 1000-1500 – of anti-air rockets, including Strelas and Stingers, to cells standing by to attack military and civilian aircraft in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen, Abu Dhabi, Jordan and Israel.
A similar quantity of missiles is reported to have been secreted into Britain, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Burma. Al Qaeda operatives have been directed to aim for American, European and Israel airliners.
Al Qaeda has reserved for the United Statesa special threat to carry out a large-scale attack within ten days (counting from Thursday, Feb. 27). This is only one of many. Nonetheless, the US authorities downgraded their terror level last week to “elevated”.
In America too, Osama bin Laden’s teams are expected to target civil aviation for rocket attacks.
Israelis braced for a Mombasa-style al Qaeda strike against its commercial flights during takeoff or landing anywhere in the world. Israeli security also expects the network to attempt a “dirty bomb”, chemical or biological strike in an Israeli city.
The working hypothesis of Israeli counter-intelligence experts is that if al Qaeda fails to pull off an attack in Israel, it will turn against a Jewish target somewhere in the world.