Middle East in high suspense for Gaza operation sequels
While Israel’s Pillar of Cloud was still in full spate over the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, the United States, Russia, Iran, Israel and Turkey were each respectively putting their next moves in place in a broader radius, debkafile reports.
Saturday, Nov. 17, America acted to shore up its naval and Marine forces in the region. Washington gave its approval for NATO to post Patriot anti-missile batteries in Turkey opposite the Syrian border together with advanced AWACs electronic warning aircraft. Both weapons systems are to be manned by US military crews. Next, the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group took up position opposite the Israeli and Syrian shores, adding another section to the menacing ring forming around Syria.
Moscow, Iran and Damascus, for their part, decided that the same coalition that laid a trail of disaster for its allies in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Jihad Islami, were now about to pounce on Iran’s best friend, Bashar Assad, by moves to enforce protected asylums and no-fly zones in Syria.
In Tehran and Moscow, the Gaza offensive was not perceived as a lone Israeli operation but rather as the ground-breaker for a broader offensive by the US, Turkey and Qatar and the product of their combined intelligence brains rather than of military war planners.
Iran had been systematically building up the Gaza Strip as its “southern front” to fight enemies who attacked its nuclear facilities. The obliteration of a large portion of the military infrastructure Hamas and Jihad Islam had accumulated left this plan in shambles. Moscow and Tehran fully expect Washington to next turn the attention of the intelligence team which engineered the dashing of Iran’s hopes in Gaza to Syria and Hizballah, exploiting Tehran’s momentary weakness.
Moscow reacted by posting the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s naval task force opposition the Gaza, i.e. Israeli coast Friday, Nov. 11, purportedly to rescue distressed Russian citizens “should the Israeli-Palestinian fighting worsen in Gaza.”
Their arrival was announced Nov. 23, two days after a ceasefire went into effect in Gaza.
The Russian task force includes the missile cruiser Moskva, the destroyer Smetlivy, the large landing ships Novocherkassk and Saratov, the tugboat MB-304 and the large oil tanker Ivan Bubnov.
debkafile’s military sources say its real mission concerns forthcoming events in Syria rather than a worsening of hostilities in Gaza. Indeed it has been stationed facing the USS Iwo Jima which is in position opposite the Israeli and Syrian coasts.
As for Tehran, Saturday, Nov. 24, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad phoned the Hamas Prime Minister of the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniya, and Jihad Islami leaders to assure them that Iran will continue to supply them with munitions as before and refill their depleted arsenals within weeks.
This assurance was widely publicized by Tehran as deterrence for the US-Egyptian-Israeli plan to shut down Iran’s arms smuggling routes through Sinai to the Gaza Strip. The promise by US President Barack Obama to send US troops to Sinai for this mission finally persuaded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to suspend Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip last Thursday, Nov. 21 after eight days and accept a ceasefire.
The week ahead holds three major events, debkafile’s military sources report.
1. Iran is not expected to let its Gaza debacle go by without response – probably by some act of military or terrorist violence. Israeli intelligence closely watched Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani putting his head together on how to go about punishing Israel with Bashar Assad in Damascus on Friday, Nov. 23, and with Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut the next day.
2. A fresh war escalation is on the cards in Syria in response to the deployment of US-manned Patriots and AWACs on Turkey’s border with Syria. Syria may decide to vent its ire against Israel.
3. Egypt’s pro-democracy, liberal and anti-Muslim Brotherhood forces are arrayed for a major battle against President Mohamed Morsi for his assumption of extraordinary powers. This contest has the potential for undoing the fragile ceasefire reached between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Part of the deal was for Morsi to personally monitor and arbitrate the implementation of the secret understandings for Gaza and Sinai that were negotiated between the US, Egypt and Israel in order to open the door to the ceasefire.