For five days, from Sunday June 6 through Thursday June 10, the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group carried out naval and aerial war exercises with live ammunition from a spot 50 miles off Israel's southwestern coast – not far from where Israeli naval commandos raided the Turkish MV Mavi Marmara on May 31 precipitating a clash which dropped the Middle East into a new crisis.
The Truman's sixty F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter bombers took off day and night to bomb targets set up by the Israeli Air Force at its firing range on the Nevatim Base-28, one of Israel's three principal air force bases, which is located in the Negev desert southeast of Be'er Sheva.
The exercise had 16 American F-16 fighter jets taking off from bases in Germany and Romania, landing at Israeli Air Force facilities, refueling and taking off against with Israeli Air Force combat squadrons. Together, they practiced long-range bombing missions over the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, drilling air-to-air combat along the way.
Both Washington and Jerusalem withheld public exposure of this US-Israeli aerial exercise, which was dubbed Juniper Stallion 2010, because it was a lot closer to the real thing than previous joint war games in the Juniper series. In fact, on instructions from President Barack Obama, all US missile interceptors in the Middle East were on full war alert, including the batteries on US Sixth Fleet vessels on the Mediterranean and the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.
The Truman stands by for rising naval-military crisis curve
Israel's missile shield was also on war alert.
The two anti-missile missile systems jointly drilled their ability to repel Iranian, Syrian, and Hizballah missile attacks on US Middle East targets and on Israel.
On Wednesday, June 16, debkafile's military and Washington sources reported exclusively that the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, which was supposed to depart the Mediterranean after the exercise and head out to the Persian Gulf, was ordered to remain in the Mediterranean for now. Intelligence had reached Washington of an expected high curve in naval and military tensions involving Turkey, Iran and possibly Hizballah, against Israel over the Gaza blockade.
Fueling the tensions are Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's preparations to launch a fresh wave of flotillas for Gaza with Iranian participation and subject Israel to broad sanctions and a worldwide boycott campaign. Ankara is suspending bilateral cooperation with Israel in all fields.
On Wednesday, June 16, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a grim warning. He said Israel could no longer treat the next convoys for Gaza as humanitarian aid operations because they were sent with hostile intent by Israel's enemies.
A few hours after Lieberman's comment, Tehran issued a blanket threat against Israel – and implicitly the United States: Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said that if Israel or any other party interfered with the Iranian ships destined for Gaza, Tehran would retaliate militarily against unspecified shipping in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf.
Gulf rulers omit US from their defenses against a nuclear-armed Iran
Most strikingly, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East analysts note, the joint US-Israel show of military might produced none of its desired effects: It failed to stem the rocketing military tensions besetting the region since the Israel-Turkish clash on May 31 over Ankara's Gaza-bound flotilla; nor did it restrain Turkey's headlong drive for domination or ease the political volatility set up by this drive (as outlined in the second article in this issue: Turkey Aims to Displace US in Middle East: Works on New Bloc Segregated from America's Influence).
America's waning military fortunes in Afghanistan and powerlessness to halt Iran's nuclear program are taking a heavy toll on its influence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
This was evident from a new working paper presented to five oil emirates (excepting only Oman) by former Kuwaiti National Security Adviser and ex-lawmaker Abdullah Ali Nafisi.
The Persian Gulf states will not be able to withstand the Iranian nuclear threat and Iranian political pressure, he writes, if they continue to operate as six separate states, each with its own small army.
The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) has lost its effectiveness and is not capable of dealing with the Iranian threat, says Al Nafisi. Therefore, the very survival of the GCC states can only be assured if the six independent countries integrate into a single political entity, making the Saudi city of Medina its capital.
The Gulf States would have to merge their armies, says the Kuwait strategist. Only a single large army that controls everything that goes on in the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf would be able to deter Iran.
The most prominent feature of this working paper is its omission of the United States, as though its traditional role of protector of the emirates in times of danger is forgotten, its military might ignored as a non-factor.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in the Persian Gulf stress the Kuwaiti writer would not have released his paper without the nod of royal circles close to King Abdullah.
It was therefore not surprising to hear approving echoes in Riyadh this week, a cautious yet clear Saudi response to the latest Turkish and Iranian Middle East initiatives. As we went to press, our sources report that President Obama has urgently invited the Saudi king for talks. His visit to Washington has been scheduled for June 28.