US, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt Clasp Iron Fists
Wednesday, October 13, France's flagship and only aircraft carrier the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle sailed out from its home port of Toulon on a four-month mission, escorted by two frigates, an attack submarine and refueling tanker, under the command of Rear Admiral Jean-Louis Kerignard.
Their mission was officially designated support for the NATO anti-piracy and counter-terror contingents patrolling the Indian Ocean and for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Two days later, the French carrier turned back for urgent repairs to damage, the nature of which the French Navy spokesman declined to specify. Western naval sources said it was an electrical fault in the ship's propulsion system.
The escort group continued on its way leaving the carrier to catch up later.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that this breakdown caused the Charles de Gaulle to miss the boat in the most strategic sense. It had been scheduled to reach the Arabian Sea Sunday, Oct. 17, on the same day that the USS Abraham Lincoln put in to Manama port, home of the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, as agreed in advance between the White House in Washington and the Elyseé Palace in Paris.
The American carrier kept the date, arriving in the Persian Gulf with a Carrier Air Wing CVW-2 of nine squadrons on its decks, to join the USS Harry S. Truman carrier and its marine air strike unit.
Carrying each other's replacement parts
The coordinated build-up around Iran's shores in the second half of October, 2010 was the outcome of a recent discussion inside the White House about whether it would be helpful, or counterproductive, to have President Barak Obama talk more openly about military options. And not just to talk, but to suit action to words.
Some of the spadework was already in place: In June 8, the US, France and Britain carried out a joint exercise. US and French fighter-bombers, taking off from the Truman and the de Gaulle, and British fighter-bombers flying in from bases in England, practiced bombing ground targets and providing air support for Marines on ground missions against Iranian targets at the Canjuers training facility near Toulon.
The US and French fighter bombers had their first experience ever of landing on their ally's aircraft carriers for "repairs" in their role of aircraft maimed in combat. French Rafale M fighter-bombers landed on a US aircraft carrier while US Super Hornet F/A-18E/F warplanes touched down on the French carrier's deck for repairs in its workshop.
This exercise prepared the US and French carriers designated to take part in an attack on Iran to each carry replacement parts for its ally's warplanes.
The goal of the overall US command was to have three nuclear-powered aircraft carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea with a combined total of 160 warplanes on their decks – 120 on the US carriers and 40 on the Charles de Gaulle.
Egypt joins Strait of Hormuz defenders at big new Fujairah naval base
Also on October 17, in another part of the Middle East, the start of a unique military exercise slotted two more pieces into the overall architecture of US planning for a possible attack on Iran.
Saudi and Egyptian special forces, marines, armored, missile, air and naval contingents met for the first time in the history of their armed forces for a joint exercise, Tabuk-2. Its goal was to turn back an Iranian offensive by attacking the attacker.
This maneuver which took place in Egypt's Northern Desert was first disclosed exclusively in our last issue. Our military sources have since filled in the details.
The scenario they rehearsed started with Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) marines landing on Saudi oil fields and oil ports in the Eastern Provinces. One Egyptian force was assigned to rush over to augment Saudi resistance to the invaders, while a second standing by in northwest Saudi Arabia would land behind enemy lines on the western Iranian coast and raid the IRGC bases located there.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources further disclose:
1. Tabuk-2 was only the first of a series of joint Saudi-Egyptian war games to strengthen their military cooperation and inculcate patterns of mutual defense.
2. An Egyptian expeditionary force made up of armored, naval, marine, air and commando detachments has scattered among Saudi military bases as a permanent outpost. It will stand ready for swift action at short notice in line with a strategic Saudi-Egyptian decision to have field units on the ready for instantaneous response to an Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia.
3. Egyptian and Saudi intelligence services have unified their Iran desks.
4. The day their war game ended, October 21, a huge new naval base was inaugurated at the Unite Arab Emirates port of Fujairah. The site is located at a focal point on the eastern coast of the emirate just opposite the Straits of Hormuz with links to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.
In addition to the UAE navy, French and Egyptian naval and marine units will be stationed at this base – the first time the French fleet has won a foothold in the Persian Gulf and Egypt's first deployment for a role in defending the strategic oil transport waterway.
The new Fujairah base was inaugurated on the day the two Arab powers ended their war game.
US-Israeli coordination strengthened
The United States has also substantially bolstered three Combined Task Forces in the region with manpower and equipment. They are: CTF151 which operates in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin, CTF152 whose area of operation stretches from the northern Persian Gulf to the Strait of Hormuz, and CTF158 which covers the northernmost corner of the Persian Gulf.
Attached to them are large amphibious landing craft with air transports and helicopters on their decks for carrying thousands of commandos and marines into action.
The US and Israel meanwhile conducted a 10-day command post simulation and training exercise called Juniper Falcon 11 on October 11-21, a regular event which this time drilled responses to coordinated missile strikes from Iran, Syria, Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Added to the scenario were Iranian merchant ships at sea shooting missiles and Iranian warplanes taking off from Syrian bases to blitz Israel and American targets in the region.
The exercise tested the level of intelligence and operational coordination between US and Israeli missile interceptor systems and also how well they worked together in potential counter-attacks on missile-launching sites in Iran and its allies, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza.
On October 25, Dennis Ross, Special Assistant to the US President and Senior Director for the Central Region, spoke about the level of strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel in an address to the Florida convention of the Israel lobby AIPAC:
"Frankly, this degree of coordination (between US and Israel) is unprecedented," he commented. "I have participated in these types of discussions for the last 30 years and they have never been as intense or focused, reflecting the serious cooperation that we have today with Israel."
In another comment, Ross said, "Should Iran continue its defiance, despite its growing isolation and the damage to its economy, its leaders should listen carefully to President Obama who has said many times, 'We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.'"
Ross's remarks amounted to the most explicit threat yet heard from a key Obama administration figure about possible American military action against Iran.