Shortly before the deployment of two American Patriot missiles manned by 400 US servicemen for defending Turkey against Syria was announced Thursday, Dec. 13, Washington quietly recalled from Syrian waters the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and its strike group and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready group and the 2,000 Marines on their decks.
This US fleet, now on its way to home base, stayed opposite the Syrian coast from the third week of November ready to take part in direct US intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Now that the American warships are gone, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet task force, which docked at the Syrian port of Tartus on Dec. 5, is the only war fleet remaining around the Syrian coast. According to debkafile’s intelligence sources, the Russian ships came to deliver a large consignment of arms for Bashar Assad’s army, although Russian sources claimed the vessels put into port for minor repairs and refueling.
US naval, air and marine forces pulled back from the eastern Mediterranean, to be replaced American-manned Patriot missile interceptors just as Syria became engulfed in another peak wave of violence. This deeply perturbs Syria’s neighbors, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel. They all fear Assad’s Scud missiles fitted with chemical warheads are pointed at them, no less than rebel forces, and he will have no qualms about shooting or dropping them against any of those neighbors if he becomes desperate. Their intelligence agencies believe the Syrian ruler is just as likely to direct chemical weapons against US military facilities on their soil.
Although the five governments are not openly criticizing the Obama administration, a senior Turkish officer in Ankara said to debkafile’s sources that America’s action in removing its naval forces from the eastern Mediterranean is “hard to understand and unacceptable to Ankara.”
This is especially so, he said, in view of the discovery, reported by US official sources Friday, that the Syrian ruler has a larger chemical arsenal than previously believed – several dozen bombs and shells loaded with the lethal chemical sarin.
To appease the Turks, our sources report that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta paid a short visit Friday, Dec. 14, to the big air base in southern Turkey where US strike aircraft are stationed alongside Turkish warplanes.
Panetta also conferred with Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel and senior US commanders, including NATO chief, Adm. James Stavridis.
The admiral said after the meeting: “Over the past few days, a handful of Scud missiles were launched inside Syria, directed by the regime against opposition targets. Several landed fairly close to the Turkish border, which is very worrisome.”
In the view of debkafile’s military sources, President Barack Obama decided to pull the formidable warship fleet away from the neighborhood of Syria in an effort to defuse the military tensions rising between Iran, Turkey and Syria.
He also hoped that the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s scheduled visit to Turkey Monday, Dec. 17, for talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, would be a useful opportunity to achieve some sort of understanding with Iran over the Syrian crisis.
However, Tehran had other ideas. Saturday, Iran’s chief of staff Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, raised regional temperatures when he referred to the NATO Patriot missiles posted along Turkey’s border with Syria as “meant to cause a world war. They are making plans for a world war, and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself," he said.
Sunday, Ahmadinejad slammed the door on any hoped-for understanding with Ankara by his last-minute cancellation of his trip to Turkey in view of the peril of war – further escalating the stresses radiating from Syria’s 21-month uprising.