The US Pentagon announced last week that the Israel, Syria and Lebanon arenas would be detached from CENTCOM and Gen. John Abizaid‘s charge and transferred to US EUCOM, under General James Jones, US European commander and NATO Supreme Allied Commander – Europe.
Iraq, Afghanistan, the Arab countries and the Persian Gulf will stay with CENTCOM.
At the same time, the Americans have boosted their land, air and sea units in the eastern Mediterranean under Navy Vice Admiral J. “Boomer” Stufflebeem, commander of Joint Task Lebanon.
These changes, which for the first time have split the Middle East between two US command centers, stem from the fallout of the Lebanon War, the arrival of European military forces in Lebanon under the UN aegis and the expectation of more military conflicts involving Iran and the Hizballah.
USS Mount Whitney is the flagship for commander Second Fleet/Commander Striking Fleet Atlantic.
It is the platform for 200 joint personnel manning the JTF Lebanon headquarters staff, as well as exercising command of Task Force Bravo, with its 1,800 sailors, Marines, Air Force medical personnel and civilian mariners serving aboard the USS Barry, the USS Trenton, HSV Swift and USNS Kanawha.
Above all, the Mount Whitney has a uniquely sophisticated command and control suite.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that the posting of the Mount Whitney in command of the task force opposite Lebanon attests to four American objectives:
1. To provide the European troops in south Lebanon with the most sophisticated command, control, communications, computer and intelligence backup the Americans have. This vessel’s systems are capable of tracking any land, air or land movements by Iran, Syria or Israel in the region and offering timely early warning to UNIFIL commanders.
2. Viewed another way, the Mount Whitney cruising opposite the Lebanese coast exposes every European military movement to American eyes, including those of the French 38,000 ton, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi and four other naval ships due to reach Lebanon by Friday, Sept. 1.
3. The ability to monitor the advanced Iranian intelligence and surveillance systems based in Syria near the Lebanese border and keep watch on the Iranian military intelligence units operating out of Syrian air bases and Syrian intelligence and air force staff headquarters in Damascus.
4. The Mount Whitney can keep an eye on Israeli naval and air force activity opposite Syrian and Lebanese shores and Israeli troop movements in northern Israel and southern Lebanon.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources add that the concentration of this much Western operational naval power opposite Lebanon is way over the top in terms of support for UNIFIL’s European contingents. Certainly, a force of 7,000 men does not call for the support of two aircraft carriers and fleets numbering at least 15 assorted warships.
Thursday, Aug. 31, Germany decided to pitch in with two frigates and 1,200 or more seamen.
Western Europe is clearly taking advantage of the Lebanon crisis to mass its naval strength in eastern Mediterranean waters in good position for stalking any potential American or Israeli military action against Iran. If Berlin, Paris and Rome did not believe in the high probability of some such action in the works, they would not have massed so much of their naval might in front row seats.