Israel’s Lieberman to flotilla: give up your plans

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman

Israel’s foreign minister urged would-be participants of the pro-Palestinian flotilla to give up their plans and deliver their aid to UN supervised ports for distribution.

Avigdor Lieberman spoke to reporters Thursday after meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, on issues that both men said included the flotilla as well as efforts by Palestinian leaders to gain UN recognition of a Palestinian state.

Spindelegger said that Austria had not yet made up its mind on UN recognition, adding that he preferred a joint EU approach to the issue

Between 300 and 400 international activists aboard 10 ships had been due to sail this week to Gaza to try and break the naval blockade Israel imposed after Hamas militants overran the Palestinian territory in 2007. But their departure has been beset by delays that the activists blame in part on Israel.

Last year, an Israeli raid on a similar flotilla killed nine activists on a Turkish vessel with each side blaming the other for the violence. On Thursday, Lieberman refused to be drawn on what means the Jewish state would apply this time to prevent a breach of the blockade.

Instead, he said Israel wanted organizers to bring their aid to ports “where there are UN authorities” who will the distribute the supplies.

Lieberman also said Iran is using the smoke screen of Mideast unrest to advance both its missile and nuclear programs.

Zaman/AP

Pakistan stops US from using air base for drone attacks

A woman supporter of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or Movement of Justice, takes part in a rally against the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistani tribal areas, Saturday, April 23, 2011 in Peshawar, Pakistan. Pakistan stopped NATO supplies from traveling to Afghanistan on Saturday as thousands of protesters rallied on the main road leading to the border, demanding that U.S. Washington stop firing missiles against militants sheltering inside the country. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

Pakistan told the United States to leave a remote desert air base reportedly used as a hub for covert CIA drone attacks, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar was quoted by state media as saying on Wednesday.

His remarks are the latest indication of Pakistan attempting to limit US military role in the country since a clandestine American military raid killed Osama bin Laden on May 2. Islamabad also detained a CIA contractor wanted for murder in January.

“We have told them (US officials) to leave the air base,” national news agency APP quoted Mukhtar as telling a group of journalists in his office.

Images said to be of US Predator drones at Shamsi base have been published by Google Earth in the past. The air strip is 900 kilometres (560 miles) southwest of the capital Islamabad in Baluchistan province.

CNN reported in April that US military personnel had left the base, said to be a key site for American drone attacks, in the fallout over public killings by a CIA contractor in Lahore and his subsequent detention.

Reports said operations at the base, which Washington has not publicly acknowledged, were conducted with tacit Pakistani military consent.

“No U.S. flights are taking place from Shamsi any longer. If there have to be flights from the base, it will only be Pakistani flights,” Mukhtar told a UK newspaper.

Neither does the United States officially confirm Predator drone attacks, but its military and the CIA operating in occupied Afghanistan are the only forces in the region that deploy the armed, unmanned aircraft.

Agencies

Fighter Jet Engines ‘Stolen from Israeli Base’

Israel’s military police on June 13 opened an inquiry into the theft of airplane parts, a spokeswoman said without confirming press reports that eight fighter jet engines had been stolen.

“The military police have opened an inquiry into the matter,” she told AFP without giving further detail or confirming reports of the theft from Tel Nof airbase near Tel Aviv.

Air force officials quoted in the Maariv newspaper said the stolen parts were eight engines from F-15 and F-16 fighter jets which were taken from Tel Nof air base.

They said it was not immediately clear when the theft took place but said the parts were no longer in use and had most likely been stolen for their value as scrap metal, the paper said.

Investigators quoted by the paper said each engine weighed “several tons” and could only have been taken away on large trucks, prompting speculation that the thieves had help from inside the base.

Military officials quoted by Israel HaYom newspaper described the theft as “very serious.”

AFP

Turkey’s options in handling the Syrian crisis

by Hasan Karaahmet

As Syria’s Assad regime continues to struggle in containing the widespread uprisings and demonstrations for a more democratic, progressive political system throughout the country, neighboring Turkey is facing an increasingly difficult humanitarian crisis just north of the long border.

Last Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu spoke with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, about the changing security environment in Syria and implications for Turkey. Movement of Syrian troops north near the Turkish border in an attempt to control the outflow of Syrian refugees into Turkey was among the critical subjects the two ministers discussed. It is no secret now that the situation at the border and increasing numbers of Syrian refugees in Turkey, now approaching some 20,000, is creating tensions between the two countries.

Thus far, Turkey’s AKP government has followed a bi-polar political strategy in handling the Syrian crisis. It publicly criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while quietly advising the same regime on how to contain and eliminate the opposition using tangible, progressive reforms. On the other hand, Turkey also hosted open platforms for Syrian opposition leaders on Turkish soil, in order to provide guidance and discuss their strategies in toppling the Assad regime and achieving a higher political presence in Syria.

Currently, Turkey seems to have three options in peacefully diffusing the threatening situation beyond its southern border and stopping the inflow of Syrian refugees.

  • (1) The first option Turkey is suggesting to Syria involves removal of Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, who leads the Syrian Republican Guard and is primarily responsible for killing and mistreatment of a great number of Syrian opposition members. Turkish authorities have wisely avoided condemning Bashar al-Assad and kept their focus on Maher instead. According to a June 18th report by Al Arabiya, an emissary of Turkish Prime Minister Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Syria to ask Bashar to fire his brother. This suggestion requires Maher to be exiled to Turkey or another suitable country where he would be monitored and kept away from militancy and interfering with Syrian internal politics. Turkey points out that such a move would portray Bashar as a truly progressive, reformist leader who is willing to exile his brother for the greater good of Syria.

Some western analysts generally unfamiliar with the region point out that this option undermines the role of Maher in keeping different factions of the Syrian Armed Forces together and suggest that exiling Maher may push Syria into an explosive infighting and eventually even partitioning. I, however, disagree with this observation as I believe it is the Assad family as a whole and its surrogates within the Syrian state that provide the said unifying function. Power of the al-Assad clan is currently personified in Bashar al-Assad, and any decision he makes, even as radical as firing his brother, will be readily digestible by the forces in Syria that determine the political and economic dynamics in that country. So long as the Alawites’ traditional hold of economic power in Syria’s western coastal cities is not damaged, their support of Bashar and the al-Assad family in general will remain strong.

That said, we should not forget that the former Syrian President, Bashar’s father Hazef al-Assad did successfully exile his younger brother Rifaat al-Assad, also a military man, after a coup attempt, a move that demonstrated the reach of his power and strengthened his regime for years to come. I believe the same may as well be the case for his sons.

  • (2) The second option Turkey is working on for Syria is similar to the Lebanese political model, where a confessional system based on a 1932 census is in effect that just about equally divides power among Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim factions. Proposal for Syria would similarly allocate the power, and hence resources, somewhat equally among the country’s majority Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds, and minority Alawites, Christians and Druze. This new system would create strong checks and balances that would prevent either side from dominating the economy or monopolizing the politics of Syria.

Turkey is ready to provide all the assistance needed for accomplishing this. If completed successfully, it would score an important point for Turkey in the country’s ambitious mission to become a prestigious leader and a secular democracy model for the Islamic world.

  • (3) The third option proposes the legalization of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). At the moment, membership in the group is not only outlawed in Syria, but also punishable by death. Turkey says legalization of the Syrian MB and turning the group into a legitimate political party would limit its militancy and draw the movement closer to a more peaceful, political struggle. This would, in effect, dramatically defuse the Syrian crisis.

Al-Assad is however seems to be currently against the idea as it bears the potential for eventually growing in power via unification of the majority Sunni base turning into electoral votes and undermining the established power of Al-Assad’s Baath party and the economic monopoly of Syria’s Alawites.

It will be interesting to see the events unfold and watch Turkey make its moves before the crisis grows into an even bigger refugee crisis, and with the movements of even more Syrian military units into the border region, starts posing a national security danger for Turkey.

TR Defence

Iran to Stage Missile Wargames

Iranian Qiam-1 ballistic missile can carry up to 700 kgs of high explosives or a nuclear warhead.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards are to launch military exercises on June 26 with the firing of different range ballistic missiles, the state news agency IRNA reported.

The exercises, codenamed Great Prophet-6, are to start on June 26, said a Guards commander, Gen. Ami Ali Hadjizadeh, quoted by IRNA, without specifying how long the maneuvers will last.

“Short-, medium- and long-range missiles will be fired, especially the Khalij-Fars, Sejil, Fateh, Ghiam, and Shahab-1 and -2 missiles,” he said.

The general, whose force carries out wargames each year in the Gulf region, said the latest exercises were “a message of peace and friendship to the countries of the area.”

In late May, Iran said it had equipped the Revolutionary Guards with a new surface-to-surface missile, the Qiam-1, which was built locally and test-fired last August.

Iran says it has a wide range of missiles, some capable of striking targets inside arch-foe Israel as well as U.S. bases in the Middle East.

The Islamic republic regularly boasts about developing missiles having substantial range and capabilities, but Western military experts cast doubt on its claims.

Iran’s missile program is under the control of the Guards.

Its space and missile programs have been a concern in the West, which fears Tehran is developing a ballistic capability to launch potential nuclear weapons which it suspects Iran aims to develop under the guise of its civilian atomic program.

Iran has steadfastly denied these Western charges, saying its nuclear and space programs have no military objectives.

AFP

Greece striving for more debt

.Greece needs to impose ever more unpopular austerity on a restive people on June 28, with the European Union placing its faith in Athens to clear parliamentary opposition and a general strike.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said Friday he is negotiating a new bailout worth some 110 billion euros, as Europe enters a crucial 10 day period to ringfence the euro crisis.

The Greek premier is in the eye of a storm threatening financial markets, the unity of Europe’s 17-nation currency area, and even the EU – with the United States warning of a potential to drag down world economic recovery.

“We are talking about a huge, huge amount,” the Agence France-Presse quoted Papandreou as saying after formally requesting aid at a two-day European Union summit in Brussels.

While he said it was “too early to give a precise amount,” the final sum would be “similar to the first aid package” in May 2010, which was not enough to prevent the government in Athens from slipping ever deeper into the red.

The actual size, Papandreou admitted, “depends on the participation of the private creditors,” those banks, pension funds and insurers that the EU wants to contribute to a rescue by way of an “informal and voluntary” rollover.

Greece needs to impose ever more unpopular austerity on a restive people on June 28, with the European Union placing its faith in Athens to clear parliamentary opposition and a general strike.

Even before the new bailout, Greece owes the equivalent of a year-and-a-half of total national economic output, some 350 billion euros.

British banks face an indirect risk from Greece’s financial crisis despite having a “remarkably small” direct exposure to the country, the governor of the Bank of England said Friday.

Mervyn King called for greater disclosure of sovereign and banking exposures, and of other risks which may be lurking on balance sheets, to bolster confidence in the broader financial system, The Associated Press reported.

“If there is uncertainty about exposures and a lack of transparency and people simply do not know which other institutions could be at risk because of their direct and indirect exposures, then there is always the risk that people may feel it’s just not worth continuing to roll over funding to institutions,” King told a news conference.

On Friday, the euro slid against the dollar amid persistent concerns the Greek debt crisis spreading contagion across the eurozone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that leaders had struck “an important political accord for the stabilisation of the euro,” which Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said took just half an hour to thrash out.

Merkel stressed the EU had “encouraged Ireland, Portugal and Greece to follow the roadmap set down with the troika” of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF that is monitoring the rescues.

Portugal measures

Portugal’s new Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, meanwhile, said his coalition government is preparing to accelerate and possibly broaden austerity measures the country promised in return for a $110 billion bailout.

Coelho, who took office earlier this week at the head of a center-right administration, says he is also considering a swifter reorganization of loss-making state companies.

Passos Coelho said after a European Union summit Friday in Brussels that he will announce details of his plans next week.

HDN

Turkish – Israeli Relations

by Stephen Lendman

Palestinian civilians and medics run to safety during an Israeli strike over a UN school in Beit Lahia.

In May 2010, Israel’s Gaza Freedom Flotilla Mavi Marmara mother ship attack, killing nine Turkish citizens, stoked tensions between the two countries.

At the time, Turkey warned it might sever diplomatic relations unless Israel apologized, consented to an independent international investigation, and ended its Gaza siege.

Israel, however, refused and stonewalled. Frayed ties followed. In fact, they began deteriorating earlier in the new millennium despite years of closer military, economic, political, technological, cultural, academic, and practical relations.

The 1993 Oslo Accords, in fact, facilitated them based on (false) notions that Israel sought peace. Even so, relations were less than entirely cordial. Underlying tensions persisted that grew as peace proved illusive, Israel choosing confrontation that erupted during the September 2000 Al-Aqsa (second) Intifada.

At the time, then Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit criticized Israel harshly. The 2003 Iraq war also caused friction, positioning both countries on separate sides. Israel favored eliminating a regional rival. Turkey wanted the status quo, opposing Iraq’s partitioning and establishment of a de facto Kurdistan on its border.

Israel’s preemptive 2006 Lebanon war caused more tensions. So did Cast Lead from December 27, 2008 – January 18, 2009, inflicting mass casualties and destruction. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, in fact, accused Israel of war crimes, including using illegal terror weapons like white phosphorous, saying:

“No one can claim that phosphorous shells are not weapons of mass destruction,” exaggerating to make a point.

He also condemns Israel’s lawless Lebanese overflights, sometimes at low altitudes, calling them “unacceptable action(s) threaten(ing) global peace.” Moreover, he denounces regular Gazan air attacks and ground incursions, asking at one time:

“Is the Israeli government in favor of peace or not? Gaza was bombed again yesterday. Why? There were no rocket attacks. (Israel has) disproportional capabilities and power and (it) use(s) them. They do not abide by UN resolutions. They say they will do what they like. We can in no way approve of such an attitude.”

Then at the 2009 World Economic Forum, Erdogan walked off the platform after a heated exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres that included condemning Cast Lead. The conflict disrupted Turkey’s Israeli/Syrian mediation efforts at the time under its “zero problems” policy with neighboring states, hoping to further its assertive regional role, and position itself as a lead player to facilitate, among other goals, EU membership.

Erdogan, in fact, said:

“Turkey is coming to share the burden of the EU rather than being a burden for it. In order to be a global power, there must be a global vision and relations with different regions….Turkey will be the gate of the EU opening to Asia, the Middle East and the Islamic world….The full security of the EU passes through the full membership of Turkey.”

In other words, Turkey wants to position itself as an indispensable regional power, mediator and peace maker, while maintaining ties East and West. In fact, Foreign Minister Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu said:

“The new global order must be more inclusive and participatory….Turkey will be among those active and influential actors who sit around the table to solve problems rather than” watch them fester.

Nonetheless, because ongoing tensions continued, Turkey cancelled Israel’s participation in its October 2009 Anatolian Eagle military exercise, rankling its officials though concerns were thought to be temporary.

However, after the Mavi Marmara incident, considerable friction followed, including hostile public comments. Last January, for example, Erdogan said Israel’s Turkel Commission Flotilla massacre investigation lacked credibility or value for concluding no violations of international law when, in fact, Israeli commandos committed cold-blooded murder.

He also wants Gaza’s siege ended, said Hamas is Palestine’s legitimate government, and called Netanyahu’s Israel’s worst ever, adding that Foreign Minister/Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman is its “greatest problem.”

Turkey wants Middle East security. Israel often threatens it. Both countries also vie for regional dominance, while at the same time cooperating on military, intelligence and other mutually strategic interests.

Under Erdogan, Turkey seeks a greater Middle East role, including as an intermediary between divergent sides while fulfilling its NATO membership obligations. In March, it sent five ships and a submarine to Libya’s coast. In fact, Hurriyet Daily News quoted Erdogan saying:

“Turkey said ‘yes’ to three tasks within NATO: the takeover of Benghazi airport for the delivery of humanitarian aid, the task about control of the air corridor, and the involvement of Turkish naval forces in the corridor between Benghazi and Crete.”

Moreover, since April, NATO’s Libyan air operations have been run from its Izmir, Turkey Air Command Headquarters for Southern Europe.

In addition, from May 1 – June 2, Turkey hosted an opposition forces “Change in Syria” conference without pressing for regime change. In fact, after President Abdullah Gul’s key advisor, Ersat Hurmuzlu, told Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabya television that Assad had less than a week to meet protester demands, he retracted saying:

“We are not redesigning others’ houses. It is Syria’s own problem,” in contrast to Saudi and US media sources openly calling for regime change, as well as Obama demanding Assad “reform,” or “get out of the way.”

In contrast, Turkey knows if Syria boils over, it faces multiple problems, including a much greater refugee crisis than now. Also, its hope to become a “Northern Alliance” leader will be dashed. As a result, it wants to spearhead change to further its own standing, as well as perhaps accomplish the impossible – please all sides and avoid greater regional conflict.

Against Western and Israeli interests, however, it may achieve little, but in its own neighborhood, it’s determined to try, including reports of reconciliation with Israel. More on that below.

At the same time, the more assertive Turkey becomes, the more at odds it is with Washington, its key NATO/EU allies, and Israel. In fact, trying to please all sides while positioning itself as an indispensable regional player, may cause it more problems than it achieves, especially given Washington’s aim for unchallenged Mediterranean Basin control from North Africa through the Middle East, into Central Asia to Russia and China’s borders, using Turkey for its own strategic interests.

Secret Turkish-Israeli Negotiations

On June 21, Haaretz writer Barak Ravid headlined, “Israel and Turkey holding secret direct talks to mend diplomatic rift,” saying:

With Washington’s support, both countries are trying to resolve differences, according to an unnamed Israeli official. “A source in the Turkish Foreign Ministry and a US official confirmed that talks are being held,” though aides to Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman declined comment.

In addition, Washington held talks with senior Turkish officials, to improve Israeli relations and get Ankara to abandon its late June Flotilla II participation, now cancelled without resolving Mavi Marmara massacre issues.

In fact, a UN inquiry report is due out early July. Both sides represented on it “want to use (the) release as an opportunity….to put the affair behind them and rehabilitate ties.”

Erdogen’s reelection also leaves him freer to be “pragmatic,” provided he can successfully broker a Syrian solution peacefully. At the same time, Netanyahu earlier said “Israel had no desire to continue a tense relationship and would be happy to have any opportunity to improve the situation,” provided, of course, it concedes little in return for a lot, the way it always negotiates like Washington.

About the author: Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen [at] sbcglobal.net.  Please visit his blog site at http://sjlendman.blogspot.com

Obama: U.S. to Pull 30,000 Out of Afghanistan by Summer 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks June 22 in the White House. (Pool photo via Agence France-Presse)

U.S. President Barack Obama on June 22 ordered all 33,000 U.S. so-called surge troops home from Afghanistan by next summer, declared the beginning of the end of the war and vowed to turn to “nation building” at home.

In a pivotal moment for U.S. national security strategy, Obama also signaled in a 13-minute primetime speech that the United States would no longer try to build a “perfect” Afghanistan from a nation ravaged by generations of violence.

“We take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House in an address blanketing U.S. television networks at a time of rising discontent on the war.

“Even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end,” Obama said.

The president’s speech came as domestic political support fades for the war following the killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs on May 2, and as Washington backs fragile Afghan reconciliation talks with the Taliban.

His decision on troop numbers amounted to a rejection of appeals from the Pentagon for a slower drawdown to safeguard gains against the Taliban and to allow a new counterinsurgency mission to unfold in eastern Afghanistan.

The president said that he would, as promised, begin the U.S. withdrawal next month and that 10,000 of the more than 30,000 troops he sent to war in an escalation of the conflict in 2009 would be home this year.

A further 23,000 surge troops will be withdrawn by next summer, and more yet-to-be announced drawdowns will continue, until Afghan forces assume security responsibility in 2014.

“This is the beginning – but not the end – of our effort to wind down this war,” Obama said.

“We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.”

Although Obama said the tide of war was receding, there will still be more than 65,000 troops in Afghanistan when he asks Americans to give him a second term in November 2012.

Obama also argued that his policy of escalating the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida had forged substantial progress and had allowed him to commence troop withdrawals from a “position of strength.”

He said that documents seized from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan showed that al-Qaida was under “enormous strain.”

“Bin Laden expressed concern that has been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that have been killed, and that al-Qaida has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam – thereby draining more widespread support,” he said.

U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and top Pentagon officials had asked for a slower drawdown through summer 2012 to allow them to solidify gains in southern Afghanistan and to mount counter-insurgency operations in eastern districts.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Obama’s decision, represented an “unnecessary risk” and noted Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates had recommended a “more modest withdrawal.”

But Obama’s timetable may be too slow for critics who want faster withdrawals from a war launched 10 years ago to oust the Taliban after it offered al-Qaida a haven before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Some of Obama’s fellow Democrats and some Republicans are demanding a faster U.S. exit from Afghanistan, and questioning the huge $10 billion-per-month cost of the conflict at a time of deep fiscal pain.

Obama argued the surge had made progress towards key objectives he laid down at the start of the escalation, namely: reversing Taliban momentum, disrupting and dismantling al-Qaida and building Afghan forces towards an eventual assumption of security duties.

One official said the U.S. operation against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan tribal regions had “exceeded our expectations,” saying 20 of the group’s top 30 leaders, including bin Laden, had been killed in the last year.

Administration aides also rejected criticism that Obama’s decision would put recent gains in danger and increase the chances that Afghanistan will slip back into an abyss of deep violence.

Obama also placed the Afghan mission in the context of his wider foreign policy and war strategy, arguing he has removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and will oversee the promised full withdrawal by the end of this year.

He announced that a NATO summit to review progress on Afghanistan will take place in his hometown of Chicago in May 2012, alongside the G8 summit of industrialized nations.

AFP

F-22 fleet grounded over oxygen issue

USAF F-22 Raptors in formation flight.

The U.S. Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of F-22 fighters after problems emerged with the plane’s oxygen supply, officials said June 24.

The radar-evading F-22 Raptors have been barred from flying since May 3 and Air Force officials could not say when the planes would return to the air.

“The safety of our airmen is paramount and we will take the necessary time to ensure we perform a thorough investigation,” spokeswoman Capt. Jennifer Ferrau told Agence France-Presse.

The Air Force was probing possible breakdowns in the oxygen supply system for the plane after several pilots reported problems, according to the journal Flight Global.

In one case, an F-22 scraped treetops before landing, and the pilot could not remember the incident, indicating a possible symptom of hypoxia from a lack of air, the magazine reported.

Ferrau said it was too soon to say for certain that the technical problem was related to an onboard oxygen generating system, known as OBOGS.

“We are still working to identify the exact nature of the problem,” she said. “It is premature to definitively link the current issues to the OBOGS system.”

Since January, F-22 pilots have been barred from flying above 25,000 feet, following the crash of a Raptor jet in Alaska during a training flight.

Grounding an entire fleet of aircraft is a rare step, officials said.

In November 2007, the Air Force grounded all F-15 fighters after one of the planes broke apart in flight and crashed.

The planes were not allowed back in the air until March 2008, said Maj. Chad Steffey.

The Air Force has more than 160 F-22 Raptors in its fleet and plans to build a total of 187.

The planes have not been used in the NATO-led air campaign in Libya or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

AFP

Turkey’s Actions May Trigger NATO Confrontation With Syrian Military

Last week, a feature by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton excoriating the political leadership of Syria appeared in the London-based Arabic-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat. Saudi-supported and printed in twelve locations, it is considered to be among the most influential newspapers in the Arab world.

As such, her comments (in English and Arabic) were intended to signal to Arab readers and the world at large that the American position toward Damascus is becoming more stringent and confrontational, evoking Clinton’s statements toward the leadership of Ivory Coast and Libya earlier in the year.

Her characteristically imperious, contemptuous and inflammatory comments, indeed threats, included:

“In his May 19 speech, President Obama echoed demonstrators’ basic and legitimate demands…President Assad, he said, could either lead that transition or get out of the way.

“It is increasingly clear that President Assad has made his choice.”

“…President Assad is showing his true colors by embracing the repressive tactics of his ally Iran and putting Syria onto the path of a pariah state.

“By following Iran’s lead, President Assad is placing himself and his regime on the wrong side of history…”

“If President Assad believes he can act with impunity because the international community hopes for his cooperation on other issues, he is wrong about this as well. He and his regime are certainly not indispensable.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on June 18 that the Washington administration is preparing a case against Syrian President Bashar Assad and other government officials at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The same newspaper feature added that “The U.S. is also exploring ways to more directly target Syria’s oil and gas revenue…”

On June 14 four members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including the military alliance’s three European powerhouses – Britain, France, Germany and Portugal – proposed a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council aimed at Syria. Three days later in Berlin German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed their governments would push for a new UN resolution targeting Syria. In Sarkozy’s words: “France, hand in hand with Germany, calls for tougher sanctions against Syrian authorities who are conducting intolerable and unacceptable actions and repression against the population.”

The USS George H.W. Bush nuclear-powered supercarrier and its assigned carrier strike group and carrier air wing – with 9,000 sailors, 70 aircraft and four guided missile destroyers and cruisers – is in the Mediterranean Sea not far from the Syrian coast. One of the destroyers, USS Truxtun, just left the Israeli port city of Haifa after a two-day stopover.

The USS Monterey guided missile cruiser is docked off the Georgian Black Sea city of Batumi currently and will re-enter the Mediterranean soon. Deployed as the first warship assigned to the U.S.-NATO potential first-strike pan-European interceptor missile system, it can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as Standard Missile-3 interceptor missiles.

The guided missile destroyer USS Barry left Gaeta, Italy where nine other US. warships have been stationed, on June 17 after a five-day port visit. USS Barry is part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, headed by the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, used at the beginning of the U.S.-NATO Libyan campaign in March and currently in the Mediterranean.

The Pentagon and its allies – every nation in the Mediterranean is now a NATO member or partner except for Libya, Syria, Cyprus (under renewed and intensified pressure to join the bloc’s Partnership for Peace program) and Lebanon (whose coastline has been blockaded by NATO states’ military vessels since 2006) – have the military hardware in place for a replication of the 95-day war against Libya directed at Syria: Scores of warplanes on carriers and on bases in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey and guided missile ships ready to launch Tomahawk missiles.

On June 19 Ersat Hurmuzlu, senior adviser to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, told the United Arab Emirates-based Al Arabiya television channel that Syria has less than a week to respond to what Reuters described as “calls for change.” Hurmuzlu’s exact words were:

“The demands in this field will be for a positive response to these issues within a short period that does not exceed a week.

“The opposite of this, it would not be possible to offer any cover for the leadership in Syria because there is the danger …that we had always been afraid of, and that is foreign intervention.”

Although the last sentence can be read as either warning or threat, it is in fact the second. The statement as a whole is an ultimatum.

Since the war against Libya was launched by U.S. Africa Command under the codename Operation Odyssey Dawn to the present NATO-run Operation Unified Protector in place since March 31, air operations have been run from NATO’s Air Command Headquarters for Southern Europe in Izmir, Turkey.

In March Turkey supplied five ships and a submarine for the blockade of Libya’s coast and on March 28 Hurriyet Daily News announced that Turkey was “assuming control of the Benghazi airport, and sending naval forces to patrol the corridor between the rebel-held city and Crete,” quoting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

“Turkey said ‘yes’ to three tasks within NATO: the takeover of Benghazi airport for the delivery of humanitarian aid, the task about control of the air corridor and the involvement of Turkish naval forces in the corridor between Benghazi and Crete.”

In 2003 the U.S. ambassador to NATO at the time, Nicholas Burns, stated in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“NATO needs to pivot from its inward focus on Europe – which was necessary and appropriate during the Cold War – to an outward focus on the arc of countries where most of the threats are today – in Central and South Asia, and in the Middle East.

“NATO’s mandate is still to defend Europe and North America. But we don’t believe we can do that by sitting in Western Europe, or Central Europe, or North America. We have to deploy our conceptual attention and our military forces east and south. NATO’s future, we believe, is east, and is south. It’s in the Greater Middle East.”

Earlier this month Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul announced that Izmir will also be the new home of the Alliance’s Land Force Command, consolidating and transferring ground forces currently stationed in Germany and Spain to the Izmir Air Station.

On June 17 Turkey took over command of Standing NATO Maritime Group-2 which, with Standing NATO Maritime Group-1, is part of the NATO Response Force and centers its activities in the Mediterranean. Each group consists of between 4-8 warships – destroyers and frigates – and since 2005 has expanded its missions through the Suez Canal to the Gulf of Aden and the Somalia coast, circumnavigating the African continent in 2007 and traveling the length of the Atlantic coast of the U.S., then entering the Caribbean Sea the same year, the first time NATO had ever deployed to the Caribbean. The NATO naval groups have also sailed to Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, the Persian Gulf and the Baltic Sea among other locations.

Turkey hosted a conference of Syrian opposition forces called “Change in Syria” from May 1-June 2 in the city of Antalya. Although held under the sponsorship of the Egyptian-based National Organisation of Human Rights, logistics and security were provided by the host country.

Had Syria allowed a gathering of Turkish opposition groups whose express intention was the overthrow of the government in Ankara, one can only imagine the Turkish administration’s reaction.

On June 13 Britain’s The Guardian, since the Balkans crisis began in the early 1990s never slow to fan the flames of moral panic over humanitarian crises, with techniques ranging from hyperbole to hysterics, in order to alarm and neutralize its readership into acquiescence to Western military action (while claiming formally, if not convincingly, that it is not advocating the latter), ran an editorial titled “Syria: Butchery, while the world watches,” which let the cat out of the bag regarding the prospect of U.S. and NATO military intervention in Syria by stating:

“Turkey, a member of Nato, could yet drag the west in, if it decides its own interests require action to defend its borders from the [Syrian] refugees The world would then pay a high price indeed for having pretended that Assad was somebody else’s problem.”

On June 19 the major Turkish daily newspaper Zaman quoted Veysel Ayhan of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies harking back to the rationale for NATO’s first military actions 16 years ago:

“Remember when NATO was accused by the international media and public of not being able to prevent 8,000 Muslim Bosnians from being murdered in front of the world’s eyes? As a member of NATO and a country whose border is about to witness such a massacre by the Syrian army, Turkey will not allow such a thing to happen again, especially before its own eyes.”

Last week Turkey’s President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were reported to have toughened demands on Syria in a meeting with President Assad’s special envoy Hasan Turkmani in Ankara, and on January 18 Al Arabiya reported that Ankara had dispatched an envoy to Damascus to demand that Assad’s brother Maher relinquish his command of the Republican Guard and the Fourth Armored Division.

Zaman recently cited what was identified as a pro-government Syrian official saying to the United Arab Emirates-based daily The National:

“The West wants to put the region under Turkish control like in the Ottoman days. Turkey is a NATO member and embodies a safe kind of Islam for the West, so they have done a deal to give everything to Ankara.”

Should a conflict erupt between Turkey and Syria on their border, NATO will be obligated under its Article 5 collective military assistance clause to enter the fray on Turkey’s side. Should NATO intend opening hostilities against Syria, no better pretext could be devised than that scenario.

In February of 2003, on the eve of the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq, in NATO’s words “Turkey requested NATO assistance under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty.”

“NATO’s Integrated Air Defence System in Turkey was put on full alert and augmented with equipment and personnel from other NATO commands and countries.”

Four Alliance Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft were deployed from their base in Germany to the Forward Operating Base in Konya, Turkey. Three Dutch and two American Patriot missile batteries were deployed to the country in March of that year, and “Preparations were made to augment Turkey’s air defence assets with additional aircraft from other NATO countries.”

Article 4 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, NATO’s founding document, states:

“The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”

Article 5 says:

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

If Turkey opens armed hostilities with its neighbor, the conflict will not remain a local one for long.

Scoop