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Home > India > News > Report

West Asia is on the boil again: Reports

A Rediff Correspondent | April 10, 2008 00:34 IST
Last Updated: April 10, 2008 00:38 IST


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West Asia is again boiling up. That is what Stratfor, a US-based think tank, says after observing some of the recent developments in the trouble-torn region.

Terming the situation ominous, its leading expert George Friedman says in a column that the Arab-Israeli region is filled with rumours of a war.

Though it is quite normal, Startfor lists out many developments which raise questions that show the "possibility that something is happening".

The column says, "The first thing that drew our attention was a minor, routine matter. Back in February, the United States started purchasing oil for its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The SPR is a reserve of crude oil stored in underground salt domes. Back in February, it stood at 96.2 percent of capacity, which is pretty full as far as we are concerned. But the US Department of Energy decided to increase its capacity. This move came in spite of record-high oil prices and the fact that the purchase would not help matters."
 
While giving rationale behind such an American move, Stratfor claims, "It also came despite potential political fallout, since during times like these there is generally pressure to release reserves. Part of the step could have been the bureaucracy cranking away, and part of it could have been the feeling that the step didn't make much difference. But part of it could have been based on real fears of a disruption in oil supplies. By itself, the move meant nothing. But it did cause us to become thoughtful."
 
Another issue that has added to tension is the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, a leader of Hezbollah, in a car bomb explosion in Syria. It was assumed the Israelis had killed him, though there were some suspicions the Syrians might have had him killed for their own arcane reasons. In any case, Hezbollah publicly claimed that the Israelis killed Mughniyah, and therefore it was expected the militant Shiite group would take revenge.

Significantly, Startfor notes, "In March, the US decided to dispatch the USS Cole, then under Sixth Fleet command, to the Lebanese coast. Washington later replaced it with two escorts from the Nassau (LHA-4) Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), reportedly maintaining a minor naval presence in the area. (Most of the ESG, on a regularly scheduled deployment, is no more than a few days sail from the coast, as it remains in the Mediterranean Sea.) "
 
Another act of Isreal has also been significant. With the situation becoming tense, the Israelis announced in March that they would carry out an exercise in April called Turning Point 2. Once again, an Israeli military exercise is hardly interesting news. But the Syrians apparently got quite interested. After the announcement, the Syrians deployed three divisions -- two armored, one mechanized -- to the Lebanese-Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley, the western part of which is Hezbollah's stronghold. The Syrians didn't appear to be aggressive. Rather, they deployed these forces in a defensive posture, in a way walling off their part of the valley.  

Stratfor sources maintain that the build-up in fact happened. Normally, Israel would be jumping at the chance to trumpet Syrian aggression in response to these troop movements, but, instead, the Israelis downplayed the build-up.

On the Isreali military build-up, Stratfor says, "When the Israelis kicked off Turning Point 2, which we regard as a pretty interesting name, it turned out to be the largest exercise in Israeli history. It involved the entire country, and was designed to test civil defenses and the ability of the national command authority to continue to function in the event of an attack with unconventional weapons -- chemical and nuclear, we would assume. This was a costly exercise. It also involved calling up reserves, some of them for the exercise, and, by some reports, others for deployment to the north against Syria. Israel does not call up reserves casually. Reserve call-ups are expensive and disrupt the civilian economy. These appear small, but in the environment of Turning Point 2, it would not be difficult to mobilize larger forces without being noticed."
 
Sratfor says that rumours now swirl that the Israelis are about to reveal publicly that they in fact bombed a nuclear reactor provided to Syria by North Korea. But this news isn't all that big.

Also rumoured is that the Israelis will claim Iranian complicity in building the reactor. And one Israeli TV station reported on April 8 that Israel really had discovered Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which it said had been smuggled to Syria.

Sratfor claims  that the tensions in West Asia are moving well beyond the normal point, and given everything that is happening, events are moving to a point where someone is likely to take military action. Whether Hezbollah will carry out a retaliatory strike or Israel a pre-emptive strike in Lebanon, or whether the Israelis' real target is Iran, tensions systematically have been ratcheted up to the point where we, in our simple way, are beginning to wonder whether something has to give.

Sratfor further claims that what is missing is this: who will fight whom, and why, and why now. 







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