Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Iran: Rumors Of War Reach Fever Pitch

It's a conspiracy theorist's dream. For the last two weeks there has been a crescendo of reports that Israel and the United States are preparing for war against Iran.

On the face of it, they appeared to indicate that war was just around the corner. But they don't stand up under closer examination.

On June 19, the Arabic language newspaper Al Quds Al-Arabi, published in London, reported that the U.S. Navy battle group headed by the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, had sailed south through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea the day before.

On June 22, the Israeli Web site Debkafile, which is reputed to have links with Israeli intelligence and a widely suspected purveyor of disinformation, reported that the carrier group had "secretly" exercised in the Mediterranean off Israel to intercept missile attacks against Israeli and U.S. targets June 10-18.

Debka said the U.S. and Israeli governments didn't announce these drills, which also involved the Truman's 60 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike jets simulating bombing attacks using the firing range at the sprawling Nevatim Air Base in the Negev Desert.

But such exercises are nothing out of the ordinary, even though the timing may have seemed somewhat sinister.

Then Brig. Gen. Mehdi Moini of Iran's Revolutionary Guards announced in Tehran, also June 22, that heavy reinforcements were en route to the Caspian Sea region to "repel" what Iran claimed were U.S. and Israeli forces deploying at air bases in Azerbaijan.
Other Iranian sources reported Israel had secretly dispatched warplanes to Azerbaijan via Georgia, while U.S. Special Forces were concentrating in Azerbaijan.

There was no independent confirmation of this and the Baku government made no comment.

The Americans and Israelis have long been reported to maintain electronic intelligence-gathering stations near Azerbaijan's border with Iran.

But there has been no other report of such military deployments in that region and U.S. and Israeli fighter squadrons, with all their support equipment, are very hard to hide.

The U.S. security consultancy Stratfor, noted these reports may have originated with a June 18 article by a "sensationalist American opinion writer."

"However rumors of Israel using Georgia as a base for a strike on Iran go back to at least 2008. These rumors have never proved accurate and Stratfor has no credible evidence that the current rumors are any different," Stratfor said.

Georgia and Azerbaijan "would not be bad locations for basing air power to strike Iran," Stratfor observed.

But, "there would simply be too much visible activity involved in the run-up to a Caucasus-based air campaign against Iran to keep those preparations secret."

On June 23, the semi-official Iranian Fars news agency reported Israeli helicopters had landed large amounts of military equipment at Tabuk Air Base in northwestern Saudi Arabia June 18-19 in apparent preparation for an attack on Iran.

The Sunday Times of London reported June 12 that Riyadh had agreed to allow Israeli warplanes to fly through its air space to attack Iran.

That proposition made some sense since both Saudi Arabia and Israel have a common enemy in Iran but the Saudis vehemently denied the report.

And why the Israelis would need to use Tabuk, which is only about 100 miles south of air bases inside the Jewish state, wasn't explained.

The Iranians may have been seeking to stir things up. However, the Bahraini news outlet Akhbar al-Khaleej claimed the reports about Tabuk, west of Iran, were really Israeli disinformation intended to distract attention from U.S. and Israeli preparations in the Caucasus north of Iran.

On Sunday, the Truman battle group was reported in the Indian Ocean, joining the USS Eisenhower battle group on routine deployment.

The Truman force was east of the Strait of Hormuz, the only gateway to the Persian Gulf . Washington fears Iran will try to close the narrow waterway, through which one-fifth of the world's oil supplies pass, if the Islamic Republic is attacked.

U.S. officials said the Truman group was replacing the Eisenhower group, which had been on station for five months. Besides, any sustained assault on Iran would require greater naval strength than two carrier groups.

Before the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq there were five U.S. carriers gathered in the Persian Gulf region -- and their 300 aircraft made up less than one-third of coalition air strength. (c) UPI

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