The new Aviation Week reports: “Evidence is mounting that the US defense community and the Obama administration view 2013 as the likely window for a bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear and missile facilities. It could be earlier, timed to use the chaos of the Syrian government’s fall to disguise such an attack…”
According to the journal, “Iran’s intransigence over shutting down its uranium-enrichment program will not buy it much more time… The tools for such an attack are all operational” and the US is coming around to suspect that Iran has already conducted its first nuclear test in North Korea.
Aviation Week’s report appeared after a failed attempt Friday, June 29, to bridge US-Russian differences on Syria was made by US Secretary of State and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in St. Petersburg. Moscow refuses to accept any solution that would entail Bashar Assad’s removal or foreign intervention in Damascus.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is to present a proposal for a transitional unity government to the new Action Group on Syria meeting in Geneva Saturday. According to his plan, the government would include opposition representation but (without mentioning Assad) exclude figures complicit in the 15-month bloody suppression of dissent.
He had hoped that the presence at the meeting of all five UN Security Council veto-wielders, Arab League members and Turkey would make it possible to gain international endorsement of an agreed road map for the transition of power in Damascus without resorting to the Security Council again. However, after the failed St. Petersburg encounter, its chances of taking off are slim. Asked about this, a senior US official commented: “We may get there, we may not.”
In the Middle East, the military alert declared by Saudi King Abdullah Thursday was still in effect Saturday. Saudi forces continue to stream to the Jordanian and Iraqi borders and Jordanian, Turkish and Syrian army units are on the move, as debkafile reported Friday:
The Syrian crisis was Friday, June 29, on a knife edge between a Western-Arab-Turkish military offensive in the next 48 hours and a big power accord to ward it off.
debkafile’s military sources report heavy Saudi troop movements toward the Jordanian and Iraqi borders Thursday overnight and up until Friday morning, June 29, after King Abdullah put the Saudi military on high alert for joining an anti-Assad offensive in Syria. The Saudi units are poised with tanks, missiles, special forces and anti-air batteries to enter Jordan in two heads:
One will safeguard Jordan’s King Abdullah against potential Syrian or Iranian reprisals from Syria or Iraq.
The second will cut north through Jordan to enter southeastern Syriam, where a security zone will be established around the towns of Deraa, Deir al-Zour and Abu Kemal – all centers of the anti-Assad rebellion. The region is also the home terrain of the Shammar tribe, brethren of the Shammars of the Saudi Nejd province.
The Saudi units deployed on the Iraqi border are there to defend the kingdom against potential incursions by Iraqi Shiite militias crossing into the kingdom for reprisals. The Iraqi militias are well trained and armed and serve under officers of the Iranian Al-Qods Brigades, the Revolutionary Guards’ external arm.
Western Gulf sources report that Jordan too is on war alert.
Following the downing of a Turkish plane by Syria a week ago, Turkey continues to build up its Syrian border units with anti-aircraft guns, tanks and missiles towed by long convoys of trucks.
A Free Syria Army officer, Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, reported Friday that 170 Syrian army tanks of the 17th Mechanized Division were massed near the village of Musalmieh northeast of Aleppo, 30 km from the Turkish border. He said they stood ready to attack any Turkish forces crossing into Syria.
As these war preparations advanced, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in St. Petersburg Friday for crucial talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They meet the day before the new UN-sponsored Action Group convenes in Geneva to discuss UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s latest transition proposal for Syria. He hopes for a political settlement that will ward off military intervention.
Invited to the meeting are the five veto-wielding UN Security Council members plus Turkey and Arab League envoys from Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq.
Annan proposes forming a transitional national unity government in Damascus that includes the opposition and excludes unacceptable regime members.
It was widely reported Thursday that Russia had agreed to this formula, even though it entailed evicting Bashar Assad from power. However, Lavrov stepped in to correct the record, stressing in reference to the Annan proposal that Moscow would not lend its support to “any outside interference or imposition of recipes in Syria.”
This position is doubly aimed at the intensive military movements afoot around Syria.
Clinton and Lavrov are therefore expected to go at the Syrian issue hammer and tongs. The outcome of their meeting will not only determine the course of the Action Group’s discussions but, more importantly, whether the Western-Arab-Turkish alliance goes forward with its military operation against Syria.
US-Russian concurrence on a plan for Assad’s removal could avert the operation. The failure of their talks would spell a worsening of the Syrian crisis and precipitate Western-Arab military intervention, which according to military sources in the Gulf is scheduled for launch Saturday, June 30.