UPDATED 12.5.12 PM – ”It doesn’t get more serious than this” – USS Eisenhower Battle Group takes station off Syrian shore – Deployment of chemical weapons in Syria underway.
12.5.12 PM Concern in the region “is growing by the hour,” CNN said. ”It doesn’t get more serious than this.”
Washington is “huddling” with its allies, including Israel, over how to grapple with the danger, according to CNN. US intelligence, Israeli intelligence and other agencies were “working this problem round the clock,” it said.
A chemical attack on a city like Homs in western Syria, with a population of about a million, could wipe out a third of the city in a few hours, ex-CIA agent Robert Baer told the station.
Baer also noted that with Al-Qaeda reportedly “on the ground” in Syria, there was a “remote” danger of chemical weapons being fired into Israel. There were “all sorts of disastrous scenarios,” he said. “They’re remote, but it’s a possibility.”
CNN said the Pentagon was fully focused on the Syrian chemical weapons threat, and was coordinating with Israel, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Officials were working on “targeting options” to present to the president, to try to stop the Syrians using the weaponry. The problem is that, if the chemicals have indeed been mixed, then firing on them would release the chemical agents, potentially causing catastrophe, CNN reported.
Assad’s military has “loaded the precursor chemicals for sarin, a deadly nerve gas, into aerial bombs that could be dropped onto the Syrian people from dozens of fighter-bombers,” NBC quoted US officials saying.
UPDATED 12.5 12. The USS Eisenhower Strike Group transited the Suez Canal from the Persian Gulf Saturday, Dec. 1, sailing up to the Syrian coast Tuesday in a heavy storm, with 8 fighter bomber squadrons of Air Wing Seven on its decks and 8,000 sailors, airmen and Marines.
The USS Eisenhower group joins the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group which carries 2,500 Marines.
Facing Syria now are 10,000 US fighting men, 70 fighter-bombers and at least 17 warships, including the three Iwo Jima amphibious craft, a guided missile cruiser and 10 destroyers and frigates.
Four of these vessels are armed with Aegis missile interceptors.
This mighty US armada brings immense pressure to bear on the beleaguered Assad regime after it survied an almost two-year buffeting by an armed uprising. Its presence indicates that the United States now stands ready for direct military intervention in the Syrian conflict when the weather permits.
Left behind in the Persian Gulf is just one US aircraft carrier, the USS Stennis and its strike group.
Welcoming NATO’s decision Tuesday, Dec. 4, to deploy Patriot missile batteries in Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday: “The protection from NATO will be three dimensional; one is the short-range Patriots, the second is the middle-range Terminal High Altitude Air Defense [THAD] system and the last is the AEGIS system, which counters missiles that can reach outside the atmosphere.”
debkafile’s military sources: While the Patriot is land-based and will be deployed on the Turkish-Syrian border, the THAD and the Aegis have just reached the Syrian coast aboard the USS Eisenhower strike group. “With this integrated system,” said Davutoglu, Turkey will have maximum protection.”
He added: “The Syrian regime has 700 missiles,” and their location, storage method and holders are no secret to Ankara. This was the first time Ankara had made threats to destroy Syrian missiles, including any carrying chemical warheads.”
UPDATED: 12.4.12 6pm EST: debkafile’s military and intelligence sources reported that convoys of the Syrian army’s chemical weapons units headed out of Damascus under cover of dark and turned north up the road to Aleppo. Their destination is not yet known.The convoys were ferrying self-propelled cannons for firing shells loaded with poisonous sarin gas. Syrian President Bashar Assad had evidently decided to ignore the warnings President Barack Obama Our sources report that the Syrian ruler is aparently gambling dangerously on the Americans holding back from attacking the convoys as long as they deploy unconventional weapons, and would only react when they are used.
He is also taking advantage of the heavy winds, rain and cloud over this part of the eastern Mediterranean and counting on the weather to obstruct military operations against his chemical weapons units. By the time the weather clears some time Thursday, the units will be in place in battle formation. Meanwhile, bombing the convoys in windy weather could cause the deadly gas to spread out of control in unpredictable directions.
debkafile’s military sources report that by the time the missiles arrive, the Syrian chemical weapons units will almost certainly have reached their pre-planned positions. Furthermore, the Patriot air defense systems are not designed to counter artillery and would therefore be unable to stop shells loaded with poison gas.
12.2.21: “Western intelligence officers were seeing new signs of activity at Syrian chemical weapons sites, they told the New York Times Sunday, Dec. 2. “It’s in some ways similar to what they’ve done before,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said. “But they’re doing some things that suggest they intend to use the weapons. It’s not just moving stuff around. These are different kind of activities.”
debkafile’s Middle East sources add rumors were flying around the region Saturday night and Sunday morning that President Bashar Assad had been killed or fled Syria. Neither is confirmed. However, the rebels have in recent days made major strategic gains and begun to turn the tide of war against’s Assad forces.
The new rumors tie in with the suggestive movements of chemical weapons detected by Western intelligence without any indication of their likely target.
Since the Syrian uprising erupted against his regime last year, Assad has often declared he would fight his enemies to the end and threatened that if his back was against the wall and life and regime were in jeopardy, he would rather set the entire Middle East on fire than surrender.”