US military drawing up options should Syria use chemical weapons

Idlib is the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the last decisive battle in the war. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 September 2018
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US military drawing up options should Syria use chemical weapons

  • Syrian President Bashar Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there
  • The White House warned that the US and its allies would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if government forces used chemical weapons in Idlib

NEW DELHI: America’s top general on Saturday said he was involved in “routine dialogue” with the White House about military options should Syria ignore US warnings against using chemical weapons in an expected assault on the enclave of Idlib.
Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said no decision had been made by the United States to employ military force in response to a future chemical attack in Syria.
“But we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he told a small group of reporters during a trip to India.
Dunford later added: “He expects us to have military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”
Syrian President Bashar Assad has massed his army and allied forces on the front lines in the northwest, and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there, in a prelude to a widely expected assault despite objections from Turkey.
This week, a top US envoy said there was “lots of evidence” that chemical weapons were being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib.
The White House has warned that the United States and its allies would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if government forces used chemical weapons in Idlib. President Donald Trump has twice bombed Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.
France’s top military official also said last week his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in Idlib.
Dunford declined to comment on US intelligence about the possible Syrian preparations of chemical agents.
’Disappointing’
Idlib is the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive could be the last decisive battle in a war that has killed more than half a million people and forced 11 million to flee their homes.
The presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a cease-fire that would forestall an offensive.
Asked whether there was still a chance the assault on Idlib could be averted, Dunford said: “I don’t know if there’s anything that can stop it.”
“It’s certainly disappointing but perhaps not (surprising) that the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians weren’t able to come up with a solution yesterday,” he said.
Tehran and Moscow have helped Assad turn the course of the war against an array of opponents ranging from Western-backed rebels to the Islamist militants, while Turkey is a leading opposition supporter and has troops in the country.
Turkey says it fears a massacre and Turkey can not accommodate any more refugees flooding over its border.
But Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on Friday a cease-fire would be pointless as it would not involve extremist militant groups it deems terrorists.
Dunford has warned about the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib and instead has recommended more narrowly tailored operations against militants there.
“There’s a more effective way to do counterterrorism operations than major conventional operations in Idlib,” he said.


Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

Updated 22 May 2019
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Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

  • The acts of sabotage near the UAE coast highlight new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies
  • Experts say increased threat to navigation and global oil supplies not limited regionally but has global dimension

DUBAI: Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, sabotage attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE’s Fujairah port have raised serious questions about maritime security in the Gulf.

The incidents, which included attacks on two Saudi oil tankers, were revealed by the UAE government on May 12, drawing strong condemnation from governments in the Middle East and around the world as well as the Arab League.

Now experts have warned that the sabotage attacks highlight a new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies.

A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation, and adversely affects regional and international peace and security.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the incidents threatened international maritime traffic.

While crimes on the high seas, including piracy, have tapered off in recent years, the attacks on the ships, three of which are registered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have called into question common assumptions about the Gulf’s stability.

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Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., said governments of the Gulf region are mandated to watch over oceans and waterways. “On top of this requirement is the need for a new regime of maritime coordination to prevent attacks on shipping because of the repercussions for logistical chains, corporate strategies and insurance rates,” he told Arab News.

The sabotage attacks took place east of Fujairah port, outside the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which most Gulf oil exports pass and which Iran has threatened to block in the event of a military confrontation with the US.

Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence, said the recent attacks underscore the need for closer intelligence-coordinated capabilities among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including satellite communication and maritime or vessel security technology.

“The threats to oil tankers are not limited to the Gulf, but have a global dimension,” he said.

According to Obdola: “A coordinated joint task force integrating oil, intelligence security and military forces should be (established) to project and prepare (for potential future attacks). This is a time to be as united as ever.”

GCC countries have intensified security in international waters, the US navy said. Additionally, two US guided-missile destroyers entered the Gulf on May 16 in response to what the US called signs of possible Iranian aggression.

“The attack has brought (the region) a bit closer to a possible military confrontation amid the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, told Arab News.

He said Iran is purposely dragging Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly other Gulf countries into its fight with the US. “The credibility of the US is at stake and Trump has said he will meet any aggression with unrelenting force. If Iran continues on this path, we might see some kind of a military showdown on a limited scale.”

Given the importance of the region’s oil supplies to the US, Abdulla said “it’s not just the responsibility of Arab Gulf states but an international responsibility” to keep the shipping lanes safe.