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Slip sliding away

Anthony GOMES

Wednesday, September 03, 2014    

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THIS title of a popular song accurately describes the present US position about to be put in motion, representing an expansion of its re-entry into the Middle East conflict now evolving at a very quick pace. For all the official denial regarding "no boots on the ground", the reality is that the ISIS aggressive onslaught in Syria and Iraq has shown only moderate impairment so far, resulting from the US aerial bombardment campaign. Now the thin end of the wedge, in the form of US reconnaissance flights over Syria, looks very much like the precursor to the increased use of "pinpoint" surgical operations by Special Forces, initially with a humanitarian mission, ie in search of hostages.

The "talking heads" on US television are reluctant to make any positive prediction concerning increased US involvement with the insurgency, but the facts are clear for all to see that slowly but surely "mission creep" is at hand. The air strikes being carried out in Northern Iraq against ISIS are about to be accompanied by reconnaissance flights over ISIS locations in Syria. These Syrian sorties in search of ISIS formations would have to be with the consent of the Assad regime, to which ISIS is also anathema.

In time these flights could morph into some form of aerial bombardment of questionable intensity, depending on the nature of the targets. These US tactics are being carefully planned to avoid a reaction from the Syrian Government and possibly counter reprisals by ISIS in the homeland. Consequently, the UK, the US and some other NATO members have moved up their domestic threat levels.

The present tenuous situation prompts reflection on the earlier Middle East conflict, Desert Storm, that seems so far away, but yet so near epitomised by George Bush's famous "Axle of Evil" speech that endowed the "coalition of the willing" with an unwanted reputation. Since, the "Axis of Evil" has become much stronger and more antagonist towards the US that has "painted itself into a corner" with no exit strategy related to Syria so far.

Neutralising ISIS is the obvious strategic choice, but not the easiest because of the size, funding and support from other Arab countries and concern about reprisal attacks in the Homeland. However, their brutality, in the name of Islam has disgusted the Arab world; their reputation precedes them causing a mass of confusion while civilians run for their lives. Nonetheless, ISIS continues to grow and no doubt is considering attacks in the US homeland. However, once engaged, only "boots on the ground" with air support can deal with a problem of that magnitude and sophistication.

"As President Obama has made clear, today's most immediate and extreme danger is nuclear terrorism. Al-Qaeda and their extremist allies are seeking nuclear weapons. We must assume they would use such weapons if they managed to obtain them. The vulnerability to theft or seizure of vast stocks of such nuclear materials around the world, and the availability of sensitive equipment and technologies in the nuclear black market create a serious risk that terrorists may acquire what they need to build a nuclear weapon." (NPR-2010)

Whispers are likely being uttered in the corridors of power in Washington about the possibility of tactical nuclear weapons being used if the situation becomes treacherous, with Russia and China becoming more active in the situation on which they are keeping close observation from the sidelines, and by blocking each UN Security Council vote that favours the Western-supported combatants.

"In making this strengthened assurance, the United States affirms that any state eligible for the assurance that uses chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies and partners would face that prospect of a devastating conventional military response and that any individuals responsible for the attack, whether national leaders or military commanders, would be held fully accountable. Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment to the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and US capacities to counter threat". (NPR-2010).

The reference to nuclear weapons again points to "severe" on the threat level and to "disastrous". And if any of these weapons fall into the hands of Hamas of Hezbollah then that would be a major catastrophe. Currently, American intelligence appears to be lacking in the case of Syria and North Korea that continues to launch rockets which is against existing agreements. Not so in the case of Iran that has shown to be making steady progress along their way to generate enriched uranium to produce electricity for peaceful purposes. Israel is keeping constant surveillance on Iran's behaviour and will be observing its final use when it goes into use.

Finally, the deployment of US maritime assets continues to strengthen in the face of the tension in the Middle East. More ships, including a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier battle group, have taken up station and it is reported that Britain's largest nuclear submarine will soon be joining the squadrons of other members of the flotilla. Today's ballistic missiles permit engagement with rockets and electronic warfare without participating in actual physical presence on an actual battlefield.

All in all, this "armchair review" is simply to get readers thinking and talking about the future as it appears we shall shortly be in a war zone.

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