While it is unknown is the US is suddenly focusing more on non-Cyprus based air support in the aftermath of the Cypriot decision to prohibit the launch of air strikes from its territory (just in time following a Russian agreement to restructure Cyprus debt), what is known, according to Reuters, is that while broad popular opinion is that the war drums are beating far more quietly following Obama’s Saturday punt to Congress (a decision which can certainly still go either way), the US has decided to reroute CVN-68 USS Nimitz, and other ships in its strike group including four destroyers, in direction west toward the Red Sea “to help support a limited U.S. strike on Syria, if needed, defense officials said on Sunday.”
The Nimitz carrier strike group, which includes four destroyers and a cruiser, has no specific orders to move to the eastern Mediterranean at this point, but is moving west in the Arabian Sea so it can do so if asked. It was not immediately clear when the ships would enter the Red Sea, but they had not arrived by Sunday evening, said one official.
“It’s about leveraging the assets to have them in place should the capabilities of the carrier strike group and the presence be needed,” said the official.
President Barack Obama on Saturday delayed imminent cruise missile strikes by five destroyers off the coast of Syria, and sought approval from Congress, a move that effectively put any strike on hold for at least nine days.
The delay gives military planners more time to reassess which ships and other weapons will be kept in the region – and which may be swapped out – before the U.S. military launches what defense officials say is still intended to be a limited and narrowly targeted attack on Syria.
The U.S. Navy doubled its presence in the eastern Mediterranean over the past week, effectively adding two destroyers to the three that generally patrol the region. The five destroyers are carrying a combined load of about 200 Tomahawk missiles, officials say.
But that’s not all: as reported yesterday, the US dispatched the USS San Antonio, an amphibious ship with 300 Marines and extensive communications equipment on board, to join five US destroyers already in proximity to Syria, diverting it from a previously scheduled mission that would have taken it farther west. It could serve as an afloat forward staging base, which could provide a temporary base for special operations forces, if they were needed.
Today we learn that yet another amphibious assault ship, the USS Kearsage, with yet more marines is joining in the supposedly demilitarized fray:
The USS Kearsarge, a large-deck amphibious ship that is part of a readiness group with the San Antonio, is also on the way toward the Red Sea after a port call in the United Arab Emirates, officials said. No further specific orders had been issued to the ship, they said.
So to sum up: since last week, when the entire world expected the US to attack Syria imminently, and when there were “only” 5 destroyers within striking distance, now that the sentiment is that war is far less probable, the US has an additional 4 destroyers from the Nimitz group, two marine ships, and an aircraft carrier.
De-escalation? Not really.
Perhaps this has something to do with it – going back to the fundamental driver behind it all, Saudi Arabia, the NYT reports that the Kingdom of Saud will hardly rest peacefully until the Assad scourge is wiped off the face of the planet… and room for one or more gas and/or oil pipelines is made below a receptive Syrian government.
Saudi Arabia and the other oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies on Sunday stepped up their efforts to drum up support for Western airstrikes against Syria.
With the Arab League meeting on Sunday evening for a second time to discuss responses to the Syrian crisis, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, broke the kingdom’s public silence on the subject at a news conference in Cairo on Sunday afternoon, urging other Arab nations to back the Syrian rebels with military action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad after a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds.
Saudi Arabia, its Gulf allies and Jordan have all pushed hard behind the scenes for Washington to lead strikes against Mr. Assad, whom they consider the most important regional ally of their greatest enemy, Iran. That pressure continued on Sunday, but until now the monarchies have refrained from publicly endorsing Western military action, presumably because the idea of Western intervention is overwhelmingly unpopular across the Arab world.
Several analysts said Sunday that President Obama had badly damaged American credibility in the Arab world by appearing to back down from airstrikes just hours before many Arab government expected them to begin.
“He is seen as feckless and weak, and this will give further rise to conspiracy theories that Obama doesn’t really want Assad out and it is all a big game,” said Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Doha Center. “Many Arab leaders already think that Obama’s word cannot be trusted — I am talking about his friends and allies — and I am afraid this will reinforce that belief.”
And speaking of Obama’s damaged credibility, nowhere has it been more crushed than in ground zero: Syria.
“He who talks a lot doesn’t act,” said Souad, a Damascus resident, mocking US President Barack Obama as a “coward” for delaying a decision to attack the Syrian regime.
“Obama is a coward. He didn’t strike because he knows that our President Bashar (al-Assad) is all-powerful,” said the employee of nationality electricity firm Ferdaws, in the northeast of the capital.
In the wealthy neighbourhood people went about their business without seeming too worried about the thuds from intermittent shelling of rebel positions outside the city centre.
A similarly calm atmosphere prevailed at one of the area’s traditional, men-only cafes, where some customers appeared more interested in winning at backgammon than by Obama’s speech.
On Saturday the US president said he will ask US lawmakers to approve a strike on Syria when Congress returns from summer recess on September 9, effectively lifting the threat of an imminent attack.
“He was like an actor taking part in a play being shown to the American people,” staunch government supporter Hassan Azzam, 73, said of Obama.
“I saw him, he was trembling like a leaf as he spoke, he seemed really troubled,” said Azzam, leafing through a copy of the state newspaper Ath-Thawra.
Obama’s unexpected speech was broadcast by Syrian state television and on Sunday many in Damascus shared Azzam’s view that the president of the world’s most powerful army decided not to act because he feared the reaction of Assad’s allies, notably Iran.
“(The Iranians) really intended to strike Israel… and Obama backed down because he knew that in response (to US strikes on Syria) Israel would be wiped off the map,” said Azzam.
Asked by AFP for their reactions to Obama’s speech, many Syrians poked fun at the US president.
“Obama? Who is he anyway,” joked Ali, 18.
The jury is still out.