Egypt: Will U.S. And NATO Launch Second Suez Intervention? by Rick Rozoff

by Rick Rozoff
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
Stop NATO-Opposition to global militarism
February 3, 2011

On February 1 General James Mattis, commander of United States Central Command whose area of responsibility includes Egypt on its western end, stated that Washington currently has no plans to reinforce naval presence off the coast of that country, but added that in the event of the closure of the Suez Canal:

“Were it to happen obviously we would have to deal with it diplomatically, economically, militarily….”

After the canal was nationalized in 1956 by the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt was attacked by Israel, Britain and France.

The day before Mattis’ statement the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and its carrier strike group – consisting of a guided missile cruiser, three guided missile destroyers, a fast combat support ship and Carrier Air Wing One (which had been deployed for the Suez Crisis in 1956-1957) with fighter and surveillance aircraft and Seahawk helicopters – crossed through the Strait of Gibraltar from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea on its way to the Suez Canal. The warships are scheduled for operations in the Gulf of Aden off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen and in the Arabian Sea to support the war in Afghanistan.

In the words of the commander of the carrier strike group, the deployment “sends a strong signal that the Enterprise Strike Group has arrived to operate and integrate with our partners in the region.” [1]

U.S. and NATO warships regularly transit the canal for operations off the Horn of Africa and for the escalating war in South Asia.

With the expansion of protests in Egypt calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, the prospect of the Suez Canal being closed would severely hamper Western military operations across the Arabian Sea from Somalia to Pakistan, the central locus of global naval deployments and warfighting in the 21st century. [2]

In addition to being a gateway for the passage of warships including carriers and their warplanes, the Suez Canal is a major transit point for oil emanating from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea en route to the Mediterranean Sea for European consumption. “The waterway is the fastest crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. Should it close, tankers would have to sail around southern Africa. About 7.5% of world sea trade is carried via the canal today.”

“Energy industry analysts…view the intimidation factor posed by the U.S. military’s presence in the region as beneficial to Western corporate interests in case a new government in Cairo does indeed seek to block shipments of oil and other goods through the canal.” [3]

This week it was announced that several European oil companies, among them Norway’s Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum, halted drilling in Egypt, closed down local offices and began evacuating the families of foreign workers as well as non-essential staff.

On January 31 U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates held phone conversations with his Egyptian and Israeli counterparts, defense ministers Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Ehud Barak. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell would not disclose the contents of the talks to the press.

President Barack Obama praised the U.S.-armed and -trained Egyptian armed forces for their “professionalism,” stating:

“I urge the military to help ensure this time of change is peaceful.”

Chief of the U.S. General Staff Admiral Michael Mullen spoke by phone with Egyptian chief of staff Lieutenant General Sami Enan on the same day, after the latter and the high-level military delegation he led hastily left Washington, D.C. ahead of the completion of scheduled week-long consultations at the Pentagon. The Internet is rife with speculation that Enan may be slated to head an interim government should President Mubarak be prevailed upon to exit the scene in the imminent future.

Afterward, Mullen affirmed:

“We’ve had a very strong relationship with the Egyptian military for decades. And as I look to the future, I certainly look to that to continue.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the Egyptian military. We look to a future that certainly, we hope, is stable, within Egypt as well as, obviously, in the region.” [4]

According to the Pentagon’s website: “Mullen stressed the importance of Egypt’s military as a stabilizing force. The United States military has had a close and continuing relationship with Egyptian officers and noncommissioned officers since the Camp David Accords in 1978, he noted.” [5]

In a recent article the Jewish Telegraph Agency reminded its readers that:

“The largely American-equipped and American-trained Egyptian army — by far the most powerful military in the Arab world — numbers around 650,000 men, with 60 combat brigades, 3500 tanks and 600 fighter planes. For Israel, the main strategic significance of the peace with Egypt is that it has been able to take the threat of full-scale war against its strongest foe out of the military equation.” [6]

In announcing the precipitate departure of the Egyptian military delegation from Washington, Marine General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that the visit had been curtailed because of domestic developments, stating the U.S. and its military allies “go through all sorts of contingencies.” [7]

Although the NATO website does not mention it, it is to be assumed that Enan’s top-level delegation attended the chiefs of defense and military representatives meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on January 26 and 27, particularly the first day’s Mediterranean Dialogue session. The meetings included the top commanders and other military representatives of 66 nations – more than a third of all the countries in the world – and was presided over by Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, Chairman of the bloc’s Military Committee. Other participants included NATO’s two Strategic Commanders, Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and General Stephane Abrial, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, as well as the Chairman of the European Union’s Military Committee, General Hakan Syren.

Topics of deliberation included NATO’s two ongoing naval operations, Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean Sea and Ocean Shield in the Gulf of Aden.

The Alliance conclave also included a meeting of military representatives from NATO Mediterranean Dialogue partnership members Egypt, Israel, Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, who “agreed on the further development of Cooperative Security core task as outlined in the new Strategic Concept” endorsed at last November’s summit in Portugal. [8]

Outgoing Israel Defense Forces [IDF} Chief of General Staff Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, who is to step down from his post on February 14, was a guest of honor at the 66-nation NATO military meeting in Brussels. He addressed the assembled military chiefs and told them:

“Cooperation with NATO will continue to be of extreme importance for Israel, particularly in the face of countries that are trying to obtain nuclear and nonconventional weapons. NATO’s decision to develop a missile defense system demonstrates the worrisome reality that radical countries and maybe even terrorist groups are a clear and present danger, not just to the Middle East but also to Europe.” [9]

Delivering a speech at the Mediterranean Dialogue session, Ashkenazi stated:

“NATO currently faces the very same challenges [as Israel does at home] in Afghanistan, and its member countries encounter complex strategic, tactical and logistic issues in different arenas of war.”

He also thanked chairman of the NATO Military Committee Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola and his counterparts for their “friendship and partnership.” [10]

Ashkenazi was accompanied on his trip to NATO Headquarters by his wife, IDF spokesperson Brigadier General Avi Benayahu, head of the International Military Cooperation Department in the Planning Directorate Colonel Hani Caspi, Israeli Defense Attache to NATO Colonel Uri Halperin and Aide-de-Camp to the Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant Colonel Amos HaCohen.

As part of the conference “a ceremonial dinner [was] held at the home of the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, where he…bid a farewell to Ashkenazi.” [11]

The Suez Canal is Israel’s lifeline to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe. In July of 2009 Israeli “missile class warships sailed through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea ten days after a submarine capable of launching a nuclear missile strike” – a German-made Dolphin – had made the same journey in a move “apparently done in preparation for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.” [12]

The canal is also the choke point through which Caspian Sea oil and natural gas transported across the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum and Nabucco pipelines are projected to reach Israel in addition to plans to ship energy supplies to the Israeli Mediterranean port city of Ashkelon and from there by pipeline to the Red Sea port of Eilat where it can be shipped on tankers across the Indian Ocean to East Asia. [13]

The Suez Canal is also the convergence point of two of the six navy fleets the U.S. employs to patrol the world’s seas and oceans: The Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Italy, and the Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.

The Sixth Fleet’s area of responsibility encompasses the entire Mediterranean, since October of 2001 paralleled and reinforced by NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor, and the Fifth’s the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the eastern coast of Africa south to Kenya.

The Enterprise Carrier Strike Group headed to the Suez Canal will be attached to the Fifth Fleet when it arrives in the Red Sea on its way to the Indian Ocean.

Both fleets have several naval task forces assigned to them, including amphibious assault, battle force, carrier strike group, expeditionary combat, Marine Expeditionary Unit, maritime surveillance, naval interdiction, oil terminal protection (in Iraq), patrol and reconnaissance, sealift, special operations and submarine warfare groups.

The Fifth Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command are jointly in charge of Combined Task Forces 52, 150, 151, 152 and 158 in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin, and the Persian Gulf, which are U.S.-led multinational naval groups with the participation of NATO and Asia-Pacific military partners like Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

The Sixth Fleet at any given time has as many as forty ships, 175 aircraft and 21,000 personnel deployed in the Mediterranean.

The fleet overlaps with Naval Forces Europe as the Fifth Fleet does with Naval Forces Central Command. The commanders of the first two also hold NATO positions, with the commander of Naval Forces Europe serving as head of Allied Joint Force Command Naples and the commander of the Sixth Fleet as commander of Allied Joint Command Lisbon and of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO.

As examined earlier, NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor also incorporates the entire Mediterranean Sea, including Egypt’s northern coast, and over the past nine years has contacted over 110,000 ships and boarded an estimated 160 “suspect” ships.

The now permanent operation is “enabling NATO to strengthen its relations with partner countries, especially those participating in the Alliance’s Mediterranean Dialogue.” [14]

By NATO’s account:

“In terms of energy alone, some 65 per cent of the oil and natural gas consumed in Western Europe pass through the Mediterranean each year, with major pipelines connecting Libya to Italy and Morocco to Spain. For this reason, NATO ships are systematically carrying out preparatory route surveys in ‘choke’ points as well as in important passages and harbours throughout the Mediterranean.

“What happens in practice is that merchant ships passing through the Eastern Mediterranean are hailed by patrolling NATO naval units and asked to identify themselves and their activity. This information is then reported to both NATO’s Allied Maritime Component Commander in Naples, Italy, and the NATO Shipping Centre in Northwood, the United Kingdom. If any­thing appears unusual or suspicious, a boarding team may enter the vessel to inspect documen­tation and cargo.”

“The increased NATO presence in the Mediterranean has also enhanced the Alliance’s security cooperation programme with seven countries in the wider Mediterranean region – Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. This programme – the Mediterranean Dialogue – was set up in 1995 to contribute to regional security and stability and to achieve better mutual understanding between NATO and its Mediterranean Partners.

“The operation is under the overall command of Joint Forces Command (JFC), Naples, and is conducted from the Allied Maritime Component Command Naples, Italy (CC-Mar Naples) through a Task Force deployed in the Mediterranean. Occasionally, transiting ships and aircraft provide additional associated support to the operation.” [15]

Active Endeavor is one of eight components resulting from the U.S.-dominated alliance’s activation of its Article 5 collective military assistance provision after September 1, 2001.

At its 2004 summit in Istanbul, Turkey, NATO expanded the surveillance and interdiction mission as well as adopting the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative to elevate Mediterranean Dialogue partnerships with Egypt, Israel, Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia to the level of the Partnership for Peace program that graduated twelve Eastern European nations to full NATO membership from 1999-2009.

Last November Alliance Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper that NATO is ready to dispatch troops to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, stating: “If a Middle East peace agreement is reached, an international military force will be needed to monitor and implement it.” [16] The same source revealed that “The North Atlantic Council – NATO’s most senior governing body – also announced it would launch bilateral relations (in contrast to collective ties) with Israel and the six Arab states that comprise the Mediterranean Dialogue.”

Israel is the only Middle Eastern nation not in Central Command’s area of responsibility (it is assigned to U.S. European Command) – as Egypt is the only African country not in U.S. Africa Command’s – and is all but officially NATO’s 29th member state. [17]

A few months before, Rasmussen visited Jordan and Bahrain to pressure the host countries to “contribute to alliance naval operations…in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden,” Operation Active Endeavor and Operation Ocean Shield, respectively. [18]

In the previous month twelve warships attached to an enlarged Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) began what were identified as surge operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. “SNMG2 has been reinforced with additional ships which, along with submarine and air surveillance assets, will ensure sweeping coverage from Crete to the far-eastern reaches of the Mediterranean Sea.” That its operations are being augmented by Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft and submarines marks a dramatic escalation of NATO strength in the region. [19]

In the month before the naval buildup in the Eastern Mediterranean, five ships from the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 docked in Casablanca “to boost ties with Morocco.”

“A joint training session between NATO forces and the Moroccan navy is also planned, according to the Dutch commander of SNMG2, Michiel Hijmans, who will be in Casablanca for the Sept. 16-19 visit.

“SNMG2 regularly participates in the Active Endeavour Operation…in the Mediterranean.” [20]

After being feted at NATO Headquarters and at the home of the bloc’s Military Committee chairman last week, Israel’s Chief of General Staff Ashkenazi said that mounting demonstrations in Egypt “could force Israel to adapt to a new security reality in the Middle East.”

“The quiet is fragile and the security reality can easily change,” he said on the sidelines of a military exercise in the south of Israel. “It is enough to look at what is happening in Egypt to understand this.” [21]

Ashkenazi added that the Israel Defense Forces were maintaining a “watchful eye” on the Gaza Strip adjoining Egypt.

Shaul Mofaz, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman and a former defense minister, “said that Israel would need to conduct a new strategic review due to the possibility of a regime change in Egypt.” [22]

In addition to U.S. Sixth Fleet, NATO and Israeli naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean, NATO nations are also deployed there as part of the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) Maritime Task Force, which since 2006 has run an effective blockade of Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast. Currently there are three German, one Greek, one Italian and one Turkish ship assigned to the mission. Other nations that have contributed to the interdiction operation include Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.

The Maritime Task Force (MTF) website states: “Since the start of its operations, the MTF has hailed around 28,000 ships and referred around 400 suspicious vessels to the Lebanese authorities for further inspection.”

As seen above, the Suez Canal is vital for the transit of Western aircraft carriers and other warships and for oil shipments.

Egypt is also important for the NATO nations of North America and Europe as part of their energy war against Russia aside from the Suez passageway.

The Suez-Mediterranean (SuMed) oil pipeline runs from the Ain Sukhna terminal on the Gulf of Suez (leading to the canal) at the northern end of the Red Sea to Sidi Kerir on the Mediterranean. The 200-mile pipeline provides an alternative to the Suez Canal for transporting Persian Gulf oil to the Mediterranean Sea, and there are currently plans to extend it across the Red Sea from Ain Sukhna to the terminal of Saudi Arabia’s 745-mile East-West Crude Oil Pipeline (Petroline) in Yanbu in the west of the kingdom.

On January 28 Egyptian troops were deployed to the SuMed pipeline.

In May of 2009 the European Union held a conference entitled Southern Corridor – New Silk Road in the Czech capital of Prague in order “to help reduce Europe’s heavy dependence on Russia.” [23]

Centering on the Nabucco natural gas and other pipelines to bring Caspian Sea hydrocarbons to Europe in opposition to Russian projects, participating non-EU countries included Egypt and Iraq in addition to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and Turkey.

The conference promoted “three gas projects, all bypassing Russia. It [discussed] the 10 billion euro Nabucco project, which by 2013 is to link the Caspian Sea region, Middle East and Egypt to the EU via Turkey. The others are the Inter-Connector pipeline linking Turkey to Italy via Greece, and the White Stream, which would run from Georgia to Romania across the Black Sea.”

“The leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Egypt and Iraq [and] the EU [pushed] for a broad commitment on the expansion of a web of half a dozen east-west gas pipelines spanning thousands of miles (kilometers)” with “stable gas deliveries that bypass Russia.” [24]

Egypt is too strategically important to the U.S. and its European and Israeli allies to permit its citizens to exercise control over the nation’s military and energy policies, over what passes through the Suez Canal. Before that will be permitted to occur, the threats of a military takeover and intervention loom over the nation.

1) Navy NewsStand, February 1, 2011
2) Arabian Sea: Center Of West’s 21st Century War
Stop NATO, October 25, 2010

3) Egypt’s Suez Canal and the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet
Press Action, January 31, 2011
4) Department of Defense, January 31, 2011
5) Ibid
6) Jewish Telegraph Agency, February 1, 2011
7) CNN, January 28, 2011
8) North Atlantic Treaty Organization, January 27, 2011
9) Jerusalem Post, January 26, 2011
10) Israel Defense Forces, January 26, 2011
11) Arutz Sheva, January 27, 2011
12) Report: Warships in Suez prepare for Iran attack
Ynetnews, July 16, 2009
13) Azerbaijan And The Caspian: NATO’s War For The World’s Heartland
Stop NATO, June 10, 2009

14) North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Operation Active Endeavor

15) Ibid
16) Ha’aretz, November 21, 2010
17) Israel: Global NATO’s 29th Member
Stop NATO, January 17, 2010

18) Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 9, 2010
19) North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Allied Command Operations
November 12, 2010
20) Agence France-Presse, September 14, 2010
21) Jerusalem Post, February 1, 2011
22) Ibid
23) Azeri Press Agency, May 8, 2009
24) Robert Wielaard, EU Seeks to Enroll Caucasus Neighbors, Egypt and Iraq
into Energy Deal Bypassing Russia
Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2009


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