There are now a large number of reports emanating from Middle East sources which if true would suggest that major military re-deployments are under way and perhaps even preparations for a wider conflict. On closer examination some reports only appear to provide evidence of a prudent attempt to prepare for the unexpected, while others remain only the product of the Middle East's famous rumour mill. Strangely only Israel would seem to benefit from this surfeit of alarmist reporting as any suggestion of a build-up of Arab military power would only serve as an excuse for Israel maintaining an ultra-tough line on any negotiations with the Palestinians and further encourage support from the United States.
What is fairly certain is that a number of Israel's neighbours are getting distinctly jittery and have repositioned certain units to pre-empt either internal rebellion, violent anti-US civil disturbances or to limit the damage done by an unexpected attack from, say perhaps Israel or the United States. Jordan was already known to have repositioned two of its main mechanized units, the 4th and 12th Divisions along the routes towards the Syrian and Iraqi borders while the 3rd Division has fallen back towards the Saudi border.
Saudi Arabia is purported to have moved 8 of its 9 Brigades hard up against the Southern Jordanian border close to the port of Aqaba and a scant 10 miles or so from the Israeli town of Eilat, leaving if correct, a single Brigade, the 10th Mechanized Infantry Brigade on the Yemen border and nothing of military value defending the capital of Riyadh, the oil fields and the borders with Kuwait and Iraq. The 14th Armoured Brigade, 8th Mechanized Infantry Brigade and 20th Mechanized Infantry Brigade are based at the massive Northern Command headquarters at Hafr al-Batin (King Khalid Military City), while 12th Armoured Brigade and 6th Mechanized Infantry Brigade were already deployed at the Northwestern Command headquarters at Tabuk (King Abd Al-Aziz Military City).
Despite reports to the contrary it seems unlikely that Saudi Arabia would either have the wish or the capability to re-deploy the 4th Armoured Brigade and 11th Mechanized Infantry Brigade from the Southern Command headquarters at Khamis Mushayt (King Faisal Military City) some 700 miles north to the Jordanian border. It is far more likely that the Saudi High Command has moved no more than 8 of the Battalions based at Tabuk closer to the border and this would indeed be in line with the figure of 8,000 troops involved so far.
Iraq limits its military moves - for now
Iraq started massing troops in its Western region some weeks ago when it began the movement of a number of its elite Republican Guard Divisions supported by two Infantry Divisions to positions near the Jordanian frontier. Their axis of deployment is based on the support bases stretching west from the important Al Baghdadi air defence complex west of the town of Rutbah. To further reinforce their positions the Iraqi High Command deployed additional surface-to-air missile batteries in the southern no-fly zone and in the Western desert area.
While in Syria the 1st Corps defending Damascus and the approaches to the Golan heights and the 2nd Corps at Zabadan covering Western Syria and the Lebanon are both on a higher state of readiness with the 10th Mechanized Division being pulled back to heavily defended positions along the Beirut-Damascus highway and in the central and northern Beka'a valley and the elite 14th Special Forces Division moving both men and heavy equipment into dispersed positions.
The Lebanon has moved an additional Infantry Brigade to the south of Beirut, while in an event that has raised more mirth than serious military concern, the Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Ebeid said his country is ready for a full military and diplomatic confrontation with Israel, but only if other Arab countries are willing to pay Egypt for its trouble. "Let the Arab world give $100 billion from Arab funds deposited around the world. Let it say to Egypt: "This is a budget for confrontation. This budget is at your disposal. Undertake confrontation " he added. Of more interest were reports that the Egyptian High Command has dusted off plans to move elements of both the 2nd and 3rd Armies deep into the Sinai with upwards of a Division being placed on the border with the Gaza Strip.
There is little in the military movements so far seen or suspected to raise the spectre of an Arab attack on either Israel or United States interests in the region, more a case of bad nerves and a wish to survive the chaotic uncertainty that now faces the Middle East.
Richard M. Bennett is the author of ESPIONAGE- An Encyclopedia of Spies and Secrets, Virgin Books, forthcoming. Copyright © AFI Research, 2002. Reprinted for fair use only
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