USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier arrives off Syrian shore

DEBKAfile – Dec 6, 2012

The USS Eisenhower Strike Group transited the Suez Canal from the Persian Gulf Saturday, Dec. 1, sailing up to the Syrian coast Tuesday in a heavy storm, with 8 fighter bomber squadrons of Air Wing Seven on its decks and 8,000 sailors, airmen and Marines.
The USS Eisenhower group joins the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group which carries 2,500 Marines.  

Facing Syria now are 10,000 US fighting men, 70 fighter-bombers and at least 17 warships, including the three Iwo Jima amphibious craft, a guided missile cruiser and 10 destroyers and frigates.

Four of these vessels are armed with Aegis missile interceptors.

This mighty US armada brings immense pressure to bear on the beleaguered Assad regime after it survied an almost two-year buffeting by an armed uprising. Its presence indicates that the United States now stands ready for direct military intervention in the Syrian conflict when the weather permits.

Left behind in the Persian Gulf is just one US aircraft carrier, the USS Stennis and its strike group.

Welcoming NATO’s decision Tuesday, Dec. 4, to deploy Patriot missile batteries in Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday: “The protection from NATO will be three dimensional; one is the short-range Patriots, the second is the middle-range Terminal High Altitude Air Defense [THAD] system and the last is the AEGIS system, which counters missiles that can reach outside the atmosphere.”

debkafile’s military sources: While the Patriot is land-based and will be deployed on the Turkish-Syrian border, the THAD and the Aegis have just reached the Syrian coast aboard the USS Eisenhower strike group.

 “With this integrated system,” said Davutoglu, Turkey will have maximum protection.”

He added: “The Syrian regime has 700 missiles,” and their location, storage method and holders are no secret to Ankara. This was the first time Ankara had made threats to destroy Syrian missiles, including any carrying chemical warheads.

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Russia Docks Warships in Syria as NATO Arms Turkey

Paul D. Shinkman – US News.com Dec 5, 2012

Russian warships docked at a naval base in Syria, according to reports on Wednesday, further separating Moscow from Western actions in the war-torn country.

The two ships made a rare call at the port in Tartus, Russia’s only remaining international military base since the Soviet Union collapsed, according to AFP and Interfax reports. Russian authorities claim the stop was only to load fuel and water and make “minor repairs.” This is the second time the Russian Navy has raised eyebrows in recent weeks, following reports that it docked warships off the coast of Gaza in late November, during the height of the fighting there with Israel.

This most recent maneuver comes amid a new NATO decision to send Patriot missiles to Turkey, and sharpens the divide between Russia’s history of supporting the Syrian regime and pressure on the West to back the opposition fighters.

The presence of the navy ships has three purposes, says Michael Weiss, cochair of the Russian Studies Center at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based foreign policy think tank. Russia wants to run weapons and materiel into Syria, take Russian nationals out of the country, and send a signal to the United States that it still backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“They have military advisers helping the regime — a claim I cannot corroborate but absolutely believe,” Weiss says. “But nonessential diplomatic staff and probably a lot of bi-nationals will leave.”

The vessels are the landing ships Novocherkassk and Saratov, Interfax reports, assigned to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Moscow sees Tartus as a major strategic asset, according to AFP, and refers to it as a “point of material-technical supply,” rather than a base. It is too shallow for large ships to dock.

This most recent move is consistent with Russia’s likely intentions at Gaza, Weiss says, though it is less of threat than an indication of the former superpower’s crumbling infrastructure.

“Frankly, it’s amazing that those ships can reach Gaza at all,” he says, adding the U.S. Sixth Fleet had to accompany the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov when it last sailed for Tartus in case it sunk.

More than 40,000 have been killed by the fighting in Syria since it began in early 2011.

Turkey has pushed for NATO to supply it with Patriot missiles along its border with Syria to deter regime forces from continuing their aerial and rocket barrages. U.S. News reported Tuesday that Assad, now cut off from forces outside Syria, will likely turn to ground-to-ground missile attacks to try to repel opposition fighters who have surrounded the capital city.

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