Two aircraft carriers stationed off the Syrian coast were sent back to the US this week in a move that the Obama administration thought would ease tensions, but angered Turkish officials who hoped for significant US military presence in the region.
The USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group and its 2,500 marines were recalled after being stationed on the Syrian coast, allegedly in preparation of potential military invasion.
The USS Eisenhower, which has the capacity to hold thousands of men, joined the other warship during the first week of December, ready to launch an American-led military intervention “within days” if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were to use chemical weapons against the opposition, Time reported. But as the violence escalated in the past few days, the warships took off and headed back to the US.
The US usually has two aircraft carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf at all times, but will only have one deployed this month – the USS John C. Stennis, which is stationed nowhere near Syria. By recalling the USS Eisenhower and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, the US simply outraged its key ally in the region – Turkey.
An unnamed senior Turkish officer told Israel’s DEBKAfile that America’s removal of the aircraft carriers is “hard to understand and unacceptable to Ankara.” Turkey became one of the main opponents of the Assad regime on the international stage and fears that the Syrian missiles with chemical weapons might be used against it. Syria never recognized that it has a chemical stockpile. Nevertheless Syrian officials repeatedly said that their country would never use such weapons “even if they had them.”
None of Syria’s neighbors, which include Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel, have officially criticized the Obama administration for its recall of its naval forces, but unnamed officials told DEBKAfile that Turkish officials are very upset about the move.
According to the Israeli news outlet, Washington hoped to “to appease the Turks” by sending to the region US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to sign a deployment order for the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, which would be stationed at the Syrian border. While Panetta visited Turkey on Friday, the defense secretary allegedly visited an air base where US strike aircraft are stationed alongside Turkish warplanes.
But the US attempt to ease tensions and calm Turkey had little effect: Turkish officials remain outraged at the US abandonment at a time when violence with its neighbor has escalated and relations with Iran and Syria are at its worst.
Meanwhile the deployment of the Patriot missile interceptors has escalated tensions between Turkey and Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad canceled a trip to Turkey for an annual ceremony this week, claiming the missile interceptors might lead to a “world war.”