by DEBKAfile 24 April 2002


"Saudi Arabia denies it has massed 8 brigades on its Jordanian border following secret intelligence reports of Israeli troop concentrations on its frontier with Jordan. (The Kingdom of Jordan is wedged between Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Syria.) Israel denied the Saudi claim Tuesday, April 23. The comeback was fast: 'A responsible source' at the kingdom’s defense and aviation ministry stated that Saudi armed forces units are merely conducting 'routine exercises' in the northwestern region, not beefing up their troop presence there.

The next step in this unfolding exchange of claims and denials was another report from Riyadh on Thursday, April 24, that Israeli jets were flying over Jordan’s border with the oil kingdom. Saudi air defenses were said to be under orders to shoot down any intruding craft.

DEBKAfile’s military analysts have taken due note of Riyadh’s public admission that it fears an Israeli invasion of Jordan. Even more noteworthy is its timing: 48 hours before Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz travels to President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Here, then, is a transparent Saudi gambit, based on the cynical exploitation of the Israeli military bugbear. This gambit, in the view of our analysts, is employed by Riyadh for three purposes:

First, to manufacture tension on the Saudi-Jordanian-Israel borders in order to back up Abdullah’s attempt to railroad Israel as the generator of military escalation in the region.

Second, as a device to cut short the Saudi crown prince’s American visit. Riyadh-Washington relations have never been so bad. Since the Saudi ruler could not wriggle out his American trip, he needed a pretext for an early departure for home.

Third, Saudi rulers have been forewarned of impending Iraqi troop movements focusing on Jordan and are taking military precautions to keep the coming military exchanges from spilling over into home territory.

Riyadh, while attempting to fabricate a crisis around Jordan’s borders – and pin it on Israel – knows exactly what is really going on. The Israeli troop presence along the border of the Hashemite kingdom – which Israeli spokesmen consistently deny – is there with Amman’s consent for the sole purpose of deterring Saddam from invading Jordan. The Saudis are also perfectly aware that Iraq led the way in kicking off this round of military moves and that Israel countered with a blocking tactic.

DEBKAfile ’s military sources provide details of the Iraqi troop movements.

The force Iraq started massing some weeks ago consists of 3-4 of its 7 crack Republican Guard divisions, which are stationed in the center of the country opposite the Jordanian frontier. They are fanned out across a stretch of land, bounded by four bases: H-3 Main, H-3 Southwest and H-3 Northwest – 350 km. west of Baghdad - and the big al Baghdadi ground and air base west of the town of Rutbah.

The Iraqi high command reckons the first American strike, carried out under the cover of a bombing and missile barrage, will try and capture this area and take over the four bases - much in the way a main US base was set up in Kandahar, Afghanistan. From there US forces will threaten the capital, Baghdad.

The Iraqi response will be to divide their strength into two contingents. One, led by Saddam Hussein’s son, Qusay, will fall back toward Baghdad; the other will push into Jordan and seize its eastern region, ready for an eventual move into the capital, Amman.

The Israeli troop concentration the Saudis are referring to – whose presence Israeli spokesmen deny – is poised to defend Jordan against this very Iraqi assault.

By his pincer movement, Saddam hopes to crush the American force, trapping it in an isolated pocket, vulnerable to a blitz of missiles carrying chemical and biological agents. Simultaneously, Iraqi missile barrages will be aimed at Israel and US military targets in the Jewish state, as well as American militaryfacilities in the Gulf, Kuwait and Qatar.

Iraq is also getting set to counter alternative US tactics. This week, Baghdad deployed heavy reinforcements of anti-air missile batteries in the southern and northern no-fly zones patrolled by US and British allied planes. This move was a preventive measure against a possible US attempt to seize Iraq’s northern and southern oilfields. The batteries are aimed not only against bombers but also large-scale helicopters squadrons flying US and British Marines in from Kuwait, Oman or Turkey.

All these plans are still on American and Iraqi drawing boards. Saudi, Jordanian and Israeli military planners are also working hard on contingency plans.

The Americans therefore have no reason to expect a short campaign. Our military experts estimate the first stage alone will last between one and two months. Saddam will certainly wield oil as a weapon. The Saudis have taken steps to reassure Washington that they have no intention of joining Baghdad in an oil embargo. On Tuesday, April 23, the Saudi oil minister promised a group of American businessmen in Washington that his government would continue to keep oil prices stable and make up for any production shortfall developing on the world market.

Simultaneously, the Saudi investment authority in Riyadh finally, after long delays, approved a partnership transaction between American Chevron-Phillips and the Saudi industrial investment authority, entailing a $1 billion investment in a new petrochemical plant in the kingdom.

But these gestures can no longer paper over the deep rift between Riyadh and Washington, or the inevitability of any major war confrontation driving the two to opposing sides - with lasting effect on the region as well as world oil and financial markets.

Already the Saudis are operating on two levels – one reassuring Washington and other, laying their military cards out on the ground. The second is bound to cancel out the effect of the first."