By Rick Rozoff
Shortly after NATO Allied Maritime Command Naples completed a ten-day air surge in the Mediterranean as part of the Western military bloc’s almost eleven-year Operation Active Endeavor, Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 docked in Istanbul, Turkey on its way to conduct exercises off the coast of Syria.
Active Endeavor was launched in October 2001 as part of the activation of NATO’s Article 5 collective military assistance clause and has operated ever since with no mandate other than that the alliance has granted itself.
Ships assigned by NATO members and partners have patrolled the Mediterranean at will, contacting (hailing) by NATO’s own count over 100,000 vessels and boarding nearly 200.
Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 is one of NATO’s two Immediate Reaction Forces and consists of warships (destroyers and frigates) from the U.S., Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey. It also operates in the Mediterranean and routinely in conjunction with Active Endeavor.
Active Endeavor and Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 arrogate to themselves the role of conducting supposed anti-terrorist and counter-piracy missions and the ever-elusive hunt for weapons of mass destruction. In the third category it effectively overlaps with the U.S.’s Proliferation Security Initiative, described by the State Department as follows:
“The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is a global effort that aims to stop trafficking of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern. Launched on May 31, 2003, U.S. involvement in the PSI stems from the U.S. National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction issued in December 2002. That strategy recognizes the need for more robust tools to stop proliferation of WMD around the world, and specifically identifies interdiction as an area where greater focus will be placed.
“President Obama strongly supports the PSI. In his April 2009 Prague speech, President Obama first called for the PSI to continue as an enduring international counterproliferation effort. He has subsequently reinforced this as the formal U.S. Government position in significant U.S. policy documents, including the White House’s National Security Strategy and the Pentagon’s last Quadrennial Defense Review.”
Both the Proliferation Security Initiative and Operation Active Endeavor – the first international, the second throughout the Mediterranean – are comprehensive Western maritime surveillance and interdiction missions run without United Nations authorization.
In March of this year Standing NATO Maritime Group I, primarily assigned to the eastern Atlantic, began NATO surge operations in the Eastern Mediterranean as part of Operation Active Endeavor.
On March 24 Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 met with the USS Enterprise Carrier Strike Group in the western part of the sea.
The recently concluded air surge in the Mediterranean concentrated on “using the massive data collection capabilities” of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force E-3A (AWACS) Component based in Geilenkirchen, Germany.
After Germany took over command of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 from Turkey on June 15, the detachment of three warships has been, in the words of the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, “flexing its muscles in the Mediterranean” and conducting “its mission in the eastern Mediterranean at a time of increased tensions in the area following the recent downing of a Turkish jet by Syrian forces and continued energy exploration off Greek Cyprus’ southern coast that has upset Turkey and Turkish Cyprus.”
The Turkish, German and French frigates currently assigned to Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 are equipped with helicopters and landing pads, ship-to-ship and surface-to-air missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes.
On June 7 Syria’s armed forces began a series of large-scale military exercises with naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean Sea. According to the Syrian Arab News Agency, “The move is thought to be targeted at the West to demonstrate Syria`s capacity to defend its borders.”
The naval drills simulated repelling attacks from the sea, were attended by major military officials including Defense Minister General Dawood Rajha and featured missiles fired from ships and from portable land launchers. Threats from the sea could only emanate from one source: NATO.
The second day of the exercises included ships and helicopters conducting joint anti-submarine maneuvers, coastal artillery, armored units, aircraft, marines and frogmen.
The above-cited news agency described the exercise as involving “military maneuvers carried out over several days involving land, sea and air forces in order to test the combat readiness of the Syrian Arab Army and inspect its ability to carry out its duties in circumstances similar to possible combat conditions.”
On July 9 Syrian naval, air and land forces held an air defense exercise employing anti-aircraft missiles.
Syria has the military capacity to respond to NATO attacks that Libya didn’t last year. Any attempt to replicate the Libyan scenario in the Eastern Mediterranean, even if it doesn’t at first pull Russia, Iran, Lebanon and China into the fray, is fraught with disastrous consequences.