In the first such deployment in more than 25 years, Egypt has sent thousands of troops to its western border with the Palestinian Authority.
Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency (MENA) said the regime of President Hosni Mubarak has begun to deploy 5,000 Egyptian state security police along the Egypt-Gaza border. MENA said the operation began on Oct. 28 in wake of an Israeli report that the air force would bomb the border area.
“The security forces have deployed along the entire border following threats by Israel to drop smart bombs in the Philadelphi Corridor [Egypt-Gaza border],” MENA said on Sunday. “The security deployment was to protect Egyptians living in the border area.”
The Egyptian Interior Ministry said not all 5,000 troops, armed with light weapons, would be deployed along the 14-kilometer Egypt-Gaza border.
The ministry said many of the soldiers would patrol roads and establish checkpoints along the route from El Arish to Rafah, the latter divided into Egyptian and Palestinian zones.
“We are ensuring that there is no smuggling of weapons to the Palestinian territories, and we are also protecting against the smuggling of drugs from Israel,” Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said.
Israel’s military has confirmed that Egypt was reinforcing its troop presence in eastern Sinai.
However, Amir Peretz, Israel’s defense minister, denied the reports that Egypt has massed 5,000 troops on Israel’s border.
“Beyond the 750 Egyptian border troops deployed in the area, there won’t be any additions,” Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Sunday.
Yemen Captures Eight Al-Qaida Insurgents
Yemen has announced the arrest of eight suspected al- Qaida insurgents.
The Yemeni Interior Ministry said the detainees were all foreigners and held Western passports. The ministry said the suspects were charged with smuggling weapons from Yemen to Somalia.
“The eight foreigners were arrested because they smuggled weapons to Somalia from Yemen,” a ministry official told the official Yemeni news agency Saba. “Preliminary investigations indicate that they are members of al-Qaida.”
The official said four of the smugglers were carrying Australian passports. A fifth was said to have been a citizen of Denmark. The Defense Ministry weekly “September 26” reported that the other suspects included African nationals as well as those who carried British and German passports.
The eight suspects were said to have been former Christians who converted to Islam and studied Arabic in Yemen’s Ayman University. Officials said the converts were indoctrinated in Yemen.
The United States has helped Yemen build a Coast Guard to prevent the smuggling of weapons and flow of insurgents from Yemen to Somalia. Yemen has served as a leading smuggling route for al-Qaida from the Gulf to the Horn of Africa.
This past summer, al-Qaida-aligned forces captured Mogadishu and since then have seized control of major cities and ports in Somalia. The forces were said to have received aid from such countries as Libya, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Over the past six weeks, Western countries have raised their security alert in Yemen. In September, Yemen announced the dismantling of an al-Qaida cell that sought to attack oil and gas installations.
Russia Renews Arms Exports To Iran
Russia, bolstered by renewed sales to Iran, has emerged as a leading weapons supplier to the Middle East.
A U.S. congressional study said Russia has become a leading supplier to such countries as Algeria, Iran, Syria, Yemen and other countries regarded as developing. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) said that, in 2005, Moscow surpassed the United States in weapons sales to the developing world.
“Despite its lack of the larger traditional client base for armaments held by the United States and the major West European suppliers, Russia’s successes in obtaining new arms orders suggests that Russia is likely to continue to be, for the short term at least, a significant leader in new arms agreements with developing nations,” the report said.
The report, entitled “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations 1998-2005,” cited a $700 million deal by Russia to export the TOR-M1 short-range anti-aircraft battery to Iran. The deal called for the supply of 29 surface-to-air missile systems to the Iranian Air Force.
“Russia has also made combat fighter aircraft sales in recent years to Algeria and Yemen,” the report said. “Elsewhere in the developing world, Russian military equipment is competitive because it ranges from the most basic to the highly advanced, and can be less expensive than similar arms available from other major suppliers.”
The report, released on Oct. 27, asserted that arms purchases by the developing world reached $30.2 billion in 2005. This marked a major increase from $26.4 billion in purchases in 2004.
In 2005, Russia sold $7 billion worth of weapons to the developing world, up from $5.4 billion in 2004. France sold $6.3 billion, and the United States was third, with $6.2 billion.
“In recent years, Russian leaders have made major strides in providing more creative financing and payment options for prospective arms clients,” the report said. “They have also agreed to engage in counter-trade, offsets, debt-swapping and, in key cases, to make significant licensed production agreements in order to sell its weapons.”
CRS said India led developing nations in arms purchases, with $5.4 billion in 2005. Saudi Arabia was second with $3.4 billion, and China followed with $2.8 billion.
The report said Russia also signed an agreement to upgrade Iran’s Su-24 bombers and MiG-29 fighter aircraft. CRS also reported a deal to modernize the Iran Army’s fleet of T-72 main battle tanks.
“For a period of time, in the mid-1990s, the Russian government agreed not to make new advanced weapons sales to the Iran government,” the report, authored by Richard Grimmett, said. “That agreement has since been rescinded by Russia. As the U.S. focuses increasing attention on Iran’s efforts to enhance its nuclear as well as conventional military capabilities, major arms transfers to Iran continue to be a matter of concern.”
The report also suggests that North Korea continued to be a leading missile exporter to the Middle East. CRS said 40 surface-to-surface missiles were sold to the Middle East from 2002 through 2005 by “other suppliers,” which U.S. officials later identified as North Korea.
The United States remained the overall leading arms exporter in 2005, with $12.8 billion, the report said. In 2004, U.S. weapons exports reached $13.2 billion.
In 2006, U.S. arms exports to the Middle East skyrocketed amid Bush administration approval of more than $10 billion in orders by Saudi Arabia.
Other major U.S. deals were reported with such countries as Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Influence In Syria
Iran was said to have significantly expanded its influence in Syria and is encouraging Alawis and Sunnis to convert to Shiite Islam.
Syrian opposition sources said the regime of President Bashar Assad has given Iran “carte blanche” in Syria. The sources said that, unlike his late father, Bashar has allowed Iranian clerics to spread the Shiite religion in Syria.
“Syrians have been observing over the last year a dangerous phenomena of an alarming number of non-Shia turning to Khomeini-style Shia in return for financial rewards,” the opposition Reform Party of Syriasaid (RPS). “Whole villages and urban areas are adopting the Hezbollah model whereby clinics, schools and social services are provided by Iran in return for Syrians to convert to Shi’ism.”
In August, RPS said, Iran opened two centers in the Syrian port of Latakiya. The organization said the centers, designed to teach Farsi, have been converting Sunni Muslims.
“Assad is logically calculating that if Hezbollah, with its 15,000 fighters and a God-like following of its figure head Sheik (Hassan) Nasrallah, can achieve with a $100 million a year the military prowess it exhibited against Israel, then why not turn all of Syria into a larger Hezbollah laboratory in the hope of attaining the same results,” the Syrian opposition party said.
Sunnis comprise 70 percent of Syria. About 11 percent of the country consists of the ruling Alawite community, with the remainder Christians and Druse.
Opposition sources said the spread of Shia in Iran has angered many Sunnis, particularly those aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. They said Sunni clerics envision a backlash against Iran and its representatives.
“Many (Sunni clerics) have voiced the following logic: We see the next confrontation in the Middle East along the lines of Israel vs. Iran, and we have no choice but to stand by Israel to protect our religion,” RPS said.
“This logic emanates from the fact that no Sunni Arab country has the military competence to stand-up to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis, and also because Israel, unlike Iran, is not interested in converting Sunni Muslims.”
Saudis Place Oil Facilities On Alert
Saudi Arabia, amid a U.S.-led exercise, has placed its oil facilities on alert for an attack by Iran.
The Saudi Interior Ministry said the kingdom’s oil facilities were placed on alert over the weekend. Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al Turki said oil installations were deemed a “high-probability potential target.”
On Oct. 26, Saudi security forces arrested two suspected al-Qaida-aligned insurgents at Sajir, 300 kilometers west of Riyad. Officials said one of the insurgents was said to have completed studies at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, in the heart of the oil-rich Eastern Province.
The United States has discussed threats to Saudi oil facilities. The official Saudi Press Agency said CIA director Michael Hayden held talks with Saudi intelligence leaders over the last few days.
The Middle East News Line contributed to this story.
©The Bulletin 2006