‘Eye of the lion’ in the heart of Iraq
Let’s move on from the dark comedy and have a look at the military realities on the ground. In central Iraq, there is an air base called Ain al-Assad, mainly known as al-Qadisiyah in Arabic, which sits some 160 kilometers west of Baghdad in Anbar Province and around 300 kilometers from the Iranian border. Ain al-Assad — one of Iraq’s five mega airfields — was built by Yugoslavian contractors in 1975 in the era of ex-dictator Saddam Hussein using the lessons learned from Arab-Israeli wars, a project that cost about $280 million. Ain al-Assad — which means ‘eye of the lion’ in English — is equipped with hardened shelters designed to protect aircraft against aerial bombardment and housed, prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, a number of Soviet-built MiG-25s, which were the world’s most advanced warplanes back then.
During the month-long invasion, the air base was occupied by the Australian forces operating as part of the US-led coalition and effectively turned by 2011 into the American alliance’s largest military base west of Baghdad. Washington had already set its sights on Ain al-Assad because the area had an abundance of welfare facilities and is located in close proximity to the Euphrates River and not far from the Iraqi capital and the Syrian border. Besides hosting American troops, the site has, over the past years, provided landing and take-off slots to Air Force One — the official air traffic control call sign for a US air force plane carrying the president of the United States. Ain al-Assad has hosted numerous American presidents, secretaries of state and other high-ranking officials, including, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, John Bolton, Robert Gates, Condoleezza Rice, Peter Pace, and above all, martial artist Chuck Norris and First Lady Melania Trump, who were supposed to be received at the Baghdad airport. Trump — along with his wife Melania and former hawkish advisor Bolton — paid a secretive visit to Ain al-Assad when 2018 was coming to an end and later complained of having traveled on a “darkened plane, with all windows closed, with no lights on whatsoever, anywhere.”
During the Iraq war, navy commandos with the United States Second Fleet had been deployed to Ain al-Assad until 2011, when Washington withdrew its remaining forces and the airbase stopped operating practically. In 2014, when the US formed another coalition of its allies to allegedly fight the Daesh terror group, the military facility resumed its operations with the deployment of American navy commandos and F-18 fighter jets.
Ain al-Assad’s significance from the military perspective The vital geostrategic importance of the base — which remains largely unnoticed — lies in the fact that it is located at the center point of a potential attack by the Zionist regime from the Israeli-occupied territories against Iran. If a straight line is drawn from Tehran to Tel Aviv, it passes over Ain al-Assad:
For Israel, an assault of this scale necessitates a significant number of aerial operations — including reconnaissance, refueling, back-up and rescue of pilots in the distance — given the fact that the occupied territories are located some 1,300 kilometers from Iran’s frontiers on a straight line, which means the offensive would see a total of 3,000- to 5,000-kiolmeter flight operations. Fortified infrastructure should thus be built around Iran to back up such an attack and, at the same time, stand prepared to deal with any technical difficulties during the operation or the Iranian Air Force’s response, which could be in the form of scrambling jets to chase the intruding aircraft or deal a retaliatory blow.
In order for an offensive to achieve the desired goal, it would naturally be better to use the least amount of fuel for each jet, carry a high volume of arms on the smallest possible number of planes and flights, and take shorter routes. Swarms of warplanes eliminate the surprise effect of a military raid, increasing the chances for the rival side’s air defense systems to mount an effective response and inflict more losses on the intruders. Furthermore, taking long routes necessitates a greater use of fuel and, consequently, several stages of aerial refueling, which may further increase the risks. Long routes and a high rate of fuel usage would limit the number and weight of the bombs that are to be loaded onto a warplane or a bomber, entailing more sorties.
An example of success
An experience in the not-so-distant past — remembered as a source of national pride — was the Iranian Air Force’s surprise airborne attack featuring a 3,500-kilometer flight against the H-3 air base in western Iraq in 1981 in the course of the eight-year Iraqi war on the Islamic Republic. It is noteworthy that the Iraqi air force claimed back then that its radars had followed Iran’s Phantoms for some 67 minutes as they were flying in formation towards the target. Had the Iraqis and Turks not mistaken Iranian jets for each other’s warplanes, they could have, at any moment, prevented the Phantoms from reaching their target or returning home, dealing a heavy blow to Iran. The then commanders of the Iranian Air Force had set the Syrian airport in the city of Palmyra as the site for emergency landing in case the Phantoms suffered any technical glitch or the Iraqi force blocked the return route. During the operation, Iranian refueling aircraft — which had been forward-deployed to Syrian soil — took off from the Damascus international airport to supply fuel to the Phantoms at a low altitude of 100 meters — similar to a cruise missile’s flight altitude — on the routes to the destination and back to the starting point. Aerial refueling was performed four times — twice in the enemy’s airspace and twice over Iran’s skies (Orumiyeh) — during the unprecedented operation, which involved deception operations aimed at misleading the defense systems and air forces of Iraq and Turkey.
H-3 operation plan: A lesson for the future
Similar preparations should be made for any airborne operation, although modern fighter jets — including those of the Zionist regime — are much more fuel-efficient and enjoy better stealth and electronic warfare capabilities, compared to the models used in the 1980s. Such features allow the military to choose shorter and more direct flight routes while implementing an operation plan.
There are many reasons why Ain al-Assad could play a pivotal role in a potential Israeli raid. First, it can provide back-up services to the aircraft engaged in the attack — similar to Syria’s Palmyra air base and Damascus airport, which offered Iranian military jets emergency landing and take-off spots during the H-3 operation.
Second, Ain al-Assad could help the Israeli military block Iran’s fighter jets from chasing the regime’s warplanes in Iraqi airspace. Third, the air base can itself serve as a launching pad for an attack against Iranian nuclear facilities due to its proximity to the Islamic Republic’s borders in case the US seeks direct involvement in such an operation. Fourth, Ain al-Assad offers the possibility to track ballistic missiles launched by Iran, providing for early warning for Israel and, even, intercepting the Iranian ballistic and cruise missiles. The strategic site also enables a military deception mission in the nature of the one Iran performed during the H-3 offensive, during which Iranian Grumman F-14 Tomcats kept the Baghdad airport busy, while F-5Es carried out a diversionary attack on the oil facilities near Kirkuk, setting the stage for F-4 Phantom bombers to get to the farthest Iraqi base from Iran near the Jordanian border without being intercepted by the Iraqi air force.
But let’s look at the images and maps used by Western analysts to demonstrate how an attack could be launched from the Israeli-occupied territories on Iran as well as the flight corridors connecting the two spots. The shortest route — or it is better to say the main route — passes over Ain al-Assad:
America’s presence at Ain al-Assad has brought nothing but insecurity to its own forces, the Iraqi state and the entire region. Moreover, Washington’s claims of involvement in a fight against Daesh are sheer lies. The US is, in fact, exploiting Ain al-Assad as a huge drone base meant to pave the way for its military forces to maintain Israel’s security and slaughter regional people in line with that objective. The Americans have been using the military bases across the Middle East to advance their own political agenda for the region. These bases should actually be viewed as a military tool for the US to disintegrate Iran and Iraq and press ahead with the Greater Middle East scheme. Many Western political thinkers, including those with American think tanks, emphasize the need for Iraq’s split and the formation of a Sunni-Kurdish bloc under the pretext of confronting Iran. It is, however, obvious that such a plot is in reality aimed at pitting the Middle Eastern people, especially Muslims, against one another and creating a sectarian or religious divide among them with the ultimate goal of ensuring the security of Israel and undemocratic vassal states of America, mainly the Saudi kingdom. The US is pursuing a policy of ‘divide and rule’ and sees itself as a zookeeper entitled to use force. Under that scenario, and under military-economic packages that offer oil installments paid off over long periods of time, the Americans use aerial bombardments and their private military companies (PMCs) on the pretext of helping establish peace to actually spread violence and terrorism.
It is crystal clear that sectarian massacres — provoked by the US — are not a solution to uproot terrorism, but will even sharpen a sense of vengeance and lead to more bloodshed, for which local submissive politicians and the US military forces are to blame. The responsibility for such mayhem falls on those who face no legal barriers to extrajudicial killings but brand as “acts of terrorism” any counter-measures that the oppressed people of the Middle East may take against them.
Defying widespread public anger, the US carried out more than 375 drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2004 and 2013, killing 2,561 people, according to official statistics. From 2002 2013, nearly 100 US drone raids were launched in Yemen, leading to the deaths of 552 people. Somalia, Syria, Iraq and etc. have also witnessed similar US drone operations, in which many civilians have lost their lives. Some official figures indicate that as many as 12,000 people — including 1,200 civilians and 400 children — have lost their lives in the Middle East in over 6,700 American drone raids, some of which have even targeted wedding convoys. No need to say that none of these massacres were based on judicial proceedings involving trials and convictions of criminals. During the terms of the incumbent US president, Trump, and his predecessor, Obama, some 900 drone attacks have led to fatalities among the people who may not even be literate enough to read or right legal complains let alone follow up on those crimes through international institutions or based on human rights conventions.
Most recently, the US took its criminal actions to a new level by assassinating a senior Iranian military commander — widely viewed as the Islamic Republic’s second top official in popular ratings — in a third country (Iraq) during peacetime in a blatant violation of all international regulations and diplomatic norms. Such a crime shows this aerial terrorism beast knows no limits anymore. If the world community fails to take action against America’s boundless terrorism in the Middle East, the region will see a time when all elite figures, scientists and civilians anticipate being hit by bombs that US drones drop on them, with Washington moving as usual to justify the crime in only four words: He was a suspect!