Caught in the Middle East Minefield


America seems trapped in an exploding Middle East minefield.

Revolts are breaking out amid the choke points of world commerce. Shiite populations are now restive in the Gulf monarchies. Not far away, Iran’s youth are sick and tired of the country’s seventh-century theocracy. Astride the Suez Canal, Egyptian demonstrators just threw out the Mubarak regime. On the coast of the southern Mediterranean, Tunisia and Libya are in upheaval, just a few hundred miles from Europe.

The politics of rebellion are often bewildering. Theocrats in Iran, kings in the Gulf states and Jordan, dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, and thugs in Libya are all gone or threatened. Some, such as Mubarak, were often pro-American. Others, such as Libya’s Qaddafi, hate the United States. Calls for reform now come from a bewildering menu of protestors: Muslim extremists, secular pro-Western liberals, hard-core terrorists, and everyday people who just want a better life.

Strategic concerns frame almost every one of these upheavals. Israel may soon have enemies on all of its borders. Iran is close to getting a nuclear weapon. All the unrest reminds us that today’s supposed friend is tomorrow’s possible enemy — with no certainty about who will end up with a deposed strongman’s arsenal of weapons.

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Libya: SAS ready to seize Col Gaddafi’s stores of mustard gas
British special forces are poised to seize caches of mustard gas and other potential chemical weapons being stored by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in the Libyan desert.

American sources have disclosed that the SAS is likely to be called upon to secure up to 10 tons of mustard gas and sarin that is believed to be stockpiled at three separate locations.

Special forces are thought to have been in Libya for about 10 days and have already played a leading role in rescuing hundreds of oil workers

There is growing international concern over the stockpiles of chemical weapons that Gaddafi is thought to still retain, amid fears they could be used to attack protesters or be seized by terrorists.

British sources said they were yet to receive a specific US request for SAS involvement in any operation to secure the weapons sites, but officials said plans were being drawn up for “every eventuality”.

Sir John Major, the former prime minister, said that if Gaddafi used the chemical weapons it could trigger a military conflict.

Asked if the use of chemical weapons would make a difference to the military’s approach, Sir John said: “I think it would, and I think it should. I recall going out to visit the troops just before the first Gulf War. From the youngest to the most senior commander the one area that was of great concern was that Saddam Hussein would use chemical weapons.