11 August 2008

* US aircraft carriers on the way to the Gulf, as Kuwait prepares 'emergency war plan'

Two additional US Navy aircraft carriers are on their way to the Gulf and the Red Sea, according to Kuwait Times. Kuwait began finalising its "emergency war plan" on being told the vessels were bound for the region.
The US Navy will neither confirm nor deny that carriers are currently en route. US Fifth Fleet Combined Maritime Command located in Bahrain said it could not comment because of what a spokesman termed "force-protection policy."
While the Kuwaiti daily did not name the ships it believes are heading for the Middle East, a defence analyst said they could be the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Ronald Reagan.
Within the last month, the Roosevelt completed an exercise along the US East coast focusing on communication among navies of different countries. Since then, it has since been declared ready for operational duties.
The Reagan, currently with the Seventh Fleet, has just set sail from Japan.
The Seventh Fleet area of operation stretches from the East Coast of Africa to the International Date Line.
Meanwhile, the Arabic news agency Moheet reported at the end of July that an unnamed American destroyer, accompanied by two Israeli naval vessels travelled through the Suez Canal from the Mediterranean. A week earlier, a US nuclear submarine accompanied by a destroyer and a supply ship moved into the Mediterranean, according to Moheet.
At present, two US naval battle groups operate in the Gulf: one is an aircraft carrier group, led by the USS Abraham Lincoln, which carries some 65-fighter aircraft. The other group, headed by the USS Peleliu, maintains a variety of planes and strike helicopters.
The ship movements coincide with the latest downturn in relations between Washington and Tehran. The US and Iran are at odds over Iran's nuclear programme, which the Bush administration claims is aimed at producing material for nuclear weapons; however, Tehran argues it is only for power generation.
Kuwait, like other Arab countries in the Gulf, fears it will be caught in the middle should the US decide to launch an air strike against Iran if negotiations fail. The Kuwaitis are finalising details of their security, humanitarian and vital services, the newspaper reported.
The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman - lie just across the Gulf from Iran. Generals in the Iranian military have repeatedly warned it will target American interests in the region if the US or its Western allies launch a military strike.
Bahrain hosts the US Fifth Fleet, while there is a sizeable American base in Qatar. It is assumed the US also has military personnel in the other Gulf states.
Iran is thought to have intelligence operatives working in the GCC states, according to Dubai-based military analysts.
The standoff between the US and Iran has left the Arab nations' political leaders in something of a dilemma. One analyst said Washington and Tehran are using Arab nations as pawns.
Iran is offering them economic and industrial sweeteners, while the US is boosting their defence capabilities. Presidents George Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have paid visits to the GCC states in a bid to win their support.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.