10 September 2008

* War Games in GCC

The United Arab Emirates might purchase an advanced U.S. ballistic missile defense system in a $7 billion deal, according to a Sept. 9 media report. Such a development would have ramifications not only for Washington and Tehran, but also for Moscow.

Washington might be poised to sell a new U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system to the United Arab Emirates in a $7 billion deal, Reutersreported Sept. 9, citing unnamed sources. If the report is true, it represents a notable development in the long-standing competition between the United States and Russia for a $9 billion deal to modernize the aging UAE air defenses, and the first sale abroad of the system.

The Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system provides descent- and terminal-phase protection against ballistic missiles. Like the rest of U.S. BMD systems either in development or in the field, THAAD is designed to function in concert with other BMD systems to form a layered missile shield.
After THAAD's rocky start in the late 1990s, a redesign brought dramatic improvement in performance and reliability when testing resumed in 2005. The U.S. Army is now poised to field its first THAAD fire unit within a year's time, and a second around 2010.

The Army is already anxious to field THAAD, so it is not clear where or how a UAE order might fit into existing production and training timelines. It probably will be several years at least before Abu Dhabi is capable of fielding a THAAD battery with trained operators. This means the United Arab Emirates will continue to be vulnerable to its principal defense concern at the moment -- Iranian ballistic missiles -- even though economic ties between Abu Dhabi and Tehran might also deter Iranian aggression.

A 2000 order by the United Arab Emirates for 80 late-model F-16E/Fs from the United States is nearing completion, and the vintage of the aircraft along with recent pilot training in the United States should position the United Arab Emirates well for defending its airspace. Meanwhile, a long-standing $9
billion competition is under way for a new strategic air defense system to replace the United Arab Emirates' aging U.S. MIM-23B I-Hawk batteries and a smattering of European hardware. Washington has pitted its Patriot system, including late-model BMD-capable Patriot-Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3)
interceptors, against a late variant of Moscow's vaunted S-300 system. While both represent a similar class of weapon system, Russia's reputation for training and after-sale maintenance and service is not impressive, especially in the eyes of rich Middle Eastern countries accustomed to long-term relationships with Western contractors.

The United Arab Emirates has long sought to avoid reliance on any one foreign patron. Its armored forces, for example, are composed largely of French and Russian equipment, and the United Arab Emirates is poised to host a French military outpost in the future. Meanwhile, there has been friction between Washington and Abu Dhabi over the Pentagon's withholding of certain advanced components of weapon systems, and over the White House's struggling with Israeli opposition to such sales to Arab states. But taken in conjunction with the F-16 sale, this hypothetical THAAD purchase would signify two things: first, that the United States is indeed willing to sell the United Arab Emirates the very latest in BMD technology; and second, that Abu Dhabi is leaning closer to Washington.

It is not clear how the reported THAAD deal fits with the air defense competition between the Patriot and S-300. Some analysts have suggested that the United Arab Emirates might acquire THAAD in place of those systems, but this is problematic. Though THAAD would address the principal UAE concern about Iranian ballistic missiles, its hit-to-kill warhead is tailored for BMD. And though the new F-16s do indeed allow Abu Dhabi to better defend its airspace, they do not solve the issue of aging air defense hardware.

Despite the United Arab Emirates' desire to keep its eggs out of a single basket, THAAD makes PAC-3 look extremely attractive. The two are designed to work in concert and would form a layered defense, whereas integration of the S-300 would be difficult at best, with such a pair probably functioning only in parallel rather than with any sort of coordination. Indeed, if Washington has actually offered Abu Dhabi THAAD, the United States would recognize this dynamic. This could be a maneuver to move the United Arab Emirates away from Russia.

Washington is also working on the Western encirclement of Tehran in terms of BMD. With the Poland/Czech Republic BMD deal now inked, the United States can begin to deploy a mixture of its own PAC-3 and THAAD batteries, as well as sell them to allies along the Persian Gulf coast (e.g., Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait) and even deploy them to protect its forces in Iraq. Though Iran might still be able to overwhelm those systems at such a close range, U.S. deployments would certainly begin to shift the dynamic in Washington's favor.

(mee/strat for)

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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.