- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2013

Top generals from the U.S. and its allies have been meeting this week to discuss the fallout from expected military strikes on Syria, as nations and markets around the region scramble to prepare for a wider conflict in the region.

Senior military officials from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada attended the two-day summit in Amman that wrapped up Monday, a U.S. military official told The Washington Times.

It was co-hosted by U.S. Central Command and the Jordanian Armed Forces and had been planned since June, said the official.

“The event provided a timely opportunity for the defense chiefs to meet … on issues such as the makeup of [Syrian] opposition forces and short- and long-term impacts of the growing refugee crisis, as well as concern for the spread of sectarian violence in the region.”

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Jordan’s chief of staff, Gen. Mashal Mohammad al-Zaben attended the meeting, as well as Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command.

The conference came as the U.S., France and Britain mulled a response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s suspected chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians.

In Washington, Defense Department spokesman George Little told The Associated Press earlier this week that the emergency summit in Amman aimed at achieving a better understanding of the impact of a broadening regional conflict might have, among other things.

Other nations in the region were scrambling to prepare for spillover from a U.S. strike, which Syria’s neighbors fear will draw them into a broader war in the Mideast between Sunni and Shiia Muslims.

Mr. Assad is an Alawite, a branch of the Shia school of Islam, which is also the official religion in theocratic Iran, his main sponsor in the region.

Iraq is majority Shia, and there is already a violent insurgency by Sunni terrorist groups there. Dozens die almost daily in car bomb and other terrorist attacks by al Qaeda-aligned Sunni extremists.

Most of the rebels fighting Damascus are also Sunnis, and many are linked with al Qaeda in Iraq.

Jordan is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, as are the Gulf states, though they all have Shiite populations of varying sizes. Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, has a majority Shiite population.

Lebanon, the country worst hit so far by violent spillover from Syria, is a religious and ethnic patchwork of Muslims, Christians, Arabs and others. It is led by the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside government forces in Syria to such deadly effect.

This week, Hezbollah’s political heartlands in Beirut’s suburbs have been struck by indiscriminate and deadly car bombs blamed on Sunni extremists.

And with the threat of a U.S. strike looming, refugees are arriving in Lebanon from Syria the at the rate of 1,000 every day, according to U.N. figures released Thursday.

Even Israel, which says it is not involved in the Syrian war or any other Sunni-Shiite conflict, has been preparing for a violent backlash from Damascus or its supporters if President Obama follows through with strikes to punish Mr. Assad for using chemical weapons.

The chairman of Iran’s parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, on Wednesday threatened Israel and the United States if Syria is attacked.

“Any further warmongering in [Syria] will have dire consequences for the U.S. and the Zionist regime [of Israel],” Mr. Boroujerdi said, according to Press TV.

Israeli military chiefs said Wednesday that they were calling up a small number of reservists, specialists in missile defense and other fields, and would be operating missile defense systems.

Israelis lined up to collect gas masks from distribution centers around the country and jammed the phone lines and the website of the Israel Postal Co., which distributes the protective kits, The New York Times reported from Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country’s military is “ready to defend against any threat and to respond strongly against any attempt to harm Israeli citizens.”

Despite calls for calm from regional and international leaders, global oil prices spiked Wednesday and regional markets took a battering from nervous investors.

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