US makes show of force at sea in Mideast

US Maintains Ships in Mediterranean As Regional Tensions Mount

PAULINE JELINEK | Wiredipatch.com, March 5, 2008 EST

AP News

The U.S. Navy switched out warships patrolling in the Mediterranean on Wednesday, maintaining a show of strength during a period of tensions with Syria and political uncertainty in Lebanon.
Officials said it was a routine, planned deployment but it was an action sure to draw attention in the Mideast, where an announcement on U.S. presence last week caused a political stir in Lebanon.

The USS Cole guided missile destroyer and support ships passed through the Suez Canal at midday Wednesday, heading from the Mediterranean Sea into the Red Sea, canal officials said. In Washington, a Navy official said the Cole had been relieved by the guided missile destroyer USS Ors and the guided missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea.

Both the canal official and navy official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of talking about ship movements.

“It’s a sign of our commitment to stability in the region … a stabilizing force and commitment to our allies,” Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Wednesday of the U.S. presence.

“I think it prevents miscalculations,” he told Pentagon reporters.

The deployment of the USS Cole had sparked criticism from Hezbollah and from pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon, who are locked in a political standoff with the pro-U.S. government. It also sparked criticism from Syria.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has said his government did not ask for the ships and that they were not in territorial waters. Some in his coalition said they were surprised by the deployment.

Continued . . .

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