A joint military exercise is scheduled to begin in Jordan next week involving 15,000 soldiers from 18 different countries aimed, among other things, at readying forces for a possible intervention in Syria. Known as "Eager Lion 2013", the exercise will include battlefield, logistics and humanitarian exercises for troops from the U.S., Britain, Bahrain, Canada, Czech Republic, Lebanon, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and elsewhere. The maneuvers are set to run for two weeks.
According to multiple sources, a majority of the 15,000 troops will remain on the ground in Jordan after the drill in case the need arises to intervene in Syria.
Earlier this week it was widely reported that the White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced by the U.S. and other countries such as France and Great Britain. While this makes for gripping news and is perhaps intended to ratchet up the tension with various groups, it should be understood that such plans have been on the books for many months, if not years and are constantly updated to reflect considerations of new weapons systems, target packages and required force structures.
Currently there are more than one dozen Russian warships in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Following Russia's first shipment of S-300 Rockets and the deaths of American and British citizens in Syria, it was reported that Russia has now agreed to supply the Syrian military with at least 10 new MIG fighters just about the same time as the UK publicly stated they will be supplying arms to Syrian rebels.
There is also reporting that the US had secretly undertaken significant lobbying efforts of EU member states to get the EU arms embargo amended and this week Britain and France forced through that deal opening the door for the supply of weapons.
|Returning to a story we covered extensively last week, the director-general of the United Nations' World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, this week stated that the new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” (MERS-CoV), is a "threat to the entire world". She went onto say that we understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat and more information is needed quickly and urgently. "We do not know where the virus hides in nature. We do not know how people are getting infected. These are alarm bells. And we must respond."
While official figures have put the number of people infected at just 50, more than half whom have died, public health officials believe there are scores more. In addition, Saudi health authorities are reporting that health care workers treating the coronavirus patients are themselves becoming ill.
According to the CDC, the MERS coronavirus acts like a cold virus and attacks the respiratory system. Symptoms which include fever and a cough, are severe and can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure. A variety of gastrointestinal symptoms have also been seen. In addition, the medical journal The Lancet reports this week that the incubation period for the virus is between 9 and 12 days.
Researchers report it is not yet known how humans contract the virus. Cases have been identified in eight countries including Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). France, Germany, Tunisia and the U.K. At this time, the WHO has not recommended travel or trade restrictions.
Given the apparent source point for this new virus, health officials worldwide are beginning to express extreme concerns over this year's Hajj in Saudi Arabia, slated for the middle of October. One of the five pillars of Islam, every practicing Muslim worldwide is urged to complete at least one Hajj pilgrimage in their lifetime. Thus, every year, millions of Muslims gather in the Saudi city of Mecca during one seven day period.
Public health and epidemiological professionals tend to cringe each year when the Hajj rolls around. It goes without saying that when millions of international travelers from all points on the globe converge in one city for a physically active, horrendously overcrowded, hot and humid gathering involving communal shaving, touching common surfaces and staying in tightly packed quarters, one is considered lucky to leave without having contracted some respiratory or digestive bug, if not worse. Even a cursory search of the Internet shows that cholera, pneumonia, meningitis, all forms of hepatitis, measles, mumps, typhoid, dysentery and a host of other communicable diseases run rampant during the Hajj. Then the Pilgrims, just a quickly, return to their countries of origin.