It would be "deeply troubling" if the Islamic State (ISIS) is able to become a sea power, says Seth Cropsey, former undersecretary of the Navy.
After ISIS slaughtered the 21 Christians on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Libya, "former Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan recently told the Times of London that unless order is restored in his country, ISIS will secure territory on Libya’s Mediterranean coast within two months," said Cropsey, who is now the director of the Hudson Institute's Center for American Seapower, in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.
"This would increase its potential for attacks in Italy, Greece and elsewhere in Europe," he wrote.
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This is significant in light of the fact that ISIS militants vowed after beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians
that they would "conquer Rome."
"Greater ISIS access to the Mediterranean would be deeply troubling to the region and a large strategic advance for the terrorist group," Cropsey wrote.
While, "ISIS’s prospects for significant naval power are remote," if the terrorist group were able to acquire "small boats, fishing vessels, smugglers, and merchant craft that carry concealed weapons [they] could hijack, sink, or rake commercial shipping including cruise liners in the central Mediterranean," and they could potentially "divide the eastern part of the inland sea from its west and expose Europe’s southern littoral to attacks and kidnappings."
According to the former undersecretary of the Navy, who served in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, the region is already becoming "increasingly unstable" at a time when the U.S. Sixth Fleet, which is the United State's naval force in the Mediterranean, is significantly reduced from what it once was during the Cold War.
As of now there is only "a command ship based in Italy and a handful of destroyers armed with guided missiles based in Spain," but no amphibious ready group.
Cropsey recommends "moving U.S. naval forces eastward from Spain and relying on existing agreements — such as the one that the U.S. has with Greece — to use the naval base at Souda Bay on the island of Crete as the focal point for America’s Mediterranean naval forces."
In addition, he wrote that "a single amphibious ready group would provide a minimum ability to project U.S. power and control the sea.
"Adding a carrier or a multiple-vessel surface action group capable of striking ISIS targets on land would help stave off the use of the Mediterranean as a highway into Southern Europe for terrorists and their weapons," he explained.
NATO should also follow the recommendations of "former NATO Supreme Commander Adm. James Stavridis for 'more robust maritime deployments both north in the Baltic and south in the Black Sea.'"
Cropsey contends that "shifting naval forces in the Mediterranean to the east makes parallel good sense."
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In addition to combating ISIS, it would help keep Russia's "naval presence" in check after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2013 that he was planning "to establish a permanent squadron in the Mediterranean."
It would also "encourage Turkey to reconsider naval action that risks peaceful development of the large natural gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean." Turkey is currently escorting "a natural gas exploration vessel" in the economic zone of Cyprus "without permission," which has destabilized the region, Cropsey says.
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