Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave the order in person: The Revolutionary Guards (IRCG) must urgently complete all their arrangements for withstanding US reprisals for Tehran’s interference in Iraq in whatever form they come: missile, air or commando attacks.
While keeping their heads down, they must be ready to strike back.
The latest attempt by five major powers – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – to lure Iran away from uranium enrichment by repackaged benefits landed in Tehran with the thud of a last-chance ultimatum. Iranian officials turned the proposal down without seeing it, although the Security Council members plus Germany are determined to present it formally in a face-to-face appeal.
Khamenei’s directives to the IRGC’s ground, missile and air arms and al Qods Force’s units – inside Iran and outside in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Sudan – were prompted by his conviction that military action against the Islamic republic is the next realistic option.
He took his last cue Monday, May 5, from the accusations leveled by a US military spokesman that Iraqi Shiite extremists were being trained in IRGC-QB camps near Tehran.
Air Force Col. Donald Bacon said: “We have multiple detainees who state Lebanese Hizballah are providing training to Iraqis.” The main Al Quds camp is located near Jalil Azad not far from Tehran.
In Lebanon, Tehran’s terrorist arm, Hizballah, and in Gaza, the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami were told to get set to attack Israel as part of an Iranian rejoinder to an American attack.
Al Qods is told to scatter
One of the precautionary steps the supreme ruler ordered, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, was to move out of harm’s way the main Al Qods command and training facilities in Iran. They were transferred to regular military bases across the country and among temporary installations in remote villages and locations in the east and north.
In all, 25-30,000 fighting men, the estimated size of the al Qods Brigade, have been scattered in concealed quarters. By the beginning of this week, only sentries were left at the deserted al Qods’ primary training center in the north and its main headquarters at Imam Ali University which is housed in the Sa’dabad Palace. The seminaries and dormitories of the religious city of Qom were cleared of foreign guerilla recruits undergoing retraining and indoctrination.
So too were the Manzariyah training center east of Qom, and the facility outside Isfahan, where terrorists from Iraq, Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip are instructed in the use of explosives and the arts of sabotaging such strategic targets as roads, bridges and army bases.
Here, al Qods instructors ran courses in the expert application of the powerful roadside bombs which have killed so many American soldiers in Iraq.
Dismantled too was the Al Qods base near the northern town of Mashhad, where trainees were taught how to sneak into military and civilian airfields and blow them up and methods of hijacking airliners and destroying them. The facility near Shiraz was vacated, as was the Revolutionary Guards main training and instruction center for marine warfare at Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf. Some of the trainees there specialized in underwater combat and mine-laying.
While their home sites were dismantled, Qods officers and men were told to go to ground in Iraq – especially in the south; in Lebanon – at four Hizballah training facilities in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley on the Syrian border; and in Sudan – at three training facilities near Khartoum and at Port Sudan.
Tehran fears its covert agents in Damascus are vulnerable
Iranian intelligence estimates that the Americans are capable of coming up on Iranian centers from behind and taking them by surprise. In 1998, US cruise missiles caught al Qaeda facilities in Sudan unawares; a decade on, they could demolish al Qods bases outside Iran without warning.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s undercover sources report too that al Qods intelligence officers collecting military data, controlling local terrorist groups and assigning targets from cover positions at Iranian embassies in the Middle East and Persian Gulf capitals, were either recalled home or told to stay inside embassy compounds in case they were identified on American hit lists.
The senior Al Qods agent in Beirut returned home this week via Damascus; those serving in the Gaza Strip were pulled out via Sinai and flown from Cairo to Abu Dhabi.
All this hustle and bustle was prompted by the presumption by Iranian intelligence chiefs that the Americans might not just send cruise missiles against known al Qods targets; US or Israeli special forces may well storm their foreign-based command centers and blow them up after taking prisoners.
Since Hizballah’s military commander Imad Mughniyeh was struck down in Damascus last February, Tehran is worried about its al Qods officers being hit in Lebanon or Syria, whether by special agents or local hit-teams.
The al Qods Brigade is far from being disabled, even after the massive relocation of its command sites, covert networks and officer elite. Its chiefs have been instructed by the ayatollah to prepare to strike back if Iran is attacked. Hizballah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami in Gaza are likewise on the ready.
A graduated battery of reprisals was approved, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources disclose, by national political, religious and military leaders who met in closed conference at the residence of Ayatollah Khamenei on May 2 and 3.
Each step is subject to the supreme ruler’s personal go-ahead.
A US military strike could go two ways
1. A limited American missile strike on bases inside Iran would elicit short-range rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan; in the former, they would be mounted by al Qods units or local terrorists; in Afghanistan by Taliban or other terrorist groups.
2. A broader American assault, using a large number of missiles and a wide spread of targets, would bring forth Iranian surface-to-surface missile strikes against US targets across the border in Iraq.
Also contemplated are Iranian air strikes against American bases close to Iran’s b orders with Iraq and Afghanistan.
3. Should Washington carry out clandestine attacks on Iranian targets in other Middle East countries or Sudan, Tehran will activate al Qods undercover networks in those countries against American interests, military installations, embassies or companies including oil firms.
4. Should Israel be co-opted to an American offensive against Iran, Hizballah, Hamas and Jihad Islami will inflict punishing counter-blows.
5. If the United States sustains a single missile attack for longer than a day, Iran’s leaders will confer again on escalating its response.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that these decisions are the reverse of the current US intelligence evaluation that Tehran will not fight back if al Qods’ centers are struck by missiles.
By declaring a state of preparedness, the Iranians have tossed the ball back to the American court. Tehran estimates that after the initial exchanges of military blows, the Americans will have to stop and decide whether to throw in the towel or continue the offensive, in which case the military confrontation is bound to expand further.