US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has been outspoken about a possible Israeli offensive against Iran taking place as of April and one American TV channel theorized simplistically Friday, Feb. 3, about Israel's tactics. At the same time, no US source is leveling on the far more extensive American, Saudi, British, French and Gulf states' preparations going forward for an offensive against the Islamic Republic.
Tehran too is gearing up for conflict: The Iranian Guards Ground Forces chief Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour Saturday, Feb. 4 announced the start of a three-week exercise in southern Iran and the Strait of Hormuz under conditions of war. debkafile: The "exercise" is in fact an Iranian military buildup ahead of a possible American or Israel attack.
debkafile's military sources report a steady flow of many thousands of US troops for some weeks to two strategic islands within reach of Iran, Oman's Masirah just south of the Strait of Hormuz and Socotra, between Yemen and the Horn of Africa. (DEBKA-Net-Weekly 526 of Jan. 27 was the first world publication to reveal the massive concentration of American might on the two islands.)
This concentration was held by the White House as sufficiently urgent to relent on its refusal to admit the ousted Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Salah to America for medical treatment. He won permission in exchange for his consent to the Socotra military buildup.
There are now two potential triggers for a Middle East confrontation with Iran. They are closely interrelated: The urgent need for action this year to preempt Iran's nuclear bomb program before it is too late and the Syrian army's appalling and escalating butchery of civilians.
Even as world powers haggled over a bogged-down UN Security Council motion for ending the loss of life, a continuous Syrian bombardment beginning early Saturday, Feb. 4, is estimated to have left a record 350 dead and up to 1,300 wounded in the Homs district of Khaldiyeh. The casualty figures continued to climb Saturday as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov threatened a "scandal" if the Western-Arab text were put to the vote.
Bashar Assad was clearly determined to wipe out every family and home in the defiant Homs suburb in case the world body agreed on a ceasefire resolution.
Our military sources report that the Saudis this week wound up their own intensive preparations for war. Large forces are now deployed around Saudi oil fields, pipelines and export facilities in the eastern provinces opposite the Persian Gulf, backed by anti-missile Patriot PAC-3 batteries. American, British and French fighter-bombers have been landing at Saudi air bases to safeguard the capital, Riyadh.
Israel has accelerated, expanded and focused its military drill regimen for the coming conflict. Tuesday, Jan. 31, a division-scale exercise practiced the drafting of reservists under projected heavy missile bombardment of military bases, induction centers, national highways and towns from at least three directions: Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, as well as Iran.
Thursday, Feb. 2, Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Avivi Kochavi disclosed that 200,000 missiles and rockets, including thousands of long-range projectiles, were currently pointed at Israel, the only country in the world facing a threat on this scale.
Two weeks earlier, the IDF Paratrooper Brigade staged its biggest exercise in over 15 years: More than 1,000 paratroopers jumped from the sky over southern Israel together with their departmental and squadron commanders. Israel sought to demonstrate that it commands enough fighting manpower to operate deep inside enemy territory, as well as the planes for delivering the combatants.
In his sermon to followers Friday, Feb.3, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made it clear that Iran's allies would be involved in any confrontation and Israel was a prime target: Iran, he said, is ready to help anyone who confronts "cancerous" Israel. He also warned Washington, "The war itself will be ten times as detrimental to the US."
Khamenei credited Iran's help for achieving Hizballah's "victorious" attack on Israel in 2006 and for Hamas' "success" in beating back Israel's anti-missile operation in Gaza that year.
The Supreme Leader was clearly egging on Iran's allies, Syria, Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami, to go for Israel again.
debkafile's Middle East analysts challenge the hypothesis heard in Israel and other places that the massive war preparations going forward at this time are backing for sanctions, contrived to propel Iran to the negotiating table and accept a deal for halting its nuclear weapon program.
Our sources stress that these military preparations are for real and are taken very seriously by all the governments concerned because Tehran is far from being intimidated by threats.
Khamenei confirmed authoritatively Friday what other Iranian officials have consistently maintained, that Tehran will not give up its nuclear plans no matter how much pressure is brought to bear. Iran had its chance to cool some of the pressure by opening up to a team of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors who visited Tehran last week – but chose not to do so.
In their three-day stay, the inspectors were denied access to any Iranian nuclear facility, notably the Parchin plant 30 kilometers southwest of Tehran, which is developing nuclear bombs and warheads – or even interview the scientists employed there.
While Israel's military preparations for hostilities with Iran are now widely reported, two gaps remain to be filled, says debkafile:
1. As the ayatollahs witness the vast US, Saudi, Israel, British, French and Arab Gulf war preparations around their borders, will they opt to watch and wait for the sword to fall, or will they try and get in first with a hammer blow against Israel, a course Khamenei hinted at broadly in his latest speech.
2. Are Washington and Jerusalem in alignment – or at least in tacit accord – on who goes first against Iran's nuclear installations? The reports and statements coming from US sources make it sound as though only an Israeli attack is in the offing. Informed circles in Tehran, Damascus, Riyadh and Jerusalem are not so sure.