Wednesday, May 7, Lebanese Shiite Hizballah gunmen, wielding side-arms and anti-tank rockets, seized control of several sections of Beirut.
Thursday, its leader, the fiery Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, outdid himself in vicious rhetoric. He declared Hizballah represented the state of Lebanon and its government, while the pro-Western Siniora administration was “a black gang, collaborators of the CIA, the FBI and the Israeli Mossad, which should be chopped off.”
Hizballah meanwhile has mobilized all its fighting manpower. Nasrallah has fitted them out in the uniforms of the national army and police to sow confusion in the Lebanese security forces and the coalition of militias, known as the Al Mustaqbal, which backs the government.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal that Wednesday night, the prime minister ordered the chief of staff, Gen. Michel Suleiman, to proclaim a state of emergency. The general refused and moreover threatened that if the government acted without him, he would send the troops back to their barracks.
The Shiite militia launched its confrontation on the pretext of labor unions’ demonstrations against the government’s failure to hold down food prices.
Its real motive was the decision by prime minister Fouad Siniora and his allies to shut down the private telecommunications system which Iranian engineers began building for Hizballah last July. (See HOT POINTS below).
Iran’s Lebanese proxy made no bones about the system’s military character. Hizballah’s leaders announced over television this week that it was installed to support “resistance against the enemy” – a euphemism for war against Israel – and the Lebanese government and army had no right to interfere with the project.
It took Siniora ten months to decide that the network was too dangerous to leave in place. He was convinced by information from American and French intelligence that work had begun to link the Hizballah lines at three points to the telephone system used by the Syrian Army’s 10th and 14th armed divisions deployed along the Lebanese border.
Hizballah’s network feeds into Syrian-Iranian deployment
The Syrian troops are ranged on a line that leads to the point on Mt. Hermon where the Syrian, Lebanese and Israeli borders converge. There, the Syrian networks feed into Iranian electronic tracking stations manned by Iranian Revolutionary Guards intelligence officers.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that the Western intelligence tip-off was prompted by its urgency.
Dismantling the Hizballah telecommunications system which runs through the Beqaa Valley, central Lebanon, southern Beirut and South Lebanon, had become necessary to disable the six-part military deployment Hizballah, Iran and Syria have spread out in Lebanon.
Its six elements are:
1. An army of 40,000 armed men. It was only in early May that the Hizballah leader was able to notify Tehran that he had reached this figure.
2. Hizballah has amassed an arsenal of 45,000 missiles and rockets, some with a range of 350 km, and strewn them across Lebanon. Most came from the Syrian army at Tehran’s expense.
3. An autonomous military road system linking southern and central Lebanon was laid in recent months by Lebanese Shiite builders contracted for the job by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Hizballah roadblocks close these routes to all other Lebanese traffic.
4. A web of underground bunkers connected by Hizballah’s telecommunications network and road system forms a powerful defensive barrier against an Israeli invasion or incursion by local Lebanese forces.
5. A line of anti-tank fortified positions supports this barrier. It is manned by 2,500 militiamen trained in crash courses at IRGC installations in Iran.
6. A dense array of 1,000 shore-to-sea C-802 missiles made in Iran is stretched along Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast from north to south to obstruct an Israeli or American sea landing.
Hizballah is not deterred by plunging Lebanon into civil war
Breaking up the telecommunications net would short-circuit the entire six-part system and therefore Hizballah violence against any such attempt was predictable.
There was a time when the Lebanese Shiite group would have been deterred by the prospect of sparking a new civil war in a country still haunted by the ravages of the 1975-1990 conflict which left 100,000 dead and Beirut in ruins.
But not any more.
Hizballah will not step back from the brink unless the Siniora government waives its plan to dismantle the telecommunications network and leaves the key jobs at Beirut international airport in the hands of Hizballah followers.
Recent visitors to the Shiite villages of Lebanon are puzzled by the dearth of youthful and middling-young men out and about. Asking the locals where they are draws no clear answer.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources have found the key to the mystery in the seventh element of the military deployment, which Hizballah is throwing up with all speed.
In mid-April, Syria passed on to Hizballah leaders information, considered credible, about a specific Israeli plan to attack Syria and Hizballah.
The purported plan described Israeli tank columns as crossing into Lebanon. But instead of fighting it out against Hizballah’s fortified positions or strongholds in South Lebanon, Beirut and Baalbek, the Israeli tanks would drive into the Beqaa Valley, purge it of Syrian, Palestinian and Hizballah elements, and strike east into Syria.
Then, instead of heading straight to Damascus, the Israel tanks would turn north and make for the town of Homs, 66 kilometers from the Beqaa Valley. There, the Israeli force would focus on destroying the Syrian missile batteries positioned there to menace Israeli military commands and population centers.
A second line of bunkers to defend Syria
Homs is also the center of Syria’s military industrial complex, where quantities of ammo are manufactured for the Revolutionary Guards and al Qods Brigade.
This Syrian intelligence report persuaded Hizballah planners to think again.
Nasrallah, who lately assumed the military command of Hizballah, immediately launched a new call-up campaign to raise a legion of young Shiite stalwarts for intensive training in sophisticated anti-tank weaponry.
Our military sources estimate that 7,500 men have responded with another 3,000 in the process of recruitment.
Hizballah has also begun building a series of small bunkers and fortified positions along the putative route Israeli tanks are predicted by Syrian intelligence to follow. This line will be densely packed like the shore-to-sea missile deployment on the Lebanese coast and manned by the new intake of recruits.
Neither Syrian nor Hizballah war planners expect this barrier to stop an Israeli tank advance, but they hope it will be slowed down by the obstacles and suffer heavy casualties.