The Iranian media Thursday, May 17 were frantically tossing back and forth a report about a purported phone conversation in which the Iranian Al Qods chief Qassem Soleimani cautioned Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah against conducting a preemptive strike against the Zionist regime.
Last week, Nasrallah boasted that HIzballah could hit any building in Tel Aviv and was way ahead of its limited capability in the Second Lebanon War of 2006.
The Iranian Fars news agency which carried the report quoted the Al Qods chief as reprimanding him: “[Your] arms and preparedness to destroy Tel Aviv, and even your capacity to engage in continuous strikes against Eilat in Southern Occupied Palestine, should not make you proud…"
Soleimani warned Nasrallah against "radical" moves, adding that the authority of those who contemplate a surprise attack on the "Zionist regime" should be curbed.
The al Qods chief went on to explain: “Today…the Zionist regime is in total isolation and faces a serious legitimacy crisis. Any attack would depict them as victims and us as unjust aggressors…”
Hours after the story appeared in Fars, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) spokesman was quoted by Java Online as dismissing the account of the conversation as “a big lie published on behalf of the Zionists.”
In another twist, the article refuting the reported conversation was suddenly removed from the Javan website, although two additional news agencies ran a potted version of the refutation.
One of them, Mashregh News, offered proof that the account of the Soleiman-Nasrallah conversation must have been false because “there is no extremism in Hizballah” and only the West and the Zionists use the term “radical” to try and prove it is split between “moderates” and “radicals.”
An influential war camp in Tehran opposes Khamenei
This extraordinary to-ing and fro-ing in Iran’s state-controlled media betray the existence of a bitter internal debate between Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported by leaders of the Revolutionary Guards, and a pro-war, ultra-radical faction in the Iranian leadership, which is pushing for full-blown war, starting with Israel.
It also reveals a change of direction in Tehran: The mullahs look as though they are backing away from their preoccupation with an American or Israel strike on their nuclear facilities and seriously examining the option of Hizballah or Syria first staging a surprise attack on Israel.
The IRGC’s haste to brand the Fars revelation “a big lie” is indicative of the panic gripping Iran’s leaders Thursday over the exposure of the preemptive strike option, one of their most closely-held secrets. They fear letting this cat out of the bag may have caused irreversible damage to Khamenei’s credibility and his continuing exchanges with President Barack Obama through their direct, confidential track – a contretemps they expect to play strongly in Israel’s favor.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian and military sources analyze this unusually revealing flurry of published Iranian reports point by point, to determine why it increases the probability of a Middle East war and brings it forward to a closer date:
Hizballah relishes its military edge over the IDF
1. More and more voices have been raised in Tehran, Damascus, Beirut and Gaza in the last fortnight urging Iran and its allies to attack Israel so as to disrupt its military preparations for war on the Islamic Republic. The blow would have to be severe enough to distract Israel from its offensive plans for Tehran and force it to gather in all its resources for self-defense.
Israel’s air force and missiles, for instance, would have to be pressed into service to repel attackers and too busy to attack Iran’s nuclear program.
2. The war advocates maintain Iran need not be directly involved in this war. Hizballah, Syria and the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza could do the fighting.
HIzballah has enough missiles and they are sufficiently accurate to lay any Israeli city to siege, as Nasrallah boasted last week.
Almost unnoticeably, an Israel security official leaked word, less than 48 hours after Nasrallah’s boast, that the construction of the Israeli General Staff’s new underground command center in central Tel Aviv had been abruptly suspended. This was decided in view of the danger that a concerted Hizballah missile attack on the half-finished structure would cause it to cave in.
HIzballah is thus for the first time in years relishing its military edge over the IDF, a situation which the pro-Iran war faction is pressing to exploit before the Israelis catch up with solutions and it is too late.
Khamenei opposes an attack lest it jeopardizes his secret dialogue with Obama
3. Attacking Israel now, they say, would offer the dual advantage of saving both Iran’s nuclear facilities and Syria’s Assad regime. If Assad were to send his armed forces to join an assault on Israel, the entire Syrian military would stand behind him – which is not the case today – and the uprising against his rule would fizzle out. This remedy would enable the Syrian ruler to dig himself out of a mortal crisis.
4. Ali Khamenei is so far standing firmly against the war camp, maintaining that progress in his nuclear dialogue with Barack Obama would cause Israel irreparable strategic damage and deepen the animosity between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. US-Israel friendship would go into deep decline.
The Supreme Leader and his following are convinced that this decline would serve Iran’s strategic interests no less than preventing an Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities. The damage caused by a strike can be repaired, and the nuclear program would be back on track within a short time, both Iranians and Americans seem to believe, whereas a deep rift between Washington and Jerusalem would be inestimably harmful to the Zionist state and much harder to undo.
5. If Israel were attacked, the Khameini school of thought goes on to argue, Israel would pose as the victim and make up for its loss of international sympathy.
Have the Iranian war advocates given Hizballah dirty bombs?
This argument was prominent in the al Qods general’s directives to the Hizballah leader.
6. Qassem Soleimani advice to “curb” those who consider launching a surprise attack on “the Zionist regime” was a veiled warning to the pro-war faction in Tehran which has grown strong enough to consider executing an attack without the prior approval of the Supreme leader and confronting him with a fait accompli.
That faction is gaining powerful adherents. They number several Revolutionary Guard leaders, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, senior nuclear negotiator Saad Jalili, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibat (whom Khamenei is eying as next president after Ahmadinejad) and the influential ayatollahs Mesbah Yazdi and Mohsen Gharavian.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources say that if Jalili and Qalibat have jumped aboard the camp urging war on Israel, the odds of it erupting have mounted exponentially whereas Khamenei’s personal and political standing is proportionately waning.
7. There is growing concern among the supreme leader’s following that the more impatient members of the war camp may have taken it upon themselves to hand dirty bombs to Hizballah for kicking off its attack on Israel’s main cities.
Possession of this weapon would inevitably bolster Hassan Nasrallah’s self-assurance and impel him and his likeminded followers to shed all restraints against an attack on Israel.
The purpose of the exercise carried out last week on the Mediterranean by Israel’s Navy, Air Force and special operations units was to test ways and means of keeping at bay vessels potentially heading for the Israeli coast armed with radioactive bombs.