On Monday night, November 8, US Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, faced Syrian President Bashar Assad in his palace in Damascus and warned him against using political, military or intelligence clout to bolster Hizballah's steps to seize power in Beirut and overrun large parts of Lebanon.
Briefed in Beirut earlier by Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri and US Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly, the senator told Assad the consequences to him would be serious if he persisted in backing Hizballah's power grab; President Barack Obama had set his mind on hitting Syria with economic sanctions similar to those imposed upon Iran if the Syrian ruler failed to stop siphoning backing and weapons supplies to Hizballah.
Assad assumed the falsely innocent face he has shown to every American emissary coming to Damascus in the past decade to coax him into better behavior on Iran, his own covert nuclear projects, his ties with Korea, meddling in Lebanon and troublemaking in Iraq. He told the visiting US senator in a surprised voice that he had no notion where Kerry got his ideas but he could assure him there was no cooperation between Syria and Hizballah. Washington had nothing to worry about.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources report that, as they talked, Syrian military units and special Hizballah forces were finishing a joint practice for the seizure of the Syrian-Lebanese border crossings, a key objective in Hizballah's projected takeover of Beirut.
Iranian Al Qods commander polishes up Hizballah tactics
It was designed to supplement Hizballah's biggest military exercise ever, Zero Hour, which was staged on October 28 (reported on exclusively in debkafile on November 1) and managed to demonstrate the ability to capture Beirut and other strategic parts of Lebanon in the space of two hours.
Nonetheless, the Iranian and Syrian commanders of the exercise were not satisfied with Hizballah's performance – especially Gen. Hossein Mahadavi, the Iranian Al Qods Brigades officer commanding Hizballah from a joint military headquarters at the Syrian General Staff headquarters in Damascus.
Hizballah's operational plan for taking over Lebanon has since been amended and drills added to ensure that the conquest focusing on six sectors goes smoothly. They are:
1. The border crossings between Lebanon and Syria, which are to be captured by small combined Syrian-Hizballah teams of commandos and kept open for Syrian and Iranian forces to cross over disguised as Lebanese militiamen if the Hizballah takeover runs into trouble and needs outside help.
Already standing by in Syrian bases along the Lebanese border, these reinforcements will also menace any UNIFIL forces (20,000 troops) trying to reach Beirut from the south and help Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri repel the Hizballah offensive. The international force will not be allowed to reach the capital even if a UN Security Council resolution orders it to support the Beirut government.
Control of the crossings will hold them open also for the free passage of munitions to Hizballah in Lebanon, especially the 1,000 Scud B missiles whose transfer is planned to deter Israel from interfering with Hizballah's coup d'état.
All ports to be seized, 5,000 opponents detained
2. Beirut international airport. Special units of Hizballah and Lebanon's second Shiite movement, Amal, will seize control of the airport to sever Lebanon's external air links and prevent Prime Minister Hariri and other key Lebanese ministers from escaping the country.
Saturday, November 6, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasa reported Hizballah had laid hands on three kinds of drone and Iranian aircraft with long-distance ranges able to strike specific ground targets.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources dismiss the report as disinformation.
Hizballah has received no aircraft from Iran, but the report was intended to signal any would-be escapees planning to use small aircraft to take off from local landing strips around Lebanon that they would be intercepted by the Syrian fighter jets at Hizballah's disposal for controlling Lebanese air space.
3. Other ports and harbors. Along with the international airport, Hizballah and Amal would capture Beirut seaport, while Michel Aoun's Christian militiamen and Walid Jumblatt's Druze fighters would seize the other ports and harbors dotted along Lebanon's Mediterranean coast.
4. Mass detentions. Hizballah and its backers have been training to conduct a massive wave of arrests in Beirut and outlying districts of heads of opposing Sunni and Christian organizations and army police and intelligence officers sympathetic to the Hariri government or against the Iranian-Syrian takeover of Lebanon. They are estimated as totaling more than 5,000 individuals.
To provide space for holding them, whole blocks of Shiite-dominated southern Beirut have been converted into temporary detention camps. The arresting forces have been divided into small teams, each given addresses for raids and the names of people to arrest. Special squads will hunt down wanted figures who have fled the capital and gone into hiding in other parts of the country.
Geagea's Maronite militia targeted as only force capable of resistance
5. Sieges of Sidon and Tripoli. Changes have been introduced in Hizballah's plan to team up with Druze forces to seize strategic sites in central Lebanon (first reported upon in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 466 on October 22: "Hizballah Prepares to Fight-Nasrallah Builds an Anti-Government Alliance with Druze and Christian Factions").
The new plan is for the three-pronged force to lay to siege Lebanon's next two biggest cities, Sidon in the south and Tripoli in the north. They will be cut off from the rest of the country and essential supplies, though neither attacked nor occupied. To make the siege effective, Hizballah has deployed more than 1,000 ship-to-shore C-802 missiles at points on the Mediterranean coast to seal the Sidon and Tripoli ports from the sea. Hizballah will threaten to sink any vessel putting in or embarking from the two ports.
Sidon and Tripoli, both strongholds of parties opposed to Hizballah, are expected to surrender to the siege forces within days.
6. Geagea's Christian militia hemmed in: The Bashri region in northern Lebanon, better known in the West as The Cedar, and personal fief of Samir Farid Geagea's Maronite Christian militia, will also be put to siege. Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces party, is a senior partner of the Prime Minister's March 14 Alliance alongside the former president and Christian leader Amin Gemayel.
The Geagea militia is the only force in Lebanon strong enough to put up resistance to a combined Hizballah-Iranian-Syrian grab for power.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources, this grab is timed for a few hours before the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon –STL investigating the Rafik Hariri assassination publishes the names of the top HIzballah security and intelligence personnel accused of direct involvement in the planning and execution of the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister in February 2005.