In a display of imperial stagecraft, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first words on arriving in Damascus at the head of a large military and intelligence delegation Thursday, February 25, were portentous. “We are on the eve of a great war, first with Israel and later on with the US. The Israelis are about to attack Hizballah in Lebanon and will then turn to take care of you Syrians. Under these conditions, we have no choice but to unite all our national and military forces and respond in unison to the enemy's aggression.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources report that Ahmadinejad called up Israel's latest messages, relayed via Washington to Damascus and Beirut, which warned that Jerusalem war running out of patience with the flow of smuggled Syrian and Iranian weapons shipments to Hizballah, in gross violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
Both were supplying the Lebanese Shiite group with missiles of various types, ranging from surface-to-surface rockets to anti-tank and anti-aircraft projectiles. Their quality and scope were beginning to make them game-changers and shifting the strategic balance to Israel's detriment.
In its message, the Netanyahu government made it clear that Israel could not afford to stand by idly and watch this mighty array of weaponry building up on its northern border. If the buildup continued, Israel might well take action – not just against Hizballah's arsenal, but its sources as well, i.e. Iran and Syria.
It just so happened that Ahmadinejad's speech in Damascus found Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Washington, meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and delivering a lecture in which he confirmed the Iranian president's assertions.
(See separate article on Barak's Washington talks.)
Barak: Hizballah has some weapons that "many sovereigns do not have"
Barak told his Washington audience last week:
There is a bizarre anomaly there. Lebanon is a member state of the United Nations. It happens to have a militia. The militia happens to have members in parliament, even ministers in the cabinet with a veto power over the decision of the Lebanese government.
Now, it is supported and equipped by two other member states of the United Nations, Syria and Iran…,
And it happens to be that this militia doesn’t just develop a new long bow or more effective arrows, but it happened to have 45,000 rockets and missiles that happen to cover all Israel and they are part of a deployment that tells that they will activate it and we have seen that they already did it in the past. This militia happens to have a weapons system that some – many sovereigns do not have…..
…If attacked, we will not run or chase any individual Hezbollah terrorist – and
they are in fact building and digging within the urban concentration….
…So we make it clear: We don’t need this conflict but if it is imposed upon us, we will not run after every individual terrorist but we will take both the Lebanese government and other sources of sponsorship, but mainly the Lebanese government and the Lebanese infrastructure as part of the equation facing us.
Assad plays dumb to American envoy
Barak's warning was not news to Syrian president Bashar Assad. He heard it first from US Under-Secretary of State William Burns, who came to Damascus on Feb. 17, the day after US President Barack Obama nominated the first US ambassador to Syria in five years.
In return for Obama's gesture of goodwill, Burns said Assad must put a stop to the flow of weapons to Hizballah from and through Syria – or bear the consequences.
To Burns' astonishment, not only did Assad turned a blank face to his American visitor, saying he had no idea what he was talking about, but insisted Washington had been misled by false intelligence.
Eight days later, the Syrian president received this advice from his Iranian opposite number:
"The best way to deal with this situation is to apply counter-pressure on the US and Israel… In the military aspect, as well as others, we cannot wait for the enemy to attack us, but must attack it first… If the Palestinian organizations in Gaza, and those in Lebanon and in Syria were to begin attacking targets in Israel, with Hizballah joining in and attacking at a later time, it is possible that the Israelis will reconsider their odds and decide to stop.”
"And if they don't?” asked Assad.
"Then we will have to fight them with every means at our disposal,” Ahmedinejad replied. “But I don't think the Israelis will risk an attack at this stage. All we have to do is to pretend to swallow their threat and if that's the way they are headed, then so are we.”
The Iranian leader argued that if the Israelis and American could be convinced that war was about to break out, they would back down and ease the pressure on Iran and Damascus.
A united front against the Arabs, Israelis and Americans
But, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly Iranian sources, Ahmadinejad did not confide in the Syrian ruler the entire scope of the plan he had mapped out with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his inner circle before setting out for Damascus. They decided that the best way to stop in its tracks the Obama administration's quest for tough sanctions was to stage a Middle East war panic. President Obama had backed down from confronting Tehran on its nuclear program before, they figured, and could be expected to fold this time too.
To persuade Assad to follow his lead and assure him Tehran was not setting Syria up to face the music from Israel, the Iranian president scripted the following scenario:
First, both would get together with Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Damascus for a lavishly photographed show of unity for the Arab world, Israel and the US and an ostentatious public pledge that any member of the trio facing peril could count on the other two rushing to his aid.
Second, Assad consented to the heads of the eleven Palestinian terror organizations based in Damascus accompanying the Iranian president on his plane back to Tehran.
The most talked-about, photographed dinner the Middle East had seen in years climaxed the performance.
The presidents of Iran and Syria and the leader of Hizballah were the star players at a table laden with Middle Eastern delicacies, after which the radical Palestinian leaders trooped after Ahmadinejad and were shepherded aboard his homeward flight by Assad and his chief of intelligence.
The most anti-Semitic document seen in 80 years
The show was not over yet.
Over the weekend from Friday, Feb. 26 to Sunday Feb. 28, DEBKA-Net-Weekly Iranian sources report Tehran continued to behave as though a war emergency was closing in on the Islamic Republic, forcing Iran to line up and marshal its allies to confront the aggressors.
The eleven terrorists – who subsist on Syria's grace and favor in Damascus and whose organizations exist largely on paper – were slotted into their supporting roles, awarded unaccustomed dignities and embraced by the entire Iranian leadership as though they were the keys to the fate of the Islamic Republic.
The welcoming party went as high as the President, the Chairman of Iran's National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, who for the first time endorsed Ahmadinejad's denial of the Nazi Holocaust.
Supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei received in audience Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal and Jihad Islami leader Abdullah Shalah.
The Palestinian rejectionists were ceremonially handed a new document, the “Tehran Paper." This ultra-extremist document was introduced to the gathering as the new Palestinian charter proposed to supersede the Palestine Liberation Organization's founding creed and even Hamas's radical canons.
Its single overriding goal is Israel's annihilation by all possible means, including armed force, until all its Jewish inhabitants depart the Middle East and return to their "countries of origin."
(More about the "Tehran Paper" in a separate article.)
Washington fell for threat of religious war
The attention Iranian leaders lavished on their Palestinian guests had three objectives:
1. Convincing them that a military reckoning with Israel was finally at hand and they would have the "honor" of fighting in the forefront of the showdown with the Zionist enemy.
2. Provoking Israel into firing the first shot and taking the blame for igniting a regional flare-up by releasing the most inflammatory anti-Semitic document and rhetoric since the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s.
3. Scaring Washington into believing that Iran was about to light the fires of religious warfare across the Middle East unless it applied the single preventative of postponing, then cancelling, all plans for tough new sanctions against Iran.
Three days after the performance climaxed in the Tehran Paper's unveiling, Iran's artfully produced gambit paid off.
Tuesday, March 2, Secretary Clinton told reporters aboard her flight to Argentina and Brazil – on a mission to bring them aboard a Security Council sanctions initiative – the new round was no longer on the immediate agenda. "I can't give you an exact date (for a Security Council motion)," she said, "but I would assume some time in the next several months."
Officials in Moscow and Beijing stepped in to remark they saw no need for further sanctions against Iran at this time and urged more diplomatic talks to resolve the nuclear issue. On March 3, Brazil, a member of the Security Council, rebuffed Clinton's appeal to support new sanctions – predictably, only weeks after an Iranian presidential visit to Brasilia. This further diminished any US hopes of a majority vote in a UN body in which Turkey and Lebanon are also members.
Ahmadinejad and his performance succeeded in administering the coup de grace to Washington's international sanctions drive.