A highly sensitive Saudi tip-off reaching Western intelligence agencies, including Israel, on Nov. 14, gave advance warning that Iran and Hizballah were plotting a major terrorist operation in Beirut as a diversionary stunt, debkafile’s exclusive intelligences sources report. The warning was received three days before twin suicide bombings struck the Iranian embassy in Beirut and the Hizballah stronghold suburb of Dahya Tuesday, Nov. 19, killing 25 people and injuring nearly 150.
It was on debkafile’s desk Sunday, Nov. 17.
Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar al Sultan explained that Tehran and Hizballah needed a powerful diversionary stunt to draw attention away from the consignment against their will of more than 3,000 Hizballah troops who were forced to return to the Syrian battlefield in the last ten days
There is no such organization as Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which took responsibility for the twin attacks in Beirut “on behalf of al Qaeda,” debkafile’s counterterrorism experts report. They are a random group of terrorists hired by Hizballah for ad hoc missions like, for instance, the Grad rocket attacks from South Lebanon aimed recently against Israel targets according to a list provided by Hizballah officers.
Bashar Assad told Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah and his friends in Tehran that he was up against the biggest battle of the Syria war, which he could not afford to lose, in the Qalamun Mountains northwest of Damascus.
Another 3,000 Hizballah fighters are standing by in Beirut ready to go across after the first batch as reinforcements.
Assad depends heavily on winning this battle because of three key strategic objectives:
1) Seizure of this mountainous region will cut the Syrian rebels’ supply routes of fighters and arms from Lebanon.
2) It will reopen the route from Damascus to the coastal towns of Latakia and Tartus and the Alawite concentrations of Assad loyalists in the northwest.
For the Syrian ruler, the Qalamun battle is just as important as the battle of Qusayr, which his army won five months ago with the help of Hizballah forces.
3) The Syrian rebel militias defending this region are backed by Saudi intelligence with data, fighting strength and arms. Their defeat would be a serious reverse for the Saudis, generating far-reaching fallout that would also affect the balance of power in Beirut.
Al Qods Brigades Chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of non-Syrian Shiite forces taking part in this key battle, is approaching it as a personal duel with Saudi Prince Bandar.
The problem for Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah is that his organization is still licking the wounds of its heavy losses in the Qusayr battle – 200 dead and more than 750 injured – and its members are fiercely opposed to getting embroiled any further in what they regard as a foreign conflict which is none of their business.
To rev up motivation, Iranian Al Qods strategists and Hizballah security chiefs hatched a secret plan: If Iranian and Hizballah were targeted on home ground, the involvement of Hizballah troops in the Qalamun battle could be presented as essential for defending their home bases which were under attack.
This self-inflicted attack at the cost of more than a score of lives is a rare occurrence even in the unbridled and unpredictable annals of Middle East terrorism. It is also possible that the bombers did their work too well and bringing the chickens home to roost. Certainly the Iranian cultural attaché who paid the price will be honored as a martyr.
If Tehran is capable of such atrocities merely as a diversionary tactic, then perhaps Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin ought to take a really hard look at their negotiating partner across the table before signing a major deal Wednesday, Nov. 20, which leaves Iran’s nuclear program in place.