"Syria and Iran are providing Hizballah with rockets and missiles of ever-increasing capability," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a news conference which he addressed jointly with Israeli Defense minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday, April 27. "And we're at a point now, where Hizballah has far more rockets and missiles than most governments in the world," Gates went on to say, "and this is obviously destabilizing for the whole region and we're watching it very carefully."
Barak then said: We (Israel) do not intend to provoke any kind of major collision in Lebanon or with Syria, but are watching these developments closely."
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and military sources report that neither defense chiefs represented the true state of affairs governing the ever-precarious Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese border triangle. According to intelligence reaching Washington from Iranian sources last week, Tehran is reckoned by some to have resolved to ignite a Middle East war within the next three months – May, June or July. Obama administration leaders and the Israeli defense minister, who spent the whole week in Washington, agreed that August may be the date-of-no-return for hostilities to erupt and judge Tehran has opted for this course for five reasons:
To pre-empt a US/Israel strike
- To preempt a possible US or Israeli military strike on its nuclear facilities, by throwing their military preparations awry.
- To pre-stage its first military clash with the US and/or Israel in an arena far from home – preferably in Syria or Lebanon, if possible.
- To distract Iranian and world public attention from the threat of sanctions. A Hizballah attack on Israel, after some days or weeks of bloodshed, would put Tehran in a good jockeying position to parlay a ceasefire for the West's consent to drop sanctions.
- A war in foreign lands would give Iran time to attain its nuclear objectives undisturbed.
- Sheer opportunism: Tehran's war planners find the current international climate conducive to holding Israel responsible for violent hostilities regardless of the real aggressor. They cite the unhappy state of relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government, the cracks in the close partnership between the Binyamin Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak and the open rift between Barak and Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi – all of which, the Iranians judge, have brought Israel to its lowest point, domestically, internationally and militarily.
Syrian troops moved from Turkish to Israeli border
This line of thinking was laid out at length in a secret phone conversation Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held with Syrian president Bashar Assad before dawn on Thursday, April 22, which several Western intelligence organizations in the Middle East were able to intercept.
It was echoed in a remark by Syrian Vice President Lt-Gen. Hasan Turkmani Wednesday, April 28, when he inspected the ground maneuvers held jointly by the Syrian and Turkish armies along the northern Syrian border. He lauded the deepening of military ties between Ankara and Damascus because, he said, they made it possible to transfer substantial numbers of Syrian troops from the Turkish border to Syria's border with Israel in readiness for a military confrontation between them.
The talks at the Pentagon between Gates and Barak this week therefore revolved around two main questions:
A. Israel's response to certain credible scenarios: A clash with Hizballah which the Syrian president decides to expand by pushing into Lebanon the advanced weapons systems standing ready on the Syrian side of the border, the most dangerous of which are Scud ground missile batteries and mobile Igla-S or SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles; or a Hizballah terrorist outrage against an Israel target at home or overseas in Africa, Central Asia or Europe.
Barak informed Gates that Israel would view any one of these acts of aggression as a casus belli.
B. How to keep this armed conflict from expanding into all-out regional war against Iran or, alternatively, the conditions in which a Middle East war would require America or Israel to attack Iran, separately or together.
Work at feverish pace to prepare logistic base on Diego Garcia
At this time DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources do not have reliable information on what was agreed by Gates and Barak with regard to military cooperation. Those sources have, however, obtained a good picture of the Obama administration's next steps with regard to the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, having gained new impetus from Iran's war planning:
A phased US Navy buildup off Iranian shores.
US fleets will be expanded in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. The single aircraft carrier in the Gulf, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, will be joined by two more carriers and their assault forces taking up position opposite Iran by the end of July.
Diego Garcia prepared as logistical base
Work is going ahead at a feverish pace to ready the US air and naval installations of Camp Justice, on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, some 1,000 miles south of the southern Indian and Iranian coasts, to serve as logistical base for a potential US military action against Iran. These island-bases are out of effective range for Iran's missiles, aircraft and the ships, which makes it possible to deploy there already the American warplanes for a possible air strike, along with ordnance such as bunker-buster bombs.
The transfer of all this hardware and troops to the Indian Ocean has been rushed forward in recent days.
In war, Qatari base becomes off-limits US territory
Washington has privately warned Qatar ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani that in the event of an outbreak of hostilities in the region, its contractual restrictions on the American use of the Al Udeid Air Base, the largest outside America, will be suspended and the facility wil revert to its status during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
US undercover operations in Iran make inroads
American clandestine agencies have intensified their covert activity inside Iran, believing they have acquired very good sources in the country which they did not have a year or two ago.
Iran's intelligence agencies seem to share this evaluation and act as though they feel uncomfortably exposed to a more capable alien surveillance.
So pleased are America's spymasters with their improved capabilities that , on Monday, April 26, the Washington Post quoted senior US officials as saying openly: "Iran's political turmoil has prompted a growing number of the country's officials to defect or leak information to the West, creating a new flow of intelligence about its secretive nuclear program."
A former government official commented: "There is a wealth of information-sharing going on, and it reflects enormous discontent among Iranian technocrats." He added that among senior technocrats in the nuclear program and other fields, "the morale is very low."
That same day, an Iranian nuclear scientist was reported by the Israeli media as having recently defected and requested political asylum – the sort of event that rarely sees the light of day.
US envoys to brief Arab rulers
Special US administration envoys are due over the coming weekend and next week to start fanning out through Middle East and Arab Gulf capitals to brief local rulers in person on the new policy the Obama administration is developing for Iran.