Iran, Syria and Hizballah sharpened their responses to the large-scale Israeli military war game against a potential Hizballah invasion when, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, the drill began its second week with a simulated 30km-deep thrust into S. Lebanon – up to the Awali River.
Lebanese sources claimed that on Monday, Syria had fired S-200 missiles against two Israeli F-15 fighter bombers flying over the southern Lebanese port town of Sidon – but missed their targets. The Syrian missiles, they claimed, had been fired from “an air defense base in southern Syria.”
This report was not confirmed by any other source. But it was accompanied by a photo on various Syrian social media, which claimed to depict the firing of these missiles and also presented a Lebanese military spokesman as saying that the Syrian missiles were fired at precisely 11.30 a.m. when the Israeli planes were over Sidon.
The Lebanese and Syrian media accounts are clearly coordinated.
If this episode actually happened, it would be a game changer, in that for the first time, Syria would have launched missiles from one of its bases against a purported Israel warplanes flying over Lebanon.
Even if the two allies were just sending a message to Jerusalem by drumming up an incident, it gains substance from its timing, i.e. five days after an Israeli air strike on Syria’s chemical and missile weapons development facility, the Scientific Studies and Research Center near Masyaf, 38 km west of the central town of Hama.
Syrian military sources are moreover reporting an onrush of Iranian officers, troops and military advisers to southern Syria. According to one official, “Many Iranians are deployed as advisers and police in southern Syria, especially in the de-escalation zones.” Another Syrian official put it more plainly. “We have seen a big increase in the number of Iranian soldiers this month.”
|debkafile’s military sources confirm that these reports are partially correct. An Iranian military buildup indeed appears to be taking place on Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel, in response to Israel’s mock thrust into Lebanon. But they are moving in on areas outside the de-escalation zones which are manned by Russian officers. Their tactic therefore is to entrench themselves in other parts of the southeastern Syria so that Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces form a continuous, impermeable line along Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan.
On Sunday, Sept. 11, units of the Syrian army’s 5th Corps moved in on large sections of the Jordanian border, including parts close to Israel.
Neither the IDF nor the Jordanian army interfered with any of these potentially menacing steps. They are seen by debkafile’s military sources as a combined Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah comeback for the IDF exercise, to demonstrate that, while Israel shows itself capable of invading Lebanon, the three allies have meanwhile become firmly ensconced on its northern border.
The next day, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted: “We have won the war in Syria. Our martyrs, wounded, captives and people are changing equations and writing the region’s history, not just Lebanon’s.”