While the US is acting to shore up Syria’s eastern and southern borders with Iraq and Jordan against Iranian encroachment, Tehran and Hizballah are quietly rubbing out the Syrian-Lebanese border, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report.
In Iraq, the US has set up a new base in the strategically important Al Qa’im region of western Iraq’s Anbar province on the Syrian border, which links to the Syrian town of Abu Kamal.
The plan aims at countering Iran’s deployment of Iraqi Shiite militias on both sides of the border. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s supreme Middle East commander, has split these militias between Anbar and eastern Syria.
Xelil Sirvan, one of the commanders of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga force, reported this week, “The Americans are building up their military presence in the region, which is why Iraqi government forces have sent more military reinforcements to Al-Qa’im to boost border protection.”
Israel has contributed to this operation by mounting air strikes against Iraqi Shiite militia convoys wending their way into Syria – especially the anti-American Kata’ib Hezballah which operates in Syria as well. In short, US and Israeli moves aim at blocking Iranian and pro-Iranian military traffic passing through the Iraq-Syrian border. They have also acted to seal Syria’s southern border with Jordan, by strongly advising King Abdullah not to open the most important border crossing on Oct. 10 for which Damascus is pressing hard.
Yet neither Washington not Jerusalem appears to have noticed that Iran and Hizballah are quietly making free of the third, equally important, Syrian border with Lebanon, DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources disclose. They have accomplished this by seizing control of some 375km of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier and so acquired a secure supply route to and from Syria for personnel and materiel. The Lebanese national army patrolling this frontier turns a blind eye to this traffic.
Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah could brag on Sept. 20 that Israel’s attempts in Syria “to prevent accurate missiles from reaching Hizballah in Lebanon are over.” Therefore, he said, if Israel “imposes a war upon Lebanon [it] will face a fate it never expected.” He added pointedly: “Hizballah will stay in Syria until further notice,” a mocking reference to Israel’s vow to rid Syria of Iranian forces and its proxies.
Unnamed Hizballah officials have been referring of late to a “new mission” for Hizballah. Since the threat to the Assad regime has abated, the Lebanese group is bent on securing the “axis’ strategic objectives,” which they define as “implementation of the theory of the Resistance Axis with No Separation Borders.”
Hizballah appears to be more than ready to place Russia alongside America and Israel on its list of “resistance” targets. The unnamed sources, while crediting Moscow with “publicly insisting that Hizballah’s presence in Syria was approved by the Syrian state,” go on to point out: “Moscow wants something different, i.e. the exit of all parties from Syria at war’s end” so as to turn the country into “Russian strategic space.”
DEBKA Weekly’s analysts conclude therefore that Hassan Nasrallah has kicked the erasure of the Syrian-Lebanese border to the top of his immediate agenda. This is his priority, ahead of Gen. Soleimani’s broad regional plans for building Iranian bases in Syria. In the Hizballah chief’s view, while those bases could be taken down by Israeli bombers and missiles, neither the US or Israel have the power to obliterate the hundreds of kilometers of land lying seamlessly across the Lebanese Syrian frontier.