Iran's leaders do not trust the popular assumption in the West that the military option against Iran is not on the cards for now and prefer to actively prepare the country and the armed forces for war.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and Iranian sources report that these preparations are going forward under the close supervision of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is strengthening the top military command and getting regional proxy forces lined up, with warships on the move to flashpoint arenas, back-up command centers ready to go up on Iran's five borders and an Iranian naval base planned for Beirut, Lebanon.
According to those sources, when Khamenei learned from Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi Monday, Jan. 24 of the Iranian-Syrian success in installing Najib Miqati as Lebanon's next prime minister, the first thing he did was to phone the Al Qods Brigades commander Gen. Ghassam Soleimani to inform him he had been promoted to major general, the second highest Iranian military rank.
Our military sources believe Khamenei has tabbed Soleimani for the supreme command of the Revolutionary Guards – IRGC – as better able than the incumbent Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari to slap Iran's armed forces into shape should the country be attacked over its nuclear program.
As Al Qods Brigades commander for 15 years since 1996, Soleimani has been running Iran's clandestine, covert, sabotage and subversive operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has also been in charge of the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah's terrorist cells in West and East Africa and the Shiite militia's operations in Lebanon. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza is also part of his watch.
Soleimani – Iran's top expert in terrorist and military warfare
The only Western statesman advocating a tough hand with Iran is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
(Friday, January 21, he said in London: “I say this to you with all the passion I possibly can – At some point the West has got to get out of what I think is a wretched policy… [towards Iran], or posture of apology for believing that we are causing what the Iranians are doing (the nuclear plan… They’ll carry on doing it unless they are met by the requisite determination and, if necessary, force.”)
However, Iran's leaders believe that the soft policy Blair denigrated is a front; they rate high the likelihood of an eventual US or Israeli strike on their nuclear facilities. They therefore attach high importance to laying the groundwork for a stance of “mighty steadfastness.”
Soleimani’s value in a war scenario would come into play if and when Tehran made good on its oft-repeated threat to set the Middle East and the whole world on fire if attacked. It would be up to the Al Qods Brigades commander to stir into life the active and sleeper cells he has planted at strategic points in Iraq, Afghanistan, the oil Emirates and other Arab countries for large-scale terrorist attacks against American forces.
Against Israel, he has Hizballah units ready to go from Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas from Gaza.
The supreme leader has decided it is imperative to put Soleimani in place as supreme commander of all Iran's armed forces and military assets. After winning plaudits at home for the terrorist campaigns he waged against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has the proven expertise, experience and knowledge for managing both Iranian and pro-Iranian forces in the region.
Injecting Iranian steel in the Lebanese coup
Another key military move preceded the Beirut coup and Soleimani's promotion by one day.
Sunday, January 23, the commander of the Iranian navy, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari and his deputy Rear Admiral Gholam-Reza Bi-Gham, announced that a fleet of warships led by a destroyer would be sent soon to the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, to be followed later by long-distance submarines. Iran had resolved to extend its naval reach on the high seas, they explained.
This was partly a counter-measure for the deployment of the USS Enterprise Strike Force with 6,000 sailors and marines and 80 fighter bombers, off the coast of Beirut, on Friday, January 21. But, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources, Iran is secretly planning to establish a naval base in Beirut harbor. The new Mediterranean-Red Sea deployment will fit into this plan.
A showy Iranian military move is regarded by the ayatollah as essential for buttressing the Lebanese coup with steel. Then, if the US Congress orders the administration to halt military aid and funding for the Lebanese army under its pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian controllers, Tehran and Beirut will be ready to sign a military cooperation accord. Iran would then move in to replace the United States as Lebanon's military patron.
Tehran has only two provisos: Iranian instructors must be imported to train Lebanese units; and Iranian infantry will conduct joint maneuvers with Lebanese forces in Lebanon.
Our sources report that, even before President Michel Suleiman asked Najib Miqati to form a government Tuesday, Jan. 25, these matters were settled between the designated prime minister, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah and his superior, Gen. Hossein Mahadavi of the Al Qods Brigades who is Soleimani’s man in Lebanon.
(See also: Iran's grab for Lebanon with figurehead prime minister in debkafile of Jan. 25)
Khamenei is betting on the US and Israel staying clear of Iran's unfolding military grip on Lebanon, just as they failed to intervene in the pro-Iranian coup that took place in Beirut this week.
Tehran placed a third block in the military edifice it is building across the region with an announcement by Gen. Ahmad-Reza Pour-Dastan, Iranian ground forces commander, that his forces would soon establish five autonomous regional command centers on the country's five borders. They will serve as emergency back-up in case the central military command is destroyed and carry on fighting in their respective sectors.