The 2007 offensive against American Middle East interests is going forward according to the timetable laid out in Tehran and Damascus – so far.
By mid-June, Washington’s three focal points of interest, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, were ablaze with civil war and a primary objective attained: US forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf were encircled with a ring of fire regulated by Iranian and Syrian hands on the levers of control.
Damascus’ motivations are different from those of Tehran, but their modes of operation are similar and dovetail neatly – hence their close strategic collaboration.
The closer Tehran deems the United States is to a military strike on its nuclear and economic infrastructure, the greater its interest in turning up the heat of local conflicts. Washington is thus warned that if it goes all the way, a regional war will engulf the Middle East and Gulf.
The moment an international tribunal ordered by the UN Security Council goes into session for prosecuting those complicit in the 2005 assassination of the Lebanese politician Rafiq Hariri, it will be judged a casus belli by Syrian president Bashar Assad and a threat to his regime. He will then throw the switch for the scenario outlined in in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 304 of June 8: (Assad determines to seize control of Palestinian camps in Lebanon.)
The two governments agreed that neither should go all the way in stirring up a regional conflict without the other’s assent. This was settled during the three days of talks held in Damascus by Iranian foreign minister Mottaki Manouchehr from May 31 to June 2.
Both are now sitting tight on the lids of the powder kegs they set alight until they concur on the right moment for a full-scale conflagration.
Their spheres of operation have been divided up.
Tehran, which has reserved Iraq as its target, regulates the flow of logistical aid, fighters, war materiel and funds from Syria in support of anti-US forces.
Damascus, which is in charge of Lebanon, uses Syrian military intelligence agents to control the various Palestinian militias it sponsors.
Hizballah reserved for the final showdown
In Lebanon too, Tehran controls the military and political actions of the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah.
The two strategic partners have agreed to hold Hizballah’s fighting strength in reserve as the ultimate weapon in a final showdown
Syria and Iran share the sponsorship of Hamas and its anti-West allies. The former assumes the task of lighting fires under the Palestinian Authority, whereas Tehran puts up the funds, weapons and logistical assistance through its smuggling network which spans the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Suez Gulf and Canal.
But, despite their meticulous planning, neither is insured against surprises.
Just as the Hizballah attack on Israel caught Iran unawares in the summer of 2006, so too their Palestinian surrogate left both standing by its putsch against Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in the second week of June.
And just as last year, Hizballah made Tehran and Damascus rewrite their master plan for Lebanon, Hamas’ precipitate action in Gaza has again sent them back to the drawing board.
By an ironic quirk of fate, Hamas unexpectedly hijacked a vital anomalous element of the plan its sponsors had ordained for Lebanon, the breakdown of its government into two rival regimes.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that the original Lebanon destabilization plan hinged on engineering the collapse of US positions and the downfall of Fouad Siniora, America’s ally in Beirut, to make them coeval with the termination of pro-Syrian President Emil Lahoud’s tenure in September 2007.
The election of a new president was to be blocked then by the Hizballah faction’s veto on the convening of the Lebanese parliament for the vote. Syria would also apply pressure on the Shiite Speaker Nabih Berri not to call the house into session. To overcome the impasse, a constitutional clause was to be invoked for dissolving the Sinora government and appointing in its stead an emergency administration to rule in the interim period until a new parliament and president are elected.
Lebanon’s anti-Syrian bloc would not let the Siniora government fall. In consequence, two governments would officiate in Beirut, one recognized by the US, Europe and most Arab states including Saudi Arabia, and an emergency administration accepted by Iran and Syria and headed by Hizballah.
Is a Hamas-style coup d’etat ordained for Beirut?
But after Hamas jumped the gun in Gaza, Iran and Syria decided to skip the two-government stage of their plan for Beirut and cut to the chase with Hamas’ strategy of a swift, brutal coup d’etat.
The emergency government designated by Lahoud before his retirement will simply order pro-Syrian forces to seize the institutions of government and military headquarters in Beirut. Civil war will sweep the country and their bugbear Siniora government will be gone by the time the exercise is over in September, 2007.
The countdown in Damascus and Tehran for the end of the current regime in Beirut has therefore begun. Some of the stages towards this goal are already in motion.
1. Five weeks ago, Syria deployed 400 Palestinian Islamist radicals of the Fatah al-Islam to raise the banner of revolt in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared near Tripoli in northern Lebanon. To this day, the Lebanese army has not subdued the camp, mainly because the radical Islamist core is continually reinforced by the influx of Palestinian fighters and arms from Syria.
Sunday, June 17, the fighting spread to the neighboring Al-Badawi camp. This flare-up was a byproduct of events in Gaza. Armed Hamas fighters in the camp, under the command of two Syrian intelligence officers, attacked not only Lebanese troops but also rival Fatah adherents.
2. Damascus is preparing in the next stage to pump 1,200 well-armed fighters of Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command and of Fatah Intifada into some of the other twelve Palestinian camps, especially Ain Hilwa in the south. Syrian and Hizballah officers are drilling for combat four extremist Palestinian groups: Ansar Allah, Usbat al-Ansar, Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam.
3. The Katyusha rocket attack on northern Israel’s Kiryat Shemona Sunday, June 17, the first since the Lebanon War ended 11 months ago, provided a foretaste of another stage in Syria’s offensive.
It was ordered directly from Damascus. Hizballah pitched in with logistics and set the rockets’ sights. The Palestinian Ansar Allah did the firing.
Imad Mughniyeh for the offensive against Israel
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources report the veteran Imad Mughniyeh, Hizballah’s military commander, has been assigned charge of the offensive against Israel. Mughniyeh enjoys the full confidence of Tehran and al Qaeda alike and is therefore trusted by the radical Islamist groups wielded by Syria against Israel and the Lebanese government.
4. Ahead of the September coup d’etat, President Lahoud’s pro-Syrian Presidential Guard is being secretly trained and expanded to one and a half brigades, armed with brand-new weapons from Syria and practicing the seizure of large buildings and street fighting tactics.
In late August or early September, by which time most of Lebanon’s Palestinian camps should be in turmoil, the Lebanese border with Israel – and if necessary Syria’s Golan border too – is alight, the Lebanese Presidential Guard and Hizballah’s militiamen will storm government centers in Beirut. They will target the prime minister’s office, the Lebanese general staff, the security and intelligence services headquarters, television and radio studios and banks.
The coup will be conducted on the same lines as the Hamas power grab in Gaza.
Syrian and Hizballah war planners believe that Lebanon’s national military and security forces are in no better shape than Mahmoud Abbas‘ Palestinian Authority security services and Fatah when they caved in and scattered under Hamas guns.
The schemers in Damascus and Tehran reckon that even if they only pull off part of their plan, Fouad Siniora and his followers will flee Lebanon.
5. Hizballah propaganda has undergone a striking metamorphosis.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s monitors have picked up a new message, which is that Lebanese nationhood is under the threat of a traitorous intrigue cooked up by Siniora, the head of the anti-Syrian majority party, Saad Hariri, and the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt with American and Israeli backing. They urge their listeners to link hands and eliminate this “band of traitors” with all possible speed.
This trio has fought hard to rescue Lebanon from Syria’s clutches.
The new Hizballah motif strongly recalls the line touted by Hamas in its broadcast campaign for discrediting Abbas and his Fatah as American and Israeli stooges.
It is no coincidence. Both radical groups are strongly guided by Syrian and Hizballah intelligence-cum-propaganda “advisers.”