Iran has indirectly warned the Bush administration that Lebanon will be America’s next war arena if it goes through with its bid to disarm Tehran’s protege, the Hizballah terrorist group.
Addressing a Beirut rally Wednesday, May 25, marking the fifth anniversary of the Israeli military withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizballah leader sheikh Hassan Nasrallah boasted that his organization has more than 12,000 rockets and missiles capable of reaching every corner of northern Israel.
“All of occupied northern Palestine, its settlements, airfields, seaports, industrial plants and farms are under the heel of the Islamic resistance,” the fiery leader said in reference to Israel's heavy industry zone in Haifa bay and its northern airbases, especially the Ramat David facility east of the Mediterranean port city.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington and Ankara report that Iran gave Nasrallah the green light to issue his threat to counter the three-step operation the United States had planned to denude the Hizballah of its weapons.
1. A UN Security Council draft has been written by US and French diplomats as a rider to Resolution 1599 that made Syrian pull out of Lebanon. This document would require the disarming of Lebanon’s militias by the new Lebanese government that is formed after the four-week, four-round Lebanese election beginning Sunday, May 29. If the new Beirut administration fails to meet this demand, the Security Council will reconvene to debate sanctions against it. This means in practical terms that the next Lebanese government will be held accountable for the dismantling of the following armed groups:
- The Palestinian terrorist groups concentrated in the refugee camps of southern Lebanon. Our counter-terror sources report the main group is the Fatah Brigades which are controlled by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
- Hizballah and its 5,000 active fighters and 15,000 reservists. Our sources believe the heavy weaponry figures in Nasrallah’s speech were accurate.
- Iranian Revolutionary Guards units posted in Lebanon, which consist of about 250 officers who supervise and maintain Hizballah's weapons stockpiles, train the group's fighters in special camps and run a secret missile base in the southern port city of Sidon. There, 200 Mushak and Zelzal-2 missiles are deployed, advanced Iranian upgrades of the Russian Luna-2 missile, better known as the Frog-7, which has a range of 200 kilometers (120 miles).
Start by disarming Palestinians
Washington and Paris want the Palestinians disarmed first, then Hizballah and the Iranians, who will then be forced to leave Lebanon.
Our sources in Iran and Lebanon report that Tehran and the Hizballah leadership regard the US-French moves as being aimed, first and foremost, at removing Hizballah forces from southern Lebanon. Their withdrawal would deprive Hizballah of its main military and political powerbase – the indigenous Shiite population – and confine the organization’s sphere of influence to two regions – southern Beirut and Baalbek in the Bekaa valley.
The group would also lose its grip on the area bordering Israel. This inflammable frontier zone would pass to Lebanese Army control.
2. Washington has secretly approached Ankara with a request to stop Iranian over-flights transporting arms to Hizballah, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources. Iranian planes have been flying over Turkey en route to Damascus and Beirut ever since Iraqi airspace became off-limits.
Under international aviation treaties, Turkey is entitled to demand a detailed manifest of the cargo carried aboard every plane using its airspace. If the shipment is of a military nature, the Turks may demand it land at a Turkish airfield for inspection.
US-Turkish talks are still underway but Washington believes Ankara will ultimately agree to lend a hand to halting Iranian arms shipments by air, thus severing Iran’s military air links with the Hizballah and Syria.
Persuading Israel to cede Shaaba Farms
3. According to our sources, the United States has also initiated preliminary contacts with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon with a view to Israel removing its military positions from Har Dov, a disputed enclave the Hizballah calls Shebaa Farms and treats as Lebanese territory.
The United Nations views this mountain pocket as Israeli-occupied Syrian land.
The Bush administration is proposing the transfer of Shebaa Farms to UNDOF, the UN Disengagement Observer Force established in 1974 to supervise the implementation of the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire after the 1973 Middle East war.
Syrian opposition to such a move would only play into the hands of the United States and France, which would then voice support for transferring the area to Lebanese Army control.
According to our military sources, Washington hopes to sell the idea to Sharon by arguing that by relinquishing tactical army posts along the Lebanese frontier, Israel would be able to hang on to the more important strategic listening posts on Mount Hermon as well as contributing to the American objective of getting Hizballah and Iranian troops away from its northern border.
The successful conclusion of US talks with Turkey and Israel would complement a new Security Council resolution. Washington and Paris are optimistic about their three-step strategy going far towards disarming Hizballah – that is unless Tehran throws a spanner in the works.