Hizballah’s General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah frequently brags that his 80,000 missiles can reach any point in Israel. He may have to compromise on this. His masters in Tehran are casting about urgently for ways to save the Assad regime in Damascus and halt the Islamic State’s’ inexorable advance on Baghdad and the Shiite shrine city of Karbala. According to debkafile’s Gulf sources, Iran is eyeing the re-allocation of the roughly 1,000 long-range rockets in Hizballah’s store for warding off these calamities.
Some would be fired from their pads in Lebanon, exposing that country to retaliation, after Beirut rebuffed Hizballah’s demand for the Lebanese army to join in the fight for Assad.
Iran has not so far approved the plan. But if it does go through, Iranian spy drones operating over the war zones would feed with targeting data on ISIS and rebel positions and movements to the Hizballah rocket crews manning the mobile batteries of Fajr-5s – range 400-600 km; Zelzal-2s – range 500 km; Fateh-110s -range 800 km; and Shaheen 2s – 800-900 km.
Discussions in Tehran on this option took on new urgency Thursday, May 28, when White House spokesman Josh Earnest declared that the United States “would not be responsible for securing the security situation in Iraq. Our strategy is to support the Iraqi security forces… back them on the battlefield with coalition military air power as they take the fight to ISIS in their own country,” he said.
Tehran took this as confirmation that the US was quitting the war on the Islamic State in Iraq although the Obama administration’s decision was coupled with a free hand for the Baghdad government to do whatever it must to deal with the peril, including calling on external forces for assistance in defending the country.
In the Iraqi arena, Iran has thrown into the fray surrogate Shiite militias grouped under “The Popular Mobilization Committee.” It is led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who turns out to be an Iranian, not an Iraqi, and working under cover as the deputy of the Al Qods Brigades Commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
This grouping is too shady for President Barack Obama to accept as worthy of US air support. Therefore, the entire anti-ISIS campaign has been dumped in Iran’s lap. Loath to expose its own air force planes to the danger of being shot down over Iraq, Iran is looking at the option of filling the gap with heavy missiles.
In the Syrian arena, Tehran is under extreme pressure:
1. The Assad regime can’t last much longer under fierce battering from the rebel Nusra Front, freshly armed and funded with massive assistance from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. To disguise this group’s affiliation with al Qaeda, the Saudis have set up a new outfit called “The Muslim Army of Conquest.” In a few days it was joined by 3,000 Nusra adherents.
2. The Syrian army has lost heart under this assault and many of its units are fleeing the battlefield rather than fighting, with the result that Bashar Assad is losing one piece of territory after another in all his war sectors. Soon, he will be left without enough troops for defending Damascus.
3. Although Hizballah’s leaders proclaim their determination to fight for Assad in every part of Syria, the fact is that the Shiite group is too stretched to support a wide-ranging conflict in Syria and defend its own home base in Lebanon at one and the same time.
4. Tehran is also considering rushing through a defense pact with Damascus to enable Assad to call on Iranian troops to come over and rescue him.
5. Saudi Arabia has singled out leaders of top Hizballah leaders for sanctions. This week, Riyadh impounded the assets and accounts of Khalil Harb and Muhammad Qabalan in Gulf banks. This act was taken in Tehran as a major provocation.
The names don’t mean much outside a small circle in the region. However, Harb is Hizballah’s supreme chief of staff whose military standing is comparable to that of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Ali Jaafary, while Qabalan is the organization’s senior intelligence and operations officer and responsible for orchestrating Hizballah’s terrorist hits outside Lebanon.
The Iranians are not about to let this affront go by without payback, which could come in the form of missile attacks by Hizballah on Saudi-backed groups in Syria.