Iran’s airlift of elite troops into Syria and Lebanon, the most menacing outgrowth of the Syrian conflict thus far, has gone by more quietly than Tehran had any right to expect – even amid the clamor of raging protests in the Muslim world against a shoddy anti-Islam video. In fact, it has stirred no comment from the US or even from Israel across the border.
Sunday, Sept. 16, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) commander-in-chief, said quite frankly that Iranian elite Al Qods Force fighters “are now truly present in Syria in order to suppress the unarmed (sic) Syrians and support Assad, and as well in Lebanon. A number of Qods Force members are present in Syria and Lebanon… we provide (these countries) with counsel and advice, and transfer experience to them," said Jafari.
The next day, the foreign ministry in Tehran issued a denial, claiming the way Jafari’s comments were reported “by some Arabic and Western media was… selective, false and politically slanted.”
But Jafari spoke on the record and his words were clear: Iran has stationed Al-Qods Brigades special forces and troops not only in Syria but in Lebanon as well, without seeking a by-your-leave from the Beirut government. There, they not only challenge Israel, but also the 20,000 UNIFIL troops posted in southern Lebanon.
New military balance to Israel’s detriment on its northern and eastern borders
While America and Israel let this radical change in the strategic and military balance on Israel’s northern and eastern borders pass without comment, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman had no choice but to lodge a protest.
He summoned Iranian ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi to complain about the deployment of Iranian military force in Lebanon without seeking permission from Lebanese authority.
The ambassador emphatically denied Ali Jafari’s statement.
These diplomatic formalities did not alter the fact that Iran has been allowed to establish military beachheads in Syria and Lebanon, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report. Tehran is free to build them up to suit its objectives, on the pretext that incoming Iranian reinforcements are needed to defend the first batch of troops and protect Iranian interests in the country.
Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and Hizballah Shiite militiamen in Lebanon have also won a shield in close proximity against attack – should, for instance the US or Israel go into action against Syria’s chemical weapons stocks or their transfer to Hizballah in Lebanon.
This scenario is not hypothetical.
It began unfolding in the first week of September, when the IDF was geared up to attack Hizballah in light of intelligence information that Syrian chemical missiles were about to cross into Lebanon.
Syrian chemical weapons may be relayed to Hizballah through al Qods
The transfer was called off at the last minute and the Israel strike averted.
But since the Iranian troops have arrived, things have changed.
Syrian chemical weapons can now be relayed to Al Qods Brigades units stationed in Lebanon and then passed to Hizballah. Hitting Iranian units in Syria and Lebanon would risk catapulting Israel into a full-scale war with Iran. However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Jerusalem sources judge from evidence in the field that Israel will not shrink from that course. To keep the chemical weapons from moving out of Syria and reaching Hizballah, Israel appears to be resolved to take any action necessary, even going for Iranian forces, which are positioned close to its borders.
This evidence falls into three categories:
1. After Al Qods units started landing in Lebanon, the US embassy staff in Beirut were ordered Monday, Sept. 17, to start burning classified documents and removing sensitive equipment from the building, an obvious step prior to evacuation.
It was precipitated by two eventualities:
In the first place, US intelligence discovered that Hizballah was planning to exploit the protests against US missions across the Muslim world for a mass student demonstration to storm the Beirut embassy and replicate the Iranian student seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran in November 1979.
Hamas and Hizballah revive mutual defense pact against Israel
The Obama administration has acted to forestall this threat. It is also anxious to prevent a repeat of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 14, when under cover of “spontaneous” mob action, alien intelligence agents stole secret documents from the consulate building.
In the second place, the outbreak of armed hostilities between Israel and Hizballah would force the Beirut embassy’s evacuation to avoid crossfire between the combatants and, most of all, to save US diplomats from coming under Iranian or Syrian fire.
2. On September 10, debkafile's military and intelligence sources reported exclusively that Gaza leader Mahmoud a-Zahar’s trips to Beirut and Tehran in the first week of September were camouflage for a secret Hamas military delegation. Its purpose was to persuade Iranian leaders and Hizballah that the Hamas was fully committed to fighting Israel if Iran’s nuclear program came under attack.
The delegation was headed by Marwan Isa, the deputy commander of the Izzedin al-Qasem Brigades, whom A-Zahar introduced to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Hamas’s senior military liaison officer with Hizballah and Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military source reveal now that A-Zahar and Isa broke their journey home to stop over in Beirut Thursday, Sept. 13, for a six-hour powwow with Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
Obeying orders from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, they discussed the immediate reactivation of the 2008 Hamas-Hizballah mutual defense pact.
Israeli military in eve-of-war deployment
The two terrorist organizations, the Palestinian Hamas and Shiite Hizballah, are bound by this pact to go into action against Israel if either comes under IDF attack. In Beirut, A-Zahar and Isa pledged to invoke this pact when ordered to do so by Tehran or Beirut.
3. Israel’s response to the strengthened anti-Israel lineup was to stage a surprise, two-division strength war game on its Golan border with Syria Wednesday, Sept. 19. Reservists received sudden call-ups, artillery forces and units from the Central and Northern Command were moved at speed up to the predicted front line.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz’s action in calling the surprise exercise was presented as “routine.”
Our military sources report that it was the biggest war game the IDF had staged since the 2006 Lebanon war with tens of thousands of soldiers taking part.
It was also the second combat drill to take place in northern Israel since early September, when the IDF started re-configuring in eve-of-war deployment.