On Tuesday, February 22, US President George W. Bush dismissed as simply ridiculous the assumption that US is planning to attack Iran. The next day, he accused the Iranians of being caught enriching uranium when it said it wouldn’t. Iran, he said, has breached a contract with the international community and “they need to be brought to account – not us.”
He scattered often conflicting comments while swinging between fence-mending talks with European and NATO leaders and one-on-one encounters with French president Jacques Chirac, UK prime minister Tony Blair, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
But the Iranians are far from ridiculing the notion of a US or Israeli attack on their nuclear installations. DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that Tehran is in fact preparing for the worst in conjunction with its closest ally Syria.
As Air Force One carried Bush and entourage from Brussels to Mainz and Bratislava, a quite different type of airlift was in its final stages further east to array Iran’s safeguards against attack on its nuclear weapons installations.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report exclusively that Iran has just launched its biggest air ferry operation in the Middle East to date. A fleet of military transports this week offloaded in Damascus complete elite units for operating, maintaining and guarding a sophisticated system of Iranian electronic warning stations, radar networks and anti-aircraft missiles.
More than 1,000 Iranian soldiers and technicians and 600 Revolutionary Guards commandos have taken up positions on the South Lebanese border with Israel, along the Syrian-Israeli Golan frontier to the south and Syria’s Mediterranean coastline to the west. They are also spread out along Syria’s northeastern frontier with Iraqi Kurdistan and its southern border with Iraq’s al Qaim and al Anbar provinces.
(See DEBKA Special Maps A and B attached to this and next articles)
The incoming Iranian forces have already assumed the command and control of these electronic and radar systems at Syrian early warning stations. Detailed there too are elements of Signal Intelligence and Human Intelligence.
An Iranian command headquarters has been established in Damascus. Its 200 officers, housed in the underground command and control centers buried beneath the Syrian General Staff building in Damascus, form a central hub that directs the entire Iranian-Syrian electronic and intelligence-gathering machine. They are in direct communication with Tehran.
This shared operation is the first outcome of the Iranian-Syrian mutual defense pact described in detail in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 194 (February 18).
Surveillance from every peak and border junction
The early warning station atop Jebel Druze in southern Syria near the Jordanian frontier is described by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence experts as the key facility of the entire Iranian-Syrian network. Its sensitive monitoring and measuring equipment is positioned at a high enough altitude – 1,750 meters (5,740 feet) – for tracking the trajectories of surface-to-surface missiles used in mid-range tests.
The Jebel Druze station covers the airspace of Israel, Jordan and central Iraq and can monitor the huge American air bases at Habbaniyah, west of Baghdad, Talil, southwest of Nasariya and H3 and H4 near the Iraqi-Jordanian frontier. These bases are home to the bulk of US air power in Iraq.
The Iranians also deployed forces in two other key stations, the military sections of Syria’s main Mediterranean ports at Tartus and Latakia. Those early warning facilities should provide Tehran and Damascus with vital information about any missile or aircraft threat emanating from US warships in Mediterranean waters. Iran is braced for the US Sixth Fleet to shoot missile deep inside its territory, much like the fighter-bomber, cruise missile assaults on Iraq which heralded the US-led March 2003 invasion.
Three other stations, on Syria’s Mt. Hermon, and Lebanon’s Mt. Sanin and Mt. Baruk in Lebanon, are integral components of the system.
The Jebel Druze facility, at an altitude of more than 2,800 meters (9,185 feet), can peer into the central Mediterranean and monitor the skies over Israel, Jordan, northern and central Saudi Arabia, central Iraq and Syria itself. The Jebel Barukh station, at the same height, is situated at the southern edge of the Druze region of Lebanon (See Map A). It can monitor the airspace of Israel and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula as well as surveilling aerial and naval activity in the eastern and central Mediterranean.
Perched atop Mt. Sanin, the Iranians and Syrians can keep a sharp eye on southern Turkey and takeoffs and landings at the giant Incirlik airbase, where US and Israeli fighter and bomber squads are permanently stationed.
According to our sources, elite Hezbollah contingents under Iranian command have joined the Iranian Revolutionary Guards units securing the early warning stations. In all, some 1,500 troops have been mustered to guard Iran’s new regional deployment.