Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak offered the view this week that the next round of Six-Power talks with Iran taking place on May 23 in Baghdad would lead nowhere, throwing cold water on the current optimism. As for US media reports of a lessening in war tensions over Iran because of the internal debate in Israel over an independent attack, they were soon overtaken by significant military steps embarked on Tuesday, May 1, by the US, Israel and Iran.
The large-scale Israel Defense Forces war game on the borders of Syria (Golan) and Lebanon was quickly followed by naval drills along Iran’s southern Persian Gulf coast by its border guards. Tehran was making good on the policy agreed with Syrian and Hizballah allies in early 2011 to counter any Western or Israel military movement in the region with a comparable response.
Israeli army spokesmen were cagey about the scale and nature of the exercise beyond preparing people living in the north for heavy military traffic on regional highways and the sounds of gunshots and explosions.
debkafile’s military sources disclose that the IDF drilled a strengthened, proactive presence in the North to meet al Qaeda’s looming presence and expanding operations next door, especially in Syria, and the threat of the Syrian civil war spilling over into Lebanon.
Monday, Israel started building a defensive wall 10-meter high, 2 kilometer-long along its border with Lebanon to protect the Israeli population and highways in northern Galilee from sniper fire coming from the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila in the Hizballah-dominated south. According to intelligence received, the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah plans to lash out against Israel in the hope of recovering its waning popular support as a result of its tight bonds with the hated Bashar Assad. Snipers are to pick off Israelis in cross-border fire and so provoke a major firestorm that will take the world’s attention away from the savagery in Syria.
Just as Israel estimates that the Galilee Panhandle and Golan could become flashpoints for exchanges of cross-border fire, so too Iran is taking into account that an operation to destroy its nuclear facilities may also entail landings on its southern coast by American and Israel special forces, and maybe others too.
Gen. Hossein Zolfaqari, Commander of the Iranian Border Guards, was more forthcoming about the exercise he is leading than Israel’s army spokesmen. He announced that the naval maneuver codenamed “Fajr” would exercise the latest tactics in border protection with the participation of the border guard units of the provinces of Bushehr (site of Iran’s only nuclear reactor and parts of its uranium enrichment facilities), the Persian Gulf Kish Island (where big Revolutionary Guards bases at situated), Hormozgan (near the Revolutionary Guards main headquarters at Bandar Abbas) as well as Khuzestan and Sistan and Balochestan, Iran’s biggest oil regions.
Very much on the offensive, Tehran Monday claimed to have developed the technological expertise for “redirecting enemy missiles to a target which we will determine,” in the words of Brig. Farzad Ismaili, commander of the Khatam-ol-Anbiya (Last of the Prophets) Air Base. “This is the capability of electronic warfare in which it is we who program the enemy missile,” he boasted.
There was also an outpouring of comment from Tehran about last week’s deployment of US F-22 Raptors in the UAE’s Al Dhafra Air Base opposite Iran’s southern shores. One spokesman said they posed no danger to Iran and had been moved in for “psychological warfare;” another that they “threatened regional security” and Gulf nations should not allow foreign armies to take up position on their shores.
A week after the F-22 squadron was deployed in the Gulf, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, special assistant to President Obama and senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council, disclosed Monday that the completion of the initial phase of the US-backed missile network in Europe would be announced at the NATO summit meeting in Chicago on May 20.
She added that additional work is underway in the next phase of the network, designed for protecting Europe and the Middle East from Iranian ballistic missile attack.
The chronology is significant: The announcement that the US-led missile shield has gone operational will be made three days before the Six Powers and Iran resume nuclear negotiations in Baghdad.
Far from reducing war tensions over Iran, America has tossed the military ball into the Iranian court.