Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott was in Washington last week for meetings with top US brass, including Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Joseph Votel, head of CENTCOM. He was accompanied by Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, head of the IDF’s Operations Branch, who at the age of 53 and after 34 years in uniform, expected this trip to be his last before retiring.
But as tensions built up on the Syrian and Iranian fronts, Gen. Eisenkott had another idea.
Nitzan’s military record is impressive: It includes valuable experience as the commander of special operations forces who also oversaw the integration of special undercover units in the intelligence corps for action behind enemy lines. He also led several combat divisions before being promoted to OC Central Command. In 2015, he took over the General Staff’s Operations Branch.
Eisenkott persuaded him to postpone his retirement by an offer he could not refuse, to become the first holder of a job just created of Director of the “Iran Project” – the IDF codename for a newly-established strike force to be tasked with the execution of decisions to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, ballistic missiles and military bases in the Middle East.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report that Eisenkott lost no time in filling this job when he saw US-Russian relations sinking into impasse over the Iranian issue and Iranian and HIzballah forces lining up with the Syrian army ready to blast their way to the Israeli and Jordanian borders. The outbreak of full-fledged war with Iran was looming larger day by day.
Wednesday, July 4, saw two ominous events: Eisenkott visited the Golan, shortly after he returned from Washington, to inspect IDF war readiness. A few hours later, Russian and Syrian air strikes were resumed, after a short pause, against rebel strongholds in Daraa. Ceasefire negotiations had broken down over Russia’s insistence that Iran and Hizballah were in Syria to stay.
That day too, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Middle East warfronts, informed President Hassan Rouhani that he stood ready to implement Rouhani’s threat to disrupt Gulf oil exports once the US ban on Iranian oil sales goes into effect on Nov. 4. Since President Donald Trump is unlikely to back down, the specter of Iranian hostile acts looms large, including blockage of the Strait of Hormuz to Arab oil exports or even attacks on their oil fields and terminals.
Our sources reveal that Israel’s Iran Project is mirrored by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republic with US support. In addition, the US and Israel have set up four joint command groups for executing the tasks into which their military mission will be sub-divided in the event of war with Iran:
The Nuclear Command Group: This covers the key nuclear targets in Iran: weaponry, plutonium reactors, uranium enrichment plants and centrifuge production sites.
The Ballistic Command Group: This deals with Iran’s ballistic missile stocks and launch sites, both surface and underground silos, as well as missile production plants and institutes for missile research and development.
The Anti-Subversion Command Group: Combined under this heading are overt and covert operations against Iranian military and intelligence centers across the Middle East, especially in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, as well as responsibility for cyber warfare.
The Economic Command Group covers US sanctions against Iran. Israel’s contribution to this joint command is intelligence on Iran’s sanctions-busting stratagems at home and internationally.
Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon will direct the four command groups. He was chosen for his record and his proven talents as an original, strategic thinker, capable of seeking solutions outside the box and applying unconventional methods to tasks and challenges.
Th chief of staff, contrary to his dovish image and reputation as a deal-maker, has almost unnoticed put together a hawkish high command comprising a group of officers who are ready to operate in places over Israel’s horizons. Among them are the incoming Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Nurkin, head of the Depth Command Maj. Gen. Muni Katz, OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan and new Military Intelligence (AMAN) Director Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman. Nitzan Alon has just joined this elite roster.