The ayatollahs ruling Iran are no fools; they know that Washington has got in with a solid punch in their faces. But they also know if they keep their cool, they will find a way to retaliate. Even better, they believe that in the final reckoning they will reverse the fortunes of war and hit back at the Americans and Israel.
In the meantime, they are counting their losses and instituting emergency measures to weather the setback and move on, without giving up any of their revolutionary objectives:
These measures are outlined by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive Iranian sources:
1. As in the case of the nuclear crisis, supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has taken over the reins from the Revolutionary Guards. He will be handling the crisis until further notice. He has established a war room adjoining his bureau and placed three trusted veterans in charge: Hassan Akhtair, ambassador for many years to Syria and a reputed expert on the Middle East and the Levant; Mohtashami-Pour, secretary general of the Iranian council for Palestinian assistance, the main channel between Tehran and Palestinian terrorist organizations. Mohtashami-Pour is also Khamenei’s private adviser on such sensitive issues as the terrorist networks and death squads run by the Islamic Republic. The third war room executive is former foreign minister Ali Akbar Veliyati, head of the Council for the Determination of National Strategy.
This top group meets once a day but the three executives are on call for the current emergency in special living quarters arranged for them at Khamenei’s headquarters at Jamaran, northern Tehran.
2. On Day Two of the Lebanon war, Friday, July 14, Khamenei publicly laid down two red lines as warnings to the Americans and Israelis. He made it clear that any step beyond those lines would incur Iranian intervention in the conflict. One such statement was that Hizballah must not be disarmed, meaning that as long as this injunction was obeyed, Iran’s response would be low key and indirect. Secondly, Iran’s nuclear program would continue regardless of any other considerations.
3. Monday, July 17, when the fighting in Lebanon escalated, Khamenei sent an Iranian military delegation to Damascus made up of Revolutionary Guards, air force, naval and military intelligence officers. It was assigned with acting as a sort of provisional forward Iranian command center to be held ready in case Tehran decided to send military units or open an air corridor to rush weapons to the Hizballah. The officers are still in place.
4. Two days later, on July 19, when Israel stepped up its military pressure on the Hizballah, 42 army officers and instructors in mufti, drawn from the Al Quds Brigades of the Revolutionary Guards flew to Damascus. This was a signal to Washington and Jerusalem that Iran was contemplating the dispatch of Iranian volunteers to help Hizballah.
5. Foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki was sent to Damascus with a formal request to Basher Assad for the use of Damascus airport to land a consignment of various types of rockets for delivery to the Hizballah. They would include the 150-kilometer Zelzal surface missiles which can reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Mottaki asked for permission to cover a future – not an immediate – contingency. Assad promised a future reply.
Nasrallah has done well, Tehran will play it cool
Iran’s leaders consider that Hassan Nasrallah has survived the first stage of the crisis with flying colors despite the blows he and his militia have sustained. They see him as being capable of pulling his men together to confront Israel in the next round, which is expected to develop in South Lebanon over the weekend.
With this in mind, the Iranian leadership team decided:
First: At the clandestine level, to render substantial logistic aid to Hizballah to buttress its ability to withstand future buffeting.
Second: The Iranian Intelligence Ministry MOIS will prepare a long-term plan for a broad Iranian campaign against American and Israeli strategic interests in retaliation for the blow they inflicted on Iran in Lebanon.
Third: In their public appearances, Iranian officials will pretend that their aid to the Hizballah is purely verbal – threats, propaganda and the like. Any suggestion of direct Iranian involvement in the war will be played down.
Fourth: In the regional domain, Iran will continue to blast Arab and Islamic leaders for their apathy in the face of Israeli aggression.
Additional Iranian leadership bodies assigned with dealing with the Lebanese war are the Council for Determining State Interests, the Supreme Council for State Security and the new Council for Examining Foreign Policy. Their deliberations were summed up at a meeting Khamenei convened on July 18 with the heads of these councils, Revolutionary Guards commanders and his three top advisers.
The overriding concern of this gathering, as revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s exclusive Iranian sources, was not so much the fate of Hassan Nasrallah and his Hizballah, but trepidation over Washington’s intentions. They calculated that if America was willing to give Israel free rein to wipe out Hizballah in Lebanon, it was possible that the Bush administration would go on to use the IDF in potential attacks on Syria and Iran, or in defense of US interests in the Middle East.
The Iranians had not expected Israel to respond so swiftly or so forcefully to Nasrallah’s kidnapping ambush. This too has them worried. They are not entirely convinced that Iran’s special forces are up to operating with the same rapidity.