The conventional knowledge about Israeli, Syrian and Hizballah armed forces was augmented by three events in the last two weeks: The recurrent Syrian chemical weapons scare, Israel’s unacknowledged bombardment of a Syrian military complex shared with Hizballah, and the branding of Hizballah as guilty of a terrorist attack on a European Union member, Bulgaria, for killing Israelis.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly expands on these three sketches and their significance:
1. Syria possesses large chemical and biological weapon arsenals, a small portion of which is located ready for operational use in bombs held close to Syrian Air Force takeoff sites for raids on Syrian rebels, and in artillery shells within reach of ground forces.
According to some reports, the Syrian army has begun firing chemical weapons against rebel targets in a few places, including Homs.
The US and Israel have warned repeatedly that the use of these unconventional weapons or their transfer from Syria to Hizballah or any other terrorist groups would not be tolerated and would incur military action by the West and Israel.
2. On Jan. 30, the Israeli Air Force struck the Syrian military complex of Jamraya north of Damascus. Since then, military tensions between the countries have climbed steadily, with Israel braced ready for Assad to order a counter-attack across their border, most likely on the divided Golan.
Tuesday, Feb. 5, the IDF command announced the expansion of the missile shield for regions in northern Israeli exposed to possible Syrian or Hizballah missile assault.
Israel extends missile shield across Galilee
That day, too, the White House in Washington announced President Barack Obama would be visiting Israel shortly. At the Pentagon, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was awarded the Legion of Merit by Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on behalf of the President for his "outstanding" services as Israel Defense Forces commander and preparing the IDF to meet a wide range of challenges,
Meanwhile, the extra Patriot missile interceptors deployed in Lower Galilee extended protection to the towns of Afula, Nazareth, Yoqneam and Hadera. A third Iron Dome battery was stationed further north. More than two million Israelis living north of the central region were therefore determined at risk of rocket attacks from Syria and Lebanon.
3. On the same day, Bulgaria released the findings of a six-month investigation into the terrorist bombing in the resort town of Burgas which killed five Israeli holidaymakers and a Bulgarian driver.
The report pointed to Hizballah as the most likely culprit, a finding clearly expected in Washington.
Shortly after it was released by Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the new US Secretary of State John Kerry was ready with a strong statement: "We strongly urge other governments around the world – and particularly our partners in Europe – to take immediate action to crack down on Hizballah," he said.
"We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity."
Hizballah culpability for Burgas would justify Israeli military action
If European countries are rightly charged with cracking down at once on Hizballah for staging a terrorist operation on the soil of a European Union member, then Israel was that much more entitled to hit back at the perpetrators of a murderous attack on its citizens. Kerry’s words could have been interpreted as a call for an Israeli attack on Hizballah in Lebanon on a scale comparable to its limited operation against the shared Syrian-Hizballah-Iranian military complex in Syria.
To understand the course of events unfolding on Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon in recent weeks, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources will attempt to stack them in the right order, tagging on a secret ingredient not known to the general public for further illumination.
Before its air strike on Jamraya on Jan. 30, Israel moved heavy concentrations of armored special unit groups up to the Syrian and Lebanese borders. Their formation pointed to their bringing within range the most vulnerable and sensitive points of Assad’s government in Damascus – as well as its chemical and biological weapons stocks.
An offensive of this kind could loosen Assad’s grip on power and slacken his control of the Syrian army. After that, he would not last long.
Simultaneously, Israel quietly enforced no-fly zones over Syria’s borders with Israel, Lebanon and Jordan, an operation which NATO, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been discussing for two years without doing anything about it.
Round-the-clock Israeli air patrols over three Syria borders
It consists of round-the-clock Israeli air patrols by F-15 and F-16 fighter bombers over Syrian skies for keeping military and civilian air traffic out of the border regions. They are also in place to bomb any trucks moving sophisticated Iran-supplied weapons from Syrian depots into Lebanon for Hizballah.
The areas covered by the Israeli over-lights are widened every few days.
By Thursday night, our military sources report that Israeli warplanes were flying close to the Iranian air transports lifting war materiel via Iraq to Syria almost daily. The Israeli aircraft are close enough to cut the Iranian air corridor to Syria – if this is decided in Washington.
A similar touch-and-go situation has built up on the Israeli-Lebanese border.
From their outposts in southern Lebanon, Hizballah operatives have a good view of the Israeli armored forces massing close by and standing ready to cross the border as soon as they receive an order.
This activity lends double significance, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources, to the broad deployment of anti-missile interceptors in northern Israel:
a) As soon as Israeli forces move into Syria or Lebanon, US and Israeli military planners have no doubt that the Syrian ruler and Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah would unleash a shower of rockets and missiles on Israeli targets.
As back-up for Israeli defenses, the US has secretly flown in additional Patriot missile batteries with crews; and US Sixth Fleet warships armed with Aegis missile intercept systems are cruising close to Israel’s Mediterranean shore.
Keeping Assad, his generals and Hizballah under pressure
b) One objective of these menacing US-Israeli military movements is to keep Assad under constant military and psychological pressure, trapping him in an atmosphere of menace, in the hope that he will buckle before long. His commanders, general staff and Hizballah’s bunker war room in Beirut are subject to the same stresses.
As the strains filter down to the men and officers on the battlefield, Assad and Nasrallah may lose their nerve and launch an offensive against Israel, thereby bringing down on their heads the full might of the Israeli military, backed by a US missile shield and air cover.
This course of events, say our military sources, has done much to restore Israel’s military deterrence and its reputation as the foremost Middle East military power, for the first time in the seven years since the unresolved ending of the 2006 Israel-Hizballah contest.