The “second strike option” these days rules US, Israeli, Iranian and Saudi war planners’ discourse on armed hostilities with Iran. They have moved on from the guessing game on who goes first, the US or Israel, because of the general consensus that an Israeli attack is a near certainty and so too is the likelihood of a follow-up American strike.
This radical change of emphasis is very recent, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources reveal. It came about in the last week of August in the wake of the decision to place Israeli forces (IDF) on full war alert and switch the mechanism for the emergency call-up of reservists to “on”- though not yet to “active.”
Since then, military planners in the concerned capitals have been referring to an Israel strike in the very short term, predicting it will go forward in two phases: First, Israel will target a small number of very important Iranian nuclear sites; then pause for two essential assessments:
One would be to find out how much damage the first raid inflicted on Iran’s nuclear facilities before deciding what to hit next; and two, to see how Iran responds.
Israel will determine the scope of is second assault wave in the light of the force and scale of Iran’s reprisal and whether its allies, Hizballah and the two Palestinian radical Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups are brought in as partners.
If Iran’s response is “very great” as Iran’s pawn Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah threatened Monday, Sept. 3, and his organization takes part, then Israel too will have to consider whether to focus its second strike entirely on cutting down Iran’s nuclear capabilities, or detaching strength for dealing with the Lebanese terrorist organization at the same time.
Israel’s secret weapon reserved for second strike
Most military planners are reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources as concurring that the bulk of damage to Iran’s nuclear installations will be carried over from the first to the second strike.
Most are sure Israel has reserved a secret new weapons system for its second strike option in order to catch the Iranians unawares.
All in all, they predict that an Israeli military operation against Iran will not be over and done with in a rapid exchange of blows but rather unfold into a protracted Middle East war which could linger for weeks or months.
For one of its multiple second strike options, Tehran appears to have carved out a significant role for its Lebanese surrogate Hizballah.
Monday, Nasrallah asserted that he spoke on behalf of “Iranian officials,” when he said: ”A decision has been taken to respond [to an Israeli attack] and the response will be very great.” He stressed that “If Israel targets Iran, America bears responsibility.”
For two days this week, Monday and Tuesday, Israeli strategists were braced in high suspense for Hizballah to attack Israel for tying its hands against striking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Although some American sources played down the Hizballah leader’s competence to speak for Tehran, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military experts note that the Lebanese group and its vast stock of around 60,000 rockets and missiles of varying types and ranges just across the border from Israel is likely to play a starring role in Iran’s second strike assault.
Hizballah and Syria to augment Iran’s second strike on Israel
Tehran is expected to be sparing of its own small stock of ballistic missiles when attacking Israel, needing to keep some in reserve for later stages of hostilities and as a shield for the Islamic regime and its institutions.
Iran may also try to make up for its low-key missile offensive by cyber attacks for bringing life in Israel to a standstill.
Its most obvious option would be to hitch Israel’s neighbors to Tehran’s military wagon – and not just Hizballah. The Syrian army has been neglected as a prospective Iranian military partner on the assumption that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s armed forces are too overburdened by anti-insurrection operations to be available for serving Tehran.
But not all Western military planners are convinced this is so. Apart from Assad’s heavy debt to his only real ally, Tehran and Damascus both have good reason for involving the Syrian military in a war on Israel, even ahead of Hizballah.
For instance –
1. Syrian rebels cannot afford to stab the Syrian army in the back while it is fighting their common foe, Israel, and may even decide to swell its ranks – or at least declare a ceasefire in the civil war. At one stroke, Assad would then be relieved of enormous pressure on his regime.
(See a separate item in this issue about the secret Russian negotiations with Syrian rebels).
Iranian special forces in place in Syria and Lebanon
2. Since the second half of August, the Iranian military and civilian aircraft transporting to Syria ammunition and replacement parts for Syrian arms, are also secretly ferrying into Damascus special units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Al Qods Brigades with their commanders.
These units, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources disclose, are not taking part in beating down the Syrian rebellion. They are in place and on standby for orders to mount attacks against Israel from close quarters.
In the second week of August, they took part in the biggest military exercise Hizballah has ever staged: 10,000 Lebanese Shiites under the Hizballah flag carried out mock raids for seizing parts of Galilee in northern Israel. This was a rehearsal designed by Iranian military planners for a second strike to take the war across the border into Israeli territory.
3. For a later second strike option against Israel, Tehran may draw on Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Tehran and Damascus both realize that outrage over chemical warfare would elicit instantaneous Western military intervention in Syria. But they also calculate that, by then, the entire Middle East will be on fire with blazing hostilities and even the Western alliance – not just Israel – will be short of the military strength for substantial intervention in Syria.
Chemical warfare assigned to Syria
In the knowledge that Iran had left chemical warfare to Syria in their three-way division of labor, Nasrallah asserted Monday that Hizballah would not use chemical weapons against Israel. He said there was no need, since he could attain the same object by firing long-range missiles against strategic Israel targets and so releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.
A mighty concentration of American forces is building up in the Persian Gulf this month – likewise with an eye on a second strike. It is made up of an armada of three aircraft carriers – the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS Enterprise and USS Stennis – and their strike groups, 55,000 combat troops stationed on two islands – Yemen’s Socotra and Omani Masira – plus hundreds of bomber and fighter jets based in Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE. With them are British and French naval, marine and air force troops.
Close by, are large-scale Saudi and UAE air and naval forces on the ready; each of them is capable of independently launch a second strike against Iran if they come under attack.
How a second strike offensive develops in this war sector depends very much on what is happening on the other warfronts.