President George W. Bush will continue to tighten the military squeeze on Iran while preparing to lure Syria into dialogue some time soon in order to draw Bashar Assad out of the Iranian-Hizballah orbit.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources report that for Iran, the US President is sticking to his strategy of keeping the US military option against its nuclear sites and infrastructure on the table. As for the Syrians, until their president comes round, a reminder that Israeli may well repeat its Sept. 6 air strike against its missile and nuclear sites will continue to hover over their heads.
US strategists are working to four basic premises:
1. Tehran is undergoing further radicalization (if possible) – both with regard to its nuclear aspirations and its determination to unleash a fresh diplomatic and military assault on US Middle East and Gulf positions. Iran’s clerical rulers are buoyed up by gaining a formidable new partner in their anti-US axis, Venezuela. (See first article in this issue.)
2. Further evidence of Iran’s mounting aggressiveness is provided by the appointment in September of Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari as commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. He is a lot more extreme than his predecessor Gen. Rahim Safavi – both in his dedication to the national nuclear weapons program and his opposition to any compromise deals with the United States, whether in Iraq or any other part of the region.
3. US intelligence assumes that the Israeli air strike over Syria did not wipe out its entire stock of missiles and its radioactive, chemical and biological warheads. Sooner or later, Israel will have to finish the job of destroying this potential existential threat.
In previous issues, we cited American sources as saying that, given all the circumstances, the Israeli air strike must have been but the first in a series with more to come.
US planners believe that the partial success of the Israeli strike has told Iranian and Syrian intelligence and military planners that neither Israel nor the United States has proved capable of knocking out a single Syrian nuclear site, notwithstanding world media accounts.
An irregular intelligence breach by Washington
More such strikes are therefore indicated to convince Tehran and Damascus that the US and Israel are capable of causing them irreversible damage by military means. The effect should be driven home by heavy economic and diplomatic pressure.
4. Washington has just discovered, through redoubled surveillance in the wake of Israeli air attack, the establishment by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez‘s agents of a forward intelligence position in Damascus as a coordination center for the military and business dealings between Moscow, Caracas, Tehran, Syria and Pyongyang.
The removal of this center would be a top issue in any US talks with Syria.
As part of the spadework, Washington asked Ankara to dispatch Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan to Damascus and Jerusalem last week. The minister held talks with Assad on Oct. 6 and with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert on Oct. 7.
Our Washington and Ankara sources report that the Americans committed an irregular intelligence breach by passing to the Turkish minister the gist of the intelligence findings Israel had relayed to Washington during 2007 to obtain White House blessing for its air strike.
Babacan was briefed by US intelligence officers in Ankara to put the following questions to the Syrian president:
One: What led Damascus to decide to start outfitting its Scud B surface missiles with radioactive warheads? Against whom are they meant to be used?
Two: What are North Korean nuclear and missile experts doing in northern Syria? The dossier handed to the Turkish minister contained a named list of the North Korean scientists working there along with their places of residence, dates of arrival and photos documenting their presence in Syria.
Three: Can the Syrian president confirm receipt of a low velocity airburst munition and launcher system? This system allows for programming the warhead to detonate in the air at a given range from the muzzle. The user must manually input the range into a fuze programming device prior to the missile launch. This device can directly interface with the electronic instruments determining range. It can also self-destruct if the target is missed and be reset for performing in cold weather.
Damascus gripped by sense of impending US-Israeli assault
Syria did not have this technology before 2007 and was therefore constrained from converting its missiles for WMD warheads. Syrian war planners saw that shooting missiles at random with no certainty of hitting the target and no notion of the damage caused was not only counter-productive but could boomerang against their sender.
The new device permitting the precise programming of their surface missiles as to when and how to blow up a target and how much damage expected would, if received, take the strategic capabilities of Damascus and Tehran many strides forward.
Four: What cargo did the North Korean freighter deliver at Syria’s Tartous port on Sept. 3, three days before the Israeli attack?
Such questions were perfectly legitimate for the Turkish foreign minister to address to the Syrian president in their two-hour long conversation, because Syrian WMD missiles armed with this sophisticated technology would represent a threat to Turkey as great as to Israel.
Babacan did not spill to the Syrians all the contents of the “Israel dossier”, but he gave away enough for the Syrians and Iranians to gain their first inkling, a month after the Israeli attack, of the breadth of intelligence in Israeli and American hands. In this way, Washington shattered the intelligence screen surrounding the Israel operation against Syria. The rulers of Syria and Iran were warned that if Assad persists in denying he has these deadly weapons systems, more intelligence on the subject will be released to fellow heads of states in the Middle East.
But the key to the Turkish minister’s report to the Americans and Israelis, according to our sources, was his impression that there is no point in trying to engage officials in Damascus at this time, including Assad, in any substantial talks, because they are gripped by an overwhelming sense of a US attack impending against Iran, coupled with an Israeli ground and air assault on Syria.
In Babacan’s view, nothing will budge them from this conviction.
Washington muddies water on its military intentions towards Iran
Washington in the meantime found another club for beating Damascus over the head -while at the same time leaving a window open for fence-mending – when he received the anti-Syrian Saad Hariri, leader of Lebanon’s majority March 14 bloc at the White House on Oct. 4.
Our sources in Washington report that the US president said firmly that he is against a premature deal between the Hariri-led bloc and Hizballah (therefore Syria) for a compromise candidate to succeed president Emil Lahoud whose tenure ends on Nov. 24. Bush said he would rather leave this deal in abeyance, because he thinks further pressure on Syria and Hizballah could work and bring them round to recognizing the interests of pro-American and pro-Western forces in Beirut.
However, to keep Tehran on the hop, officials and sources in Washington continue to feed the world media often contradictory news items and briefings about whether or not an American attack is impending.
Three trends are conspicuous in this flood of leaked information, analysis and opinion:
- The certainty that Bush will embark on a military assault against Iran is uppermost among his most radical opponents, who often draw on supplementary sources in Moscow and Paris for corroboration.
- A second school claims Bush has set aside the military option in favor of diplomacy and harsh sanctions, under the influence of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, who say the North Korean template is applicable to Iran too.
According to these writers, Vice President Richard Cheney‘s case for military action has been sidelined in the White House as the last option if all else fails.
- A third set of publications maintains that President Bush has finally decided to go all out against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards infrastructure, instead of its nuclear sites.
This welter of information deepens the muddle over the White House’s true intentions about whether or not the US and/or Israel is poised for war.
It also serves Washington’s purpose in fostering dialogue with Syria and promoting Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations at Annapolis, Maryland next month.