The air raid over the Jamraya military complex near Damascus Wednesday, Jan. 30, attributed to Israel by Western sources was Israeli’s first assault on the Syrian-Hizballah military compact forged between Bashar Assad and Hassan Nasrallah.
That was the real strategic import of the operation, which took place with the approval of US President Barack Obama, debkafile’s military sources report.
In every other respect, it was a surgical strike on a well-defined target, comparable to Israel’s attack in September 2007 on the nuclear reactor North Korea was building at El Kabir in northern Syria. The object then was to sever the Syrian-Iranian-North Korean nuclear link before it took physical shape and began turning out plutonium for Iran’s nuclear program.
After its destruction, Tehran and Pyongyang decided to cut Syria out of their nuclear plans because its proximity to Israel made any nuclear site an easy mark.
The overriding importance of the attack on the Syrian military compound therefore lies in its three objectives:
1. The Jamraya complex was selected because it serves the shared military agendas of Syria, Hizballah and Iran.
The bombers struck three targets: a Syrian chemical weapons store and laboratories; a depot holding the sophisticated weapons Iran had sent Hizballah in the last two years – some of which, like the SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, are termed “game changers” in a potential clash with Israel; and a large fleet of trucks standing by to ferry the munitions across the border into Lebanon.
Israeli threats to destroy the weapons had so far prevented their transfer.
In a separate building at Jamraya, Hizballah forces learned how to use the new Iranian hardware and maintained a team of drivers ready to move the arsenal over to Lebanon. This building was not attacked.
2. The air strike was a move toward disrupting the cooperative military efforts of all three allies in Syria and Lebanon;
3. Israel took its first step into the Syrian conflict.
As we first reported in the latest DEBKA-Net-Weekly out Friday, the operation went forward with a green light from President Obama, after he was briefed on the plan by AMAN (Israeli Military Intelligence) commander, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi at the White House on Jan. 22.
Our sources also reported that another Israeli emissary, National Security Adviser Yakov Amidror, visited Moscow at the same time to warn Russian leaders of the coming attack in Syria.
While Russian officials voiced objections to Israeli attacking Syria, they also apparently omitted to forewarn President Assad of what was coming and he was taken by surprise. After the raid, President Vladimir Putin advised the Syrian ruler to refrain from exacerbating the military situation with Israel.
The reported Israeli strike on Jamraya had two key consequences of future relevance:
a) President Obama’s consent for Israel and its armed forces IDF to be the first pro-Western power to intervene in the Syrian war, after keeping them out of involvement in the Arab Revolt raging around its borders for two years:
b) Officials in Tehran publicly warned last week that an attack on Syria would be deemed an attack on Iran, a message no doubt underlined through diplomatic channels to Washington. Nonetheless, after holding the Israeli government back for years from striking Iran’s nuclear sites, Obama approved an attack with the potential for widening into a major Israeli-Iranian military clash.
While the importance of keeping sophisticated missiles and poison gas out of Hizballah hands cannot be overrated, debkafile’s sources in Washington and Tehran reveal that what really pushed the US president into his change of face was Iran’s withdrawal from the secret talks he set much store by for a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue.
Three further changes of major strategic importance occurred this week.
Tehran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna that new, high-speed IR2m centrifuges were being installed in Natanz to expand the 20-percent uranium enrichment taking place at the Fordo underground facility.
The Iranian letter was posted to the IAEA the day after the two Israeli emissaries visited Washington and Moscow.
The diplomatic channel to Tehran was symbolically shut down in Washington last week by the resignation of Gary Samore, President Obama’s Coordinator for Weapons of Mass Destruction, Counter-Terrorism and Arms Control.
debkafile discloses that Samore was lead negotiator in the failed nuclear talks with Iran. His exit means that he sees no way of curbing Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon. He has taken up an appointment as Executive Director of Research in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.
US Vice President Joe Biden provided the third key development. Asked Saturday, Feb. 2, in Munich when Washington might hold direct talks with Tehran, he replied dismissively: “When the Iranian leadership, the supreme leader, is serious.”
Biden spoke for the Obama administration when he suggested that Khamenei has not been serious to date.
All three events contributed to the US president’s decision to let Israel have a go at the Syrian military complex, thereby broadcasting a signal to Tehran that, in the absence of serious negotiations, Washington is ready to expand its efforts for breaking up the Iran-Syrian Hizballah axis, using the IDF as its hammer.