Defense minister Ehud Barak's snap nomination of OC Southern Command Maj. Gen, Yoav Galant as Israel's 20th chief of staff was necessary – not just to dispel the climate of intrigue among competing generals, but to pull the high command together in view of the preparations to attack Israel gathering momentum in Tehran, Damascus, Beirut and Ramallah – and even in al Qaeda in Yemen.
(debkafile gave early warning of these preparations on Aug. 20. Click here for article.)
The general expectation of a US-Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear sites has therefore faded into the background of the threatening stance currently adopted by Tehran's allies, Syria, Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
According to debkafile's military sources, Israel intelligence does not have evidence of concrete plans to make good on these threats, but Jerusalem is extremely concerned by the placing of four hostile military forces on the highest level of war preparedness in the last few days and are asking why.
For example, Syrian prime minister Naji al-Otari and Abbas Zaki, one of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas' closest aides, have spoken of a "very imminent" Middle East war; Al Qaeda's No. 2. commander in Yemen, Saeed al-Shehri, released a videotape last week stating that a war between Iran and Israel is about to erupt. He called on all Arab aviators to contribute to the holy cause by crashing their planes on Israeli city centers as did the Al Qaeda martyrs who attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11 2001.
The situation being too incendiary to ignore, Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister decided the malicious documents traded among the top brass in the last ten days were an indulgence Israel could not afford. They therefore ended the uncertainty over the choice of next chief of staff after Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi steps down in February 2011. Ehud Barak delivered a surprise notice to the regular cabinet meeting Sunday, Aug. 22 that he had cut short the selection process and named Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as his candidate for the next chief of staff.
debkafile's military sources see five elements with the potential for exploding into a major Middle East flare-up:
1. Iran has taken US and Israeli passivity over the start-up of its Russian built nuclear reactor at Bushehr on Aug. 21 to mean that it can get away with more muscle-flexing and has already factored the reactor which Washington characterized as not immediately dangerous into its military build-up.
Sunday, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled an armed unmanned aerial vehicle called Karrar, claiming its range to be 1,000 kilometers – as far as Israel – and able to deliver four cruise missiles. These claims have yet to be independently verified.
More locally-made advanced weaponry is promised for this week to demonstrate Iran's independence of outside sources. Its leaders are bragging that Iran will soon take its place among the world's top 50 exporters of advanced arms.
2. The forthcoming Israel-Palestinian peace talks beginning in Washington on Sept. 2 – while generally rated as going nowhere – are nonetheless anathema for Tehran and its radical allies. They are perfectly capable of starting trouble on Israel's borders with Lebanon, Gaza or even Syria to sabotage even the dimmest prospect of a diplomatic breakthrough.
There is no telling in the Middle East when an isolated incident may not deteriorate rapidly into a major conflict when the climate is as tense as it is at present. It came dangerously close on Aug. 3, when a Lebanese army sniper shot dead an Israeli colonel precipitating a heavy exchange of fire.
3. Lebanon is on tenterhooks over the nine Hizballah leaders the international court inquiring into the 2005 Hariri assassination plans to summon as suspected perpetrators of the crime. Hizballah's leader Hassan Nasrallah has given the Beirut government due notice that if his top people are surrendered to the tribunal, he will plunge the country in a civil conflict.
Hizballah, backed by Damascus, recently began accusing Israel of engineering the murder, so providing themselves with a neat pretext for going to war and avoiding facing the music.
Thursday, Aug. 19, all Syrian homeland defenses and emergency services were placed on the highest war readiness for an outbreak of hostilities without further notice.
4. The situation on the Israel's southern borders is as tense as its Lebanese and Syrian frontiers.
5. Iran is expected to take advantage of the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq to make a grab for the oil-rich south and send its allies to carry out operations against Israel as a diversionary tactic.
All these reasons have led military sources to indicate to debkafile that the outgoing Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazy may not stay on until February but hand over to Maj. Gen. Galant as soon as the beginning of the Jewish New Year in the second week of September, 2010.