The threat of a multi-Arab assault on Israel, bolstered by al Qaeda, the Hizballah and Palestinian terrorists, being launched in the course of the US campaign against Iraq, has raised its head.
A possible scenario to this effect was painted disturbingly by Israel’s new defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, when he made the rounds of Washington this week. He called on secretary of state Colin Powell, defense secretary Donald Rumseld and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and conversed by video-phone with vice president Dick Cheney, who has been consigned to a safe house outside Washington as a precaution against a Christmas terror attack affecting the functioning of the White House.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports from its Washington sources that Mofaz brought word to US officials that more than one Arab government – not just Iraq – may be contemplating going to war against Israel. This would be in addition to predicted attacks by the Hizballah, with Iranian and Syrian support, the Palestinians and al Qaeda. Intelligence sources, he revealed, had named Egypt, with whom Israel signed a peace pact, and Saudi Arabia, as potential aggressors. In the light of this information, Israel is building up military strength along its southern border with Egypt’s Sinai desert and around its Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat to face a possible joint Egyptian-Saudi strike.
The Israeli defense minister assessed this combined threat, if it materialized, as the gravest Israel has faced in its 53 years of statehood, far in excess of the previous four assaults by combined Arab armies. Whereas previous actions centered on Israel’s borders, this time, its population centers would be targeted – both by external forces and inland terror.
Opening shot from Iraq
As portrayed by Mofaz to US officials, the opening shot of the multiple Arab strike would be launched from Baghdad shortly before the US offensive begins. Saddam Hussein would release a flock of missiles, light planes or drones over Israeli towns, armed with chemical or biological agents. This raid would constitute Baghdad’s pre-emptive strike in advance of the American military attack.
Israel’s two Arrow anti-missile missiles batteries – one in the Negev and the other in central Israel near Hadera – and the 14 US-made Patriot missiles operated by US and Israeli crews across the country, would be fired to intercept the aerial invaders. Israeli air force warplanes would take to the sky to shoot down any assault craft sent to raid Israel’s main cities. American aircraft would stand ready on the decks of carriers in the Mediterranean to come to Israel’s aid. The US fleet would also monitor incoming civilian aircraft closely, in case they were hijacked by al Qaeda as mass destruction weapons for slamming into Israeli cities, their prime target being Tel Aviv.
A US command and control center on a US AGIES warship in the Mediterranean is to coordinate the US-Israeli air defense system, with the aim of reducing to the minimum or aborting any hostile penetrations of Israel’s home front.
A perfect defense would make an Israeli offensive or instantaneous retaliation to an Iraqi attack superfluous.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say US President George W. Bush and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon have agreed that Israel will hold back from retaliating – at least in the first stage of the US campaign – if the damage it incurs falls below a certain low threshold.
On this subject, the news agencies reported on Wednesday, December 18: “Mofaz meets Rumsfeld, Rice in Washington Wednesday to discuss advance notice to Israel on the Iraqi war offensive. He reiterated that Israel will not automatically respond to an Iraqi attack in any circumstance.”
After the opening shot – which Washington hopes will meet with a zero Israeli response – the US offensive will swing into full momentum. That will be the signal for the second Arab round against Israel: the 10,000-strong Lebanese Hizballah legion, well seasoned by the long and systematic cross-border shelling of northern Israel, will begin volleying thousands of missiles against targets as far south as the northern outskirts of Hadera. This massive barrage will be conducted with the help of appropriate launchers, a sophisticated transport system and military technical support, all pulled together by expert command, control and intelligence coordination. Its designated commanders are officers of the Iranian National Guards and Syrian military personnel who have been assigned to different frontline sectors.
The Hizballah, aided by Iranian Guardsmen and Syrian officers, have secured their vast missile structure by means of three lines of defense running the full width of southern Lebanon, from the Mediterranean in the West to the Syrian Hermon Mts. in the east.
In the early stage of the assault, Israel will not attempt to breach these defense lines. The Israeli command would rather not send Israeli Chariot-3 and Chariot-4 tanks into the anti-tank missile trap the Iranians and Syrians have set up at strategic points. Its war planners have chosen instead to eradicate the entire Hizballah-Iranian-Syrian military edifice by means of a combined aerial-missile-helicopter-missile boat assault of major proportions.
Conflict turns into multilateral Arab assault
A senior Israeli security source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “The Israeli counteroffensive will be mightier and more extensive than any US aerial action in the last decade against Iraq and America’s Afghan War bombing campaign. Its objective will be to destroy every last military unit and source of potential aggression in the zone.”
Our military sources add that Mofaz told his American hosts that Israel will run its counteroffensive in two waves, the first, to cut down Hizballah-Syrian-Iranian firepower in the initial stage of their missile offensive; the second, to silence the missile barrage totally in the space of 32-36 hours.
But even that all-inclusive blitz will not stamp out the missile threat to northern Israel.
Both American and Israeli intelligence have received information that a second-strike capability is under preparation, to be launched from Syria. Like Iraq, Syria possesses chemical and biological warheads. If they are deployed, Israel will re-orient its counteroffensive to the east. The confrontation will then mutate into full-scale war between the two countries, the signal for Syrian armored forces to advance on the Israeli section of the Golan Heights, and for Israeli armor to begin rolling in the opposite direction towards Damascus.
According to our sources, British prime minister Tony Blair warned President Bashar Assad of Syria’s peril if he went to war, during his four-day visit to London this week, the first by a Syrian ruler. Blair was taken aback by his guest’s deadpan response: he admitted that a group of leading Arab nations had formed a bloc to launch a joint military offensive against Israel and turn the limited confrontation into a regional war. The moment Israel attacked Syria, said Assad, he had received “more than binding guarantees” that Egypt and Saudi Arabia would hit Israel from the south.
This was the first time that this top-secret intelligence, known only to the United States, Israel and the Arab governments concerned, was openly shared with another party.
During his meetings in Washington, the Israeli defense minister presented Israel’s plans for breaking up the Egyptian-Saudi assault, if it took place. They all hinge on Israeli carrying its military thrust deep into its assailants’ territories.
As to the means of warfare, it is clear that a conflict pitting Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq against Israel will necessarily bring into play the largest number of ballistic missiles ever deployed in any war arena.