Sharon Eyes Hizballah and Its Syrian Backers

After six consecutives days of cross-border shelling by the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah against Israeli targets, prime minister Ariel Sharon Thursday, April 4, has set Syria and Lebanon firmly in his gun sights.

Touring the northern frontier region, he warned Syria, which effectively dominates Lebanon, against continuing to egg the Shiite group on. Indications are gathering as we write that Syrian units, Hizballah and other terror bases in Lebanon expect to find themselves in Israel’s firing line before long. Among the targets are a 20,000-strong Syrian occupation army; 8,000 to 10,000 Hizballah guerrillas – Iran’s proxy terror legion, and units of the Iranian Pazdaran, the Revolutionary Guards, among them some 300 military commanders and instructors attached to the Shiite group.

In recent weeks, Tehran has shipped to the Hizballah more than 6,000 new missiles and rockets of various types. Aided by Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen, the Shiite group has lined them up in central and southern Lebanon, ready to hit targets as far south as the outskirts of the central Israeli town of Hadera.

If Israel goes on the offensive against Lebanon, its objective, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, will be to de-activate Syrian bases in Lebanon – especially those in the eastern Beqaa Valley, and smash Hizballah missile and Katyusha rocket bases that target Israel regularly from southern and central Lebanon. The attacking force will also take the opportunity of wiping out Hizballah and Iranian military bases in the Beqaa Valley.

Another potential target is the headquarters, docks and landing strips of Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, a hardline group controlled by Syrian military intelligence. Furthermore, Palestinian refugee camps in south and central Lebanon, which US and Israeli intelligence believe harbor al Qaeda groups, may not escape unscathed.

As for the timing of the offensive, that depends on whether the Hizballah keeps up its rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli border posts at Mt. Dov, an area Lebanon calls the Shebaa Farms. If those provocations continue, Israel is ready to mount an offensive against the Syrian military presence in Lebanon at very short notice.

Since Israeli intelligence sees more Hizballah harassment ahead in the days to come, the IDF may very soon find itself engaged in two synchronous military operations against terrorist foes – Palestinian activists on the West Bank and Iran’s surrogates and allies in Lebanon.

This would also be the most extensive military confrontation in the Middle East since the 1991 Gulf war, involving in its first stage four armies — Syrian, Iranian, Lebanese and Israeli.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources expect Israel, in the first instance, to emulate the American war model in Afghanistan, and employ crushing might. Syrian targets will be subjected to an aerial blitz and Lebanon will for the first time experience a surface-surface missile assault, as well as artillery and ship-launched missile barrages.

Prior to the assault, Israel will drop small elite units over the Beqaa Valley to cut off the Syrian army’s lines of retreat to home ground.

After the bombardments, Israeli units will invade Hizballah and Iranian bases and wipe them out.

Different tactics will be employed just across border in south Lebanon. There, large armored columns and mobile artillery will cross in to destroy Hizballah rocket emplacements.

On the diplomatic front, Sharon made sure of White House approval before finalizing his war plan for the Hizballah and its patrons, just as he did with his campaign against Palestinian terrorist strongholds. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say the prime minister got the green light last week, whereupon the army began calling up reservists and concentrating large-scale forces on the Lebanese border and the Golan Heights, which is divided between Syria and Israel. Some of the units were detached from anti-terror activity inside Palestinian cities on the West Bank in mid-battle.

American and Israeli strategic planners regard an assault on Lebanon-based Syrian and Hizballah forces in Lebanon as a blow to Iran’s first line of defense, just as the Israeli offensive to crush Palestinian terror bases in the West Bank has jolted Iraq’s outermost defenses.

US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld ‘s acid comments on Syria on Monday, April 1, articulated this kind of strategic thinking: “There is no question but that the Iranians work with the Syrians and send folks into Damascus and down to Beirut … and then into south Lebanon, so that they can conduct terror attacks, ” he said, adding for good measure: “And the people in Syria ought to know that their government is facilitating the flow of weapons and terrorist activity down from Iran and into Lebanon and into Israel.”

US secretary of state Colin Powell also slammed Damascus for its involvement in Hizballah terror in a lengthy telephone conversation with Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres on Wednesday, April 3.

It appears that the United States feels it has given Syrian president Bashar Assad enough slack. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say Assad has been trying for six months to persuade the Americans that he and Syrian intelligence are cracking down on terrorists in his country and Lebanon – especially those linked to al Qaeda. To prove his bona fides, he held up his wholesale purges of the top ranks of Syrian intelligence services and regional bureaucracies.

But the Americans were not fooled; since late February, they have known about his clandestine support for al Qaeda and its Middle East offshoots. While granting them no more than 24 hours in Damascus, Assad provides the peripatetic network operatives unrestricted passage through Syria’s international airport on their travels across the region.

It was also not lost on Washington that Syrian intelligence has been helping Osama bin Laden’s followers gain access to Lebanon to tighten their operational links with Hizbollah.

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