Last minute breaking news: Before even the war situation in Syria was discussed, the main topic raised in the talks held by Iran National Security Council chief Saeed Jalili in Beirut and Damascus was the mutual Iranian-Syrian defense pact clause covering the contingency of a possible Israeli/US attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. That clause commits Syria and Hizballah to join Iran in military coordination for retaliation.
Full details of those talks will be disclosed in next week’s DEBKA-Net-Weekly issue.
Iran’s National Security Council Saeed Jalili landed in Beirut and Damascus Monday and Tuesday, Aug.6-7 with an important message: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has decided to invoke the mutual defense pact the two nations signed four years ago in support of Iran’s pledge to defend the regime of Syrian ruler Bashar Assad.
Before meeting Assad in Damascus, Jalili stopped over in Beirut where he joined Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah for iftar, the daily meal for breaking the Ramadan fast.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources disclose that the pair was joined secretly by Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander the Al Qods Brigades, Iran’s elite arm for overseas terrorist, undercover and espionage operations. Soleimani was recently elevated to command of all Iranian forces in the Middle East in preparation for the outbreak of full-scale war.
His promotion has placed the Al Qods chief level with the head of the US Central Command Gen. James N. Mattis in Washington, except that while their remits covering intelligence and external operations are roughly parallel, Soleimani also enjoys direct access to Khamenei, whereas Gen. Mattis does not have direct access to President Barack Obama. He works with CIA Director David H. Petraeus, who does.
Mutual defense against intervention and insurrection
The mutual defense pact Jalili cited was signed on May 28, 2008 by Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, then Iranian Defense Minister, today Minister of the Interior, and his opposite number then, Lt. Gen. Hassan Ali Turkmani, who died in a bombing attack at Syrian intelligence headquarters in Damascus on July 18.
When he signed the pact for increasing military cooperation, Najjar stated "Iran considers Syria's security its own security, and we consider our defense capabilities to be those of Syria."
The two countries pledged mutual support for each others independence and territorial integrity at the global level, stressed efforts for regional peace and stability and agreed to coordinate efforts for the removal of the “occupation forces” causing “insecurity, instability and tensions in the region.”
When they met Tuesday, the Iranian official informed Assad that Tehran considers all the provisions of that defense pact binding from that very day, August 7, 2012 and would act accordingly.
For instance, the Iran regards its pledge of support for Syrian “independence and territorial integrity at the global level,” as a promise to dispatch Iranian military forces to defend Syrian territory against Western-Arab military intervention and Syrian insurrection alike.
“Occupation forces” are now deemed tantamount to Syrian rebels, Jalili explained.
The defense pact’s third partner: Hizballah
The bilateral treaty was further energized, he reported, by a secret trilateral protocol signed by the Iranian and Syrian presidents and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, when they met for the first time ever on February 26 in Damascus. The details of their military and intelligence cooperation and mutual support in the event of war against any one of the three allies – or a comprehensive Middle East conflict – were agreed and recorded in the secret document.
Jalili was referring to the two sets of Iranian commitments to Bashar Assad and Hassan Nasrallah when he assured Syrian and Iranian correspondents in Damascus Tuesday that Iran would not let its close partnership with the Syrian leadership be shaken by the uprising or external foes.
“Iran will not allow the axis of resistance, of which Syria is an essential part, to be broken in any way,” Syrian television quoted Jalili as saying while sitting opposite Assad.
This guarantee was undoubtedly a hefty shot in the arm for the beleaguered Syrian ruler – maybe even a blood infusion at the most critical moment of his fight to save his regime from a countrywide revolt eating into the urban fringes of Syria’s two main cities, Aleppo and Damascus. The main battle for Aleppo still lies ahead.
(See a separate item updating the balance of strength in Syria.)
Threats for Ankara, blandishments for Cairo
On that busy Tuesday too, Tehran turned its top diplomatic guns full blast on Syria’s foes, using the kidnapping of 48 Iranian pilgrims by the Free Syrian Army on Saturday, August 4, in Damascus, as a lever to drive the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar into deciding whether it was worth their while to keep on backing the Syrian rebels bent on ousting Assad, at the risk of a direct military showdown with the combined strength of the armies of Iran, Syria and Hizballah.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi flew to Ankara shortly after Iranian Chief of General Staff Gen. Hasan Firuzabadi warned that Turkey was next in line for violence if it continued to work for Western interests.
“If these countries [the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar] persist in their current approach to Syria, they should know that Turkey and the others will be next in line,” were Firuzabadi’s exact words.
His words rang forth in the background of Jalili’s pledges in Damascus, further underscoring the solemnity of Tehran’s resolve to uphold its commitments to the Assad regime.
Heading in another direction, Iranian Vice President Hamed Baqai touched down in Cairo, the highest ranking Iranian official to visit Egypt since the two countries severed relations.
Baqai came with an invitation for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to attend the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) summit taking place in Isfahan at the end of this month.
Tehran was using the invitation as a pretext for lobbying Egypt’s president and the Muslim Brotherhood for support of Iran’s commitments to, and policy for, Syria.
The Iranian visitor found the Muslim Brotherhood leaders stridently holding Israel responsible for the coordinated terrorist attack on Egyptian and Israeli targets Sunday. (See separate item.)
Abduction of Iranians as a two-edged sword against America
All this activity pointed to a bid by Tehran to use the Iranian hostage incident in Damascus as a two-edged sword for cutting through Western-Arab support for the Arab revolt, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said the US, as champions of “terrorist groups” and arms smuggler to Syria, must be held responsible for the lives of the 48 hostages.
The Iranians said they were religious pilgrims on a visit to Shiite holy sites in Damascus.
The Free Syrian Army identified them as Revolutionary Guards personnel serving in Syria and spies. Tuesday, the FSA threatened to execute them within the hour unless Assad’s army stopped attacking Aleppo.
But the day passed and nothing happened, excepting an FSA claim that three of the hostages had died in a Syrian army bombardment.
They may have died trying to escape their captors.
In any case, the fate of the hostages is unknown and all that has happened is that Tehran has countered the FSA ultimatum with one of its own for Washington.