Shortly before we closed this issue, US President Barack Obama was closeted with his top national security team Thursday night, Aug. 28, for a special discussion on the war on Al Qaeda’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – IS.
Before them, were updated reports on the crises in Iraq and Syria.
In Iraqi, thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Corps infantrymen, supported by helicopters, main battle tanks and personnel carriers, were described by Iraq Kurdish sources earlier Thursday as moving in and out of Iraq to make sure IS does not try to infiltrate the northern Iranian border.
The sources said the IRGC was joined by the regular Iranian army’s 81st Armored Division, which is experienced in counter-insurgency operations including fighting Iranian Kurds.
Iran’s 81st Division, said the Kurds, were operating near units of the Kurdish Regional Government north of Jawala, a key Iraqi town held by IS fighters. The Iranian Division, armed with both US and Russian-made MBTs was ranged along the border town of Sar E Pole Zahab.
That was Iraq.
The Syrian front saw dramatic action Thursday, when Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which is fighting with Syrian rebels on the Golan, captured 43 UNDOF peacekeepers as hostages at the Quneitra crossing, and besieged the Golan positions manned by another 81 international personnel.
(The UN Disengagement Observation Force was established by Security Council resolution 350 (1974) , to supervise the areas of separation and limitation agreed between Israel and Syria for the disengagement of their forces in the Golan.
These areas were overrun by Syrian soldiers and rebels in their long tussle for control of the Quneitra crossing.
Would Obama join Iran if Assad and Nasrallah were part of the deal?
Nusra’s action raised this lingering back-and-forth struggle to the level of a major international crisis (see Hot Points of Aug. 28), involving the US, the UN, Iran, Syria, Israel and the Philippines, whose observers were taken hostage.
The two fast-moving crises in Iraq and Syria may spur President Obama to hurry up and decide what America should do in the coming hours. He must essentially find quick answers for five pressing issues.
1. To expand US military intervention in Iraq and Syria beyond scattered air strikes over northern Iraq. Two days ago, the president authorized US aerial surveillance flights over Syria.
2. Or join forces with Iran to fight Al Qaeda’s IS in Iraq and Syria. DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that Washington and Tehran pretend to be operating separately against the Islamists. This charade has been exposed.
3. Would the US president accept as part of a pact with Tehran the harnessing of its main allies, Syria and Hizballah, to the fight against the Islamist advance? This might require him to meet face to face with Syrian President Bashar Assad and leader of the Hizballah terrorist group, Hassan Nasrallah.
The White House conference will have been briefed by intelligence agencies that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has taken steps for promoting collaboration with the Obama administration in the war on Al Qaeda.
Khamenei was ready to dump the Al Qods chief as a lure to the US
DEBKA Weekly reveals that he has taken the extreme step of sacking Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Al Qods Brigades, Tehran’s prized wizard for “operations” and intelligence-gathering outside Iran.
In Washington, Soleimani is regarded as a “maverick terrorist.”
In his place, Khamenei first set up a council of three generals to overhaul Iran’s regional policy, but then reconsidered and decided to hand the command to Soleimani’s long-serving deputy, Hossein Hamedani, 44, who is seen as energetic, astute and an able navigator of events – in short a rising star.
In the three years he spent in Damascus, he is credited with Assad’s success in surviving the past year.
4. A large question still to be addressed is: How would a US-Iranian pact for fighting Al Qaeda affect the negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers? In other words, what concessions would the US be ready to offer Tehran for the sake of the common cause?
The question hanging over all the others is this: Would Obama be willing to enter into a military and intelligence partnership with Iran against Al Qaeda, if this led to the emergence of two rival groupings the Middle East?
One would consist of the US, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, Hizballah and possibly Turkey. The other would be led by Saudi Arabia and consist primarily of the UAE, Egypt and Israel.
This week’s events – the UAE-Egyptian bombing attack on a Qatar-sponsored Libyan Islamist militia in Libya (see a separate article) and the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire for the Israeli-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip – indicate that the second grouping is already in action.