On Nov. 3, Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem first threatened the United States with “painful measures” unless Washington fully explained its Oct. 26 commando raid at the Sukkariya farm in northern Syria – and apologized. Since then, Syrian officialdom has held its collective tongue. Why?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington and Beirut sources disclose that Damascus was given pause by a secret missive from the Bush administration to the Syrian government. It contained no explanation or apology, only three points for Bashar Assad‘s consideration:
1. The US incursion was prompted by a broken Syrian promise.
On Sept 27, Muallem promised US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that the passage of terrorists from Syria to Iraq would be blocked henceforth. In fact, this had already happened, he assured her. Days later, US commanders in the border region reported to Baghdad and Washington that terrorist traffic had swelled rather than diminished.
2. Information reaching Washington, checked and rechecked, exposed the highest ranking levels of Syrian intelligence as working directly with the heads of the networks in their project to recruit, arm, train and send terrorists into Iraq. The Syrian known as Abu Ghadiyah, the prime mover, was therefore targeted and eliminated in the disputed US special operations strike.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 370 of Oct, 31: Assad Plans to Rekindle Sunni Terror in Baghdad.)
3. The Washington note ended with a sharp warning: The US will not hesitate to reach into Damascus to hit terrorists on the strength of intelligence as good as the input which led the raiders to the high-value Abu Ghadiyah.
The US warning also scared Iran
Assad was thus put on notice that his capital was not proof against American special operations attacks unless he drops his ties with terrorists. Our counter-terror sources disclose that Syrian intelligence officers and the terror network leaders are wont to hold their clandestine meetings at Syrian military installations in the capital. Those sites would therefore be at risk if the meetings continued.
According to our Iranian sources, Assad updated Tehran on the US Note, thereby providing the Islamic regime with more fodder for its apprehension that the Bush administration might use its last 70 days to strike Revolutionary Guards and al Qods bases inside Iran. After all, those bases meet the same US standard as the Al Sukkariya farm for terrorist facilities operating against Iraq.
The Iranian army and Revolutionary Guards therefore decided to refresh the war alert declared in September.
Tehran is in two minds about whether the US would be satisfied with clobbering the IRGC installations and withdrawing, or go on to bombard Iran’s nuclear installations.
Cross signals from Tehran
Cross-signals from Tehran betoken this dilemma: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad congratulated incoming president Barack Obama on his election victory and said he hoped it would lead to dialogue while, at the same time, Iranian military chiefs blasted the airwaves with bellicose rhetoric.
On Nov. 9, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the IRGC’s naval force said that hardware had been put in place to enable Iran to stand up to a war of attrition – meaning a series of American attacks. He revealed that the Revolutionary Guards were going ahead with a campaign to raise a 20-million strong army to support peak military preparedness.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military experts calculate that mobilization on this scale would treble the number of uniformed combatants currently available to the central government in Tehran.
Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri, a senior official at the headquarters of Iran’s armed forces, added: “We hope that neither the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf nor any other waterway would be blocked, but if the enemy attacks Iran and consequently it (a blockade) becomes necessary the Islamic Republic can easily close the Strait of Hormuz.”