DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 27, 2013, 6:38 PM (GMT+02:00)
Tehran is looking seriously at a limited Syrian-Lebanese clash of arms with Israel – possibly using Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons as a trigger, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources disclose. Reacting to this news, Israel announced Sunday, Jan. 27, the deployment of Iron Dome anti-missile batteries some days ago to reinforce security in northern Israel and the key Haifa port.
The Iranians see three strategic benefits in embroiling Israel in a limited war with its two allies, Syria and Hizballah:
1. A new outbreak of armed violence would direct world attention away from the Syrian civil war:
2. Israel would be sidetracked from a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities – even a “surgical operation” such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke of over the weekend – by being thrown into multiple battles with Iranian forces in Syria and Lebanon, the Shiite Hizballah and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihadi in the Gaza Strip.
The clash would be programmed to end without winners or losers like Israel’s war against Hizballah in 2006 and its two anti-terror operations the Gaza Strip in 2009 and 2012. But meanwhile Israel would have its hands too full with threats on three borders to pursue military action against a nuclear Iran.
3. Tehran would buy another year’s delay for spinning out its talks with the Six Powers (US, Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany) on their nuclear controversy.
At the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said “Israel faced some of the gravest threats in its existence” and they continue to run riot “in the east, the north and the south.”
Behind his words, was an immediate neighborhood beset in last couple of weeks by al Qaeda’s advance in Mali – now checked by French intervention; the Algerian gas field hostage siege; and the discovery of the strong interface among the various African Al Qaeda branches, including Egypt, in operations, logistics, shared arms suppliers and the pooling of jihadist manpower in the different arenas.
Israel’s prime minister and security chiefs are clearly troubled by the perceived danger of the jihadist networks based in Egyptian Sinai and al Qaeda affiliates fighting in Syria joining up to attack Israel from two directions, the north and the south. This would be in keeping with the multiple, multinational terrorist threats surfacing in Africa.
With regard to Syria’s chemical weapons, after convening an expanded security-diplomatic cabinet meeting last Wednesday, Jan. 23, the day after Israel’s general election, Netanyahu remarked: “We have to look around us… What’s happening in Iran and the lethal weapons in Syria, which is falling apart…”
He left the specifics to Deputy Prime Minister Sylvan Shalom, who said Sunday that if chemical weapons reached Hizballah or Syrian rebel hands, “Such a development would be a crossing of all red lines that would require a different approach, including even preventive operations.”
But even Shalom did not specify where the red lines would be – the handover of Syrian chemical weapons to Hizballah? And against whom would Israel take preventive action – Syria, Hizballah or both? And if they reached Syrian rebel hands, would Israel hit them or go straight for the poison gas arsenals?
Neither Netanyahu nor Shalom responded to the Iranian warning issued Saturday by Ali Akbar Velayati, a close adviser to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that an attack on Syria would be tantamount to an attack on Iran.
This warning was intended to drive home to Israel the message that an offensive against Syria would be treated as a direct confrontation with Iran.
This warning aimed at holding Israel back from a military strike against Syria – Syria, not the Assad regime. This is because an Israeli attack on Syrian rebels armed with chemical weapons would also serve Tehran’s purpose very well: Iranian forces in Syria and Lebanon would use the opportunity to unite the Syrian army and the rebels against the common enemy, Israel, and so start the process of winding down the anti-Assad revolt.
Velayati also avoided mentioning Iran’s key ally in Lebanon, Hizballah. In his warning, he said: “Syria has a very basic and key role in the region for promoting firm policies of resistance [against Israel]… For this reason an attack on Syria would be considered an attack on Iran and Iran’s allies.”
This high-ranking Iranian figure took care not to draw attention to Hizballah because, according to debkafile’s military sources, parts of the Syrian chemical arsenal have already reached Hizballah and are stashed away in fortified bunkers in the terrorist militia’s Beqaa Valey strongholds, along with a lethal array of long- and medium-range ground-to-ground rockets that too were smuggled secretly across the Syrian border.
Some western intelligence sources – especially American – now believe Syrian chemical weapons were secreted to Hizballah during 2012. They were sent over in small packages to avoid attracting US or Israel notice. By now Hizballah is thought to have accumulated a substantial supply of poison weapons.
Our military sources report that Israel’s military planners have long-range logistical plans ready for dealing with new situations such as this one. It has expanded its undercover penetration of Syria and Lebanon and is making rapid progress in erecting a sophisticated 57-kilometer security fence along the Syrian border. This project may take months to complete. But meanwhile, Iran is working on its own plans for jumping the gun before it is finished with a military adventure.