Israel, the US and the EU, with the help of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, have been attempting to undermine and ultimately destroy the alliance between Syria and Iran, which is portrayed as the main threat against Israel, and accused of intervening in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. Israeli-US war plans have been tied to Iran as well as Syria. Seymour Hersh reported in 2006 that the Israeli war against Lebanon was part of a plan ultimately to target Iran. The accusations against Tehran and Damascus aim to justify attacks against Iran and Syria, as the only means to achieve peace between Israel and the Arabs, and to ensure the safety of occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Gaza Strip and Lebanon are being described by Tel Aviv as “Iranian bases” aimed against Israel. The Arab-Israeli conflict is being redefined as an existential conflict between Israel and a few Arab organizations controlled by Tehran. The historical facts are being redrawn to present Tehran as having always been a sponsor of Arab-Israeli conflict, with the Arabs as Iran’s foot soldiers against Tel Aviv.
Although there have been reports of Iranian arms shipments to the Palestinians and Lebanon since the downfall of the Iranian monarchy, these reports had new value given to them after 2001. The first came on January 3, 2002, when the Karine-A was intercepted in the Red Sea by Israeli naval commandos. Sceptics questioned how an undeclared arms shipment could pass through the heavily US- and NATO-patrolled waters of the Red Sea. The Israeli capture made international headlines in 2002, as the Israelis revealed that the ship was headed for the Gaza Strip. A whole set of links was made between the ship and the PLO, PA, and Iran. The Israelis maintained that the ship’s cargo came from an Iranian sea port in the Persian Gulf. The event was used to draw attention to Tehran as a problem, and also to portray Yasser Arafat as not being a genuine partner for peace. Hezbollah and Syria have been armed and supplied by Iran for years, but neither would attack Israel unless attacked, invaded, or occupied.
Iranian arms shipments and military aid have upset Anglo-American and Israeli interests in the Middle East, necessitating more active involvement by America and Britain. After 2005, Israeli claims about Iranian arms supplies to the Palestinians increased. After 2006, reports of Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah became more urgent. Upgrades to the Syrian military were looked on as provocative and inappropriate. In 2007 and 2008, Israel reported that Iran had increased its weapons shipments to the Palestinians. The Jerusalem Post claimed on April 17, 2008 :
In recent months, the IDF has noticed an increase in Iranian-made weaponry in the Gaza Strip, including rockets and mortars. Terror groups in Gaza recently were equipped by Tehran with two different types of mortar shells made in Iran—one, 120mm, with 10km range, and another with 6km range.
The same report claimed that thousands of Iranian mortars were also imported into the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s National Emergency Authority was established in 2007, in the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon and the rocket counter-attacks. The creation of the NEA is an integral part of Israeli war preparations. The new organization carried out a five-day emergency exercise between April 6-11, 2008, the largest in the history of Israel, simulating mass evacuations from “hit zones” and large patient build-ups in crowded Israeli hospitals. In the event of conflict, the Knesset, government offices, power stations, bridges, military facilities, and state buildings were all expected to be attacked, damaged, or destroyed, and all participated in the drills, which included precautions against chemical and biological attacks. Israel maintains that Syria, with the help of Iran, has been upgrading its chemical weaponry. Reports of an accident involving Syrian and Iranian military specialists and engineers have been used to justify precautions against Syrian chemical and biological weapons. Starting on March 18, 2008, Barzilai Hospital held full-scale emergency exercises that simulated direct rocket and missile hits on the hospital in Ashkelon, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, an important Israeli maritime and commercial port and the entrance point for energy supplies from Egyptian natural gas fields in the Mediterranean. In 2007,
Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, the former commander of Israeli military intelligence, expressed his fear that war against Iran could be launched by the US before the home front in Israel was ready. The aim of the Israeli emergency exercises was to prepare Israelis for this. Under the war scenario, the whole of Israel was part of a simulated battle-front, in which missiles and rockets would be launched from the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, and Syria. Some four or five hundred projectiles were expected to hit Israel daily. A key aspect was that Iranian involvement was excluded. War preparations and scenarios had two dimensions, one for the Israeli public and one for officials, withheld from the Israeli public. The rationale was to hide the real scope and magnitude of a regional war on Israel, and to prevent thought of what would happen in a regional war involving both Syria and Iran. Days later, the Israeli military tested an imitation Iranian ballistic missile, away from the public. Iran is clearly a real and major part of Tel Aviv’s war preparations.
It should be noted that calculated and predetermined Israeli responses include the use of a nuclear option against Iran and Syria. The war scenario simulated foresaw massive damage and casualties through missile and rocket attacks by “Arab enemies,” but excluded the Iranian arsenal. This accounts for the low number of missile and rocket hits. Strikes in realistic numbers were missing on the initial day of the war scenario. Hezbollah has over 13,000 rockets, according to Israel, and Hezbollah’s arsenal is nothing compared to Syria’s. The hypothetical war lasted about a week. Helmi Musa in As-Safir pointed out that
This Israeli exercise has signalled, for the first time, who starts and who retaliates. If the Arabs started it, there would be an intensive rocket strike on the first day with thousands of rockets launched, not the few hundred that Israeli strategists predict.
The scenario being simulated was one where the “Arab enemies” were reacting to an Israeli attack. If the Arab players attacked Israel first, the number of strikes on Israel would have been largest on the initial day.
Syria has said repeatedly since 2007 that it has made a strategic decision to pursue peace with Israel, but is also prepared to protect itself if attacked. At the start of April 2008, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fisal Al-Mekdad told Al-Thawra that Israeli war preparations were forcing Syrian strategists to draw their own contingency plans, saying,
If Syria is the target of all of this, know that we are also developing our capabilities and our plans to face the Israelis.
The Syrians announced two days after the start of the Israeli exercises that Damascus planned to hold national emergency exercises. Al-Thawra reported that nationwide exercises were announced at a cabinet meeting. Military, police, security and civil institutions were all part of “general preparations for natural disasters and crises” by the Syrian government. These emergency preparations were part of Syria’s preparation against Israeli attack, either direct or as an extension of an Israeli war on Lebanon. In 2006, Israel created a new series of military units specifically for war with Syria, amongst them the Kfir infantry brigade, the largest military unit in Israel. Since the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon, the Israeli military has been simulating an attack on Syria. Major-General Eyal Ben-Reuven declared in 2007 that Israel is
preparing itself for an all-out war. The IDF’s mission will be very focused and will have to neutralize as quickly as possible the strategic areas threatening Israel’s soft underbelly, thus preventing Syria reaching its coveted goals. An extensive ground operation will be needed.
This explains the Israeli military exercises in the Golan Heights. Israel and the US have held meetings to formulate a course of military actions to be taken in Lebanon and against both Syria and Iran. A report in Al-Watan indicated that the Israeli emergency exercises were observed by a US general and involved operations on the Syrian border. Ehud Barak, Israeli defence minister, on April 2, 2008 renewed Israeli threats of war against Hezbollah, Lebanon, and Syria. Israeli sources say the Syrians believe that Israel will launch another military invasion of Lebanon, on the pretext of addressing Hezbollah in a pre-emptive war. Since 2006, Tel Aviv has been calling Hezbollah “the growing threat in Lebanon” or “the growing threat in the Northern Front.” Israel says that Syria started reinforcing its military presence on the Lebanese-Syrian border before April, 2008, expecting the Beirut-Damascus Highway to be targeted to prevent logistical support from reaching Hezbollah and Lebanon, and deployed three armoured divisions, nine divisions of mechanized infantry, and special forces units opposite the Bekaa Valley, and also that Palestinian fighters were massing in the Bekaa Valley, in coordination with Syria and Hezbollah. In the days following, Damascus denied that Syrian troops were massing on the Lebanese-Syrian border. Mohammed Habash, who is the chairman of the Syrian Parliament’s Syrian-Iranian Committee, told Al-Arabiya
Syria is ready to defend itself, but is not striving for war—it is the Israeli side that is taking steps to bring about an escalation.
There was also an increase in Israeli military air traffic near the Syrian and Lebanese borders. The Israeli military acknowledged that additional Israeli warplanes were displaced to Israel’s northern borders.
On April 8, 2008, Bernard Kouchner, France’s top diplomat and head of the French Foreign Ministry, stated that Hezbollah was no longer “a domestic issue for Lebanon,” and that the Hezbollah’s weapons were a cause for serious international concern. A few days later, Fouad Siniora announced that the time for internal dialogue was over in Lebanon, while Nabih Berri was in Damascus trying to get Arab League support for new intra-Lebanese political dialogue. The third expanded ministerial conference of the neighbouring countries of Iraq, held in Kuwait on April 22, 2008, also discussed Lebanon. The US, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain, and several other Arab states all sought to present Hezbollah as an international concern. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a report claiming that Hezbollah was an international problem. All these events were aimed at internationalizing Hezbollah as a threat, and justifying US and NATO intervention in Lebanon. These efforts entered a new phase in Lebanon too. The Hariri-led March 14 Alliance declared that it would take legal action against Hezbollah, because of a camera network monitoring Lebanon’s main airport and a telecomms network setup by the group. All this was done in coordination of the March 14 Alliance with US and Saudi Arabian diplomats in Beirut.
The Israel-Syrian border is heavily fortified, unlike the Lebanese-Syrian border. The Israeli military pushed to get to the banks of the Litani in 2006. A quick Israeli land assault against Damascus, close to the Lebanese-Syrian border, would have to go through Lebanon, and not through the Golan Heights or the Israeli frontier with Syria. Any invasion of Syria through the Israeli-Syrian border would be secondary in nature. Lebanon is essential to Israeli war plans against Syria. To invade Lebanon a pretext is needed, and Hezbollah is that pretext. After the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the US Navy deployed a contingent of warships to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Lebanese coast on February 28, 2008. This elevated tensions in Beirut and the entire country. The US move was made without the permission of Lebanon, and the Lebanese government was forced to denounce it. The majority of Lebanese citizens were outraged by the US deployment in their waters. The Lebanese government and the March 14 Alliance denied any ties or advance knowledge of the US naval deployment.
There were allegations of US conspiracy against the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon’s largest Christian political party and a member of the Lebanese National Opposition. General Michel Aoun, the former commander of the Lebanese military and the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, and other Christian Lebanese leaders opposed to the interests of the US, Israel, and France in Lebanon, have been systematically targeted. On August 2, 2007 the White House passed an executive order to freeze the financial assets of any individual or group deemed to oppose Fouad Siniora and the March 14 Alliance. The mass protests by Lebanese citizens against the March 14 Alliance, which were peaceful acts of political and democratic expression, were called “undemocratic” and “destabilizing” by Bush and the White House. Political opposition to the Lebanese government was being targeted in the name of democracy and governance.
Since 2006, the Free Patriotic Movement and several other Christian political parties have been staunch political allies of Hezbollah, allied to several other political parties that represent Lebanon’s Druze, ethnic Armenian Christian, and Sunni Muslim communities. Several key political figures in the March 14 Alliance, such as Walid Jumblatt and Samir Geagea, have had regular meetings with US, Saudi, French, and Israeli officials, including Ehud Barak, where tactics against Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, Syria, and Iran have been discussed. Along with the Hariri family, these Lebanese figures are being used to open an internal front against Hezbollah and its political allies in Lebanon. They have also slowly started being armed by the US, Saudi Arabia, and others. Pentagon weapons shipments that were intended for use in Anglo-American occupied Iraq were have been covertly making their way into the hands of these Lebanese factions. The US has also been cooperating with them on preparations at the Lebanese-Syrian border, and on efforts to create parallel chains of command in the Lebanese military.
Days before the Israeli emergency exercise, the Siniora government ordered the Lebanese military to be on full alert for “Israeli violations.” In Lebanon the March 14 Alliance and the Lebanese National Opposition in concurrence comprehended the possibility of conflict. Both the Lebanese government and Hezbollah made it clear that they were watching Israeli forces, and were prepared for the serious possibility of another conflict between Lebanon and Israel. The US State Department official responsible for American relations with Lebanon, David Welch, promised a “hot summer” in Lebanon if the Lebanese National Opposition did not capitulate. Hezbollah warned Israel that, if it launched another war against Lebanon, Hezbollah would carry the war to Israel. In Israel, this information was claimed to mean that Israeli Arabs would act as fifth columnists for Iran and Lebanon. A senior Hezbollah official was quoted as saying
In the next war, we will run the battle, for the first time since 1948, inside Palestine. They will be more surprised than ever before, as they will see our fighters fighting them not only in Lebanon, as they did until now, but also inside their homes and settlements. The next war, if it breaks out, will be an offensive war on our part. This doesn’t mean we will initiate the war, but that every war they launch in the future will become what the organized armies in the world refer to as a counter-offensive on our part. They will see our fighters behind their lines, not just in front of them.
The Independent reported that Hezbollah has also been sending trainees to Iran
It is an open secret south of the Litani that thousands of young men have been leaving their villages for military training in Iran. Up to 300 men are taken to Beirut en route to Tehran each month and the operation has been running since November of 2006 ; in all, as many as 4,500 Hezbollah members have been sent for three-month sessions of live-fire ammunition and rocket exercises to create a nucleus of Iranian-trained guerrillas for the next Israeli attack against Lebanon.
Another British source, the Observer, reported
An Observer investigation by Mitchell Prothero has discovered that Hezbollah is quietly but steadily replacing its dead, and redoubling its recruitment efforts, in anticipation of a new and even more brutal conflict. Hezbollah has embarked on a major expansion of its fighting capability, and is now sending hundreds if not thousands of young men to intensive training camps in Lebanon, Syria and Iran, to ready itself for war with Israel. ‘It’s not a matter of if,’ says one member of Hezbollah, ‘It’s a matter of when Sayed Hassan Nasrallah commands us.’
The number of Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace also increased, starting in March, 2008. In April, the Lebanese military acknowledged that Israeli warplanes had been performing military reconnaissance missions over Lebanon, and that these missions were linked to Israeli war preparations. The Independent went on to claim that
For months, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah has been warning Israel that his organisation has a ‘surprise’ new weapon in its armoury, and there are few in Lebanon who do not suspect that this is a new Iranian-developed ground-to-air missile—rockets which may at last challenge Israel’s air supremacy over Lebanon.
Despite the Israeli-Syrian peace talks, the two sides are involved in war preparations. Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli diplomat and politician, describes this evolving situation as follows:
The message I received in Washington about two weeks ago, at the start of April, 2008, was clear and included a trace of displeasure : Why do you have people, and ministers in particular, continuing to amuse themselves with the baseless notion that conditions for peace between Israel and Syria have been created?
In the eyes of those controlling both the US and the Israeli governments, the terms of a so-called peace must be dictated by the victors, those with the upper hand. According to the Fox News network, the Bush administration signed a secret directive in March, 2008, to target Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and those in Lebanon that are opposed to America’s agenda of establishing a new regional order. All major players in the Levant have been continuously talking about war. Tel Aviv’s leaders have insisted that they are not seeking war with Syria. Tel Aviv has maintained that it wants peace with Syria, even on the eve of the largest emergency exercise in the history of Israel, which included open war preparations by the Israeli military on the Syrian border. These exercises included simulations of an Israeli invasion of Syria. The Israeli government insisted that Israel was not making war preparations against Syria, despite the fact that the scenarios, played out in Israel for over a year, identified Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories as the enemies. Moreover, Israeli officials have continuously threatened to retaliate with a heavy hand for any attempts against Israel.
Al-Watan has revealed that preparations are being made by Syria against Israeli attacks, expected to be launched in the summer months of 2008, in close coordination with US military planners, just as they were against Lebanon in 2006. May and June, 2008, are expected to be possible windows of time for an Israeli offensive against Syria. On the other hand, Al-Watan reported on April 3, 2008 that the Israeli government would in 2009 distribute gas masks to its citizens, in anticipation of attacks using chemical and biological weapons. This report could be an indication that there will be no war in 2008. Whatever the scenario, the US and Israel are making joint preparations and intend to confront the same players, including Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, the top US civilian official in Iraq, have told the US Senate that Syria and Iran are using a “Lebanization strategy” in Iraq. A “Lebanization strategy,” according to Ambassador Crocker, is a political strategy where local forces are committed to alignments with Syria and Iran. This is being painted as the reason behind Anglo-American failure in Iraq. Hezbollah and Iran, along with Syria, are also being blamed for US and Coalition deaths in Iraq. Since 2003, Israel and the US have been looking for ways to force Syria into surrendering, or alternatively, ways to wage an isolated war against Damascus without involving Tehran. The window of time for an isolated war against Syria, apart from one with Iran, appears to have vanished, and a war against Syria seems to be planned alongside the conflict with Iran. Both Russia and Iran have also been arming Syria and cooperating together. The march to war in the Levant is linked to the stride towards conflict with Iran. Syria has long been a target of Israel and America. At this point it is fitting to refer back to an incisive British report from 2006 by the Sunday Times
‘The challenge from Iran and Syria is now top of the Israeli defence agenda, higher than the Palestinian one,’ said an Israeli defence source. Shortly before the war in Lebanon Major-General Eliezer Shkedi, the commander of the air force, was placed in charge of the ‘Iranian front’, a new position in the Israeli Defence Forces. His job will be to command any future strikes on Iran and Syria.
This account from the Sunday Times indicates that the war against Lebanon in 2006 was part of a broader war agenda in the Middle East. Moreover, an Israeli command post against Iran was established prior to the 2006 war. The article also illustrates the intricate link between a war against Iran and war plans against Lebanon and Syria. Further details are also given in regards to Israeli preparations for Syria in 2006:
‘In the past we prepared for a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities,’ said one insider, ‘but Iran’s growing confidence after the war in Lebanon means we have to prepare for a full-scale war, in which Syria will be an important player.’ A new infantry brigade has been formed named Kfir (lion cub), which will be the largest in the Israeli army and responsible for an invasion of Syria. ‘It is a partial solution for the challenge of the Syrian commando brigades, which are considered better trained and equipped than Hezbollah’s militia,’ a military source said.
Eric Margolis has also linked war preparations against Lebanon and Syria to a broader war scenario directed against Iran
Israel, backed by the White House, certainly has been using the carrot of a return of the Golan to entice Syria away from Iran. But there is also a big stick : ever stronger threats of a US-Israeli attack on Syria. Israel’s September 2007 attack on Syria was a clear warning. Cheney and fellow militarists are pushing hard for attacks on Syria, Lebanon and Iran before President George W. Bush leaves office. Neocons have flocked to Senator John McCain’s banner—in spite of Hillary Clinton’s vow to ‘obliterate’ Iran if it attacked Israel with nuclear weapons. They believe US attacks on Arab states and/or Iran would prove decisive in winning the presidency for McCain this November. A US attack on Syria could well be the first step of a broader air war against Lebanon and Iran.
In a regional war scenario, Israel will deal mainly with Lebanon and Syria, while the US and Britain will deal mainly with Iran. The help of Turkey and NATO will definitely be needed by Israel, America, and Britain in such a war. Ankara and NATO will also be involved on both fronts. NATO has already built a presence on the western borders of Syria and Lebanon, and in Afghanistan with forward positions on the eastern borders of Iran. Israeli officials such as Shaul Mofaz have also stated, in no uncertain terms, that if they launch an attack on Iran, the US and NATO will come to the aid of Tel Aviv. Only time will tell what happens. In the words of Robert Fisk,
Whether this frightening conflict takes place will depend on President Bush’s behaviour. If America—or its proxy, Israel—bombs Iran, the response is likely to be swift …