The ingathering of Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah military assets in one place for the Syrian conflict brought the three allied armies together in unique proximity for confronting the target of their collective odium – Israel.
This opportunity was seized on by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when he issued his ukase for a step-by-step war of attrition to be launched against the Jewish state from the Golan and South Lebanon.
Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah jumped on the opportunity. In no time, all three had coordinated their opening moves.
This dangerous offshoot of the Syrian war has been consistently brushed aside by Washington as inconsequential. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was urged to keep Israeli military responses low key. Most of all, he must not go for another major attack on Syria, like the May 5 air strike against military facilities on Mt. Qassioun.
To apply the brakes directly, President Barack Obama sent John Brennan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, on a quick trip to Israel Thursday, May 16 to intercede with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and key IDF officials, and make sure they held their fire against the hitherto minor Syrian shooting attacks.
He argued that a cutting Israeli response would only ignite a major conflagration on the Israel-Syria border which no one needs. It would only serve the interests of Ayatollah Khamenei for promoting his candidates in the June 14 presidential election, and give Assad extra cards to play when his delegates attended the international conference for a political resolution of the Syrian conflict, which Washington and Moscow are struggling to get off of the ground in early June.
It turned out that the Brennan mission was just the chance Khamenei and Assad needed.
Minor Syrian attacks probe Israel’s readiness to fight back
On May 15, the day before the CIA director arrived in Israel, they kicked off the Middle East conflict to come by shelling an Israeli military post on Mt. Hermon.
Israel did not shoot back. And so the follow-up came five days later on May 20 with gunfire on an IDF patrol moving along the Golan border fence. The Syrian outpost kept shooting until the third round hit and damaged an IDF jeep. Damascus claimed the jeep was destroyed after crossing the border.
This time, Israeli artillery did respond with a Tamuz precision rocket which wiped out the Syrian position.
The answer came a few hours later in unexpected form.
Ibrahim al-Amin, editor of the Hizballah Beirut publication Al Akhbar and personal mouthpiece of Assad and Nasrallah, wrote the following: “The rope is taut. It is taut to the limit. Anyone at either end need only flex a finger and it will break, and the great confrontation will take place. This is neither a threat, nor an exaggeration or interpretation. It is not circling and maneuvering. This is the situation on the enemy's northern front now. Now means today; it means this hour.”
Obeying instructions from his masters in Damascus and Beirut, the editor went on to say: “In summary, Israel read – and was mistaken once more – that the opposite axis is weak and has lost the initiative. So it decided to play chess, but on a football field. It could serve the enemy to seek the virtual world, to go to Facebook and celebrate.
“But the situation in the real world, on the ground, and as Israel sees with its many eyes, indicates something different. The real equation is not that Israel's hands are free, but that the other side is ready, at any moment, to turn the situation upside down."
Reversing Mid East wheel, Iran attacks Israel
The Al Akhbar editor’s message was self-evident: The Mideast wheel has reversed direction: Instead of attacking Iran, Israel is under attack itself by Iran joined by its Syrian and Hizballah allies. In the Mideast of 2013, you don't send Notes or hold conferences or even formally declare war. You get your meaning across through an editorial lackey.
Publicly, Israeli officials continued to act as though the peril is still over the horizon, notwithstanding frequent disclosures by debkafile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly that it was already afoot.
On Tuesday, May 23, IDF chief, Gen. Gantz, warned Assad that bringing terror to the Golan would have consequences. He was still using the future tense although the “terror” was already at hand..
But away from the public eye, Israel’s policy-makers and strategists were treating the situation more realistically.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that Netanyahu ordered the cancellation for high-ranking IDF officers of all vacations and trips abroad for supplemental training.
He has set up a war room in the prime minister’s office Jerusalem for daily meetings attended by senior ministers, including Defense Minister Ya'alon, and Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, along with top military officers. They receive intelligence updates on Iran, Syria and Lebanon before reviewing Israel’s next options.
The IDF projects a war escalating in five stages
A military assessment is before Israel’s highest decision-making forum, which predicts the war offensive unfolding in five escalating stages:
1. The rash of minor attacks already in progress on the Golan should be viewed as the opening, probing shots of the war to come.
2. The small arms and mortar fire the Syrian army has directed hitherto against Israeli military targets will rise in tempo and make way for rockets, especially anti-tank missiles, for inflicting the first casualties and substantial damage.
3. The assaults by Syrian troops and terrorist proxies, including missile fire, will spread next to civilian populations - not just on the Golan, but in Upper Galilee.
4. Syria and Hizballah will use the advanced air defense missiles Russia is sending Syria to try and down Israeli Air Force planes flying over Syria and Lebanon.
Tuesday, May 21, a senior Syrian minister, Halef al-Muftah, said Syria was ready to confront Israel. He told the Hizballah-owned Al Manar TV station: "We have strategic weapons. The Syrian Army is ready to answer any threat, the rules have changed,"
5. The firing across the Syrian-Israeli border will expand and start coming from Lebanon.
Clearly, the Obama administration’s concession of a breathing space for the Iranian presidential election is being freely abused by the Iranian and Syrian rulers to turn the Middle East on its head, starting with a round of aggression against Israel.
Khamenei counts his profits from bolstering Assad
Israeli intelligence believes Ayatollah Khamenei has calculated that his timeline for nuclear procrastination games with the West will not outlast 2014, after which Iran must prepare to face the music of military punishment from Israel and possibly the United States.
Having managed with Moscow’s aid to partially stabilize the Assad regime in Damascus, curtail the foreseeable prospects of a Syrian rebel recovery and made sure no helping hand to save them is forthcoming from the US or Arab friends, Tehran is convinced that launching a war of attrition on the Jewish state will further enhance the statures of Assad and Nasrallah.
The Syrian ruler will assume the mantle of the only Arab leader daring to take Israel on; Nasrallah, hailed as the key Shiite figure who stemmed the rise of American influence in the region on the backs of the Moslem Brotherhood, and who curtailed the increasingly unpopular “Arab revolt”
Two years ago, Khamenei could never have dreamt that Iran’s hand would hold the levers of two major conflicts challenging Israel, with the power to calibrate the level of violence according to Iranian interests, while at the same time witnessing the declining capacity of Israel’s armed forces, especially its air force.
In the Iranian ruler’s view, this harvest is the fruit of Iran’s massive military and financial investment - plus the bulk of Hizballah’s fighting strength - in the campaign for Bashar Assad’s survival.
It also puts the Islamic Republic in a position of vantage for facing its enemies when the major accounting comes.