Middle East Bracing for a Hot Spring

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ali Montazeri 

Israel launched its biggest domestic military maneuvers ever on April 6, 2008, which covered all the country from the northernmost to southernmost parts of the Occupied Palestine. The maneuvers, which were unprecedented since 1948, began with the sound of sirens from al-Jalil in the northernmost part of Israel to its southernmost regions. In parallel, the Israeli army started military exercises for protection of security in Israeli cities.

The Israeli army announced that the most important goal of the maneuvers was to get prepared for missiles which are expected to target Israeli cities in case of a possible war. Such exercises have been considered a priority of the Israeli army following the 33-day war with Lebanon.

The Israeli government had announced to UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) that the maneuvers would not cover southern borders of Lebanon and did not pursue any anti-Lebanon or anti-Hezbollah goals. At the same time, UNIFIL reported that the Lebanese Hezbollah and army were standing on full alert to oppose any possible military invasion by the Israeli army. However, UNIFIL had announced that the situation in south Lebanon and along the Green Line was normal.

Meanwhile Michel Sleiman, commander of the Lebanese army and a hopeful for presidency, put the Lebanese army in south and along Litani River on full alert from April 5 up to the end of the military exercises in Israel.

He also announced that in case of any invasion of Lebanon by Israel, the Lebanese army will defend the country along with resistance forces. Also, Nabih Berry, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, discussed the situation and military developments in south country in separate meetings with commander of UNIFIL forces.

At the same time, Sheikh Nabil Qauq, head of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, announced that Hezbollah was not afraid of Israeli maneuvers and was closely watching all military developments and exercises. At the same time, after air strikes in Syria by Israeli fighters on September 6, 2007, the latter had decided to use fewer threats against Syria on the verge of the Arab League meeting in Damascus. However, military maneuvers prompted the Syrian army to get prepared for any possible invasion from Israel. The Israeli army is using the cover of military exercises to get prepared for retaliatory operations by Hezbollah in response to assassination of Imad Mughniyah who was assassinated by Israeli intelligence forces in Damascus. For this reason, Israeli officials maintain that such operations would be launched jointly by Hezbollah and Syria. The Israeli government has sent a message to Syria through interlocutors in Turkey that any retaliatory operations would be ensued by Israel’s crushing reaction against Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Al-Quds al-Arabi, which is printed in London, quoted Syrian security sources as saying that the Syrian army has mobilized part of its reserve forces to oppose any possible attack against its soil or the Lebanese Hezbollah. At the same time, the paper quoted Syrian intelligence and interior ministry sources as saying that security measures along the common borders with Arab countries have been tightened in order to prevent penetration by suspicious elements, especially after assassination of Imad Mughniyah.

At the same time, the Syrian government was expected to release its report on the assassination of Mughniyah by April 11, which would pave the way for Hezbollah to take retaliatory measures against Israel. Escalation of secret confrontations has scared many Israelis because in case of military assault on the Lebanese Hezbollah and Syria, Israel would have to fight in two fronts and no Israeli believes that the Israeli army would emerge victorious in such a conflict. Israeli sources had earlier announced that the Syrian army had put three divisions on full alert and this was telltale of a forthcoming war.

In addition, some sources have reported that Syria is staging maneuvers in preparation for possible military measures by the United States and Israel. The rapidly changing circumstances in the region, military developments in the Mediterranean along Lebanese and Syrian coasts and deployment of US Navy units there, as well as frequent military exercises by Israel have made news analysts to expect a very hot spring for the Middle East.

Frequent visits to the Arab countries and the Persian Gulf by the American security and military officials topped by US secretary of defense, Robert Gates, have dissipated doubts that following the debacle in the 33-day conflict with the Lebanese Hezbollah, the United States and Israel are rearranging their forces in the Middle East. Meanwhile, an Israel newspaper Yediot Aharonot has reported secret meetings between high-ranking American officials and security and military advisors of the Israeli government to discuss Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.

The paper also wrote that head of the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert’s office and his political advisor as well as other security and military officials of Israel have had frequent meetings with the American officials including US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The paper also reported that US vice president, Dick Cheney, has discussed Iran’s nuclear program and a possible preventive attack against Iran’s nuclear sites with Olmert before Iran’s nuclear program reaches the point of no return.

Considering the above developments, the possibility of Middle East experiencing a hot spring is not remote.


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