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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

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Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Intelligence arrow Latest Intel Lebanon - Region - April 10, 2008
Latest Intel Lebanon - Region - April 10, 2008 PDF Print E-mail
Written by STRATFOR, DebkaFile   
Thursday, 10 April 2008

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Lebanon: Witness In Al-Hariri Killing Hiding In Europe
April 10, 2008 | 1046 GMT

Syrian national Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq, a key witness in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, has told Kuwait daily Al-Siyassah he is hiding in Europe because he fears for his life. The paper reported April 10 that Siddiq called its offices a day earlier to say he is well, but in hiding. He had been living in France under house arrest until he disappeared March 13.

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Syria: Delay of Assassination Report Questionable
Stratfor Today » April 9, 2008 | 0124 GMT

Summary
Syrian motives for postponing the release of an investigative report into the assassination of Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah may prove much more complicated than the country’s superficial claims that Israeli military maneuvers prompted the delay.

Analysis
Syria was expected to publish an investigative report on the killing of Hezbollah chief Imad Mughniyah on April 8, but then postponed “due to tension sparked by Israel’s military moves.”

The large-scale civil defense exercises that Israel is conducting have long been publicized and should not have come as a surprise to the Syrians, making the Syrian excuse for delaying the publication of the report all the more suspicious. Though it has been well assumed that the Israeli Mossad was behind the operation, the region has been rife with rumors that the Syrians were somehow complicit in the attack. Syria, under pressure to shore up its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah after the killing, would be eager to point the blame at someone else, especially after hurling accusations against an unnamed Arab state. So, why the delay in releasing the report?

The answer to that question could be connected to a report published by Fars News Agency, an Iranian media outlet, April 8 on its Farsi-language site. The report claimed that a high-ranking defense official in the Saudi Embassy in Damascus had been arrested by Syrian security forces in connection with the Mughniyah assassination. The Saudi official, according to the unnamed Iranian source in the report, was connected to a Syrian woman whose name was used to register the two explosives-packed cars used to kill Mughniyah.

Syria can use this alleged Saudi connection to extract concessions from Riyadh on Lebanon, where Syria has a need to consolidate its influence but is facing stiff resistance from the Saudi-backed government in Beirut. Syria also needs to be extremely cautious in how it handles this investigative report, given that Israel has clearly stated that it will hold Damascus responsible for Hezbollah’s retaliatory attack for the Mughniyah assassination. An official report from Syria on the perpetrators of the Mughniyah attack also would paint Hezbollah in a corner and apply more pressure on the group to act at a time when it is attempting to play it safe and carefully obfuscate its reprisal attack. By delaying the release of the report, both Syria and Hezbollah can buy some much needed time.

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Iran: New Enrichment Plant Planned
April 9, 2008 | 1055 GMT
Iran will build a uranium processing plant in the city of Ardakan in Yazd province by March 2009, Hossein Fagihian, deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said April 9, RIA Novosti reported. The plant, Iran’s second, will meet Iran’s need for uranium concentrate known as yellow cake, which is an intermediate step in the processing of uranium.

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Israel: Tackling Hamas Before Hezbollah
Stratfor Today » April 9, 2008 | 2154 GMT

Israel is planning to invade the Gaza Strip, Israeli sources told Stratfor on April 9. No details were given regarding the timing of such an operation. Meanwhile, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has convened an emergency meeting to discuss Israel’s security situation.

An Israel Defense Forces offensive against Gaza — or even the West Bank — in itself is not significant, because such incursions happen relatively frequently. In fact, the Hamas-Fatah split and Hamas control of Gaza have increased the possibility the Israelis will re-enter the Gaza Strip, which they had withdrawn from in 2005, in a bid to neutralize the Islamist militant threat in the Palestinian territory. The news of an invasion of Gaza, however, comes as the chances of another conflict between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite Islamist movement Hezbollah are on the rise.

After its inability to defeat Hezbollah militarily in their 2006 conflict, Israel has a dire need to demonstrate that inconclusive outcome was a fluke. Such a move entails redefining Israel’s immediate environment, which includes the Palestinian territories. The pending assault against Hezbollah requires considerable planning and preparation, and thus may not happen for several months. Going into Gaza, by contrast, is comparatively much simpler. And realities on the ground in Gaza are forcing the Israeli hand.

Hamas has threatened to breach Gaza’s borders in an attempt to break the blockade of the territory. And Palestinian Islamic Jihad along with other groups took responsibility for an attack in southern Israel at a fuel depot close to the Karni border terminal, near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, killing two Israeli civilians. Several Israeli officials said they held Hamas responsible for the attack, and that the Palestinian Islamist movement would pay the price for the attack.

These events will provide Israel the opportunity to deal with Hamas before it moves on to settling scores with Hezbollah.

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Lebanon: Hezbollah's Outsourcing Strategy
Stratfor Today » April 8, 2008 | 2328 GMT

Summary
Hezbollah is looking to align with Sunni and jihadist groups to retaliate against Israel for February’s assassination of Lebanese Shiite leader Imad Mugniyah. But even if Hezbollah and its two patrons — Iran and Syria — engineer such an attack against Israeli interests, the strategy is unlikely to stave off an Israeli military assault on Lebanon.

Analysis
Hezbollah is exploring whether to “outsource” to Sunni Islamist militants an attack against Israeli interests in retaliation for the assassination of one of its leaders in February, Stratfor has learned from two Middle East sources.

Hezbollah, the militant Shiite Islamist group based in Lebanon, is supported by its patrons Iran and Syria — countries that oppose Israeli interests. Hezbollah’s operations chief Imad Mugniyah was killed in Syria in February in a car-bomb explosion.

In supporting a retaliatory attack against Israeli and Jewish interests, Hezbollah obviously seeks to make it appear that a jihadist-type movement is behind any attack. This would allow Hezbollah to try and reduce the likelihood that Israel would respond with a massive military campaign in Lebanon that could cripple Hezbollah.

This latest plan comes in the wake of serious disagreements within Hezbollah’s leadership about how to respond to the assassination of Mugniyah, whom Hezbollah leaders believe was killed by Israeli intelligence officials. Syrian authorities have yet to officially announce any arrests in the assassination.

Hezbollah, Syria and Iran all have close ties to Sunni Islamist militant elements throughout the Middle East. Each also has not allowed ideological and sectarian differences to stand in the way of developing militant allies. Although Hezbollah, Syria and Iran may not necessarily agree with the worldviews of these allies, alliances can nonetheless serve their cause in some tactical ways. More specifically, Iran has connections to Sunni militant groups across the Middle East. Syria also has influence with Iraqi and Lebanese groups of similar persuasion. Finally, Hezbollah has cultivated links with elements that also would normally be rivals in the Sunni world.

The increasingly tense situation in the Palestinian territories — coupled with the recent warning from deputy al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri that jihadists would strike against Israel — could also help mask such an operation.

Using a Sunni group to hit an Israeli/Jewish target could provide the Shiite militant group a way to obfuscate its involvement in avenging its leader’s assassination. Hezbollah hopes that Israel may not link such an attack back to the trio because the attack would appear to be from Sunni actors and hence difficult to connect to Hezbollah.

The Sunni militant connections of Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah, however, have their limits. None have operational cooperation with al Qaeda or any of its noteworthy affiliates. Instead, they have ties to elements on the periphery of the Sunni Islamist militant constellation.

Though this strategy is quite plausible, it is unlikely to succeed against the more powerful Israeli forces, which already are gearing up for a possible conflict. And, while it may provide some cover, the strategy also undermines the public relations value of any reprisal attack. In other words, Hezbollah’s choice comes down to one between its own security and directly fighting back. Hezbollah and its allies have to choose one or the other.

Even with all the jockeying behind the scenes, the maneuvering may turn out to be an exercise in futility. That is because Israel wants to reverse the outcome of the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. No matter whether there are retaliatory strikes, Israel may be stepping up to try to inflict a crippling blow against the Lebanese Shiite movement.

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A Mystery in the Middle East
April 8, 2008 | 1807 GMT
By George Friedman

The Arab-Israeli region of the Middle East is filled with rumors of war. That is about as unusual as the rising of the sun, so normally it would not be worth mentioning. But like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day, such rumors occasionally will be true. In this case, we don’t know that they are true, and certainly it’s not the rumors that are driving us. But other things — minor and readily explicable individually — have drawn our attention to the possibility that something is happening.

The first thing that drew our attention was a minor, routine matter. Back in February, the United States started purchasing oil for its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The SPR is a reserve of crude oil stored in underground salt domes. Back in February, it stood at 96.2 percent of capacity, which is pretty full as far as we are concerned. But the U.S. Department of Energy decided to increase its capacity. This move came in spite of record-high oil prices and the fact that the purchase would not help matters. It also came despite potential political fallout, since during times like these there is generally pressure to release reserves. Part of the step could have been the bureaucracy cranking away, and part of it could have been the feeling that the step didn’t make much difference. But part of it could have been based on real fears of a disruption in oil supplies. By itself, the move meant nothing. But it did cause us to become thoughtful.

Also in February, someone assassinated Imad Mughniyah, a leader of Hezbollah, in a car bomb explosion in Syria. It was assumed the Israelis had killed him, although there were some suspicions the Syrians might have had him killed for their own arcane reasons. In any case, Hezbollah publicly claimed the Israelis killed Mughniyah, and therefore it was expected the militant Shiite group would take revenge. In the past, Hezbollah responded not by attacking Israel but by attacking Jewish targets elsewhere, as in the Buenos Aires attacks of 1992 and 1994.

In March, the United States decided to dispatch the USS Cole, then under Sixth Fleet command, to Lebanese coastal waters. Washington later replaced it with two escorts from the Nassau (LHA-4) Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), reportedly maintaining a minor naval presence in the area. (Most of the ESG, on a regularly scheduled deployment, is no more than a few days sail from the coast, as it remains in the Mediterranean Sea.) The reason given for the American naval presence was to serve as a warning to the Syrians not to involve themselves in Lebanese affairs. The exact mission of the naval presence off the Levantine coast — and the exact deterrent function it served — was not clear, but there they were. The Sixth Fleet has gone out of its way to park and maintain U.S. warships off the Lebanese coast.

Hezbollah leaders being killed by the Israelis and the presence of American ships off the shores of Mediterranean countries are not news in and of themselves. These things happen. The killing of Mughniyah is notable only to point out that as much as Israel might have wanted him dead, the Israelis knew this fight would escalate. But anyone would have known this. So all we know is that whoever killed Mughniyah wanted to trigger a conflict. The U.S. naval presence off the Levantine coast is notable in that Washington, rather busy with matters elsewhere, found the bandwidth to get involved here as well.

With the situation becoming tense, the Israelis announced in March that they would carry out an exercise in April called Turning Point 2. Once again, an Israeli military exercise is hardly interesting news. But the Syrians apparently got quite interested. After the announcement, the Syrians deployed three divisions — two armored, one mechanized — to the Lebanese-Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley, the western part of which is Hezbollah’s stronghold. The Syrians didn’t appear to be aggressive. Rather, they deployed these forces in a defensive posture, in a way walling off their part of the valley.

The Syrians are well aware that in the event of a conventional war with Israel, they would experience a short but exciting life, as they say. They thus are hardly going to attack Israel. The deployment therefore seemed intended to keep the Israelis on the Lebanese side of the border — on the apparent assumption the Israelis were going into the Bekaa Valley. Despite Israeli and Syrian denials of the Syrian troop buildup along the border, Stratfor sources maintain that the buildup in fact happened. Normally, Israel would be jumping at the chance to trumpet Syrian aggression in response to these troop movements, but, instead, the Israelis downplayed the buildup.

When the Israelis kicked off Turning Point 2, which we regard as a pretty interesting name, it turned out to be the largest exercise in Israeli history. It involved the entire country, and was designed to test civil defenses and the ability of the national command authority to continue to function in the event of an attack with unconventional weapons — chemical and nuclear, we would assume. This was a costly exercise. It also involved calling up reserves, some of them for the exercise, and, by some reports, others for deployment to the north against Syria. Israel does not call up reserves casually. Reserve call-ups are expensive and disrupt the civilian economy. These appear small, but in the environment of Turning Point 2, it would not be difficult to mobilize larger forces without being noticed.

The Syrians already were deeply concerned by the Israeli exercise. Eventually, the Lebanese government got worried, too, and started to evacuate some civilians from the South. Hezbollah, which still hadn’t retaliated for the Mughniyah assassination, also claimed the Israelis were about to attack it, and reportedly went on alert and mobilized its forces. The Americans, who normally issue warnings and cautions to everyone, said nothing to try to calm the situation. They just sat offshore on their ships.

It is noteworthy that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak canceled a scheduled visit to Germany this week. The cancellation came immediately after the reports of the Syrian military redeployment were released. Obviously, Barak needed to be in Israel for Turning Point 2, but then he had known about the exercise for at least a month. Why cancel at the last minute? While we are discussing diplomacy, we note that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Oman — a country with close relations with Iran — and then was followed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. By itself not interesting, but why the high-level interest in Oman at this point?

Now let’s swing back to September 2007, when the Israelis bombed something in Syria near the Turkish border. As we discussed at the time, for some reason the Israelis refused to say what they had attacked. It made no sense for them not to trumpet what they carefully leaked — namely, that they had attacked a nuclear facility. Proving that Syria had a secret nuclear program would have been a public relations coup for Israel. Nevertheless, no public charges were leveled. And the Syrians remained awfully calm about the bombing.

Rumors now are swirling that the Israelis are about to reveal publicly that they in fact bombed a nuclear reactor provided to Syria by North Korea. But this news isn’t all that big. Also rumored is that the Israelis will claim Iranian complicity in building the reactor. And one Israeli TV station reported April 8 that Israel really had discovered Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, which it said had been smuggled to Syria.

Now why the Bush administration wouldn’t have trumpeted news of the Syrian reactor worldwide in September 2007 is beyond us, but there obviously were some reasons — assuming the TV report is true, which we have no way of establishing. In fact, we have no idea why the Israelis are choosing this moment to rehash the bombing of this site. But whatever their reason, it certainly raises a critical question. If the Syrians are developing a nuclear capability, what are the Israelis planning to do about it?

No one of these things, by itself, is of very great interest. And taken together they do not provide the means for a clear forecast. Nevertheless, a series of rather ordinary events, taken together, can constitute something significant. Tensions in the Middle East are moving well beyond the normal point, and given everything that is happening, events are moving to a point where someone is likely to take military action. Whether Hezbollah will carry out a retaliatory strike or Israel a pre-emptive strike in Lebanon, or whether the Israelis’ real target is Iran, tensions systematically have been ratcheted up to the point where we, in our simple way, are beginning to wonder whether something has to give.

All together, these events are fairly extraordinary. Ignoring all rhetoric — and the Israelis have gone out of their way to say that they are not looking for a fight — it would seem that each side, but particularly the Americans and Israelis, have gone out of their way to signal that they are expecting conflict. The Syrians have also signaled that they expect conflict, and Hezbollah always claims there is about to be conflict.

What is missing is this: who will fight whom, and why, and why now. The simple explanation is that Israel wants a second round with Hezbollah. But while that might be true, it doesn’t explain everything else that has happened. Most important, it doesn’t explain the simultaneous revelations about the bombing of Syria. It also doesn’t explain the U.S. naval deployment. Is the United States about to get involved in a war with Hezbollah, a war that the Israelis should handle themselves? Are the Israelis going to topple Syrian President Bashar al Assad — and then wind up with a Sunni government, or worse, an Israeli occupation of Syria? None of that makes a lot of sense.

In truth, all of this may dissolve into nothing much. In intelligence analysis, however, sometimes a set of not-fully-coherent facts must be reported, and that is what we are doing now. There is no clear pattern; there is no obvious direction this is taking. Nevertheless, when we string together events from February until now, we see a persistently escalating pattern of behavior. In fact, what we can say most clearly is that there is escalation, without being able to say what is the clear direction of the escalation or the purpose.

We would like to wrap this up with a crystal clear explanation and forecast. But we can’t. The motives of the various actors are opaque; and taken separately, the individual events all have quite innocent explanations. We are not prepared to say war is imminent, nor even what sort of war there would be. We are simply prepared to say that the course of events since February — and really since the September 2007 attack on Syria — have been startling, and they appear to be reaching some sort of hard-to-understand crescendo.

The bombing of Syria symbolizes our confusion. Why would Syria want a nuclear reactor and why put it on the border of Turkey, a country the Syrians aren’t particularly friendly with? If the Syrians had a nuclear reactor, why would the Israelis be coy about it? Why would the Americans? Having said nothing for months apart from careful leaks, why are the Israelis going to speak publicly now? And if what they are going to say is simply that the North Koreans provided the equipment, what’s the big deal? That was leaked months ago.

The events of September 2007 make no sense and have never made any sense. The events we have seen since February make no sense either. That is noteworthy, and we bring it to your attention. We are not saying that the events are meaningless. We are saying that we do not know their meaning. But we can’t help but regard them as ominous.

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Lebanon: Syrian Involvement Likely
Stratfor Today » April 7, 2008 | 1726 GMT

Summary
Syria’s attempts to elevate its intimidation campaign in Lebanon could be overshadowed by what appears to be an imminent rematch between Israel and Hezbollah.

Analysis
According to a Stratfor source in Lebanon, an important meeting took place April 2 that involved Hezbollah, the Lebanese Baath Party, the Syrian Nationalist and Socialist Party (SNSP) and a Druze coalition in opposition to anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. The meeting took place in a residential apartment in Ghobayri in Beirut’s southern suburbs. According to the source, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah was scheduled to represent Hezbollah in the meeting, but his deputy Naeem Qasim showed up instead — in keeping with Stratfor’s analysis that Nasrallah is increasingly being cut out of the organization’s decision-making process. Fayez Shukr represented the Lebanese Baath Party, Ali Qansu represented the SNSP and Wi’aam Wahhab represented the Druze coalition. Wafic Safa, Hezbollah’s head of security, led the meeting.

Safa told the meeting attendees that, with the end of the failed Arab League summit in Damascus, the Hezbollah-led opposition needs to prepare for major developments to take place in Lebanon. Stratfor has long been receiving indications that Syria will soon be stepping up its game in its western neighbor after hitting walls left and right in getting its demands met in Lebanon. Those demands include forcing the Western-backed March 14 coalition led by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora into an agreement installing a new president and Cabinet favorable to Syrian interests, expanding political and security guarantees for Hezbollah and granting immunity to the Syrian regime for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Syria’s intimidation campaign in Lebanon is likely to include another string of assassinations targeting the March 14 coalition’s Cabinet members with the aim of forcing a collapse of the Siniora government. A radical transformation has also been taking place in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp over the past six months in which Syrian military intelligence has been working to shift the balance of power from a movement composed of Palestinian Fatah fighters to a Syrian sponsored jihadist alliance that includes Jund al-Sham, Usbat al-Ansar, Jundallah and remnants of Fatah al-Islam. By playing the jihadist card, Damascus likely intends to distance itself and Hezbollah from attacks in Lebanon, preferring instead to let the blame fall to the nebulous “al Qaeda-linked” forces operating in Lebanon.

But with signs of a war between Israel and Hezbollah looming, Syria’s plans for Lebanon could very well get disrupted. A series of indications have surfaced over the past week suggesting the long-anticipated rematch between Israel and Hezbollah may be nearing. The Syrians have been engaged in some military posturing and have redeployed three divisions (sources suggest approximately 27,000 troops) to the west Bekaa Valley along the border with Lebanon, while the Israelis are engaging in large-scale civil defense exercises. Syria is involved in a complex set of diplomatic maneuvers to stave off the conflict or at least reach an understanding with Israel that would keep the Syrian regime out of danger, but the risk for miscalculation is still high. Despite the preparations made by Syria’s allies in Lebanon to target the March 14 coalition, Israel’s threats to invade the Bekaa Valley and root out Hezbollah’s strongholds could soon overshadow Syria’s political agenda in Lebanon.


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Geopolitical Diary: Levantine War Rumors and the Iraq Situation
April 8, 2008 | 0112 GMT
The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it has received an official request from the U.S. administration (via the Swiss Embassy in Tehran) for a fourth round of talks on Iraqi security. This announcement comes just days after Mohsen al-Hakim, son of the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, also cited a request for talks from Washington –- an old Iranian game of making it appear as though the United States is the one desperate for talks. Through it all, Washington has remained quiet, but notably has not denied the statements. (All this occurred the day before U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will testify before Congress on the progress in Iraq.)

Meanwhile, Muqtada al-Sadr also suggested on Monday that he would be willing to disband the Mehdi Army militia if asked to do so by Shiite clerical authorities. This is despite — not because of — an Iraqi military operation in Basra that by most accounts was poorly planned and poorly executed. Not only is the firebrand offering an almost unbelievably enormous concession, but because his militia largely held its ground in Basra against the Iraqi security forces, it is almost as if his concession has been stage-managed — most likely by the Iranians.

Bringing al-Sadr into the fold of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government will help reduce infighting among the Shia, thus strengthening Tehran’s hand in the country’s affairs even as it reduces Iran’s ability to orchestrate militia violence. Washington knows it must accept some degree of Iranian influence to reach an accommodation with Tehran over Iraq.

But a potential arrestor is lurking in the Levant. Tensions are on the rise between Israel, Syria and Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah. Israel is hosting the largest civil defense exercise in its history, both Israeli and Syrian reserves reportedly have mobilized, and there are rumblings about an impending reprisal attack for the killing of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah. Concerns across the region continue to mount that Israel is looking for an excuse to step into another conflict with Hezbollah, this time with more decisive results.

Such a conflict cuts both ways for the United States, and has a direct bearing on the situation in Iraq.

On the one hand, Israeli military intervention in southern Lebanon would very likely seriously destabilize U.S. efforts in Iraq. Iran is unlikely to sit by and allow its militant proxy, an important tool of Iranian influence in the region, to confront a reinvigorated Israel Defense Forces without support or protest. From the U.S. perspective, Iraq is of fundamental importance — the Levant is not. Washington is not about to sacrifice the gains of the last year in Iraq to allow Israel to take another shot at Hezbollah.

On the other hand, in the course of its history the Jewish state repeatedly has reminded Washington that it is not simply a U.S. puppet by acting unilaterally (often subsequently receiving grudging American support). Should Washington begin to see Israeli military action as unpreventable, it could attempt to trade concessions in Iraq for guarantees Iran would remain on the sidelines of the Israeli conflict, sacrificing some points in Iraq to allow Israel the chance to strip Tehran of Hezbollah, one of the Iranians’ key proxies. This is a tempting goal, but one fraught with risk should the Iraq negotiations take a more definitive turn for the worse.

We saw further potential signs of progress in U.S. negotiations with Iran over Iraq on Monday. At the same time, we are continuing to monitor signs of potential war in the Levant. Though their proximate causes are distinct, should both trends continue apace, their inextricable linkage will become all too clear.


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Geopolitical Diary: Iranian Escalation and the Saudi Connection
April 8, 2008 | 2154 GMT

Syria decided on Tuesday to postpone releasing the findings of its investigation into the Feb. 12 assassination of Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyah just as Iran’s Fars News Agency reported through its Persian-language service that Syrian authorities had detained a Saudi intelligence official for allegedly participating in the assassination. According to the Fars report, the Saudi official’s Syrian girlfriend bought the two vehicles used in the bombing that killed Mughniyah. We also are told that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a top Saudi national security official, masterminded the operation.

While Damascus is refraining from officially implicating Riyadh in the assassination, the Iranians have decided to escalate matters with the Saudis, their chief rivals in the Arab/Muslim world.

In fact, the conflicts in both Iraq and Lebanon (and to a lesser degree in the Israeli-Palestinian theater) represent a struggle between the Saudis and Iranians for influence over the predominantly Arab Middle East. However, this struggle did not begin with the rise of Iran and the Arab Shia when the Baathist regime was ousted in Iraq at the hands of the United States nearly five years ago.

Instead, the Saudi-Iranian rivalry truly began at the foundation of the Islamic republic in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Until that point, Saudi Arabia saw itself as the virtually unchallenged leader of the Arab/Islamic world. Saudi Arabia claimed unrivaled status as the pre-eminent nation-state in the largely Sunni Islamic world, given that its founding principle was Islam (albeit Wahhabi) coupled with the fact that the Kaaba was housed in Mecca while the Mosque of the Prophet was in Medina.

Alongside its identity as an Islamic state, Saudi Arabia is also a pro-Western country with the largest oil resources in the Middle East. More importantly it was a key U.S. ally in the region. But, the autocratic nature of the regime coupled with its Western alignment made Saudi Arabia a target of resentment among emerging radical Islamists. The establishment of a radical Islamist (though Shiite) regime in Iran, which overthrew the pro-Western Iranian monarchy of the Shah, led to the rise of the worst Saudi nightmare — a regional state with comparable energy resources and a much larger military force. This new power challenged Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Islamic world by employing a radical brand of Islam that appeared more attractive to the Arab/Muslim masses who were disillusioned with what they perceived as the moribund version of official Islam promoted by a corrupt Saudi regime.

For the longest time, the Saudis took comfort from the fact that the Persian and Shiite character of the clerical regime in Tehran would stifle an Iranian challenge.

Another key factor that kept the Saudis comfortable was the fact that Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein. This created a buffer separating the Iranians from the Arabian Peninsula. Furthermore, Iraq (a Shiite-majority state dominated by the Sunni minority) kept Iran occupied with eight years of war and forced the newly formed Islamic republic to temper its regional ambitions. Tehran therefore reached an informal and uncomfortable accommodation of sorts with Riyadh.

The most that the Iranians were able to do was help create Hezbollah in Lebanon and align with Syria. It was not until the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which removed a major threat to the Iranians, that Tehran was presented with an opportunity to revisit its regional ambitions by empowering pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia in Baghdad. As a result, the return of the Iranian/Shiite threat has been the single largest security nightmare for the Saudis.

Realizing that there is not much that can be done to check Iranian gains in Iraq, the Saudis are trying to strike back in the Levant by creating a coalition against Hezbollah, while forcing Syria out of the Iranian orbit. Here is where Saudi and Israeli interests converge. A behind-the-scenes cooperation has emerged between the two, with Prince Bandar playing a key role. This collaboration would explain why the Iranians linked him to the Mughniyah assassination. Emboldened by their growing influence in Iraq, the Iranians now feel they can afford to up the ante with the Saudis, and hence the leak via Fars.

It is unlikely that the Iranians or the Saudis will come to blows because of these rising tensions, but their rivalry has just intensified. To what degree the Saudis can play the Persian/Shiite card against Tehran and how far the Iranians can exploit Saudi alignment with the United States and Israel against Riyadh in this race for regional domination remains to be seen. From Washington’s point of view, as long as it exists, this conflict is perfect — one it can use to advance its own regional interests.

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Lebanon: Witness In Al-Hariri Killing Hiding In Europe
April 10, 2008 1046 GMT

Syrian national Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq, a key witness in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, has told Kuwait daily Al-Siyassah he is hiding in Europe because he fears for his life. The paper reported April 10 that Siddiq called its offices a day earlier to say he is well, but in hiding. He had been living in France under house arrest until he disappeared March 13.

Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon: Saudi Arrested In Connection With Mughniyah Assassination
April 9, 2008 1957 GMT

Syria has arrested a Saudi citizen in Damascus in connection with the Feb. 12 assassination of Hezbollah Leader Imad Mughniyah, Israeli sources told Stratfor April 9.

Lebanon, Saudi Arabia: Sinioria Meets King Abdullah To Discuss Lebanese Political Crisis
April 8, 2008 2247 GMT
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met with Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and Chief of General Intelligence Prince Miqren Bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh to discuss the current political situation in Lebanon, the Kuwait News Agency reported April 8.

Syria: Report On Assassination To Be Delayed
April 8, 2008 1707 GMT
Syria plans to delay the publication of its report on the assassination of Hezbollah leader Imad Mugniyah because of fears generated in Syria and Lebanon by Israel’s wide-scale Home Front Command drill, the London-based Arabic publication, Al-Quds al-Arabi, reported April 8. The report on the assassination was scheduled April 13. Syrian security personnel have managed to track down the owners of two vehicles involved in the assassination of the Hezbollah leader and have managed to identify them, according to Lebanese sources close to Hezbollah.

Lebanon: Some Fixed Phone Lines Still Working
April 8, 2008 1422 GMT

Stratfor has confirmed that at least some fixed phone lines in Lebanon are working April 8. Israel jammed Lebanon's telephone network starting the afternoon of April 7, according to an April 8 report in Naharnet citing the daily As Safir. The jamming was said to have targeted both cell phones and regular phone lines.

Lebanon: Israel Jams Phone Network
April 8, 2008 1356 GMT
Israel jammed Lebanon's telephone network after a nationwide defense drill that Israel launched April 6, Naharnet reported April 8, citing a report in the daily As Safir. As Safir quoted security sources as saying that the jamming operation targeted both land lines and cell phone lines and began the afternoon of April 7. The As Safir report gave no further details.

Syria: Report On Mughniyah Assassination Delayed
April 8, 2008 1117 GMT
Syria is delaying the publication of its report on the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah as a result of fears generated in Syria and Lebanon over Israel’s military drill, London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi reported April 8. Senior Syrian officials suggest publication of the report could seriously damage Syria because it would expose the involvement of Arab intelligence officials, as well Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese personnel in the killing. Separately, Lebanese newspaper as-Safir has reported that the Israel exercise has caused massive disruption in the Lebanese cellular phone system.

Lebanon: Speaker Wants Meeting On Political Crisis
April 8, 2008 1011 GMT

Lebanese parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, currently in Damascus, Syria, said he plans to call a meeting of the country’s political leaders before April 22, when parliament is expected to make another attempt to elect a president, Press TV reported April 8. However, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, following talks with Arab League chief Amr Mussa in Egypt, said the time for internal dialogue is over and called for a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on the crisis.

Lebanon: Siniora Says He Hopes Solution Will Be Reached Before Suleiman Retires
April 7, 2008 1812 GMT

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora announced after an April 6 meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he hopes a solution to the Lebanese presidential crisis will be reached before consensus candidate and commander of the Lebanese army General Michel Suleiman retires, Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported April 7. But Siniora also said Suleiman will remain a consensus candidate even if he retires.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon: Mubarak And Abdullah To Discuss Lebanese Crisis
April 7, 2008 1808 GMT

Egypt will host a summit April 9 for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the two most prominent Arab leaders absent from the Arab summit in Damascus last month, Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported April 7. Mubarak and Abdullah are scheduled to meet in Sharm El-Sheikh to discuss the Lebanese crisis, which is currently being discussed in meetings in Cairo by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Israel: Preparations For Possible War Underway
April 7, 2008 1740 GMT
Israel is making preparations for possible war in the region, an Israeli source told Stratfor April 7. In the next few days, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will attempt to shoot down a target designed to mimic the Iranian Shabab 3 over the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, the Syrians have been told through Mossad back channels that if Hezbollah attacks a high-value Jewish target anywhere in the world in retaliation for Imad Mughniyah's death, the IDF will retaliate with massive force against Syria. Finally, quiet IDF testing and drills have been rehearsed practicing for situations in which there is a tremendous loss of Israeli lives, such as a loss of 50 percent of the country's doctors due to a nuclear strike.

Lebanon: Al-Mustaqbal Militia In Beirut Receives AK-47s
April 7, 2008 1452 GMT
A commander of al-Mustaqbal militia in Beirut received a shipment of 300 new Russian-made AK-47 automatic rifles, a Stratfor source in Lebanon reported April 7. The commander distributed 125 rifles to his militia and sold the other 175 for $200 each. The market price in Lebanon for a Russian-made AK-47 is $900. The local commander was interrogated by al-Mustaqbal officials, but he has not been dismissed from the ranks of the militia. The militia, with about 1,600 members in Beirut, is thought to be militarily inefficient.

Israel, Lebanon, Syria: Lebanese Civilians Prepare For Israeli Attack On Hezbollah
April 7, 2008 1437 GMT

Lebanon has started to move its civilian population away from the Israeli border, in preparation for a possible armed conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel's Channel Two reported April 6. The Jerusalem Post also reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had told Syrian President Bashar Assad that Syria would be held responsible for any Hezbollah attacks on Israel.

Lebanon: Hezbollah Security Gets Help From Iran
April 7, 2008 1352 GMT

Hezbollah, with the help of Iranian foreign intelligence, is revamping its foreign security apparatus due to concerns that Syrian intelligence has penetrated its security systems, a Starfor source in Lebanon said April 7.

Syria: President Meets With Lebanese Parliament Speaker
April 7, 2008 1135 GMT

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is meeting with Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri to discuss the political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for more than four months, The Associated Press reported April 7, citing Syrian official news agency SANA.

Syria, Israel, Lebanon: Armed Forces On Alert
April 7, 2008 0853 GMT

Syria has placed its armed forces on a higher state of alert because it is aware that Hezbollah is planning an attack against Israel soon for the killing of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, Israeli television Channel 2 has reported, Israel National News said April 7. Al Arabiya reported that Lebanon’s military ordered residents of southern villages to leave the border with Israel. Meanwhile, sources in the Syrian capital reportedly said the investigation into Mughniyeh’s killing determined that foreigners were behind it. Former Syrian Vice President Khalim Khaddam told a Lebanese newspaper the head of Syrian intelligence was fired because his investigation revealed that those who planned the killing came from within Syria.

Israel, Lebanon: Hezbollah Leader Says Israel Preparing For War
April 6, 2008 1928 GMT

A Hezbollah leader said Israeli military exercises are preparations for a new war on Lebanon, The Associated Press reported April 6. Sheikh Naim Kassem also said Hezbollah is ready to defend Lebanon if Israel attacks. Israel began a five-day security drill April 6, practicing responses to war, emergency situations, large-scale terror attacks and natural catastrophes. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said the exercise was to help Israel apply lessons from its actions against against Hezbollah guerrillas in 2006. But Vilnai denied the drill was related to frictions between Israel and Syria and Lebanon.

Israel, Syria, Lebanon: Israel Tries To Reassure Syria And Lebanon About Missile Drills
April 6, 2008 1455 GMT

Israel said it did not want a missile attack drill to increase tensions along its northern border with Syria and Lebanon, Agence France-Presse reported April 6. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told public radio, "We don’t want any degradation and the other side knows it and we also think that the other side doesn't want a degradation." But he also said Israel was "ready to confront any development." A five-day exercise simulating air and missile attacks on cities, including by non-conventional weapons, was scheduled to begin April 6, the army said.

Lebanon: PM Raises Alert Level Before Israeli Drill
April 5, 2008 1810 GMT

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on April 4 raised the Lebanese army's alert level, citing the possibility that Israel might use a civil defense exercise beginning April 6 to violate Lebanon's sovereignty, Haaretz reported April 5, citing Israel Radio. Siniora called on U.N. peacekeepers at the Lebanese-Israeli border to prevent Israel from launching "operations capable of increasing tension," a statement from Siniora's office said. He also asked the Lebanese army to be vigilant and take necessary steps to protect Lebanese civilians and face any Israli invasion.

Lebanon: Hezbollah Making Payments To Sunni Scholars
April 3, 2008 1511 GMT
Hezbollah has been paying monthly payments to about 30 Sunni scholars, particularly in Beirut, Tripoli and Saida, Lebanon, according to a Stratfor source. The Sunni scholars receive token payments of $200 or $300 a month for providing support to the militant group. These so-called aides and associates receive the payments for assigned duties, such as making pro-Hezbollah statements, meeting with their representatives or attending public events on a regular basis.

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Two Palestinians sent by Hizballah to poison Tel Aviv restaurant food
April 10, 2008, 5:21 PM (GMT+02:00), DebkaFILE

The two men, Ahab Abu Riyal and Anas Salum, from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, were arrested by Israeli security Shin Bet officers last month before they could carry out their mission on behalf of the Lebanese Hizballah. They are members of Fatah’s armed wing, al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.

Posing as illegal out-of-work entrants from the West Bank, they were hired as kitchen workers by the Tel Aviv Grill Express at the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan. Their orders from their Hizballah controllers were to dump slow-acting poison in the food set out for customers. It was to take effect after four hours, time enough to murder a large number of Israeli patrons.

The pair also plotted to spirit a suicide bomber into Tel Aviv from Nablus.

One of the two men was detained on March 19, shortly before the target date for their mission, the second was picked up at the home of an Israeli Arab friend in Jaffa.

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Exclusive: Ahmadinejad denies al Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on America
April 8, 2008, 3:35 PM (GMT+02:00), DebkaFILE

 In his most provocative anti-US speech to date, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised doubts about whether al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001 attack on New York actually took place. He was addressing Iran’s Nuclear Technology day, April 8, DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report. He went on to ask why the US had never released the names of the thousands of dead in the Trade Center attacks and how the most advanced security, intelligence and tracking devices in the world had failed to detect the hijackers’ planes before they struck the two New York towers.

Ahmadinejad is famous also for denying the Nazi Holocaust.

Announcing earlier that Iran had begun installing 6,000 new advanced (P2) centrifuges for uranium enrichment at Natanz, the Iranian president claimed his country’s nuclear program had passed the point of no-return technologically and politically.

America is disintegrating politically, militarily and economically, according to Ahmadinejad, who boasted that Iran’s nuclear achievement is a turning-point in history that will change the international order prevailing since World War II.

He asked why everyone jumps on Iran’s nuclear program when “a band of international pirates has stores crammed with nuclear bombs.”

DEBKAfile adds: By going full steam ahead with uranium enrichment, Iran is flouting three UN Security Council resolutions and standing fast against threats, sanctions and incentives offered by the West to halt a process capable of producing nuclear weapons.

Instead, Tehran is installing a new generation of advanced P2 centrifuges to replace the older P-1 machines and accelerate enrichment. He claims they are five times cheaper than the commercial machines.

The five Security Council members and Germany meet later this month for their umpteenth discussion on Iran’s nuclear activities. However, aside from “sweetening” their incentives package and tighter sanctions, they have run out of ideas for curbing Iran’s rapidly-advancing nuclear plans.

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Exclusive: Major row in Assad regime delays Sunday publication of Mughniyeh probe findings
April 7, 2008, 9:52 AM (GMT+02:00), DebkaFILE

DEBKAfile’s Middle East and intelligence sources report that President Bashar Assad has fallen out with his brother-in-law Gen. Asif Shawqat, sacked him as military intelligence chief and appointed Gen. Aly Younes in his place.

Shawqat has not been seen in the capital for three weeks. Several intelligence officers were reported arrested in Damascus Monday, April 17.

The apparent downfall of Syria’s strongman is seen as symptomatic of a fierce rift in the top level of Syrian government. Our Washington sources report that Assad decided at the last minute to hold back the report promised for Sunday, April 7, on the killing of Hizballah leader Imad Mughniyeh last February, until after April 17, when the US House Intelligence Committee hears the details of Israel’s reported Sept 6, 2007 strike on a nuclear installation Syria was building with North Korean assistance. He will the decide how to play it.

The Bush administration and Jerusalem have agreed on the materials to be revealed there.

Our Washington sources report that the US and Israel are pumping out a welter of reports in advance of potential revelations about Syria’s covert nuclear activities, as well as playing up the rising war tensions with Israel, in a fresh bid to unnerve Assad into cooling his ties with Iran.

These sources report that the US and Israel turned up the heat this week by a claim leaked to Israeli media that Jerusalem had warned Damascus that Israel would hold Syria accountable and make it pay for any Hizballah attack on the Jewish state or against a Jewish or Israeli overseas target.

Sources in Damascus deny receiving any such warning.

Some Middle East sources report that Washington and Jerusalem are trying to turn to their advantage the falling-out between Assad and Shawqat.

The Syrian ruler believes that Israel’s defense exercise against missile attack is also part of that effort. He assured his confidants that it will not work; he will never break off his close alliance with Iran – even if it costs him a military showdown with Israel.

As to the Mughniyeh report, according to intelligence sources, the Syrian findings point the finger for the Hizballah army chief’s death in a secure section of Damascus at Israel, in conjunction with “Arab intelligence services” – specifically the Saudi service.

The last breach with Shawqat occurred when Assad took out of his hands the final wording of the Mughniyeh report and transferred it to Gen. Younes. Some Gulf intelligence sources familiar with Damascus’ inside affairs report that Assad ordered the new intelligence chief to saddle Gen. Shawqat with the guilt of failing to avert the Hizballah leader’s death.

Another bone of contention between the two brothers-in-law was Shawqat’s insistence for some months that if a limited military engagement between Syria and Israel is to be, then better now, when Damascus, Hizballah and Hamas can call the shots, rather than the summer months when the US and Israel will exercise greater control of events.

As for the sacked intelligence chief’s whereabouts, some Gulf sources familiar with the Syrian scene claim he has moved to a military intelligence base in northern Syria to be among loyalist officers and men. His wife, Bashara, Assad’s sister, took herself and her children off to Paris in early March to get away from the quarrels between her husband and brother.

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Exclusive: Iran, Syria, Lebanon on military alert over US Gulf movements and Israel’s home defense drill
April 6, 2008, 10:29 PM (GMT+02:00), DebkaFILE


USS Abraham Lincoln heads to Persian Gulf
According to British media, the US is set to attack Iranian military facilities. DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the USS Abraham Lincoln Strike Force is heading for the Persian Gulf.

War tensions in the Middle East have shot up - not only over the signals flashing between Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, but also on the US-Iranian front in Iraq in the wake of rising in violence around the Basra conflagration.

Tuesday, April 8, US Iraq commander, Gen. David Petraeus and ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, will stress in their report to Congress that Iran is waging war on America in Iraq, say sources in Washington, London and Baghdad.

This emerged strongly last week, when US intelligence learned that Iran had intervened directly in the Iraqi government’s crackdown on renegade militias in Basra and southern Iraq, by directing and provisioning those militias through the Revolutionary Guards’ al Qods Brigades.

Official sources in London predict that Iran’s intervention against the American effort to stabilize Iraq may well prompt a US attack on the military installations in Iran which are orchestrating the interference.

Gen. Petraeus is on record as accusing Iran of being the source of the daily rocket bombardment of Baghdad’s Green Zone, seat of government and US diplomatic and military headquarters.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Moscow has dropped its two nickels into the rising war alarm. In the last two weeks, Russian military and intelligence officials have been leaking claims of intensified American military movements around Iranian shores.

Iran is certain to come up in Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin’s farewell talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi Sunday, along with other controversial business, such as Moscow’s objections to NATO’s eastern expansion and US missile shield in East Europe.

Saturday, US defense secretary Robert Gates turned up in Oman, the site of big American air bases, for talks with Sultan Qaboos. He then flew straight back to Washington. While Gates insisted to correspondents aboard his plane that the US is committed to a diplomatic solution for Iran’s covert nuclear program, the surpise visit struck sparks in the already fraught regional atmosphere, particularly as it followed on the heels of US Vice President Dick Cheney’s talks in Oman two weeks ago.

DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources sum up how Tehran and Damascus read these events and the picture they have built up of Washington’s intentions as combined with Israel’s military steps:

1. US is preparing to attack the Iranian military installations linked to subversion in Iraq. The operation will widen out into strikes on the Islamic Republic’s suspect nuclear sites.

2. Israel will use the chance for a concurrent attack on Syria.

3. Israel will attack Hizballah’s strongholds in Lebanon.

4. A broad, coordinated US-Israeli offensive will be mounted against Iran, Syria and Hizballah.

Iran and Syria view Israel’s four-day home defense exercise against missile attack, conventional or non-conventional, beginning Sunday, as setting the stage for these attacks.

Both believe Washington and Jerusalem are in close military step. Neither is reassured by soothing statements from prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Barak that Israel does not seek violent confrontation - especially when the US administration is withholding all comment. Hence the high state of preparedness ordered by the jittery governments in Tehran, Damascus and Beirut.

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US Military Option on Iran Is Back on the Table
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
March 19, 2008, 2:23 PM (GMT+02:00)

“Iran has got to be very high on that list,” said a senior aide ahead of the talks US Vice President Dick Cheney will hold during his 10-day tour of the Middle East and Turkey, which began Monday, March 17 in Iraq.

Singling out Oman, the aide noted that the US and Oman are co-guardians of the strategic Strait of Hormuz. “The Omanis, like a lot of other people,” he said “are concerned by the escalating tensions between the rest of the world community and Iran and by some of Iran’s activities, particularly in the nuclear field, but outside its borders as well.”

According to DEBKAfile, the official was referring to Tehran’s meddling in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Our military, Washington and Gulf sources report that US Vice President Dick Cheney is again talking about possible US military action to shut down Iran’s covert nuclear program.

Cheney stopped over in Oman Wednesday, Wed. March 19, after two days in Iraq. He will travel next to Saudi Arabia, is due in Jerusalem next Saturday and will also visit Ramallah and Turkey.

Our sources report exclusively that his talks are focusing on two aspects of the Iranian nuclear threat:

1. The Bush administration’s decision to distance itself from the National Intelligence Estimate released last December. Its conclusion that Iran’s nuclear arms program was shelved in 2003, which rendered America’s military option superfluous, is now deemed a mistake.

2. The administration now buys British, German, French and Israeli intelligence estimates that Iran is indeed pressing forward with programs for building nuclear weapons, warheads and ballistic missiles for their delivery.

The vice president will listen closely to his hosts’ ideas about joint efforts for containing Iran’s aggressive expansionist thrusts across the Persian Gulf and Middle East and halting its progress towards nuclear armaments.

The vice president’s choice of capitals for his tour is a pointer to the fact that the military option, off since December, may be on again. American will need the cooperation of all four - Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey - to mount a military attack on Iran.

Oman hosts the big American air bases which are the core of the defense shield for the Strait of Hormuz and for the US Navy, Marine and Air Force units deployed in the Persian Gulf.

Saudi Arabia is the senior Gulf and Arabian trendsetter and the key to pan-Arab endorsement for a US offensive against Tehran. Riyadh has opposed military action until now.

Israel is the only regional nation willing to actively participate in an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites; its military has been putting together plans for going it alone.

Last week, our sources report, Jerusalem was notified by the White House that the Iranian issue had been added to Cheney’s regional agenda at the last minute; his hosts were requested to prepare themselves for exhaustive and lengthy discussions on Iran with the vice president and his aides.

Israel’s defense cabinet was accordingly convened last Wednesday – officially to scrutinize the armed forces’ forward planning and applications of the Lebanon war inquiry panel’s recommendations. But, our military sources report, the ministers were convened to decide which of Israel’s military plans of action were to be presented to Cheney.

Turkey is a pivotal element in any war plan because American warplanes and missiles heading for Iran will have to transit its airspace and take off from air bases on its soil. The US and Turkey have improved their military relations since they worked together against PKK havens in northern Iraq last February.

The vice president’s Iraq visit marked the fifth anniversary of the US invasion.

While there, he made it clear that the US was in no hurry to pull out of the country before its mission was completed and would not allow the country to become a staging ground for terrorist attacks on Americans.

In his talks with Iraq leaders, he hammered out military and political plans to bridge the 10 months remaining until a new president takes office in Washington. After talking to prime minister Nouri al Maliki, the US leader flew north to meet with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani in the Kurdish capital of Irbil.

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By Stratfor. This Report Expresses the views of Stratfor

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of CRNews.

https://www.stratfor.com/join



Last Updated ( Thursday, 10 April 2008 )
 
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