Iranian Revolutionary Guards chief Gen. Mohamed Ali Jafari, who rarely leaves his country, paid a secret visit to Damascus a few hours before Tehran launched its first nuclear reactor at Bushehr Saturday, Aug. 21. With him were top Al Qods Brigades commanders in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. The group stayed only long enough to confer with Syrian president Bashar Assad and his military and intelligence chiefs on three topics:
1. The roles Syria and Hizballah will play in a potential Iranian military reprisal to a possible American or Israeli strike on its nuclear sites.
2. The probable repercussions of an Iranian decision to use Hizballah or pro-Iranian terrorists as proxies for a pre-emptive strike - or strikes - against Israel.
3. How Syria can help discourage the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia from their willingness to support a US or Israel attack on Iran with bases, intelligence assets and other means.
The importance and urgency of this discussion is attested to by the IRGC's supreme commander having made his trip outside Iran for many years. It was one of the red lights abounding of late that instilled in Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak a sense of urgency for a strategic response to the Bushehr startup. He accordingly cut short the furious contest raging in the IDF's General Staff over the contest for the next chief of staff by an abrupt announcement of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's appointment to the post when the incumbent ends his tour of duty in February. This quelled the scandals surrounding forged documents and intrigue, but above all it sent a message to Tehran: Israel's defensive posture and self-restraint, as practiced by Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, was about to change. Iran may run into a different response if it makes goods on its threats of aggression and the flurry of war preparations they are orchestrating around Israel's borders.
The incoming IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Galant, who commanded the 2009 Cast lead operation against Hamas in Gaza, subscribes to an offensive, proactive military approach in contrast to the dovish Ashkenazi. Although he formally takes the reins next February, Ashkenazi may well will step down before his term is up and make way for his hawkish successor. With Galant at his side, the defense minister has begun reshaping the General Staff to match the new approach and the requirements of the incoming C-of-S.
debkafile's military sources add that Israel is taking very seriously the presence in Gen. Jafari's secret delegation to Damascus of two high-ranking IRGC Al Qods officers. They have been identified as Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, commander of Iran's terrorist and spy networks in Iraq, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and Hassan Mahdavi, formally designated IRGC envoy to the Lebanese Hizballah, who was recently elevated to overall command of the Lebanese terrorist organization.
This promotion effectively changes the status of Hizballah, which is represented as a political force in Lebanon's parliament and government, from Tehran's surrogate to external arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps under the direct command of an al Qods officer - an ominous pointer to the goals Iran has set itself in a country bordering on northern Israel.
As for Al Muhandis, the US Treasury targeted him for personal sanctions in July 2009 as "adviser to Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Qod's Force, the arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for providing material support to Lebanon-based Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command" - all of them notorious terrorist groups.