Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have set up a joint situation room in preparation for a potential US-led strike in Syria, with Hezbollah mobilizing “tens of thousands” of fighters for the occasion.
The military operations coordination between the three is meant to plan for the monitoring of targets and organizing of retaliation, the Lebanese Daily Star reported Friday, citing senior Lebanese political and diplomatic sources.
“Iran, Syria and Hezbollah don’t have a clear picture about what Americans have planned,” said one diplomat,“but [they] too are prepared for various scenarios.”
Political sources said Hezbollah put “tens of thousands” of fighters and reservists on alert in anticipation of a US strike.
“Everyone in Hezbollah who has been trained to use weapons has been put on high alert,” one political source told the Lebanese daily. “The party is ready for all eventualities.”
Iran and Hezbollah have repeatedly indicated that they would back Syria’s Bashar Assad regime in the event of a strike in response to the reported use of chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb on August 21, which the US says killed 1,429 people.
Hezbollah has already been heavily involved in the Syrian battlefield for several months now on the Assad side, which has cost the Lebanese group some political capital at home, not to mention the spillover from Syria it has brought with it. Lebanon has been the scene of several incidents that are perceived as retaliatory attacks for Hezbollah’s involvement Syria. Just last month, a car bombing killed 22 people in a Hezbollah stronghold in south Beirut. In early July, a similar attack took place but did not cause any deaths.
Lebanese officials cited in the Daily Star report warned that Iran and Hezbollah see the targeting of Syrian army posts, airfields and weapons depots as a strategic threat to their interests and of course to Assad, which would give them a reason to intervene. But the officials indicated that they were likely to do so only if the US strike seriously threatened the regime’s rule.
On Friday, a report in the Wall Street Journal indicated that the US had intercepted orders from the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Kassem Sulemenai, in Iran to to Iranian-supported Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq to attack American sites should a strike on Syria take place.
The targeted sites could include the US embassy in Baghdad and other American interest sites in the Iraqi capital, as well as the US embassy in Beirut and other sites in Lebanon via Hezbollah, officials said.
On Friday, the US State Department ordered non-essential diplomatic staff out of Lebanon and strongly urged private US citizens to leave as well, citing security concerns.
Iran has also threatened to hit Israel should the US carry out a strike, with the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ General Mohammad Ali Jafari saying late last month that a possible war in Syria “will result in the imminent destruction of the Zionist regime of Israel.”
But Syria too has a bank of targets, according to the Lebanese report, having already threatened to strike Israel, Turkey and Jordan in retaliation for any attack.
Meanwhile, the US is also preparing for an expansion of targets should the decision to carry out an attack come through. On Friday, it was reported that US President Barack Obama instructed the Pentagon to add Syrian sites to its target list, with the order coming in response to intelligence indications that the Syrian government has moved troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons.
The US is considering employing Air Force bombers in addition to ship-launched cruise missiles.
Obama is now seeking congressional approval for a US-led strike, having gained authorization from a Senate panel Wednesday to order an attack, the limits of which include a time frame of 90 days and the exclusion of American boots on the ground.
The Syrian regime has denied using chemical weapons, calling US claims “blatant lies,” and blaming any WMD attacks on rebels and “al-Qaeda.”