Jul 17, 2008

Iran Moves to Lebanon Mountain

By David Hocking


In the past few weeks, Hizballah at the behest of Iran and Syria has commandeered the 7,800-foot Mt. Sannine, a strategic asset capable of determining the outcome of the next war.

Radar-guided missile positions and an early warning station have since been deployed on its summit, which are capable of monitoring and threatening US Sixth Fleet movements in the eastern Mediterranean and Israel Air Force flights.

This development was serious enough for Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak to repeat three times in as many days that the IDF is keeping a close watch on events in the northern front, especially the deepening ties between Syria and the Lebanese Hizballah.

Mt. Sannine, which dominates the roads connecting Beirut and Damascus, is one of the most prized strategic assets in the region. It was fought over for years by Syria and Israel, both seeking to control this ideal vantage point for an early warning station to command the eastern Mediterranean, the northern half of Israel and the Damascus region.

Its takeover on behalf of Tehran places Israeli security at a grave disadvantage. This topic is expected to figure large in the talks French president Nicolas Sarkozy holds with Syrian ruler Bashar Assad.

DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal that military movements carried out in the last two weeks by Hizballah in conjunction with Tehran and Damascus can only be interpreted as preparations for war. Lebanese sources have been saying openly that Syria, Iran and Hizballah are now in position for a new Middle East confrontation.

This development was kept under tight wraps by prime minister Ehud Olmert, the defense and foreign ministers and the chief of staff. Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

Senior IDF officers told DEBKAfile: If the new military facts on the ground in Lebanon are allowed to stay in place, the next war Hizballah launches with Syria and Iran will find Israel’s ground, sea and air forces at a grave strategic disadvantage.

Yet there are no signs of Israel’s policy-makers budging.

Our Middle East sources report that Sarkozy promised US president George W. Bush and Olmert to take up the belligerent movements in Lebanon with Assad and the Lebanese president Michel Sleiman. But political sources stress that the Olmert government’s custom of referring Israel’s military problems to external addresses is no longer working, neither for the Iranian nuclear issue nor the mounting threats posed by the Shiite Hizballah and Palestinian Hamas.