The Iranian president was also expected to visit Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Masha’al.
The Middle East Newsline has learned from Arab diplomatic sources that Syrian President Bashar Assad has received several messages from his Iranian counterpart for a commitment by Damascus to join any war against Israel. The sources said Mr. Ahmadinejad was demanding that Syria employ its ballistic missile arsenal in a massive strike on the Jewish state.
“Perhaps the next war, if it breaks out, will change the face of the region from top to bottom, just as World War II did,” Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based pan-Arab daily Al Quds Al Arabi, said.
Mr. Atwan, regarded as close to several Arab regimes, reported that Mr. Assad has come under increasing pressure from the Iranian leadership to prepare for war against Israel. The Palestinian journalist said Mr. Ahmadinejad recently telephoned Mr. Assad and demanded that Syria launch tens of thousands of missiles that would destroy Israel in any future war.
Mr. Assad’s response to Mr. Ahmadinejad was not clear, Mr. Atwan said. The editor said Syria was caught between a choice to stay out of the next Israeli war, as in 2006 against Hezbollah, or fire tens of thousands of missiles, including those with weapons of mass destruction warheads, “under the current binding agreement” with Iran.
“The second possibility is the more likely of the two.” Mr. Atwan said in a column on Feb. 13.
Under the Iranian scenario, diplomatic and other Arab sources say, Hamas and Hezbollah would continue their military buildup until Israel is forced to strike. Then, Syria, with help from Iran, would launch a massive missile strike that would target major Israeli cities and critical facilities.
Egyptian parliamentarian and editor of the state-owned Al Gomhuriya daily Mohammed Ali Ibrahim said that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been pressing Mr. Assad to prepare for a major strike should Israel attack either Hamas or Hezbollah. The parliamentarian, regarded as a mouthpiece for President Hosni Mubarak, said Iran has already taken the first steps toward a regional war by expanding its uranium enrichment program.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org