Crossfire War – Muqtada al-Sadr Threatens to Officially End Ceasefire in Iraq

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Crossfire War – Rapid Fire News=Tehran – Gaza – Baghdad Watch – West Asia – North – Northeast Africa Theatre: Tehran – Riyadh – Tripoli – Khartoum – Ramallah – El Arish – Damascus – Beirut – Gaza – Baghdad/Jerusalem – Cairo – Amman – London – Washington – Paris – Rome; “Continue Your Jihad and Resistance” – Shia Cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr – Third Day of Heavy Fighting in Sadr City – Al-Sadr Threatens to Officially End Ceasefire – Calls Off Wednesday March – Hamas Threatens New Explosions Against Gaza Siege – Thirty Israeli Tanks Move Into Southeast Gaza – Damascus States Syria Ready for War

Night Watch: SADR CITY – As fighting raged for a third day in Sadr City, east of Baghdad, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr head of the Mahdi Army, threatened to officially end the ceasefire Tehran had him institute last August, which was the single greatest factor in reducing the violence in the country. Now Iran is having him say, “The Iraqi government should know that the Mahdi Army will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi people to provide all they need from security, stability and independence. If it is required to lift the freeze (ceasefire) in order to carry out our goals, objectives, doctrines and religious principles and patriotism we will do that later.” Swissinfo/Reuters reports he called on his followers to “continue your Jihad and resistance”, which should not be surprising since Tehran would not make such a massive effort to arm and train the Mahdi Army only to disband it before the foreign occupation is ended. The Mahdi Army, more than 60,000, are directly connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as much as Muqtada al-Sadr is connected to Iran’s religious establishment in Qom. Both the Mahdi Army and al-Sadr are vanguards of Tehran’s regional policy with the Mahdis a military vanguard and al-Sadr a religious-political one. Obviously the time for their passivity is over. [SWISSINFO]

al-Sadr also issued a statement Tuesday, from Qom, on the cancellation of the massive protest march Wednesday to mark the fifth anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the beginning of the occupation. “I call those beloved Iraqi people who wish to demonstrate against the occupation to postpone their march out of my fear for them and my concern to spare their blood.” These statements are being made just one day after Tehran had Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki go through the motions of threatening to ban the Mahdi Army from political activity. This charade of opposition between al-Maliki and al-Sadr is designed to enhance the Islamic resistance to the occupation and the stature of the militia leaders in the eyes of the Iraqi people. It is psychological preparation of the public for increased attacks and the Mahdi-Iran offensive. These statements are also designed to promote al-Sadr as a responsible national leader who can deliver the country from the oppression of the foreign and enormously corrupt occupation.

Gaza – Swissinfo/Reuters report Hamas is threatening another series of explosions against the border posts surrounding the Gaza Strip as they did in January at the Rafah Terminal between Egypt and Gaza. Speaking at a news conference Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya warned, “I say clearly all options are open…What is coming will be bigger than what happened in the past, not only at the border with Egypt but in other areas too. We urge all concerned parties to intervene to break the siege. Otherwise we warn of an imminent and unprecedented explosion if the siege continues.” This is not an empty threat. Tehran, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas have used the opening of the Rafah Terminal to increase the flow of advanced weaponry into Gaza and the entry of Islamic militants trained in using them. Hamas has stated it can mass thousands of people at Gaza’s borders with Israel and Jordan. Palestinian militant groups are an integral part of Iran-Syria’s preparation for a wider regional war which the fighting in 2006 was a prelude. [SWISSINFO]

Khan Yunis – In anticipation of such disturbances at least thirty Israeli tanks have just crossed into southeast Gaza near Khan Yunis under heavy machine gun fire. Xinhua reports residents of the city fear this could be part of a larger ground operation and that the tanks have taken up positions only a 100 yards from the houses. This will definitely prevent Hamas from using this crossing point into Israel nor can Palestinians use the immediate area to fire rockets and mortars. Significantly there was no announcement of this by the Israeli government. I suspect the Israel Defense Force (IDF) will make a similar move into northern Gaza. [XINHUA]

It is also quite possible the Egyptian administration in Cairo, of President Hosni Mubarak, may take similar military measures at the Rafah Terminal which would place Egypt’s security, the part still loyal to Mubarak in direct opposition to Hamas.

Damascus – The Jerusalem Post is reporting Damascus is following Israel’s emergency drills and exercises closely to the extent Syria Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad made this statement in an interview with the Syrian paper Al-Thura, “When the language of understanding with Israel regarding the peace process comes to an end, Syria will be prepared for any possibilities. The Israelis aren’t aware that we know that every war has its own path…The more Israel tries to generate this centralized atmosphere in order to reap benefit from the July downfall (2006) Syria cannot but also have plans in advance of conflict.” Mekdad then remarked concerning Israel’s nationwide emergency drills being conducted this week, “If Syria is the target of all this, know that we are following the drills and are also developing our capabilities and our plans to face the Israeli maneuvers.” Perhaps without realizing it he is virtually admitting the Syrian government used the so-called peace negotiations with Jerusalem as a way of disguising its military preparations for this year’s war. [JPOST]

Al-Thura is one of the media mouthpieces of the Syrian government which means the interview was used to alert the Syrian public war is not only near but that Damascus is looking forward to it. I suspect the minister assumes Israel’s offensives will be as haphazard and as hesitant as in 2006 but that is definitely not the situation now. What has changed is the Israeli government realized that year they were not prepared to meet quickly enough the threats Tehran has established on all of Israel’s borders and fortunately for Jerusalem Iran and Syria were not yet ready to enter the war then. 2006 gave Jerusalem a very real warning by increasing its sense of urgency and two years to prepare for a larger war this year, preparations the Deputy Foreign Minister is not taking seriously enough. Israel’s defensive posture is over. I will probably call the IDF offensive Strike Zion II, the first Strike Zion being in June 1967 one that Damascus remembers very vividly.

Willard Payne is an international affairs analyst who specializes in International Relations. A graduate of Western Illinois University with a concentration in East-West Trade and East-West Industrial Cooperation, he has been providing incisive analysis to NewsBlaze. He is the author of Imagery: The Day Before.