TEL AVIV, Israel — Iran is racing to resupply Hezbollah across the Syrian border ahead of a possible cease-fire being ironed out this week at the United Nations. Meanwhile, Israeli jets have begun a new bombardment of Beirut's suburbs and Hezbollah is threatening to launch a missile attack on Tel Aviv.
Israeli military and intelligence officials here say Iranian technicians were aboard a flight to Damascus on Monday with the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki.
The Israel Defense Forces also says it has not been able to seal the border between Syria and Lebanon, making it possible to ferry men, small rockets, and other materiel to Hezbollah through the back roads and smuggling routes in the Bekaa Valley.
The Iranians this week began a double game in Lebanon best summed up by President Ahmadinejad's message to Muslim nations yesterday in Malaysia: "Although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate cease-fire must be implemented."
This approach — of seeking both Israel's destruction and a temporary ceasefire — is evident in signals from Iran's Foreign Ministry to European countries. Mr. Mottaki met with his French counterpart Monday at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. The French are supporting an immediate cease-fire and have pledged to contribute troops to an international force for southern Lebanon.
The meeting was significant because the French in the past year have been supportive of efforts to censure, if not sanction, Iran for its nuclear program at the United Nations, and have pressured Syria to remove its forces from Lebanon in 2005 as part of resolution 1559.
As Hezbollah was the only major political party in Lebanon to oppose the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the French meeting with Iran — preceded by French praise for the "constructive" role Iran is playing in the region — signals that Paris is willing to keep Hezbollah armed for now.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said yesterday, "The French played an important role in implementing the first part of resolution 1559 to get the Syrians to leave. We believe they can play an important role in implementing the second part of the resolution: to disarm Hezbollah."
As for the possible rapprochement between Iran and France on Lebanon, Mr. Regev said, "We are hopeful that France, with the rest of the international community, are making it clear to countries that act against 1559 that they are acting outside the international consensus that such behavior will not be tolerated."
But the diplomatic game for Iran is only part of their role in the war, Israeli officials say. One intelligence analyst pointed to statements this week from an Iranian member of parliament and former ambassador to Syria, Mohtashemi Pur.
Mr. Pur, who was one of the founders of Hezbollah in the early 1980s, told the Iranian reformist newspaper Sharq that Hezbollah had the Zelzal-2 missile, with a range of 160 miles and the "courage to use them." This analyst interpreted this as "a green light from Iran to use the Zelzals at their own discretion and without permission."
If such a decision was made, then it would partly explain Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah's threat to Israel yesterday on Al-Manar television. He said, "If you bomb our capital Beirut, we will bomb the capital of your usurping entity," he said. "We will bomb Tel Aviv."
In the same speech, he said Hezbollah's rockets would stop raining on northern Israel if Israel stopped bombing Lebanon. The threat, however, does not seem to have deterred Israel's air force.
Yesterday evening, Israeli jets dropped leaflets on a southern Shiite suburb of Beirut that called on residents to leave their homes. In the early hours of Friday morning, wire services reported that two bombs hit southern Beirut.
A retired colonel in Israel's military intelligence, Reuven Erlich, said yesterday that there were gaps between the Syrian-Lebanese border that could be exploited by Iran. "Of course there are gaps. The Syrian-Lebanese border is a long border. It is very difficult to close such a border hermetically if the Syrian regime does not cooperate, and this is not the case. I guess the IDF are doing their best to decrease the amount of supply, but I don't think it can be stopped."
Mr. Erlich, head of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Tel Aviv-based Center for Special Studies, said he believes that President Ahmadinejad is supporting a cease-fire now because it is in Hezbollah's best interest.
A former Pentagon analyst on Iran and current scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Michael Rubin, said, "Iran is fighting a proxy war, but smugly feels itself immune to consequence. Not only is this unfair to the Lebanese, but it is dangerous for Washington. The more overconfident Iran becomes in its ability to get away with murder, the more likely Americans will be targeted down the line."