The Syrian leadership in Damascus told a senior Iranian delegation to Damascus last year that it would not assist Iran in retaliating to an Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities, according to an American diplomatic cable published on Wednesday by Wikileaks.

Written by the United States Embassy in Damascus, the cable dated Dec. 20, 2009, summed up the visits earlier that month of Iranian National Security Advisor Saeed Jalili, Vice President and head of the Environmental Department Mahammed-Javad Mahamadzideh and Defense Minister Ahmad Ali Vahidi to Damascus.

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The cable cited an unnamed Syrian official who claimed that in the talks the Syrians told the Iranians that they would not participate in an Iranian retaliation to an potential Israeli strike.

“We told them Iran is strong enough on its own to develop a nuclear program and to fight Israel,” the Syrian official was quoted as saying in the cable. “We’re too weak.”
 
According to the cable, Syria resisted Iranian entreaties to commit to joining Iran if fighting broke out between Iran, Hizbullah and Israel.

The unnamed source told the embassy officials that the Iranian delegation came to Syria “to round up allies” in anticipation of an Israeli military strike.

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“It [an Israeli strike on Iran] is not a matter of if, but when,” the source was quoted as having heard from the Iranians.

The cable noted with interest that Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Al Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps – the force responsible for supporting Iranian proxies throughout the region – had accompanied the Iranian national security adviser Jalili on his visit to Damascus.

According to the cable, Jalili and Soleimani met with Syrian Foreign Minister Wallid Muallem, as well as unspecified members of Hizbullah.

“Suleimani represents the business end of the resistance,” the source said. Suleimani is reported to have played a key role in recent years in arming Hizbullah and Hamas with long-range rockets and missiles.

The source went on to tell the embassy officials that the Syrian military predicted that Israel would fly over Syria on its way to attack Iran and was conducting surveillance of Syrian radar stations with drones ahead of such an operation.

“Military officials tell me they have noticed Israeli drones snooping around our sites,” the source was quoted in the cable, adding that some Syrian officials saw Israeli reconnaissance as an indication that Israel might seek to disable anti-air radar stations as part of a plan to fly bombers over Syrian territory en route to Iran.

“We expect to wake up one morning soon and learn the Israeli strike took place. Then we expect an Iranian response,” the source said.

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