debkafile Reports: Israel PM Olmert inspects preparedness of IDF northern command Tuesday following indications of Syrian plans to attack Golan

With him were defense minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi. According to debkafile‘s military sources, intelligence data and signs on the ground add up to the presumption that Syria is planning a campaign of hit-and-run cross-border attacks against Israeli border patrols and positions in Golan and attempts to take hostages. OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Gad Eisenkott and senior officers briefed the prime minister on their preparations in anticipation of such attacks.
They discussed ways of taking Syrian forces by surprise without provoking a full-scale conflict. In particular, Israeli decision-makers want to avoid exposing the populations of northern and central regions to Syrian missiles. They are also intent on limiting any flare-up to the Golan front and leaving out of the action the Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas and allied Palestinian terrorist groups of the Gaza Strip.
In recent weeks, debkafile‘s military sources report, Washington updates point to the rising influence of the pro-war faction in Bashar Assad’s government. As we reported last week, this faction is led by the Syrian president’s brother-in-law commander of military intelligence, Gen. Assaf Shawqat. Since then, Syrian troop reinforcements have been moved forward to the front line, mostly by night. They include artillery contingents which have been kept well behind hitherto.
US and Israeli intelligence watchers believe Syrian leaders’ calculations are based on their expectation of a low-intensity Israel response, such as artillery crossfire, to their attacks. They are sure that both Israel and the US are determined to avoid a major conflagration. They expect the Israeli air force to be activated against strategic targets deep inside Syria only if their own persist.
debkafile‘s military sources say that whether Israeli bombers go after civilian infrastructure, like bridges, highways and power stations, or stick to military targets, such radar stations, bases and military command posts, will depend on the duration of the Syrian offensive, its violence and how much pain is inflicted on Israeli lives and property. The Israel reprisal spiral is likely to match the intensity of Syrian attacks.
The scenarios examined by Israeli policy-makers during the prime minister’s visit therefore postulated a war of attrition starting later this year and going on for months. Charting how this war will unfold is chancy because some unforeseen circumstance could potentially blow it up suddenly into a full-scale war.
Some officers in the northern command therefore advocate a short and sharp Israeli response to nip any Syrian action in the bud before it develops, instead of a temperate reaction that would leave the tactical initiative with Damascus. Furthermore, if a war of attrition is allowed to drag on into the winter months, weather conditions would seriously hamper Israeli air force operations. Having heard these arguments, the prime minister, defense minister and the chief of staff must decide in the next few days how to proceed.

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