The muddled and conflicting communiqués tumbling out of Israel’s defense and military departments for two days this week (April 30-May 1) conveyed the impression that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz were at sixes and sevens.
Tuesday afternoon, thousands of reservists were told to drop whatever they were doing and report at speed to their units. They were to come fully equipped with combat gear ready for the outbreak of war on Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon.
Tuesday evening, defense ministry “circles” put about a story that the defense minister had been kept in the dark about these military preparations – an unlikely tale, say our military sources. They “explained” that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief is not obliged to notify the minister of every troop movement.
Then, early Wednesday, May 1, a fresh official communiqué on the military exercise and call-up referred to preparations for war with Lebanon. The reference to Syria had been dropped.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly notes that this was the second time in ten days that the Israeli military appeared at odds with itself – and also in collision with the Obama administration, by projecting a situation that made direct action virtually unavoidable.
Disinformation disguised as discord
The first time this happened was on April 23, when Israeli’s top military intelligence analyst, Brig.-Gen. Itai Brun, offered the assessment that Syrian government forces had already used chemical weapons – probably nerve gas – against rebels.
President Barack Obama made two statements to push this assessment as far away as he could without, however, refuting it. On Tuesday, April 30, he said in Washington: "What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don't know how they were used, when they were used, who used them. We don't have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened.
“Evidence of their use would be a game changer,” he repeated, and “we would have to rethink the range of options I have on the shelf.”
Neither Netanyahu nor Ya'alon or any other leading Israel figure has come forward to defend Brun or comment either way on his assessment.
But DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources have concluded that these apparently haphazard, blundering statements and steps were in fact very well coordinated. They emanated from understandings and accords quietly reached between the United States and Israel on the handling of the next phase of the Syria war.
As disinformation, this output may turn out to be smart – or wide of the mark. Elements of discord arising from the US president’s reluctance to embark on military action on Syria and Iran and the Netanyahu government’s urgency may also muddy the issue.
Military communiqués deliberately muddled
But it is important to stress that Israel’s top military command, up to and including Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, operates strictly within the bounds of directives from civilian government. So when Tuesday, the IDF officially announced its deployment on war readiness along the full length of Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, it was obeying to the letter the orders coming down from superior ministerial authority.
The first IDF communiqué was an exercise in misdirection. It announced that a surprise military drill had been launched and would continue through May 2. Thousands of reservists were being called up for the exercise starting Monday night, April 29, and continuing until Sunday, May 5.
Calling the operation a drill was a misnomer.
The reservists were ordered to report with full combat gear. Their missions were to back up the regular troops routinely serving at positions along the Syrian border and man the disused outposts, positions, bases and emergency storerooms strung along that border, reopened now for emergency use.
In one example, mobilized reservists broke open the Israeli outposts facing the Jordanian-Syrian border junction at the Yarmouk River, after they had been shuttered and mothballed for many years.
Adding an extra layer of support for the military lines with Syria is referred to in the IDF as a process of "thickening."
What happens if Obama rules out military intervention?
A small detachment of troops has been allocated to the Lebanon border, where this week the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah declared a war alert. (See a separate article on Hizballah’s transactions with Moscow.)
This flurry of military activity may be the preamble for a variety of possible steps, postulated here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly:
1. A final decision by President Obama on whether or not to intervene in the war in Syria.
2. US intervention could take a number of forms: Aerial bombardment of the Syrian bases and military compounds which provide the Assad regime with its firm backbone.
3. Targeting those same assets as well as chemical weapons facilities with missile strikes from the sea and from ground bases in Europe and the Middle East.
4. President Obama could decide to use a mix of those options synchronously.
5. He may decide to do nothing. Israel would then have to gear up to defend itself and Jordan unaided.
Signaling a major Syrian rebel reverse, Israeli radar screens this week picked up the movements of Iranian military cargo planes transporting military equipment landing for the first time in months at the Syrian military airport in Deir ez-Zor. This town near the Iraqi border is the 6th biggest city in Syria and the largest in eastern Syria.
Its airport was under partial siege for months by rebel forces although they never had enough strength for its capture. Israeli military intelligence analysts judge that Iranian officers have started restoring damaged and abandoned Syrian military facilities in eastern Syria and wresting key locations from rebel control. They are using remnants and the skeletal command of the Syrian 17th Division as the nucleus of the region’s restored military machine.
When this is done, the Syrian army will regain its positions for striking areas around Israeli and Jordanian borders from two points – from Deir ez-Zor in the east and Damascus in the north.