The data gathered by Israeli intelligence, supported by visible signs, indicate that Syria is preparing to embark on a low-intensity campaign of hit-and-run terrorist operations against Israeli border positions and patrols, including hostage-taking, before the end of 2007.
This is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources.
Syrian leaders appear to prefer this mode of harassment across their 75-km long-Golan border with Israel as a lead-in to a protracted war of attrition, which may also run to the cross-border shelling of civilian targets. Damascus would retain the option of scaling up hostilities into a full-blown war at the time of its choosing.
By this maneuver, Damascus aims to place Israel on the horns of a dilemma over how to effectively quell the terrorist attacks – borrowed from the Hizballah tactic which provoked last year’s Lebanon War – without igniting a conflagration that may quickly spread to other fronts.
(See HOT POINTS below)
Israel’s current actions are therefore heavily motivated by deterrence.
Hence the well-publicized visit to Israel’s northern front command Tuesday of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, attended by defense minister Ehud Barak, chief of staff Lt Gen Gabby Ashkenazi and a battery of generals.
The next day, Barak was there again, declaring that, since neither Israel nor Syria want war, there was no reason one should break out.
Louder than words, these visits underscored the advanced state of Israel’s military preparedness for an outbreak and the full briefing offered the prime minister.
Wednesday night, Aug. 15, the IDF spokesman announced that Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky had postponed his scheduled departure as Deputy Chief of Staff. The flimsy excuse offered fooled no one. Israel’s military planners had obviously decided this was no time to change horses.
Syria positions rockets able to reach Tel Aviv from Golan
The intense briefings and discussions which took place at Israel’s northern command headquarters this week examined some of the most extreme scenarios, first aired on Aug 8 at an urgently-convened Israeli foreign affairs and security cabinet meeting.
1. A spiral, starting with Syrian attacks and eliciting Israeli air and artillery bombardment of Syrian lines, would bring forth a Syrian missile assault on northern and central Israeli populations. The ministers learned from their military and intelligence briefers that Damascus can launch attacks deep inside Israel without resorting to the heavy duty Scud D and C missiles deployed in central and northern Syria. In the first week of August, the Syrian army moved a menacing array of dozens of 222-mm and 302-mm rockets with launchers forward onto Syrian Golan. These rockets can reach Tel Aviv and be fired in bursts of 100.
2. Another extreme scenario contemplated was a decision in Damascus to shoot Scuds against Israeli cities, some armed with chemical warheads. Some of the army officers urged the immediate distribution of protective masks against gas and chemical pollutants to the civilian population. They explained that the peril could arise without warning in the middle of a war in circumstances that would make general distribution impossible. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the ministers turned the proposal down on the grounds that it would arouse widespread panic and be taken in Damascus as confirming that an Israeli war offensive was imminent.
3. The Syrian armed forces are conducting special courses for commando units to be dropped by helicopter for surprise attacks on the Israeli side of the Golan or Hermon slopes. Their mission would be to establish a bridgehead or seize an Israeli army position. According to the intelligence reaching Israel, the courses are well advanced for several commando battalions to be dropped at one time. Even if they sustain heavy losses, some would have planted a presence behind Israel lines giving Damascus cause for self-congratulation.
4. The Syrian military forces on Golan can switch from their present defensive posture to the offensive at 40 minutes notice from a command from Damascus.
Their tanks and artillery are plentifully supplied with ammo and fuel for a surprise assault on Israel lines. This obliges the Israeli military to maintain on a high state of preparedness large numbers of tanks, self-propelled guns, assault helicopters and ground troops, which must be ready at all times to throw a Syrian assault back to home territory before it develops.
5. Syria continues to smuggle to Hizballah in Lebanon tons of missiles and various types of ordnance.
The most predictable Middle East war
Tuesday, Aug. 14, a huge video screen in Beirut showed the Shiite terror group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah declaring in a speech that Hizballah does not seek another war with Israel but, if one transpired, Israel would face new surprises that would change the face of the Middle East.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly cites Israeli intelligence analysts as interpreting this boast as referring to a fresh intake to Hizballah of new rockets with a longer range than the weapons in its armory in 2006.
Hizballah’s units, like the Syrians, appear to be drilling special forces for invading Israel and planting their flag over a captured Israeli village.
The day after Olmert visited to the northern command, Barak and Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi were there a second time to view a large-scale IDF tank exercise which practiced repulsing a Syrian assault and driving the assailants back across the border.
This was the IDF’s third tank exercise on Golan in the space of a month.
The latest pointer to Israel’s expectation of war was the officially announced postponement of Maj.Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky’s announced departure from the post of deputy chief of staff. He had been registered for study at Harvard University in September. Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, Israel’s military attache in Washington who was named as his successor, has been attached to Ashkenazi’s office and assigned special duties.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that the rising tension on Israel’s northern and Gaza borders and fresh threats from Tehran persuaded the defense minister and chief of staff that Kaplinsky’s experience in managing warfronts and the tactical deployment of large-scale forces is too valuable to dispense with. This is no time to start running in a new second-in-command to the chief of staff.
There will therefore be some months delay before Kaplinsky takes over his new job as director of the Mossad external intelligence agency (an appointment first disclosed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s last issue on Aug. 10).
The two reshuffled appointments signify the reorganization of the Israeli army’s top command in consistence with the demands of a potential war situation.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Israeli and Syrian leaders persist in their public denials that a war is in store. Why?
First, both seek to demonstrate for the benefit of opinion at home and abroad that war is not on their agenda and its eruption should not be placed at their respective doors.
Second, both seek to retain the initiative for a pre-emptive attack.
All in all, few recent Middle East conflicts have been as predictable as a Syrian-Israel outbreak before the end of the year.