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Monday, December 11, 2006

IDF zig-zags, says Syria not girding for summer war

Last update - 08:40 11/12/2006

IDF zig-zags, says Syria not girding for summer war

By Amos Harel and Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondents

The Israel Defense Forces has no intelligence regarding Syrian plans to
initiate a war against Israel next summer, the army announced Sunday night in
an official statement.

This followed a day of contradictory statements regarding reports originating
from Military Intelligence and the Northern Command.

IDF sources made it clear that assessments of the situation in the north are
continuing, and preparations for a possible scenario involving the outbreak of
war there next summer are part of a "working assumption" on the basis of which
the forces' readiness can be improved.

The head of research at Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Yossi
Beiditch, presented the government with a report on the situation along the
northern border during the cabinet's weekly meeting.

Beiditch told the ministers that Syria's President Bashar Assad "is preparing
the Syrian army for the possibility of a military confrontation with Israel,
but on the other hand does not discount the possibility of a diplomatic

The head of research stressed that the Syrian leader has issued orders to
expedite the production of long-range ballistic missiles and to move
air-defense missiles closer to the border with Israel and the Golan Heights.

The senior intelligence officer added that from Assad's point of view, there
is no contradiction in operating on both levels.

During the past two weeks, Assad has been involved in intensive diplomatic
activities, Beiditch said, because he feels that a window of opportunity on
the international level is available to Damascus, and he is trying to take
advantage of this.

In meetings of the intelligence community in Israel in recent weeks, the view
of most participants is that Assad is in no rush for war. They have also
concluded that he is trying to find a way to move closer to the West and the
United States - even if this drives a wedge between Syria and Iran.

The news that emerged from Sunday's cabinet meeting gave the impression that
the army is expecting a war with Syria in the near future.

Senior military sources were quick to clarify that MI's head of research was
addressing "trends," not specific events, and claimed that the grapevine
exaggerated his statements.

Later Sunday, the IDF Spokesman announced that the army had no operational
intelligence on aggressive intentions by the enemy, but added that "the IDF is
conducting an orderly process of improving readiness and operational
preparedness by the summer 2007."

Also Sunday, a senior officer of the Northern Command met with journalists and
said that reports in recent weeks regarding the possibility of war with Syria
are "irresponsible statements that are not based on intelligence."

The officer said that setting a target date is for internal army use, and is
not based on solid intelligence information.

Describing the date as a point of departure, he added that the IDF was
intensifying training with emphasis on the readiness of the Northern Command.

In addition to the training of reservist units, the IDF has also bolstered its
forces in the north.

The officer said that on the Syrian side of the border there have also been
movements of forces, particularly on the Syrian side of Mount Hermon. However,
the IDF interprets the Syrian moves as defensive in nature.

However, Israeli sources say that Syria is continuing to permit the flow of
arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, in an effort to replenish the arsenal of the
Shi'ite organization.

While there are no apparent preparations by Hezbollah to initiate a campaign
against Israel in the near future, most of the focus is placed on the
possibility that other elements may try to cause a conflagration in in the

Attention is given to the possibility that groups affiliated with Al-Qaida -
global jihadists - will target United Nations peacekeepers, or that terrorists
belonging to radical Palestinian organizations would try to attack along the

The situation along the border has changed radically since the days before the
outbreak of war in July. In place of the Hezbollah forces are four brigades of
Lebanon's armed forces, deployed south of the Litani River, and bolstered by
more than 10,000 peacekeepers of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in

However, the IDF is concerned about the failure of the Lebanese army to
prevent the rearmament of Hezbollah, especially the possible cooperation
between Shi'ite soldiers in the Lebanese army and the radical Shi'ite group.

The IDF praised the work of the French and Spanish battalions in the United
Nations force, noting that in some cases the European troops had destroyed
Hezbollah bunkers and arms caches.

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