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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Syrian army buildup

Are we really ready???

Last update - 08:00 22/02/2007   

Syria bolstering forces, troops moving closer to border
By Amos Harel, Aluf Benn and Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz Correspondents

The Syrian armed forces are being strengthened in an unprecedented way in recent memory with the help of generous funding from Iran and its troops appear to be moving closer to the border with Israel.
The Syrians are bolstering their forces in all areas except the air force, which has been believed to be weak for some time. The main emphasis of the efforts has been missiles and long-range rockets to compensate for the weak air force.
The Syrian navy, after years of neglect, is also being reinforced with an Iranian version of a Chinese anti-ship missile, similar to the one used by Hezbollah during the second Lebanon war to strike the Israeli destroyer INS Hanit.
In addition to the overall strengthening of the armed forces in Syria, there has been a redeployment of forces along the front lines. It appears that the Syrians have moved forces closer to the border with Israel on the Golan Heights.
The Yom Kippur War on the Syrian front began with a raid by helicopter-borne Syrian commandos on the Hermon listening post, which they then occupied. The position was not taken by Israeli forces until the end of the war in a very costly battle involving Golani and Paratrooper Brigade troops.
Syria's rebuilding of its military strength has also included test launches of ballistic missiles. Lately, the Syrians test-fired a Scud-D surface-to-surface missile, the latest version of a Soviet-era missile. The Scud-D has a 400-kilometer range and covers most of the territory of Israel.
More than a year ago the Syrians held a missile test but suffered a failure when one of them diverted from its trajectory and fell inside Turkish territory. The debris also fell in populated areas but no losses were reported. Turkey filed an official complaint with Syria, and Damascus apologized for the unusual accident.
In the Scud-D test, two missiles were fired, and the test is believed to have been successful. It is not known what type of warhead the missiles were armed with.
In addition to the larger Scud-type missiles, Syria is in possession of two smaller rockets, and both have been supplied to Hezbollah. One rocket is a 220mm rocket armed with a cluster-bomb warhead, and the other is a 305mm caliber rocket. The range of these rockets is estimated to be several dozen kilometers.
The missiles and rockets are part of an effort to compensate for the obvious weakness of the Syrian air force. This way Syrians could strike Israeli cities and also carry out accurate attacks against military targets inside the country.
The newest and most surprising aspect of the Syrian effort is taking place in its naval forces. In recent years the Syrian navy had been neglected, starting with the decommissioning of its submarines. Later, most of its missile boats came into disrepair or were not upgraded. The Syrian navy made do with the task of coastal defense, using Russian-made surface-to-sea missiles, some with long-range capability, in the area of the port of Tartus.
However, it appears that the Syrians have chosen to adopt some of the Lebanon war's lessons, and with Iranian help they have renewed emphasis on their navy. The Hezbollah success against the Israeli navy came with the use of upgraded Chinese-made C-802 missiles. Hezbollah launched these missiles against the destroyer INS Hanit, probably with the direct support of Iranian officers. A missile struck the ship, killed four crew members and caused serious damage.
Syria set to secure advanced anti-tank missiles from Russia
Damascus is close to concluding a large deal with Russia to procure thousands of advanced anti-tank missiles for the Syrian army, according to information received in Israel recently. Such a development suggests that Israel's diplomatic efforts to block the sale have failed.
According to various estimates the deal is worth several hundred million dollars and involves several thousand advanced anti-tank missiles.
For years Syria secured anti-tank missiles from the Soviet Union and later from Russia. During the war in Lebanon last summer Israel found proof that Syria had transferred to Hezbollah advanced Russian-made anti-tank missiles from its arsenal.
Evidence of the existence of these advanced missiles, the Kornet AT-14 and Metis AT-13, came in the form of crates discovered in the villages of Ghandurya and Farun, close to the Saluki River. The shipment documents showed that they had been procured by the Syrian army and transferred to Hezbollah.
Until Israel was able to produce such evidence the authorities in Moscow refused to acknowledge that advanced Russian-made weapons were being transferred to Hezbollah.
But after the war, an Israeli delegation that included members of the National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry presented the evidence to senior Russian officials.
The Russians promised to reevaluate some of the planned arms deals with Syria to ensure that advanced weaponry would not make its way to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.
However, there are now concerns in Israel that Russia will not keep its promise and that the deal with Damascus for the anti-tank missiles is near being finalized.
Syria stepped up its efforts to convince Russia to make the sale following the lessons it reached from the war in Lebanon. The fact that Hezbollah succeeded in delaying an Israeli armored column at the battle near the Saluki River with accurate fire from anti-tank missiles was noted favorably in Arab armies.
In retrospect, and following an IDF study, the number of tanks that were actually damaged during fighting in the war did not exceed several dozen, and in some of them the damage suffered was very minimal. But missile types like the Kornet and the Metis proved their destructive abilities and in some cases even penetrated the armor of the Merkava Mark IV, which is considered to be the best protected tank in the world.
The IDF found it difficult to counter this threat, particularly since the weapons could be fired accurately from distances of five kilometers.
One of the lessons of the war for Syria was that it needed to improve areas in which it had a relative advantage against the IDF, like the anti-tank missile, and surface-to-surface missiles that can threaten Israel's home front.
In addition, Palestinian militant groups have intensified their efforts to smuggle anti-tank missiles from Sinai to the Gaza Strip.
Armor and infantry units in the IDF are now undergoing training in tactical maneuvers that will enable them to counter anti-tank missiles. In addition, there are efforts to upgrade the anti-tank missiles in Israel's arsenal.

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