Syria deploys rockets along Israel border
* Israeli sources fear military build-up represents war preparation
* EU foreign policy chief to include Syria in ME visit
JERUSALEM/BRUSSELS: Israel said on Friday that Syria had positioned along its border with the Jewish state thousands of medium- and long-range rockets capable of striking major town across the north of the country, the same day the European Union (EU) confirmed that its foreign policy chief was preparing to visit Damascus.
Talking to AFP on condition of anonymity, Israeli military and government sources said that the Jewish state viewed the Syrian deployment, coupled with other recent reports of troop mobilisation, as an indication that Damascus might be preparing for future “low intensity warfare” against Israel.
“We have noticed that in recent months Syria has deployed hundreds, possibly thousands, of medium- and long-range rockets along the border (with Israel),” one military source said.
“Many of the rockets are hidden in underground chambers and in camouflaged silos, which make them very difficult to locate,” the source added.
The sources, three of whom were from the military and two from the government, said that Syria had built a system of fortified underground tunnels along its border with Israel, which they said posed “a real strategic threat” to the Jewish state.
One government source described the move as evidence of Syria “investing in fields where it can have an edge”, given that Israel’s advanced air force and “smart weapons” afforded the Jewish state “absolute superiority in several fields in warfare”.
The source went on to explain that Syria “has invested in recent years in anti-aircraft weapons, rockets, missiles and bunkers”, adding that last year’s Israeli war on Lebanon, in which the Jewish state found itself unable to overpower Hezbollah, “proved to the Syrians that they were right to do so”. Government sources said that this explained why Syria was concluding a deal with Russia to procure thousands of advanced anti-tank missiles, of the sort that Hezbollah used against the Israeli army during last summer’s conflict.
These concerns over a possible imminent Syrian attack on Israel have also been echoed by Israeli experts. Speaking to AFP, Begin-Saadat Centre for Strategic Studies Director Ephraim Inbar said: “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad realised after the Lebanon war (last year) that Israel was not as strong as it seems and that it could be threatened by simple means rather than an advanced army.”
Inbar also appeared to agree with military sources when he said that “Assad could be preparing for low intensity war, a type of war of attrition with Israel, where Syria fires several rockets against Israel without provoking full-fledged war”.
However, Israel’s military intelligence chief, Major General Amod Yadlin, told the government’s annual intelligence assessment that while Syria was beefing up its military, war between the two neighbouring countries was unlikely in 2007.
The concern, he said, was not that Syria would initiate a full-scale war against Israel, but that Damascus would react militarily against Israeli military moves.
Reports of the Syrian build-up comes two weeks after the Jewish state held war games in the occupied Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967, in a bid to learn the lessons of last summer’s conflict with Lebanon.
Meanwhile on Friday, Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was scheduled to visit Syria next week for talks on Lebanon and Middle Eastern peace, in move that would end the bloc’s freeze on high-level contacts with Damascus.
French President Jacques Chirac had been blocking EU contacts with Syria over the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Prior to the Irish foreign minister’s disclosure, Solana had only confirmed that he was scheduled on Monday to visit Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. agencies