IDF on alert, cancels weekend breaks over Syria

Weekend furloughs cancelled for officers, soldiers in some units due to concern over ongoing fighting in Syria.

July 19, 2012 15:27
2 minute read.
IDF's Givati Brigade excercise

IDF's Givati Brigade excercise 370. (photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)

The IDF raised its level of alert on Thursday and called off weekend furloughs for a number of units due to concern over the fighting in Syria.

On Wednesday, a bomb in a Damascus security building killed defense minister Daoud Rajha; deputy defense minister Assef Shawkat, who was also President Bashar Assad’s brother-in-law; and former defense minister and senior military official Gen. Hassan Turkmani.

Syria’s interior minister and several other officials were seriously wounded.

Israel is primarily concerned that Syria’s chemical weapons or other advanced military systems will fall into the hands of rogue actors such as Hezbollah or global jihad elements operating in the country.

Israel is also concerned that Assad – feeling his back against the wall – may decide to take Israel with him, and as a result fire everything he has at the Jewish state.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the border with Syria and warned that Hezbollah might move Syrian chemical weapons to Lebanon.

Since many Islamists came to Syria from outside the country – from global jihad, al-Qaida and other groups – there may be even greater chaos there the day after Assad, Barak said.

On Wednesday night, Barak spoke with US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and updated him on Israel’s concerns regarding the situation in Syria. Barak told Panetta, who is scheduled to visit Israel later this month, that Assad’s days were numbered and that Israel’s main concern was with the chemical weapons.

As Barak toured the border on Thursday, mortar fire was heard from within Syria.

Defense officials said the shelling was not connected to Barak’s visit but was part of the unrest in Syria.

Later in the day, a group of about 15 Syrian civilians approached the border, raising IDF fears that they would try to cross into Israel to seek refuge. IDF troops were deployed to the scene and the military contacted United Nations peacekeepers. The group eventually returned to their homes in a village about 2 kilometers from the border.

IDF sources said the military had prepared contingency plans for the possibility that large numbers of refuge-seekers would try to force their way over the border.

Under the plan, the army plans to hold the civilians in an area on the border that is not Israeli territory but is a fenced-in enclave.

The sources said that the IDF was prepared to provide the refuge-seekers with food and water and even protect them from Syrian military forces if they tried to attack the civilians.

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