IDF tanks along the Syrian border on Golan Heights 370 (R).
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
An Israeli military source on Wednesday told Reuters that Israel is bolstering its forces on the once-quiet frontier with Syria where it believes Lebanese Hezbollah militants are preparing for the day when they could fight Israel.
The source said the group is gathering intelligence on Israel's deployment on the strategic Golan plateau.
"It is not at an alarming level now but we understand their intentions," said the source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the security and political situation in the area.
Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened in May to turn the Golan
into a new front against Israel.
"Since Nasrallah's threat, more (Israeli) army companies have been sent up, more tanks," an Israeli military source at the Booster military outpost on the Golan.
"Hezbollah has an intelligence presence (in the Golan) that we know of."
Booster is about 2 km (1 mile) from a disengagement line set after Israel and Syria fought on the Golan in 1973 and Israeli tanks have just moved back into the position for the first time since then.
Daytime is peaceful on the rocky outcrop that gives a turret-top view of Syrian villages below, with birdsong echoing across sun-scorched fields. That changes at nightfall.
"Every night there is fighting (in the villages across the frontier), explosions and shooting all through the night. This is the hottest spot on the Golan Heights," Shilo said. "As far as we're concerned, any bullet that crosses over is intentional."
A UN observer force monitors the area of separation between Syrian and Israeli forces, a narrow strip of land running 70 km (45 miles) from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.
The observers have been caught in the middle of fighting between Syrian troops and rebels. Stray shells and bullets have landed on the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan, and Israeli troops have fired into Syria in response.
The rebels have detained peacekeepers on several different occasions before releasing them. Japan and Croatia have withdrawn troops due to the violence as has Austria with the gap being filled by soldiers from Fiji.
Among the rebels fighting the Syrian army are jihadi and Qaeda-linked groups, which Israel says are also a future threat to the Jewish state.
"We know they are busy now but once it ends they will turn their guns on us," said the military source.
"We have learnt our lessons from Sinai," the source said, referring to the Egyptian peninsula where Islamist militants have launched attacks on Egyptian soldiers and across the border at Israel amid deepening turmoil in Egypt.
"We're not waiting for an attack (from Syria). We're building the border fence, we have sent up tanks, more regiments, field intelligence ... and increased observations."
Israel is particularly worried that Hezbollah will get hold of advanced weapon
systems or chemical arms in Syria. Israel has struck inside Syria at least three
times in the past few months against what it believed to be anti-aircraft and
advanced ground missiles destined for the group.
Foreign forces destroyed
advanced Russian anti-ship missiles in Syria last week, rebels said on Tuesday -
a disclosure that appeared to point to an Israeli raid. Israel has not confirmed
or denied involvement.
The army has also deployed a high-tech
surveillance system along the Syria front, which immediately zeroes in on any
suspicious movements approaching Israeli-held territory.
"It is critical
for us to know who is sitting there - if it's an Islamist jihadi or a rebel who
just wants to defend his family," the military source said.
In June, the
Syrian army and Hezbollah captured the strategic Syrian town Qusair from rebel
Israel watched closely and last month held a military drill that
simulated taking over a northern Israeli town of Safed in preparation for
Israeli military sources on the Israel-Lebanon border
said that despite its deep involvement in Syria, Hezbollah has not loosened its
grip on the border area in south Lebanon.
"Hezbollah's legitimacy in the
Arab world is cracking over its involvement in Syria," said one source on the
Lebanon border. "But on the other hand, if they come under a lot of pressure
they could chose to ignite the border."
Israeli commanders have noticed that
Hezbollah had taken down some of its flags, as well as those of Iran, that once
hung proudly in the border villages, a sign it could be worried about its image.