syrian troops 298.88 AP.
(photo credit: AP [file])
One thing is for sure: Israel's response to a Syrian attack will be nothing like its reaction to the July 12 kidnapping of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in a cross-border Hizbullah attack. The retaliation, defense officials interviewed for this article warned, would be harsher, fiercer and far deadlier.
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The first difference would be the bank of targets. On the night of July 12, hours after the kidnapping, the cabinet convened to approve a list of targets for the IAF to strike. None of them included government or Lebanese armed forces sites. The closest the IAF got to striking at the Lebanese government during the month-long war in Lebanon was the bombing of the runway at Beirut International Airport.
The Syrian bank of targets would be different. It would not only include military infrastructure, such as bases, rocket launchers and silos, but also government buildings, headquarters, power plants, electricity grids and water reservoirs.
"We will shut down the entire country" was how one defense official described the potential response.
While most officials claim there is a slim possibility for a war with Syria, Israel is still preparing just in case. Military Intelligence assessments for 2007 presented recently to the General Staff indicated that war with Syria is closer than it was in 2006.
Israel is concerned that Syria might consider adopting the Egyptian model from the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Then, Egypt launched a surprise attack against Israel and, while it lost the war, obtained a major diplomatic victory. The war led to peace talks between the two countries and the eventual return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.
Syria, officials warn, might be thinking it can do the same. While aware he will lose the war, President Bashar Assad might be thinking that even a loss would force Israel into peace talks and the eventual return of the Golan Heights, captured during the Six Day War in 1967. On the other hand, officials say Assad's warlike and threatening comments should not be taken at face value. They could just be attempts to grab the world's attention and force Israel into peace talks despite strong American opposition.
While Israel has uncontested air superiority over Syria - the IAF boasts F-16s and F-15s while the Syrian air force's newest jet is the MiG-29 from 1987 - the Syrian military has built up a strong array of missiles including some that are capable of carrying warheads filled with nerve gas, such as Sarin and VX. Damascus is currently in a race to build up its army and has recently drastically increased its defense budget after some $14 billion in loans it owed were erased.
According to the Middle East Military Balance, published by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, Syria has several hundred Scud missiles, some of which it received in 2002, and close to 100 ballistic missile launchers.
On the ground, the IDF infantry and Armored Corps would face 12 Syrian ground divisions, equipped with 3,700 Russian tanks, including 122 T-72s upgraded by an Italian firm in 2003. Syria also has more military personnel than Israel - 290,00 soldiers compared to almost 180,000.
At the moment, the IDF is at a heightened state of alert along the border with Syria and has deployed additional forces in the North in case of a surprise attack.
Israel will have to prepare for the possibility that the IAF will not succeed in destroying all of Syria's ballistic missiles and that some might get through. In that case, as a first line of defense, the IAF has the Patriot 3 and the Arrow anti-ballistic missile defense systems that are supposed to intercept the incoming threats. If, however, those don't function, it will be up to Home Front Command to ensure citizens of northern and central Israel have the necessary means of protection.