syrian troops 298.88 AP.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Syrian Defense Minister raised his army's alert level following IDF training exercises on the Golan Heights the past two days, Qatari newspaper Al-Watan reported on Wednesday.
According to the report, Syrian army chief Hasan Turkmani upped the alert level in order to defend against possible Israeli aggression.
What was behind Halutz's surprise visit to the Golan?
Similar alerts were issued during the war against Hizbullah this summer.
A Syrian military source told Al-Watan that the move was prompted by IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz's surprise visit to the area and "unusual mobilizations" of Israeli troops in the Golan Heights on Monday.
The report also stated that the Syrians were concerned about the addition of the right-wing Israel Beiteinu party to the government coalition.
On Monday, Halutz and a staff of 60 officers and military brass made a surprise inspection of the headquarters and outposts of Division 36, which is deployed on the Syrian front.
Military officials in the Northern Command confirmed that exercises were carried out in the Golan on Monday and Tuesday of this week as part of a comprehensive inspection of forces in the area, but that neither the timing nor the scope of the drills was extraordinary.
"These were routine exercises that are conducted all the time, as they are in every other command in the country, to ensure troops are combat ready," an IDF official said.
The official also said the visit did not signify a change in the defensive nature or size of the army's deployment on the frontier.
Earlier in the week, Defense Minister Amir Peretz emphasized his willingness to make concessions and reach a peace agreement with the Syrians, given Damascus would separate itself from radical elements and stop harboring terrorist organizations.
Peretz, however, added that the IDF "must be ready for all scenarios," considering the jingoistic statements made recently by Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has said his army was prepared to fend off an attack and wage war with Israel.
Dr. Mark Heller, principal research associate at the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, said Syria's military posturing and tough talk was precisely a means by which Assad hopes to renew diplomatic negotiations over the Golan Heights.
"Assad very much wants to get Israel back to peace negotiations. He thinks he has a stronger position now and will therefore be able to get more, but so far Israel has not been responsive," said Heller, who authored The Middle East Military Balance.
"I think it is a function of their [the Syrians] reading of what happened in Lebanon this summer and that Israel is not as strong as it once was," Heller continued. "And he thinks he may be able to persuade Israel with these statements."
Despite Peretz's expressing willingness to enter into talks, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said repeatedly that he has no intention of dealing with the Syrians until Damascus cleans house of Hamas and Islamic Jihad offices and training bases, and stops the flow of arms to Hizbullah.
Heller said he does not foresee a change in Olmert's policy regarding Syria, and that the US would not be keen to such a move considering President George W. Bush's own issues with Damascus.
"They would rather see Syria in the hot seat," Heller said. "They don't want to see Syria awarded for the stance they have taken over the past few years."
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