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Voicing concern over Damascus's massive military buildup, Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky broke away from previous IDF predictions and tried to calm the public on Wednesday by declaring that war with Syria this summer was improbable.
He also said that a year after the Second Lebanon War, the IDF was fully prepared to counter any attack on the State of Israel - from Syria, Hizbullah, Iran or Hamas.
The IDF has raised its level of alert throughout the North out of concern that guerrillas or Hizbullah supporters will attack IDF troops stationed along the border on the war's anniversary.
Israel could not ignore the buildup and ongoing preparations within the Syrian military, Kaplinksy said. But they were mostly defensive measures that did not necessarily mean Damascus intended to attack. Kaplinsky said Israel was also concerned with Iranian intervention in Syria and Lebanon, including its support for Hizbullah.
On Wednesday, The Jerusalem Post reported that the IDF's updated intelligence assessments for the coming year predicted that war with Syria could erupt if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not begin peace negotiations with Damascus, and that such a war would be at least 10 times worse than last summer's conflict with Hizbullah.
Speaking to reporters at a briefing marking the Second Lebanon War's first anniversary, Kaplinsky said Hizbullah was in the process of rebuilding itself and rearming with weapons supplied by Syria.
"The rehabilitation is an indication of just how hard Hizbullah was hit during last summer's war," he said, adding that the guerrilla group had not yet regained the strength it had before the war.
Hizbullah is planning a major rally in Beirut on Thursday to mark what it claims was its victory over Israel during the war.
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who might attend the rally, remains a target for the IDF, although the assumption within the defense establishment is that the guerrilla group would respond harshly to the killing of its leader and that such a move could lead to a new conflict.
The IDF is closely following developments within Lebanon, with growing concern that Hizbullah will gain political strength and topple the Western-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. Hizbullah is demanding that Saniora appoint two more members of its party as government ministers in addition to those who recently resigned, a move that would grant the group veto authority over cabinet decisions.
The crisis in Lebanon is also currently focusing on the confrontation between Saniora and pro-Damascus factions led by Hizbullah over the election of a new president set for September, when Syrian-ally Emile Lahoud's term ends. If the sides do not agree on a candidate, Israel fears that Saniora will be weakened to the point that he might step down.
Channel 1 reported on Wednesday night that Hizbullah might be planning a military coup in Lebanon.
Kaplinsky said Hizbullah was not deployed in southern Lebanon as it was before last summer's war, and that it was having difficulty operating in the area due to the presence of UNIFIL peacekeepers and the Lebanese Armed Forces, which he said had proven on more than one occasion that "when they want to, they can take action to curb Hizbullah."
"Hizbullah is rebuilding itself," he said. "But we are ready for all possible scenarios."
The IDF's primary failure before the war, Kaplinsky said, was providing insufficient training for combat units. He said the military was currently in the process of rectifying the problem and that by the end of the year, close to 70 percent of reservists would have undergone training. All units in compulsory service have already participated in exercises and the IDF plans to begin a second round of training sessions for infantry brigades.
"The IDF has gone through a long and comprehensive process throughout all of the different branches and commands," Kaplinsky said. "We were not looking for people to blame, but to study and identify our weak points and to prepare a better work plan for the future."
Kaplinsky admitted to making mistakes in the run up to the war. "I was a partner to the processes started in the General Staff and I have no doubt that we made mistakes," he said. "Since the war, the IDF has realized great achievements."
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