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Israel and Syria went on high alert along their mutual border late Sunday after Syria's Information Minister Muhsein Bilal warned that his country would join the conflict if Israel entered Lebanon with ground forces.
"If Israel invades Lebanon then it will be only about 20 km. from Damascus and we will not stand with our hands tied," Bilal said in an interview with Spanish newspaper ABC.
"We have cooperation forces on alert," he added. "If Israeli troops provoke us, Damascus will act to guarantee the national security of Syrian territory."
Following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Sunday, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel had no intention of entering into a war with Syria.
Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky told the weekly cabinet meeting that the IDF was not operating near the Syrian-Lebanese border, to avoid unnecessary escalation.
"If Syria does not attack Israel, Israel will not attack Syria," Vice Premier Shimon Peres told a visiting delegation of the World Jewish Congress on Sunday.
"I wouldn't take it too seriously," Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shlomo Brom, senior research associate at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said of Syria's tough talk, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. The former head of the Strategic Planning Division in the General Staff said Syria was ill-equipped for all out war against Israel.
"Even if the IDF were to attack within Syria's borders, it would not be in their interest to respond in face of Israel's overwhelming military superiority," Brom said. "The greatest difficulty faced by the IDF and other modern armies is the asymmetrical nature of warfare against guerrilla organizations. Unlike Hizbullah, Syria is full of juicy targets that the Israel Air Force could decimate within hours, and the Syrians know this."
Therefore, Brom added, the Syrians would rather use their proxy of Hizbullah to launch attacks than risk the destruction of its own military and strategic installations in an exchange with Israel.
According to Brom, Hizbullah's greatest asset was its ability to fire on Israel and then disappear into the surrounding countryside. Made up of 5,000-6,000 fighters hardened by 18 years of combat against IDF troops in Southern Lebanon, Hizbullah cells are able to capitalize on the rugged landscape in the region to frustrate the Israeli military machine.
IAF attack helicopter pilots were taking measures to stay out of range of advanced shoulder-fired missiles known to be in the possession of Hizbullah cells, military officials said.
Arab commentators have suggested that if its closest ally were be attacked, Iran would be obliged to respond following its February 2005 pledge to form a "united front" with Syria against any threats.
At the time, Iranian Vice President Muhammad Reza Aref said Iran was "ready to help Syria on all grounds to confront threats," and he urged other Islamic states to join in forming a powerful alliance in the face of "US and Israeli plots." The two countries have had close relations since the Islamic Revolution in 1978. In 1980, Syria backed Iran against Iraq, a fellow Arab nation, in their 1980-88 war.
Brom dismissed the doomsday scenario of Iran and Syria joining forces and igniting a regional war against Israel.
"They do not share a common border so Iran cannot move forces into the region to attack Israel from the north, and at the most we will have more ground-to-ground missiles launched at us from the East, and we have seen that, while unpleasant, Israel can withstand missile barrages on its cities."
Hilary Leila Krieger and AP contributed to this report.