'Army preparing for war on two fronts'

Ashkenazi hails IDF drill; Intelligence chief: Hamas has 20-km range missiles.

Ashkenazi Peretz drill  (photo credit: IDF)
Ashkenazi Peretz drill
(photo credit: IDF)
"The IDF is preparing for an escalation on both the Palestinian and northern fronts," Chief of General Staff Lt. -Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said Tuesday. Ashkenazi was speaking at a large-scale drill, incorporating multiple units, in Shizafon. "The IDF's goal is to improve our readiness, while at the same time continuing the war on terror. The display seen here today is quite impressive; only one element is lacking - an enemy," Ashkenazi said. Ashkenazi also addressed cadets who were observing the drill: "We will have to ensure that commanders give clear orders and the means to carry them through … a commander needs to be inquisitive, curious and interested. Every available moment should be devoted to training," he said. "The army is either preparing to fight or fighting. That is the reason why commanders should use every free minute they have to study the assignments, so that when we send you to the front line- you will achieve results." Regarding the prospects of war breaking out this summer or in the near future, Ashkenazi said: "I do not know if a war will break out or not, but the residents of Israel count on us - and I count on you." Defense Minister Amir Peretz, also present at the drill, said that "we have no indication that Syria is interested in initiating a war." However, he added, "I hope the escalation in words will not bring about an escalation in actions." Peretz clarified that the IDF was only conducting an exercise according to a yearly training plan and said he was hopeful the Syrians would not "misinterpret" it. A similar drill conducted last year centered on conquering a mockup of a Palestinian village. This year, the drill's goal was to conquer a mockup of a Syrian village. OC Military Intelligence Chief Maj. -Gen. Amos Yadlin also referred to the northern border in his briefing to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset. "Syria is making very real preparations, cleaning army posts, conducting large drills and strengthening defenses. They are reaching a state of readiness for war more than in the past, but this doesn't mean they'll be ready for war tomorrow. The Syrians have a very large quantity of long-range missiles. They do not need to move forces around to attack with these missiles. Yadlin went on to say that Hamas possessed Grad missiles with a range of 20 kilometers that have yet to be fired at Israel. Israel Radio quoted Yadlin as saying that the group also had Kassam rockets capable of reaching distances of up to 13 kilometers. Yadlin also warned that shoulder-fired missiles, with a range of 40 kilometers, could soon be smuggled into the Gaza Strip. Within the IDF, movement of Syrian forces towards the Golan Heights border is considered a preliminary sign for potential escalation and allows the army time to prepare - usually 48 hours. Over the past few months the Syrian army raised its level of alert, thus effectively eroding most of the preliminary signs. Together with the long-range missiles mentioned by Yadlin, the implications of the latest developments are that Syria can potentially catch Israel by surprise.