Barak watches Golan tank exercises, downplays threat of war

PM helicopter North 298. (photo credit: IDF)
PM helicopter North 298.
(photo credit: IDF)
"Israel does not want war today and, according to our assessments, nor do the Syrians, so there does not need to be a war," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday morning after watching tank exercises on the Golan Heights. Despite stepped-up IDF training and more frequent visits by politicians and military brass to the area, Israel was not preparing for an impending confrontation with Syria, he told soldiers and reporters. Barak was also in the Golan Tuesday, together with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. "For five years we have not trained enough, and now we plan to comprehensively train every unit in the IDF," he told tank crews. "Israel's field-training bases are on the Golan and in the Negev, and we will continue to conduct exercises here to ensure that the IDF will be prepared for any eventual threat." Together with Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky and OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizencot, Barak observed tank war games. Military officials said the exercises were part of a combined armored and infantry training regimen on the Golan Heights, instituted following the Second Lebanon War. Meanwhile, Hamas claimed responsibility for firing six mortar shells toward the Erez crossing Wednesday afternoon. An Israeli woman was lightly wounded by shrapnel and a greenhouse in a nearby community was damaged. Late Tuesday night, Palestinians launched three mortar salvos and two Kassam rockets at Israeli communities as IDF troops withdrew from the southern Gaza Strip after a day of clashes in which 11 Palestinians were killed. An underground tunnel stretching from the northern Gaza Strip to Israel and hidden by a Palestinian greenhouse was discovered by the IDF on Tuesday, the army reported Wednesday. The tunnel was within 700 meters of the security barrier. According to security forces, Palestinian terrorists intended to fill the tunnel with bombs, which would then be detonated under a civilian or military target. The army is also checking into the possibility that terrorists intended to use the tunnel to infiltrate. "It's not unreasonable to think that more of these kinds of tunnels exist, and that terrorists are just waiting for the day when they receive the order to use them," an IDF officer said. Overnight in the West Bank, Palestinians threw stones at an Israeli bus and a private vehicle near Hebron, the army said. There were no casualties, but both vehicles were damaged. One of the stone-throwers was captured, the army said. Soldiers captured four Palestinian fugitives during raids near Jenin and Ramallah, the army said.