With tension rising along Israel's northern border, the IDF held a large-scale exercise on Tuesday in the South, simulating Israeli infantry, armor and airborne units conquering a Syrian village. Watching the exercise at the IDF's Shizafon Base outside Eilat, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that the military was preparing for the possibility that war would break out with Syria. But, he stressed, the increase in IDF training, including Tuesday's exercise, did not mean that Israel intended to initiate a war. "Our readiness is not indicative of any decision on our side or by the Syrians to go to war," he said. "We view [these] as purely defensive measures."
IDF official: Stop prattling about Syria
Peretz's words were echoed by IDF Intelligence Chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, who briefed the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday morning.
"Syria has something to lose by going to war with Israel," Yadlin said. "Syria is not Hizbullah; it is a country with a regime. It has infrastructure and easily marked targets.
"[Syrian President] Bashar Assad has... an air force, he has an electrical network and civilian infrastructure. All these could be harmed in war," Yadlin said.
"The Syrians saw what happened during the Second Lebanon War and our deterrence became more effective. They saw that the IDF succeeded in eliminating Hizbullah's rocket threat within hours," he continued.
Yadlin said the military exercises and preparations being made by the Syrians were precautionary.
"They are reaching a higher level of preparedness for war, but this does not mean Syria is ready to go to war tomorrow," he said.
Meanwhile, Peretz said that the Middle East was a tense region that could easily be "set ablaze" by a "random and local incident." As a result, he said, the IDF was keeping a close eye on the Syrian front.
The same IDF drill conducted last year simulated the IDF conquering a Palestinian village. Due to tension in the North, the IDF changed this year's scenario. Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi referred to both fronts in a speech to Officer School cadets.
"The IDF is preparing for an escalation on both the Palestinian and the northern fronts," Ashkenazi said. "The IDF's goal is to improve its readiness, while at the same time continuing to combat terror. The display seen here today is quite impressive; only one element is lacking - an enemy."
Regarding the prospect of war breaking out this summer or in the near future, Ashkenazi told the cadets: "I don't know if a war will break out or not, but the residents of Israel count on us - and I count on you."
Peretz said that while the IDF needed to train and be ready for all possible scenarios, Israel should not ignore calls for peace from Damascus.
"I hope that the escalation in words does not turn into a real practical escalation," he said. "We have informed the Syrians that they need to take into account that we will be ready but we have no intention of initiating an escalation."
At the Knesset, Yadlin turned to Iran, telling committee members that Iran would continue pursuing nuclear independence, despite the heavy price it is paying as a result of sanctions.
"They want the world to know that they have reached the point of technological no-return... They have all the technology they need to pursue a nuclear weapons program," said Yadlin.
"They certainly feel the sanctions, but the international community has reacted too little and too late," he said.
Yadlin then addressed the threat from Gaza, explaining that Hamas was interested in a cease-fire "because they are losing."
"The organization realizes that it's currently losing; half of Hamas's operational capability has been damaged by Israel's response," he said, adding that the group wanted to return to a state of relative calm.
Yadlin warned that Hamas would use the calm to strengthen their hold on the Gaza Strip, and to transfer information and weapons-making tools to the West Bank.
"Hamas is turning from a terrorist organization into a semi-military force, modeled after Hizbullah, which is organized into units and battalions and intends to fight guerrilla warfare in residential areas," he said.
Yadlin also warned that Israel needed to prepare itself for the possibility that terror organizations in Gaza could acquire Katyusha rockets, which have a 40-km. range, as opposed to the Kassam rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip, which have a range of 13-20 km.â€¢