Syria reportedly wary of IDF Golan drill

Qatari paper: Syrian official says US destabilizing Golan in effort to punish Russia for war on Georgia.

Barak-Ashkenazi 224-88 (photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI)
Barak-Ashkenazi 224-88
(photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI)
"The Syrian leadership has undertaken emergency preventive and deterrent measures, fearing that Israel will turn the military exercise in the Golan Heights to an attack against Syria," Damascus officials reportedly told the Qatari-based paper Al Watan on Wednesday. Israel was holding wide-scale tank maneuvers in the territory on Tuesday. The paper quoted other Syrian officials as saying the IDF maneuvers were not in line with peace overtures Syria had been sending Israel over the past few months. "The risk of such drills lies in the fact that they take place near the ceasefire line with Syria and also because Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi came to supervise them personally," the officials said. Furthermore, a former Syrian advisor to the regime, George Jabour, said there was a connection between the IDF maneuvers and the conflict between Russia and Georgia. Jabour claimed that the US administration might attempt to "heat up" the Golan front as an indirect response to Russia's attack on Georgia. "The exercise is a provocation against Syria's peaceful intentions," Jabour said. The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the Al Watan report. Syria has been sponsored by Russia since the days of the Soviet empire. Earlier on Tuesday, Barak said the flow of arms reaching Hizbullah from Syria could disrupt a "balance" between the Shi'ite terror organization and the IDF. Barak, was observing the Golan drill accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the commander of the army's ground forces, Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi, and other senior military brass. Barak has repeatedly warned in recent days that Hizbullah's ambitious rearming program formed an immediate threat to Israel's national security. "The other side is getting stronger. It is not a coincidence that we are holding a large-scale intensive exercise here in the Golan," Barak said. "[UN] Resolution 1701 has not succeeded in its mission. There has been a very significant strengthening of Hizbullah in recent years. We are monitoring the possibility of a violation of a balance by the transfer of advanced weapons systems from the Syrians to Hizbullah," he added. "What needs to be done in the field of preparations is being done. As for the rest - I prefer to not always talk about this, but, if and when there will be a need, to act." The exercise involved soldiers using live ammunition and missiles, and was described by Barak as "changing from the foundation up the IDF's state of readiness and the ability of units to afterwards carry out missions in [actual] fighting, if and when this is forced on them." Asked to address the cease-fire in Gaza, Barak said the truce was holding up. "Until now the truce has been successful. There were around 10 incidents of firing over the past six weeks. But this must be compared to the hundreds of incidents in the past. Every passing week of calm allows us to become stronger," he said. The defense minister also commented on the Georgian-Russian conflict, saying Israel should not look to abandon Georgia in its time of need. "We can't influence what is happening in Georgia," he said. "We view in Russia an important element in the regional and global existence, while we view Georgia as a place with which we have friendly relations. Because of its experiences, the State of Israel should ensure that it does not intervene, and that it does not abandon friends during their hour of need. This is what we expected of our friends, and this is what our friends expect of us, and we all hope that matters there will be straighten out quickly and that a cease-fire and talks are reached." During the exercise, Ashkenazi shared his view of the incident in the West Bank village of Ni'lin, in which a bound Palestinian was shot in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet in July The shooting resulting in the dismissal of Lt.-Col Omri Burbarg. "I think what happened to Omri is an unfortunate incident. He understands this. He did not mean [for the soldier] to shoot, but we must be the ones who set the norms. I view this as a failure at the command level, and I've told Omri this. Omri will change roles, undergo the process he needs to undergo, and I don't rule out the possibility that he could return [to his position] in the future," Ashkenazi was quoted by Ynet as saying.