What's the chance of war with Syria? Top IDF officers appear confused

Is Assad massing missiles on the border, or lowering the level of alert?

assad in uniform 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
assad in uniform 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF sent mixed messages Sunday with senior officers issuing contradictory predictions concerning the likelihood of war with Syria. Head of Military Intelligence's Research Division Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz told the cabinet Sunday that Syrian President Bashar Assad was concerned about an Israeli attack, and as such had stepped up production of long-range missiles and moved anti-aircraft missiles to his border with Israel. Later in the day, a highranking member of the General Staff issued a different assessment and claimed that Syria had lowered its level of alert along the border with Israel. "For the most part, the Syrian military has returned to the way it manned the border before the war in Lebanon [when it raised the level of alert and beefed up forces - Y.K.]," the officer said. Syria, the top officer said, has been receiving advanced weaponry from Iran in preparation for a possible conflict with Israel in the Golan Heights. The IDF has doubled its forces on Mount Hermon and has deployed an extra brigade in the Golan Heights in case of a flare-up of violence along the border. Baidatz said that along with the preparations for war, Assad continued to talk about reaching an agreement with Israel. According to Baidatz, the Syrian president did not see any contradiction between these two tracks. Despite Baidatz's assessment, the highranking officer said the IDF did not have any intelligence concerning Syrian plans to attack Israel. The IDF Spokesman's Office also released a statement claiming that the military did not have any intelligence regarding the possibility of a war either in Lebanon or against Syria. "All the talk of a war in the summer of 2007 is irresponsible," the high-ranking officer said. "And it does not reflect the reality of what is going on on the Syrian or Lebanese fronts." The officer further revealed that Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was still viewed as a target by Israel. Nasrallah, he said, was targeted by Israel on three occasions during the war this past summer, but emerged unscathed following all of the attacks. According to the officer, Nasrallah's "behavior" and decision to remain in underground bunkers demonstrates how he is viewed by the Israeli defense establishment. Baidatz said that in recent weeks Assad has been very active diplomatically, apparently sensing a crack in the international isolation of Syria, and was trying to leverage that to his advantage. He met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier last week, as well as with officials from the Persian Gulf. Assad, Baidatz said, continued to support Hizbullah in Lebanon, and was trying to scuttle implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. The assessment was that he was also hoping that through the downfall of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, the international tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri would be called off. Diplomatic officials have been saying for weeks that Assad was worried that this tribunal could undermine his regime if some of his close confidants were indicted. Regarding Lebanon, Baidatz said that Hizbullah felt now was the time to push for Saniora's downfall before there was a chance to fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701, something that would weaken its positions. He said the organization wanted to bring about the downfall of the Saniora government and gain control of at least one-third of the cabinet. Militarily, Baidatz said, Hizbullah was trying to rebuild its military outposts in the south, but was having a difficult time of it. Although it has missile capabilities, its infrastructure in the villages south of the Litani River was heavily damaged during the summer's war, and now with the international force on the ground, as well as the Lebanese army, it is more difficult for it to rebuild its presence in the villages. Baidatz also said there were increasing signs that Global Jihad elements were setting up a presence in Lebanon and were planning terrorist attacks, possibly against the international forces there. The high-ranking officer said the Global Jihad terror cells posed a direct threat to the multinational force in southern Lebanon and particularly to French, Italian and Spanish soldiers. Following the war in Lebanon last summer, the officer said, two new forces - Global Jihad and Palestinian terror cells - had gathered strength and now posed a direct threat both to Lebanon as a sovereign country and to Israel. "Global Jihad has recognized a comfortable arena for operations in Lebanon," the officer said. "The European forces are certainly one of their primary targets." The Global Jihad terrorists, according to the officer, were operating mainly in northern Lebanon, but occasionally ventured into the south of the country, as they did last year when they fired a Katyusha rocket at Israel. The officer acknowledged that there were efforts by the Lebanese government to crack down on Global Jihad terror cells.