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Syrian President Bashar Assad

GOLAN HEIGHTS – If Israel doesn’t vacate the strategic Golan Heights before September, Syrian guerrillas will immediately launch “resistance operations” against the Golan’s Jewish communities, a top official from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Baath party told WND.

The Baath official, who spoke on condition his name be withheld, said Damascus is preparing for anticipated Israeli retaliation following Syrian guerrilla attacks and for a larger war with the Jewish state in August or September. He said in the opening salvo of any conflict, Syria has the capabilities of firing “hundreds” of missiles at Tel Aviv.

“Syria passed repeated messages to the U.S. that we demand the return of the Golan either through negotiations or through war. If the Golan is not in our hands by August or September, we will be poised to launch resistance, including raids and attacks against Jewish positions (in the Golan Heights),” the Baath official said.

The Golan Heights is strategic mountainous territory looking down on Israeli population centers captured by Israel after Syria twice used the territory to attack the Jewish state.

The Baath official said a new purported guerrilla group called the Committees for the Liberation of the Golan Heights has been training and is ready to attacks against Jewish communities in the Golan in August or September.

He said Syria is preparing for a war.

“More and more of our units have undergone intensive trainings starting at 6 a.m. and finishing late into the evening. If the need arises, we are ready for a war,” said the official.

The official said Syria “learned from the Hezbollah experience last summer and we can have hundreds of missiles hitting Tel Aviv that will overwhelm Israel’s anti-missile batteries.”

He claimed Syria has “proof” Israel is also readying for a war.

“We hear about special Israeli trainings to take Damascus. We see that Israel is re-establishing bases of the Israeli army in the Golan that are unusual and not needed except for war. We believe the Israeli government has an interest in confronting Syria to rehabilitate its image of losing to Hezbollah,” he said.

He also claimed newly installed Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a former prime minister, “wants to prove he is a military expert.”

Israel: Syrian war preparations serious

Israeli security officials confirmed the stepped-up military presence of Syrian troops deployed along the Syrian side of the Golan Heights with strengthened forces after carrying out increased training the last few months. The security officials noted the movement of Syrian Scud missiles near the border with Israel and said Syria recently increased production of rockets and acquired missiles capable of hitting central Israeli population centers.

The Syrian army has improved its fortifications, according to the Israeli security officials, and has received modern, Russian-made anti-tank missiles similar to the missiles that devastated Israeli tanks during the last Lebanon war, causing the highest number of Israeli troop casualties during the 34-days of military confrontations. Syria also received from Russia advanced anti-aircraft missiles.

The security officials said any conflict with Syria could degenerate into a larger war involving Hezbollah along Israel’s northern border and Palestinian terror groups launching attacks from Gaza in the south and the West Bank toward the center of Israel.

The officials noted Syria stepped up the pace of weapons, including rockets, being shipped from the Syrian border to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

The security officials said the greatest threat Syria poses to the Jewish state are the country’s missiles and rockets. They noted Syria recently test-fired two Scud-D surface-to-surface missiles, which have a range of about 250 miles, covering most Israeli territory. The officials said the Syrian missile test was coordinated with Iran and is believed to have been successful. It is not known what type of warhead the missiles had.

In addition to longer-range Scuds, Syria is in possession of shorter-range missiles such as 220 millimeter and 305 millimeter rockets, some of which have been passed on to Hezbollah.

Israel also has information Syria recently acquired and deployed Chinese-made C-802 missiles, which were successfully used against the Israeli navy during Israel’s war against Hezbollah last July and August. The missiles were passed to Syria by Iran, Israeli security officials told WND.

Israeli security officials said Syria is indeed preparing for a summer war. But they said there was an argument within the Israeli intelligence community whether the military buildup is for an attack or is meant by Syria to pressure Israel into vacating the Golan Heights. Some officials said Syria estimates the U.S. or Israel will attack Iran, and Syria will be drawn into a larger military confrontation by opening up a front against northern Israel. Also, the officials said, Syria may believe Israel will attack first and its preparations are defensive in nature.

The Israeli army is not taking any chances. The Israel Defense Forces last month reportedly carried out a mock attack on a “Syrian” village during a major exercise in the Negev. The Israeli soldiers besieged and occupied the village, designed to be similar to towns on the Syrian side of the Golan. Similar war exercises were carried out in Israel the past few months, including a mock attack on Damascus.

According to security officials, recent U.S. intelligence estimates also predict a strong possibility of war between Israel and Syria in the coming months.

Dennis Ross, the American Middle East envoy under the Clinton administration, said this weekend in an interview with Ynetnews, a leading Israeli news website, he thinks “there is a risk of war” between Israel and Syria this summer.

“Nobody has made any decision (about going to war), but the Syrians are positioning themselves for war,” said Ross.

The reports of war also come amid a flurry of articles in the Arab media the past few days claiming Syria has warned its citizens residing in Lebanon to leave the country ahead of a civil war there. Israeli security officials noted the possibility of a civil war in Lebanon, and said there were strong concerns violence there could be used as an excuse for Hezbollah or Palestinian groups to attack Israel.

Syria formed new terror group?

The Baath official speaking to WND said Syria learned the advantages of using guerrilla tactics to achieve political ends from Hezbollah’s war against the Jewish state last summer. He said the Committees for the Liberation of the Golan is modeling itself after Hezbollah.

The Baath official’s statements follow a series of WND interviews in which Baath officials said a purported new Syrian guerrilla organization recently was formed and is ready for attacks if Israel doesn’t withdraw from the Golan. According to the officials, the Syrian Committees for the Liberation of the Golan was formed last year.

In a WND interview, one Baath party official said Syria learned from Hezbollah’s military campaign against Israel last summer that “fighting” is more effective than peace negotiations with regard to gaining territory.”

Hezbollah claims its goal is to liberate the Shebaa Farms, a small, 12-square-mile bloc situated between Syria, Lebanon and Israel. The cease-fire resolution accepted by Israel to end its military campaign in Lebanon last July and August called for negotiations leading to Israel’s relinquishing of the Shebaa Farms.

The Baath official told WND Syria’s new Committees for the Liberation of the Golan Heights consists of Syrian volunteers, many from the Syrian border with Turkey and from Palestinian refugee camps near Damascus. He said Syria held registration for volunteers to join the Committees last June.

The official said attacks by the Committees may include the infiltration of Jewish communities in the Golan, rocket attacks against Israeli positions or raids of Golan-based Israeli military installations. He said all attacks would be launched from the Syrian side of the border.

WND first reported last June on the alleged formation of the Committees for the Liberation of the Golan.

One month later, a man identified as the leader of the Committees gave an interview to state-run Iranian television.

In February, a fax sent to news agencies signed by the Committees claimed the group was holding Guy Hever, an Israeli soldier missing since 1991. Hever disappeared in the Golan Heights near the Syrian border.

Israel is taking the claims of formation of the Committees information seriously. Amos Yadlin, head of the IDF’s intelligence branch, told the Knesset in October Syria is indeed in the early stages of forming a Hezbollah-like group.



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