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GOLAN HEIGHTS – Israel has visibly beefed up its military presence here in the Golan Heights while neighboring Syria reportedly has placed its army on high alert and – for the first time in 30 years – has opened a strategic border road to civilian traffic in a move some Israeli security officials worry could help facilitate guerilla attacks against Golani Jewish communities.
The escalating military moves on both sides come as a top official from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Baath party warned in an interview if Israel doesn’t vacate the strategic Golan Heights by August or September, Syrian guerrillas will launch “resistance operations” against the Golan’s Jewish communities.
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.
A tour of the Golan Heights yesterday found multiple Israeli army positions local residents and soldiers stationed here say were established within the past few weeks. More tanks have been patrolling the area, with several tanks setting up shop in strategic positions looking down on Syria. Makeshift military outposts have been erected and Golan checkpoints fortified.
Several old Israeli Defense Forces military installations in the Golan were reopened the last two months. According to local soldiers, the installations have been largely unused since the 1980s.
In several Golan positions near the Syrian border, IDF tractors cleared the way in recent weeks so that tanks can amass in the area if needed, said soldiers stationed here.
On the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, multiple moves have been made Israeli security officials say are “concerning.”
The security officials confirmed the stepped-up military presence of Syrian troops deployed near the Syrian side of the Golan Heights with strengthened forces after carrying out increased training the past few months. The security officials said Syria recently increased production of rockets and acquired missiles capable of hitting central Israeli population centers.
Last month, Syria removed a series of military checkpoints blocking off a main Damascus-Golan road to the border town of Quneitra, opening the road to civilian traffic for the first time since the 1967 Six Day War.
The road, visible from the Israeli side of the border, remained open to civilians yesterday with no presence of the Syrian military.
Syrian road leading to Golan now open for civilian traffic (WND photo)
At a ceremony at which the road was reopened for civilians, Quneitra’s governor, Nawaf al-Faris, a member of Assad’s Baath party, gave a speech explaining “resistance” works to restore land.
“The resistance is the guarantee to restore land, rights and facing challenges and pressures to which the Arab nation is exposed,” al-Faris stated, according to Syria’s SANA news agency.
Israeli security officials say they are concerned the road can be used by militants seeking to attack the border area. One tank yesterday was positioned on a hilltop directly facing the road.
Speaking to WND on condition of anonymity, a top 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.
The official said the Quneitra road is one of “many” routes in which the Committees can infiltrate the Golan.
In an interview last week, the Baath official warned Syria was preparing for 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 said Syrian war preparations are so specific, the Syrian government has given its officials and top contacts alternative phone numbers to key government ministries in case the Damascus phone system is knocked out during an Israeli aerial bombardment.
He warned Syria may launch eminent “resistance.”
“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.
Israel: Syrian war preparations serious
Israeli security officials confirmed Syria has been strengthening its forces and noted the movement of Syrian Scud missiles near the border with Israel.
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 threats 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 one year ago. 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.
Ahmadinejad: It’s going to be a ‘hot’ summer
The reports of preparations for possible confrontations also come as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned during a rare visit to Syria last week that this summer will be “hot” and will bring defeat for the “region’s enemies.”
“We hope that the hot weather of this summer would coincide with similar victories for the region’s peoples, and with consequent defeat for the region‘s enemies,” Ahmadinejad said, standing alongside Assad.
Ahmadinejad claimed unspecified “enemies of the region” have “plans to attack the interests of this region.” He urges those enemies to abandon their war plans “or they would be burned by the wrath of the region’s peoples.”
He described Syrian-Iranian relations as “amicable, excellent and extremely deep,” stating the two countries have common stands on regional issues and face common enemies.
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