TEL AVIV – One year after the Lebanese Hezbollah militia fired more than 3,000 rockets into northern Israeli population centers, the Jewish state’s home front – especially Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – are largely unprepared for the event of war, say officials.
The concern comes amid threats from Hezbollah it has replenished its rocket arsenal and statements from officials in Syria the country has thousands of rockets and missiles capable of hitting the entire Jewish state.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office recently released statistics stating about $1 billion was needed for construction of new civilian bomb shelters and renovation of older ones. But officials admitted even if the money is allotted, the country will not have enough shelters for about two years.
Israel has been focused on rebuilding shelters in the north that were battered during confrontations with Hezbollah one year ago. The Israeli north is home to about one-third of the country’s population. Most shelters there are expected to be renovated by the end of August, although there have been media reports of rampant looting of some of the shelters.
In central Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, there are only enough existing shelters for 70 to 80 percent of the area’s residents. And of the existing shelters, officials say about two-thirds may be usable.
Israeli security officials state the population is ill-prepared for the event of a non-conventional war.
The U.S. has accused Syria of producing significant quantities of chemical and biological weapons.
According to statistics, only half of Israelis possess gas masks, and of those who do, many gas mask kits are thought to be out of date.
Olmert’s office has allocated only about $24,000 to the Israeli Home Front Command for the acquisition of gas warfare protection kits.
Some security officials complained the government hasn’t done enough to educate citizens on public safety in the event of the outbreak of war. A WND intern yesterday surveyed 212 Tel Aviv residents at the city’s largest shopping mall; of those, about half didn’t know the location of the closest bomb shelter to their home.
Still, the Israeli government has installed siren systems in most of the country to warn of incoming missiles. By the end of August, the entire country should be covered by the siren systems, many of which automatically detect incoming missiles.
The information follows a WND interview in which a top official from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Baath party warned his country is preparing for possible war.
The official said if Israel doesn’t vacate the strategic Golan Heights by August or September, Syrian groups might launch guerilla attacks against Jewish communities there that could lead to a larger confrontation with Israel.
“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 Baath official warned that in the opening salvo of any conflict, Syria has the capabilities of firing “hundreds” of missiles at Tel Aviv.
Israel: Syrian war preparations serious
Israeli security officials say Syria boosted its military near the Syrian side of the Golan Heights with strengthened forces after carrying out increased training the past 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 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.
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