The security cabinet will hold a discussion this morning on the situation on the Syrian and Lebanese borders and the likelihood of war in the north. Central to the discussions will be intelligence assessments about the growing strength of both the Syrian army and Hezbollah, as well as about the intentions of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The majority view in Military Intelligence holds that Assad is well placed to carry out a a surprise attack on the Golan Heights, but is unlikely to initiate a war.
The Military Intelligence assessments that will be presented to the security cabinet today say that the Syrian army is deployed along the Golan Heights with beefed-up forces, having moved units of large-caliber rockets, similar to the ones Hezbollah launched against Haifa during the Second Lebanon War, up to the front. Intelligence reports also note that the Syrian army has improved its fortifications and has received modern, Russian-made antitank and anti-aircraft missiles.
The Israel Defense Forces, meanwhile, continued its preparations yesterday with an attack on, and occupation of, a "Syrian" village during a major exercise in the Negev. Observing the exercise were Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Similar exercises in recent years had involved the occupation of "Palestinian" villages.
The structure of the village was similar to the ghost towns on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which Military Intelligence maintain are being used by the Syrian army as defensive positions against the possibility of an Israeli attack.
"We are preparing for the possibility of deterioration both on the Palestinian front and also, if we have to take action, on the northern front," Ashkenazi said after the exercise.
Israel is concerned that Syria might initiate a surprise attack in an effort to make rapid but limited gains on the Golan. The goal would be to capture a small piece of territory that could serve as a catalyst for a diplomatic process that would result in an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Security sources say there is concern that the Syrian deployments enable the Syrian forces to embark on a sudden, surprise attack. Such action would be accompanied by a massive barrage of rockets from Hezbollah's positions north of the Litani River.
The Israeli concerns have been intensified by the flow of intelligence reports about improved coordination and joint operations among Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Commanders from all three forces held joint reconnaissance tours, and their arms procurement is similar, allowing Iran to supply Syria and Hezbollah with munitions and arms in time of war.
For their part, Palestinian militant organizations, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whose leadership is hosted by Syria, are not part of the joint military preparedness of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, and there is no information involving them in a military operation along the northern border.
The dominant assessment of Military Intelligence, which has been laid out before the political leadership, suggests that in spite the improved capabilities of the Syrian army, and the risk of a sudden attack, Assad does not intend, at this stage, to start a war with Israel. One of the scenarios that intelligence has put forth is that the Syrians and the Iranians are worried about an American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, and they are preparing for the possibility of opening a second front against Israel on the Golan Heights and through Hezbollah in Lebanon in retaliation.
On the other hand, a minority view in Military Intelligence argues that the Syrian preparedness, the training and arms buildup signal Assad's readiness to carry out an offensive in a bid to restore the Golan Heights to Syria because Assad is convinced that Israeli public opinion rejects, at this stage, negotiations for a solution.
Senior IDF officers have put forth a third scenario, in which Syria will succeed in forcing Israel to negotiate the return of the Golan Heights, merely through the threat of military action.
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