IDF Turns Attention to Lebanon as Syrian Army Falls Apart

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The Israel Defense Forces has responded to the changing reality in Syria by adjusting its focus and training of forces to deal with Lebanon, rather than with Syria.

While the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad have reportedly lost some 13,000 men during that country's civil war and some 40,000 soldiers have deserted, Iran and Hezbollah are gaining access to the treasure trove of weapons in Syria. "They are trying and in some cases succeeding to obtain air defense capabilities, shore-to-sea missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and other capabilities," Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi told the Herzliya Conference recently. "Hezbollah and Iran understand that Assad's fate is sealed, and they're preparing for the day after."

So is the IDF, which is changing the assignments of some of its northern divisions to focus more on Lebanon. For example, last week two reserve brigades - one an armored brigade and the other an infantry brigade - practiced maneuvers for operating in Lebanon after years in which they had focused exclusively on the Syrian arena.

Moreover, until now the reservists in the Armored Corps had focused on training for tank battles. Now, the new challenge is dealing with anti-tank missiles, of which Hezbollah has thousands, according to military assessments.

Ironically, all this is coming as the border area with Syria is being periodically breached, after decades of quiet. The IDF Sunday fired a Tammuz missile into Syrian territory in the southern Golan Heights, in response to a second instance of machine gun fire from a Syrian army position within 24 hours. There were no injuries on the Israeli side, but at least two Syrian army soldiers were wounded.

"After the second round of fire at our forces in the past day, we returned accurate fire and destroyed the machine gun position from which the fire had originated on the Syrian side of the border," the IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, wrote on his Facebook page.

The situation along the Syrian border is heating up, primarily because of the fiercer fighting in the area between the Syrian army and opposition forces in the region, particularly in the southern part of the Syrian Golan Heights. The general assessment of the security establishment is that the escalation reflects Assad's increasing difficulty in coping with the rebels and the regime's loss of control of areas outside Damascus and the Alawite enclave in the country's northwest.

It is not clear whether the firing was deliberately aimed at an Israeli position or if it was in error. The office of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon issued a statement saying Israel "views very gravely the shooting yesterday and this morning at IDF forces from the direction of Syria into the area of the State of Israel. Following this incident, the IDF acted according to the policy set by the government. Every violation of Israeli sovereignty and shooting from the Syrian side will immediately result in the neutralization of the sources of fire if they can be identified."

Free Syrian Army fighters walk beside a destroyed tank sitting on a street in Aleppo March 19, 2013. Credit: Reuters

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