July 13, 2013

Financial Times: Israel to bolster its forces on Golan Heights

July 11, 2013 10:12 am
By John Reed in Jerusalem

Israeli soldiers sit atop a tank as they watch the border with Syria near the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights©Reuters
Israel’s army is to establish a new territorial regional division to “address emerging threats” in the strategically important Golan Heights region bordering Lebanon and Syria, it said on Thursday.
The new division will be set up by the end of the year as part of a five-year plan to restructure the Israel Defence Forces presented on Wednesday by Benny Gantz, its chief of staff, codenamed Teuza (“Daring”), the IDF said.

The move comes amid growing concern in Israel about the military threat to its north from Hizbollah, the south Lebanon-based guerrilla group allied with Iran and President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled government in Syria.

“Our main concern today is Hizbollah and the way it’s building up its weapons arsenal,” an Israeli official told the Financial Times. “If that’s our concern, we will respond with the relevant forcebuilding to address that concern.”

Israel says that Hizbollah, some of whose fighters have joined the Syrian civil war on the Assad government’s side, has tens of thousands of rockets in its arsenal. It is worried about the potential transfer of further game-changing chemical weapons or anti-aircraft missiles from Mr Assad’s government to the militant group.

Israel’s military has this year launched air strikes at least three times to avert suspected weapons transfers in southern Syria.

Last week Syrian rebels fighting government forces said that foreign forces destroyed Russian Yakhont anti-ship missiles near the Syrian port of Latakia. The news raised speculation in the media about Israel’s involvement in the raid, but the country has not confirmed or denied it carried out that or any of this year’s other raids on Syria.

The Golan, which Israel occupied from Syria after the Six-Day War in 1967, was until recently its quietest frontier region.

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