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Military Intelligence: Syrian Front Now Cause for Concern

Changing its long-time assessment regarding the Syrian threat, military intelligence now believes Damascus might launch a military action against Israel.
By Yechiel Spira
First Publish: 9/28/2006, 1:24 PM / Last Update: 9/28/2006, 5:44 AM

For the first time in many years, IDF intelligence officials are signaling concern that President Bashar al-Assad’s administration may be contemplating a military offensive across Israel's northeastern border. Officials emphasize that though Syria has not taken any operational steps towards a military action, the situation cannot be ignored.

Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker MK Dalia Itzik (Kadima) says Israel must “not miss the opportunity” to enter into dialogue with Syria. Itzik insists that Assad has repeatedly exhibited a willingness to enter into negotiations with Israel, and that if Jerusalem turns her back on such statements, the opportunity for dialogue could be lost forever.

Itzik continues to encourage senior government ministers to take Assad’s statements seriously and begin opening diplomatic channels that could lead to a peace agreement.

Peres: The Syrian Administration Opposes Peace
Vice Premier Shimon Peres, currently in London, stated that Bashar al-Assad is providing refuge for a wanted terrorist - Hamas politburo leader Khaled Meshal. It is Meshal who is preventing the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit, Peres explained, adding that even the PA (Palestinian Authority) Hamas-led administration wishes to release Shalit at this point.

“If his father Hafez [al-Assad] would only have come to Camp David with Sadat, the Golan Heights would have already been in his hands for years. They are opponents of peace,” stated Peres.

Military intelligence over the past year has discarded Assad's statements calling for peace. Both the governmental and the intelligence communities were in agreement, during the Sharon administration, that such calls have not been sincere, and were nothing more than Syria’s ploy towards compelling Israel to retreat from the Golan Heights, which Israel liberated in the June 1967 Six Day War.

Itzik’s Statements UndermineAmerican Policy
Some analysts point out that Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik’s calls to open a dialogue with Damascus openly undermine American policy. Her repeated statements come at a time when the United States is working to enlist support for calls to impose sanctions on Syria, seeking to isolate Damascus from the world community.

U.S. Secretary of State Rice has been signaling Jerusalem to refrain from such open statements at this time while the State Department is seeking to enlist allies to pressure Assad into backing down. The U.S. accuses Syria of “supporting terror,” as does Israel. Analysts explain that remarks such as those made by the Knesset Speaker are most unwanted at this time, especially given Syria’s willingness to permit Hizbullah weapons to reach southern Lebanon and thus infuse life into the terror organization.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Amir Peretz has approved the appointment by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz of Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkott as the new Northern District Commander. Eiskenkott is currently the IDF’s Chief of Operations.

The other serious contender for the post was IDF Southern Command Chief Maj.-Gen. Yoav Gallant. At the end of the year, Central Commander Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh will also be resigning from his post.

Eisenkott, 46, has been serving in the IDF for 27 years. He spent most of his years in the Golani Brigade, and served as military secretary to Prime Minister/Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He is viewed as a respected member of the General Staff.

Some critics oppose the appointment, explaining that Eisenkott is one of a number of senior officers who will be questioned and debriefed by the Winograd Commission investigating the war in Lebanon. This they explain may lead to further embarrassment following his new appointment. Others explain that Eisenkott was a model of stability and professionalism during the war, an “anchor” on the General Staff who continued acting in a professional fashion despite the chaos that prevailed in senior military circles. Officials in the Northern Command expressed satisfaction over the appointment.