TEL AVIV Ñ Israel's military has launched a build-up along the
borders with Lebanon and Syria.
Israel's military has sent an additional artillery battery and summoned
three battalions for the build-up in the north. The build-up was said to
have been the largest in the area since the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon
in May 2000.
Military sources said the mobilization was ordered by Defense Minister
Shaul Mofaz, who overruled a recommendation by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe
Ya'alon. The sources said Ya'alon drafted plans for a more modest
reinforcement in the north.
The Israeli military build-up came in wake of Hizbullah rocket and
mortar attacks on civilian and military positions along the northern Israeli
border on Monday and Tuesday. The sources said Mofaz intends to use the
build-up to deter Hizbullah from continuing its attacks.
Hizbullah, the sources said, has been ordered to escalate military
tensions along the Israeli-Lebanese border in wake of the Israeli air strike
on a Palestinian training facility outside Damascus on Sunday. The sources
said Iran and Syria have used Hizbullah in a proxy war against Israel.
On Wednesday, the Lebanese military reported that six Israeli warplanes
flew throughout Lebanon. The Hizbullah-owned Al Manar television said two of
the Israeli jets shattered the sound barrier over Beirut.
The sources said the Israeli build-up would comprise of standing army
forces and include the early return of combat units that had been on
vacation. They said the reinforced deployment in the north would last until
at least Oct. 22.
Mofaz would ask the government for the mobilization of reserves if the
tension in the north continues beyond Oct. 22, the sources said. They said
mobilization of the reserves would cost millions of dollars and signal the
prospect of a large-scale military operation.
The sources said the current alert along the northern border has
prompted a decision by Mofaz to cancel all exercises. They said the
bolstering of troops along the northern border would also affect the
deployment of troops in the West Bank, which has been a launching pad for
Islamic suicide attacks inside Israel.
On Wednesday, Israel's military surrounded all Arab-populated cities in
the West Bank and sliced the Gaza Strip into four areas. The sources said
the measures were in response to 37 alerts of suicide and other Palestinian
attacks against Israeli civilian targets.
Israeli ministers discussed the military reinforcement during its
meeting on Wednesday in a move that could triple the number of troops in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mofaz told the Cabinet that he would order
reserves to man roadblocks and military patrols in and around Palestinian
On Oct. 6, Israel placed its military on alert along the borders
of Israel and Syria.
The military alert was ordered on Monday in wake of two attacks by
Hizbullah along Israel's border with Lebanon in which an Israeli soldier was
killed. Hizbullah launched automatic weapon, rocket and mortar fire toward
military posts along the Israeli border on Monday and early Tuesday in what
officials deemed retaliation for an Israeli air strike on a Palestinian
training base near Damascus.
Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz, head of Israel's military Northern Command, warned
Lebanon and Syria against escalating tension with Israel and did not rule
out additional attacks. Ganz said Syria would be held responsible for
attacks by those trained in that country.
"We want to tell them that Syria is a major agent for terror and engages
constantly in a war of proxy," Ganz said on Tuesday. "The [Israeli air]
attack was a signal Syria that this cannot continue."
Officials said Sunday's air strike against the Ein Saheb training
facility 15 kilometers northwest of Damascus was meant to send a message to
the regime of President Bashar Assad that it would become a target for
retaliation for Palestinian insurgency attacks. The officials said the
attack came after several diplomatic warnings to Damascus, which serves as
headquarters of Islamic Jihad, were sent through the European Union and the
"The attack on the north has the potential for escalation," Yuval
Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee,
said. "But we can't be sitting ducks."
U.S. President George Bush has expressed concern over a military
escalation in the Middle East. Bush telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon after the Israeli strike on the Palestinian camp as U.S. officials
said the Bush administration was not informed in advance of the air attack.
"I think the point we're at now it's important to urge Israel to urge
Syria not to do anything that would escalate the situation,
not to do anything that would heighten tensions in the region," White House
spokesman Scott McClellan said. "And that's what we're doing."
Israeli military sources said F-16 fighter-jets struck the Ein Saheb
base on early Sunday, hours after 19 Israelis were killed in an Islamic
Jihad suicide strike in the northern city of Haifa. The sources said the
F-16s dropped several bombs and fired
missiles toward buildings in the training base in the first such attack in
more than 20 years. The pilots were said to have reported direct hits and
the base was heavily damaged.
The base was said to have been used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad for
training of their members. The sources said many of the Palestinian
insurgents, financed by Iran, were then sent to the West Bank where they
provided training to other Palestinians.
"We struck a base 15 kilometers from Damascus," Israeli Transportation
Minister Avigdor Lieberman said. "We can also reach Damascus."